Mr. King to Mr. Seward

No. 46.]

Sir: I had the honor, yesterday, of an interview with the Holy Father, and enjoyed a long and interesting conversation with him about American affairs, as well as the condition of things in Italy and Europe. The Pope had many questions to ask about the progress of events in the United States, and expressed great satisfaction at the return of peace and the reconstruction of the Union. He inquired particularly as to the health of the President, whose life, he trusted, would be spared, that he might finish the work he had so well begun. He warmly approved the clemency which had been shown the rebel leaders, and hoped, he said, that Jefferson Davis would also receive the executive pardon. The most difficult problem he thought for the United States to solve was the proper disposition of the negroes; and he seemed to apprehend that we should find the question a troublesome one. Passing to European affairs, his Holiness remarked that there was great political agitation all over the continent; not in Italy only, but in Germany, Spain, France, and England, there seemed to be trouble brewing. Ireland was restless and discontented, and Fenianism uttered ominous threats. He had no idea, he said, that this movement would affect British rule in Ireland, for the ocean which rolled between the United States and Great Britain forbade the idea of invasion. But Canada, with its extensive and exposed frontier, offered an easier prize, and thither, he thought, the Fenians might turn their arms. It would be for the advantage of all parties, the Holy Father remarked, that the United States should take Canada and incorporate it into the American Union, rather than allow the Fenians to possess themselves of it. Better that it should be done by a regularly constituted government than by a revolutionary and irresponsible organization subject to no control, and liable to every excess. His Holiness spoke, I thought, despondingly of the aspect of affairs in Italy. Within another fortnight, he said, Saxony and Bavaria would reorganize the kingdom of Victor Emanuel. The Emperor of France was about to withdraw from Italy, and “the poor Pope would be left all alone in his little boat in the midst of the tempestuous ocean.” What would happen God alone knew, and to His will and protection the Holy Father committed himself. I expressed the hope that no serious trouble would occur in Rome, and reminded, his Holiness that it was the duty of the diplomatic corps to share his fortunes and remain near his person. Yes, he said, and during the revolutionary movement of ’48, when he had sought refuge in the palace of the Quirinal, the diplomatic corps all hurried thither and formed, as it were, a cordon around him, so that, in the midst of the tumult and firing, he remained calm and tranquil. His Holiness adverted to the concessions which the different governments of Europe seemed to be making “to the revolutionary spirit of the age.” They would not, he said, satisfy those who were clamoring for change, but only encourage them to make further demands until they would finish by telling the [Page 165] governments themselves that they could dispense with their further services. Evidently the Holy Father looked upon the condition of affairs in Europe as anything but satisfactory, and it was with deep and manifest emotion that he referred to the Supreme Ruler of the universe as his only guide and refuge in the apprehended troubles.

After taking my leave of his Holiness, I paid the customary visit to the cardinal secretary of state, and was received by him with his wonted kindness and courtesy. His eminence, who watches with close attention the progress of events in America, referred with great satisfaction to the reported interview of a delegation from South Carolina with the President of the United States, and to the language used and the sentiments avowed by Mr. Johnson on that occasion. His eminence cordially assented to the justice of the President’s views, and expressed his warm and earnest approval of the course pursued by the federal authorities in re-establishing law, order, and civil government among the people of the States so lately in rebellion against the Union. A policy at once so wise and so humane deserved, as it could not fail, he thought, to secure complete success.

The cholera still prevails with great severity at Naples, but, as yet, there has not been a case in Rome, and the authorities here hope to escape the visitation of the pestilence, at least during the present season. Meantime very stringent quarantine regulations continue to be enforced all along the papal frontiers, and the result is that Rome is comparatively deserted; though at this period of the year it is usually crowded with visitors from all quarters of the globe.

The French troops continue to leave Rome by detachments, and Count Sartiges, the ambassador of France, remarked to me a few days since, that within a year there would not be a single French soldier left in the papal territory.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, &c., &c.