Master of Arts (MA)



Document Type



The American Civil War and the Italian Unification occurred simultaneously, and the major parties involved – the American government, the Confederacy, the Italian state, and the still-independent Papal States – interacted with each other on numerous occasions. The revolutionaries of the Risorgimento served as promising recruits for the Union’s armies, especially Garibaldi himself, although only Italians already in America actually fought. Italy would receive ironclad warships from the wartime United States. Those actions, however, alienated the Papal States from the North, presenting the Confederacy a diplomatic opportunity. The positive position of Catholicism in the South permitted the Confederacy to act and the possibility of diplomatic recognition by Catholic countries in Europe, particularly France, provided the Confederacy with the motivation to reach out to the Vatican. While the Confederacy did not receive recognition, it did receive a letter from Pope Pius IX expressing his sympathies, which the Confederacy at times portrayed as a formal recognition. Armed with the argument that the Pope had recognized its sovereignty, the Confederacy tried to dissuade Catholics from enlisting in the Union military. Any successes, however, were too minor to be effective. During the war, a bitter debate developed in the press about the letter’s meaning, a debate that extended into the postwar period largely as a weapon against Catholicism, especially when coupled with the Pope’s postwar support for former Confederates. The distortion of the letter as a sign of recognition lived on in anti-Catholic rhetoric, sometimes supported even by members of the U.S. government. The argument, however, was later refuted by Catholic prelates and historians. “The Pope and the Presidents” contributes to a growing scholarship on the internationalization of the Civil War by revealing the complex relationships between all the parties in the Civil War and the Italian Unification. Taking the analysis a step further, it looks at these relationships in ways that many previous historians, ignoring the interactions of multilateral diplomacy, overlooked. It does so bringing together secondary research from scholars who examined the histories separately and using a wealth of newspaper articles and other documents now accessible though digitalization.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Foster, Gaines



Included in

History Commons