Abraham Lincoln and Archduke Franz Joseph:
A Unique Link Between Our Martyred President and the Assassination That Started WWI
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President Abraham Lincoln directs Secretary of State William H. Seward to attach the seal of the United States to the envelope for a letter to the Austrian Emperor. This remarkable document forms an extraordinary connection between two important world events—the American Civil War and World War I. In the letter to which this order relates, Lincoln congratulated Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria on the birth of his nephew Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The assassination of this archduke fifty years later in Sarajevo sparked World War I. ABRAHAM LINCOLN.
Partially Printed Document Signed “Abraham Lincoln,” Washington, D.C., February 18, 1864. 1 p. 8 x 10 in.
I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of State to affix the Seal of the United States to the envelope of a letter addressed to the Emperor of Austria,
dated this day, and signed by me, and for so doing this shall be his warrant.
Washington, February 18th 1864.
According to the Papers of Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln’s letter, sent after the seal was affixed as per this order, reads:
“Abraham Lincoln/ President of the United States of America
To His Imperial and Royal Majesty/ Francis Joseph I/ Emperor of Austria
Great and Good Friend:
I have received the letter which your Majesty was pleased to address to me on the 28th of December last, announcing that her Imperial Highness, the Archduchess Maria Annunziata had given birth to an Archduke, upon whom the name of Franz Ferdinand Carl Ludwig Joseph Maria had been bestowed in baptism.
Your Majesty does but justice to the sentiments of the United States in the conviction you have been pleased to express, that they will participate with your Majesty and your Majesty’s Royal family in the satisfaction, which this happy event has occasioned and I offer to your Majesty my sincere congratulations.
Your good Friend
Washington February 18, 1864”
Francis Joseph I (1830-1916). Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, Croatia, and Bohemia from 1848 until his death in 1916, making him the longest-reigning Emperor of Austria. His only son and heir Crown Prince Rudolf committed suicide in 1889, leaving Francis Joseph’s brother Karl Ludwig as heir to the throne. Although not directly involved in the American Civil War, in part because of challenges in Europe with Italy, Denmark, and Prussia in the 1850s and 1860s, Emperor Francis Joseph I was not unaware of events in the Americas. The French installed his younger brother Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian (1832-1867) in 1864 as Maximilian I of the short-lived Second Mexican Empire. President Lincoln’s support of the republican opponents of Emperor Maximilian undoubtedly annoyed Emperor Francis Joseph I, but he could do little other than to extend diplomatic recognition to his younger brother and the Second Mexican Empire.
Franz Ferdinand (1863-1914). Archduke of Austria. After his cousin Crown Prince Rudolf committed suicide in 1889, and his father Karl Ludwig died in 1896, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the heir presumptive to his uncle Francis Joseph I as Emperor of Austria-Hungary. The assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his wife by a Yugoslav nationalist in an open car on the streets of Sarajevo led the Austro-Hungarian Empire to declare war on Serbia a month later. Germany quickly sided with the Austro-Hungarian Empire, France and Russia defended Serbia, and Europe descended into World War I.
Maximilian (1832-1867), a younger brother of Austrian Emperor Francis Joseph, and the only monarch of the Second Mexican Empire. In the winter of 1861, France invaded Mexico. (The United Kingdom and Spain joined in, but withdrew in 1862 after agreement with Mexico’s democratic government.) Seeking to further French rule in the Americas, Napoleon III invited Maximilian to establish a new Mexican monarchy with the support of the French army and Mexicans hostile to the liberal administration of President Benito Juárez. Maximilian arrived in Mexico, declared himself Emperor on April 10, 1864, and was recognized by Britain, Austria, and Prussia among other European nations. Though in the sphere of influence declared decades before in the Monroe Doctrine, the U.S., which continued to recognize Juarez, was focused on the Civil War, and did not offer significant aid to Juárez’s forces until 1865. After the French armies withdrew from Mexico in 1866, Maximilian’s “empire” collapsed; he was executed by the Mexican government in 1867.