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- Panel 3 -

Monarchical Habsburg and Republican America: Diplomatic Relations Established (1838–1867)

The U.S. sent its first consul to the busy Habsburg port of Trieste in 1797; Habsburg Austria its first consul to New York. In 1829, the two powers signed their first Treaty of Navigation and Commerce. In 1838, 50 years after the first attempt, the Austrian Empire and the United States osted ministers and established diplomatic relations: Henry A. Muhlenberg in Vienna, Wenzel Mareschal in Washington. Mareschal’s assistant Georg von Hülsemann, a German from Hannover, replaced him as chargé d’affaires in 1841 and staid on to serve until 1863.

Hülsemann represented the Austrian Empire through the stormy period of the revolution of 1848/49, when Hungary declared its independence from the Empire. Vienna almost broke relations with the U.S. over Secretary of State Daniel Webster’s quasi-support of Hungarian independence and the warm welcome of the revolutionary leader Lajos Kossuth in the U.S., after a U.S. naval vessel brought him across the Atlantic. U.S. public opinion was anti-Catholic and anti-Habsburg and supported Hungarian independence. While a U.S. Senator proclaimed that Austria “was least of all other powers to be regarded by us,” Hülsemann predicted early on that “the adventurous spirit of this country will lead to trouble with everyone.”

Adventurous Austrians emigrated to the U.S. since the founding of the country. The former Moravian priest Karl Postl who adopted the pen name Charles Sealsfield, arrived in the late 1820s. He became a prolific romantic novelist and journalist, penning the anti-Habsburg tract Austria As It Is, and later retired in Switzerland. Nikolaus Lenau from Bukovina came to the U.S. in the early 1830s, returning a disappointed man to the Monarchy after a rough year of farming on the Ohio frontier (Ferdinand Kürnberger recounted Lenau’s experience in his Americanophobic novel Der Amerika-Müde [1855]). Austrians were also infected by the “gold fever” in California, where gold was discovered in the American River outside Sacramento. Joseph Steinberger from Kitzbühel and three friends from the Tyrol embarked on a more than 200-day long journey via Bremen and Cape Horn around Latin America to San Francisco in 1851. Arriving in San Francisco in 1852, they broke up and went prospecting in the direction of Sacramento and Stockton. None struck it rich. Steinberger exhausted himself and died in San Francisco from tuberculosis in 1853. One of them later returned to the Tyrol.

The eminent historian J. Lothrop Motley represented the U.S. in Vienna during the Civil War. He did not have to defend the Union as much as protect American interests in Latin America as defined by the Monroe Doctrine. Confederate diplomats did not seek recognition of the Confederacy in Austria. The U.S., however, did not tolerate French emperor Napoleon III’s scheme to establish Habsburg Archduke Maximilian (Emperor Francis Joseph’s younger brother) as emperor of Mexico in 1864 during a time of political turmoil. The U.S. never recognized Maximilian but supported the republican government. After the Civil War, Motley protested the sending of Austrian volunteers to Mexico to save Maximilian, who was executed by the Mexican government in 1867.


Nicole M. Phelps. U.S.-Habsburg Relations from 1815 to the Paris Peace Conference: Sovereignty Transformed. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2013.

Thomas Albrich. Goldjäger aus Tirol: “Von Kitzbühel nach Kalifornien über Kufstein”; Das Tagebuch des Joseph Steinberger 1851/52. Innsbruck: StudienVerlag, 2008.