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Lincoln documents found in world's oldest republic

Images obtained by Papers of Abraham Lincoln include 1861 letter granting San Marino citizenship to Lincoln

December 9, 2013

SPRINGFIELD – Even the world’s oldest and smallest republic shares in Abraham Lincoln’s legacy. Two Lincoln-related documents – including one granting citizenship to the new president – have been found in the Republic of San Marino.

Images of the 1861 letters have been added to the collection of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln, a project dedicated to tracking down all documents to and from America’s 16th president.

The first of the two letters was sent to Lincoln by San Marino’s Regent Captains, the nation’s joint heads of state. In English and Italian, they said that as a “mark of high consideration and sincere fraternity” for the United States, citizenship in the Republic of San Marino had been conferred on Lincoln. They also acknowledged America’s “political griefs” and prayed that God would “grant you a peaceful solution.”

In his response dated May 7, 1861, Lincoln thanked the Council of San Marino “for the honor of citizenship” and assured them that “although your dominion is small, your State is nevertheless one of the most honored in all history.” He explained that the Civil War “involves the question whether a Representative republic, extended and aggrandized so much as to be safe against foreign enemies, can save itself from the dangers of domestic faction.”

“I have faith in a good result,” Lincoln assured them.  Secretary of State William H. Seward countersigned and may have drafted the letter.

In 2011, 150 years after this exchange, the Regent Captains of San Marino sent a letter to President Barack Obama assuring him of continued friendship between San Marino and the United States. They said Lincoln’s response to their predecessors’ letter “has become one of the documents most cherished by the citizens of our Republic.”

The San Marino documents were cited by Dr. Don H. Doyle, the McCausland Professor of History at the University of South Carolina, in a New York Times blog. Doyle then helped the Papers of Abraham Lincoln contact the San Marino national archives.

San Marino is a nation about 24 square miles in size, surrounded on all sides by Italy. It has 32,000 residents and traces its history back to the year 301.

For the past decade, the staff of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln has been collecting images of documents written by or to Abraham Lincoln. The project has scanned more than 97,000 documents from more than 400 repositories and 180 private collections in 47 states and 6 foreign countries. The archive will likely grow to more than 150,000 documents when complete.

“These documents from San Marino demonstrate what an international event the American Civil War was,” Papers of Abraham Lincoln Director Daniel W. Stowell said.  “When Lincoln described the United States as ‘the last best hope of earth,’ it was not mere rhetorical flourish. Republican government – government of the people, by the people, for the people – had been defeated in many areas of Europe and was under assault throughout the world. The Civil War threatened America’s example to the world that democracy could work. San Marino’s offer of honorary citizenship and Lincoln’s gracious reply were a moment of diplomatic hopefulness in a period of domestic trouble and international uncertainty.”

The Papers of Abraham Lincoln is a long-term documentary editing project dedicated to identifying, imaging, transcribing, annotating, and publishing all documents written by or to Abraham Lincoln during his lifetime. The project is administered through the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, and is cosponsored by the Center for State Policy and Leadership at the University of Illinois Springfield and by the Abraham Lincoln Association.

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