Papers Relating to Foreign Affairs, Accompanying the Annual Message of the President to the Third Session of the Fortieth Congress
Mr. Webb to Mr. Seward.
Sir: I have the honor to inclose a copy of a letter addressed to [Page 300]Admiral C. H. Davis, in relation to what I consider a measure of policy on the part of our squadron. From what Mr. Washburn writes, I have but little doubt that the persons he left behind him as constituting a part of his legation have been already murdered; and yet I think the honor of the country appears to demand some such demonstration as I ask. England, France, Italy, and Spain, all have sent gunboats up to Asuncion; and considering the outrage perpetrated on our legation, we are called upon, if for appearances only, to send all our disposable force up the river. I do not know, nor do I believe, that they could do any good, as probably our two citizens are no longer living. But, nevertheless, sound policy requires that we do something more than those who have no such outrage to punish as that perpetrated against our legation.
Neither Admiral Davis nor I have anything to do with the approval or censure of Mr. Washburn’s conduct in the press. It is sufficient to know that the sanctity of our legation has been violated to justify and to demand such interposition as I have asked. And it is satisfactory to know that the cost of a demonstration which would be invaluable to us would be precisely the expense of the fuel consumed; no more and no less. And if, as is said, an expedition up the Paraguay would prevent the Guerriere’s contemplated visit to the Cape of Good Hope and coast of Africa, whence the Quinnebaug has just returned, the value of the coal thereby saved would be double the cost of that consumed by our small steamers in an expedition up the Paraguay, where, at present, we are the only naval power not represented.
Admiral Davis is one of the most accomplished and intelligent gentlemen in our navy, and nobody can know him without entertaining for him both respect and affection. He is, withal, a gentleman of science, and so courteous and just to all under his command that he is justly popular on shipboard as well as on shore. Most assuredly, I know no gentleman in service who possesses more of my regard; and yet we differ as widely as the poles in regard to what is required of him in this emergency. He thinks the whole affair not worth a second thought, and, like most naval officers, perceives no peculiar sanctity about the diplomatic representatives of a country. Of course my views are directly the opposite of his. We have no right to consider what should be, but must look at what is; and so long as we recognize the existing mode of international intercourse, we have no option but to vindicate our own honor, and in so doing punish, or attempt to punish, what is equally an outrage against every civilized nation.
What Admiral Davis will do I cannot pretend to say. He was to have sailed with his entire squadron for the river Plata at the end of this week. Recent events, most certainly, will not delay his departure.
Beyond all question you will receive full details of all that has transpired from Mr. Washburn. * * * * *
Doubtless Mr. Washburn will sail from here for New York on the 26th, We expect him on the 20th.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.
Mr. Webb to Rear-Admiral Davis.
My Dear Sir: I yesterday received from Ms excellency Charles A. Washburn, United [Page 301]States minister resident to Paraguay, a communication, dated Buenos Ayres, September 26, 1868, apprising me of his safe arrival at that city in the Wasp, in which he says: “We have barely escaped alive. You probably little thought, when you were battling with the Brazilians so strongly for a gunboat to come to my relief, that I was at that time in danger of my life.” And he also informs me that Lopez “took away Bliss and Masterman,” his secretary and interpreter, “by force, at the moment of leaving the legation to go on board the steamer.”
I felt, of course, that while we had rescued the minister and his family our work was only half completed, and that the honor of our country had been directly insulted by Lopez thus trampling upon the rights of our legation, and by the gross outrage perpetrated upon two of its members, by their forcible seizure when under the immediate protection of our minister. And consequently I immediately inclosed to you Mr. Washburn’s letter, with a brief note, saying: “I write thus that you may turn this matter over in your mind before I join you;” and I begged you to send a boat for me at 2 p. m. This you did, and I am indebted to you for the prompt and kind manner in which you have always complied with similar requests, as well as for your cordial co-operation at all times in the discharge of my public duties.
I reached the Guerriere at 2½ o’clock p. m. I am sorry to say that for the first time in our official intercourse there appeared to exist a wide difference of opinion upon a question of duty, and especially in regard to the gravity of the existing emergency: I believing that this is precisely one of those cases to meet which our country keeps up, at great expense, a large squadron on this station, the protection of our citizens and the prompt vindication of our national honor; while you, unfortunately, look upon it as an event of no special significance, and which calls for no assumption of any unusual responsibility on your part, because you have no instructions or direct orders in contemplation of such a contingency—a contingency which, of course, could not be foreseen and anticipated.
You inquired what would I have you do; and I answered then, and I answer now, I would have you send up to Asuncion every available vessel of your squadron and demand, the immediate release of Mr. Bliss and Mr. Masterman, two members of the United States legation in Paraguay, forcibly seized by Lopez in violation of their diplomatic rights, and now held in prison by the tyrant, if, as Mr. Washburn suggests, they have not already been put to death. And even if the chances were ninety-nine out of a hundred that they are no longer in existence, such in my judgment is the importance of this action, in view of its influence upon the opinion of the civilized world in regard to the character and the energy of our government, and the efficacy of our navy, that I would have you transfer your flag to one of the smaller vessels of your squadron and go up the Paraguay and make such a demonstration at least as will prove that England is not the only nation that protects the lives and persons of its citizens and the diplomatic rights of its representatives, without stopping to count the cost. True, we are not called upon to raise an army of 10,000 veterans, at a cost of $30,000,000, for a second Abyssinian expedition into the wilds of Paraguay, but we may safely incur the expense of the fuel necessary for what I propose, and this is all it can cost us. Our squadron is here for just such work—to protect the commerce, the lives, and the persons of our people; and you have already informed me that the entire squadron will sail for the river Plata during the present or early next week, with the exception of the Shamokin, which is to go home, probably to be broken up. But why send her home, if an emergency is presented in which she can render as good service as any other vessel of the squadron?
Be assured, my dear admiral, that this is no ordinary ocurrence. The eyes of the civilized world are upon us, and precisely as you may act in this emergency will our country come out of the affair with credit and honor or lose prestige as a nation. You and I have done our duty in sending up the Wasp, but we have not yet discharged our whole duty; and, in my opinion, to complete our work, we must make such a demonstration as I am urging upon you. We are both servants of one government, and each independent of the other, to be controlled only by our common superior, the President of the United States, speaking through his Secretaries of State and of the Navy. I do not claim the remotest right to control your action, and feel the full responsibility of attempting to influence it. But it is my imperative duty to call upon you officially to act energetically in this emergency, stating, at the time, my reasons for making such call, and assuming all the responsibility of so doing. That duty I have attempted, hastily, to discharge, and now your responsibility begins. That you will meet that responsibility fearlessly and do what you think is right, I know.
You remarked to me yesterday that you had no facts to warrant the action I recommend and solicit; and that although you had received Commander Kirkland’s report of his visit to Asuncion and return to Montevideo, it contained nothing which demanded the proceeding I desire.
One word in regard to Commander Kirkland, and the manner in which he has discharged the delicate duty upon which he was detached, in both of his visits up the Paraguay. No officer of any rank in the navy could have done better; and his reply [Page 302]to the Marquis de Caxias, when that personage proposed to send a Brazilian iron-clad up the Paraguay for Mr. Washburn, was so apposite and so appropriate to the occasion, that I quoted the most of it to the Brazilian minister of foreign affairs when reiterating my demand that the Wasp should not be obstructed in her passage of the allied lines on her “errand of mercy.” And Mr. Washburn, in his letter to me, attributes his escape with life to Commander Kirkland’s manly defiance of Lopez, and his indignant threat of consequences if he dared to carry out his avowed intention of detaining a United States minister in Paraguay.
What Mr. Kirkland could or should have reported in regard to Lopez’s conduct towards our legation in Paraguay is not for me to determine; but Mr. Washburn, the duly accredited minister of the United States to the government of Paraguay, has made his report, which I have placed in your possession, and every word of which I indorse. And in addition I send herewith a supplement to the Buenos Ayrean Standard, of the 26th of September, in which you will find a letter from Mr. Washburn to the British minister accredited to the Argentine government, giving a full history of events in Paraguay for the past six months. That document was sent to me by Mr. Washburn, and I desire to have it received as a part of this official communication.
You do not know Mr. Washburn, but I do; and I know, too, that both at Buenos Ayres and here in Rio de Janeiro the public press, in the interest of Brazil and the allies, is doing all in its power to blacken his character. On the other hand, the Standard, representing the feelings and opinions of the foreign diplomatic corps, and of the British minister and British residents in Buenos Ayres, does Mr. Washburn full justice and commends his conduct throughout. I know him to be a man of honor and truth; but even if he were personally unknown to me as he is to you, both you and I know him to be the duly accredited minister of the United States, and his testimony, which we have, it is our bounden duty to respect. He tells us that two members of his legation were forcibly detained as prisoners by Lopez, and that their lives are in danger if, as is quite probable, they have not already been murdered, and we have nothing to do with what others may say or do in regard to the affair. Our government is far distant; appeal to it is impossible; and therefore it becomes my duty officially to make a requisition upon you to interpose for the vindication of our national honor and the protection of our citizens. I am responsible to our government for the grounds upon which that requisition is based, and it is your right to respond to or reject my application, and for so doing you and you only are responsible.
In conclusion, permit me to add that, in my judgment, an emergency of such rare occurrence, and so certain to redound to the honor of our country and the credit of all concerned, if judiciously managed, should be deemed a great boon. For weeks past the press in this region has teemed with rumors of insult to the United States legation in Paraguay, and a violation of its sanctity; and, beyond all peradventure, the rumor is ere this widely circulated through Europe, and statesmen and diplomatists, our enemies and our friends, while uniting in lauding England for her recent exploits in Abyssinia, and her noble sacrifices in giving protection to her official agents and humble citizens, in a far off and barbarous land, are anxiously watching to learn what will be the conduct of the great American nation under almost identical circumstances. I pray that the response may be the immediate departure of every vessel of our squadron, of light draught of water, to the capital of Paraguay.
Such demonstration, made without one day’s unneccessary delay, whether successful or not, would, in my judgment, be invaluable to our country and to its navy. And if this be not precisely such a duty as our squadron is kept on this station to discharge when the emergency occurs, then, most assuredly, I am ignorant of any necessity for United States squadrons in every quarter of the world in time of peace.
Pardon me for having written so much. I could not write less. And, whatever may be your decision in the premises, I do not entertain a doubt but it will be based upon patriotism, as it will unquestionably be the result of wisdom and a conscientious discharge of duty.
Believe me, my dear admiral, most devotedly your friend and obedient servant,
Rear-Admiral Charles H. Davis, Commanding United States South Atlantic Squadron.
Mr. Webb to Mr. Seward.
Sir: I have the honor to inclose herewith the continuance of my [Page 303]correspondence with Rear-Admiral Davis, numbered 3, 4, 5, and 6; No. 2 having already been forwarded with my-dispatch No. 74, via England.
* * * * * *
In my second letter to the admiral I give only an extract from my hasty private note, written at the consulate, and asking a boat to be sent me. To show that my only object in suppressing any part of that note was to save time and labor, I now place the entire note before you. It was as follows:
My Dear Admiral: I inclose for your perusal a letter from Washburn. I think we should talk this matter over, and see if anything can be done to relieve the two members of the United States legation, so outrageously seized by Lopez. It is one of those cases in which to do nothing is to do wrong: and it appears to me that the mere fact of sending up a force to look after our people would, at least, avert much reproach that will otherwise fall upon us.
As to sending Washburn from the La Plata in a United States gunboat, that is quite Unnecessary. Our government has brought him down from Asuncion, and that is demonstration sufficient. Now our duty is to look after the other members of the legation. No matter who appointed them our obligation is equally binding. But I will come to you at two, or a little sooner. I have an appointment at the foreign office at 1 o’clock, and write this that you may turn the matter over in your mind before I join you. If your boat is at the landing at a quarter of two, I shall doubtless be there.
* * * * * * *
This accounts for my reception by the admiral, as detailed in my second note to him, marked 4, and dated October 9, when he declined doing anything; and especially to hurry his departure, fixed for the 10th, and get off on Thursday, the 8th. I told him he left me no alternative but to address to him an official note, recapitulating all I had said, and urging him to take up the Paraguay every vessel of his squadron of light draught of water, five in number. He said he hoped I would do nothing of the kind. I replied that it was my duty so to do, and make a requisition upon him for the employment of the squadron in the present emergency, and having done that, the responsibility of refusing to act would rest upon him. He answered, “I will write in reply, I do not choose to respond to your call. No, I will not say I do not choose to; I will reply, that on my arrival at the river I will investigate the matter.” I rejoined, “there is nothing to investigate. I have placed in your hands Mr. Washburn’s report to me; and that, and his letter to the British minister at Buenos Ayres, cover the whole ground.” In answer to this he said that Washburn’s letter was not worthy of credit, as his fears for his life had disqualified him as a witness; he was a frightened man, and his letter to me showed that he had not yet recovered from his fears. I insisted that I knew Washburn, and indorsed all he had written, and that he, the admiral, had no right to listen to, or put faith in, what others said. We then agreed that our official differences of opinion in regard to a question of duty need not and should not cause any change in our personal relations. * * * *
Judge then of my surprise at the receipt of his letter of the 8th. He is an exceedingly weak man, notwithstanding his accomplishments, and has those about him who have led him astray. One thing is certain; we cannot both be right, and one of us should be severely censured, if not recalled.
I will not attempt to describe the general feeling of indignation among Americans at the inaction of our squadron and the contemptuous terms in which intelligent men of all nationalities speak of us. To show that neither our government nor its minister are to blame in this, I inserted [Page 304]in a card defending Mr. Washburn, which I published yesterday, a paragraph to which I call your personal attention. You will find that card inclosed.
General McMahon arrived in the steamer Mississippi on the 21st and called on the 22d, after having been on board the flag-ship both on the 21st and 22d. Before showing me his instructions from you, he inquired if there would be any obstructions to his going up the Paraguay to Asuncion. I asked if he had any such purpose in view. He said that he had; that Admiral Davis intended to take him to the river next week, when he would change his flag to one of the smaller vessels (the Pawnee) and take him up to Asuncion, in order that he might present his credentials to Lopez and liberate Bliss and Masterman. * *
He said there were so many versions of what had occurred that he could not decide what to do until he reached the river. I replied, “That is an error; there is but one version of the facts of the case to which you or I or the admiral can refer, or which we can receive, and that version is contained in the official report of your predecessor, the duly accredited minister of the United States to Paraguay, and indorsed by me from my knowledge of the man and his official character.”
I then placed in his hands for perusal, my correspondence with Admiral Davis. What subsequently passed between us may be gathered from the following * letter, which I addressed to him yesterday; but which was not sent until to-day.
I should have stated sooner that when the Brazilian Times announced, on the 8th, that the United States squadron was under orders for the river, Admiral Davis, who had that day written me the exceedingly offensive note which called forth my second letter, addressed the editor of that paper as follows:
Flag-ship Guerriere, October 9, 1868.
My Dear Sir: I am very much obliged to you for the two papers which you very kindly sent me, and I shall have the pleasure of saying this in person on my return from Petropolis.
I see in these papers that you take an interest in the movements of my squadron, but that the source of your information is incorrect. Not only is the squadron not under orders for the La Plata, but no single vessel of the squadron is under sailing orders at this moment for any place.
Very truly yours,
C. H. DAVIS, Rear-Admiral.
William Sculley, Editor and Proprietor of the Anglo-Brazilian Times.
I learn that the English have two gunboats up the Paraguay, and they are hourly expecting a third to arrive, which will be immediately sent up to join the Linnet and Beacon. France, Italy, and Portugal have one each. Lopez refused to give up his English prisoners to the English secretary of legation, Mr. Gould, who was on board the Linnet, and that gentleman immediately left to report to his minister at Buenos Ayres. Lopez then sent word to the French gunboat Decidee, that he was willing to release the Englishmen.
Mr. Washburn writes me under date of the 14th October, confirming the previous report that Lopez had shot both Ms brothers and his sister, the widow of General Barrios, who committed suicide some months ago to escape torture. And Mr. Matthew, the English envoy at this court, [Page 305]writes me as follows. Although his note is marked “private,” I have his permission to send it to you:
October 15, 1868.
My Dear General: Will you allow me to ask what steps you are taking in consequence of the treatment of your legation in Paraguay? If the last letter published as from Mr. Bliss was genuine, its tone, I am sorry to say, confirms the belief that it was written under torture.
Rumors of all kinds are, of course, rife, and I frankly confess that I expected ere this to have heard of some decided course of action, and I should he very sorry to see the prestige of the United States in this land affected by any unsuitable delay or hesitation in a case that seems worse than ours in Abyssinia.
Indeed, I almost question whether all nations should not unite in bringing this monster to his senses. The latest accounts I see assert that Lopez had ordered his sister and his brothers to execution.
With best regards to Mrs. Webb, believe me, my dear general, most traly yours.
G. BUCKLEY MATTHEW.
His Excellency General Webb, &c., &c., &c.
My only reply was a statement of the fact that Rear-Admiral Davis ignored my right to have any opinion on the subject, while his admiral, Ramsay, promptly responded to his calls, and sent every vessel he had up the Paraguay, and will send up the gunboat to arrive.
* * * * * * *
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.
Rear-Admiral Davis to Mr. Webb.
Sir: I owe you, perhaps, an apology for not having acknowledged sooner the reception of your letter of the 6th instant, in which you give me the unsolicited benefit of your opinion on the subject of my official duties.
Since your opinion is formed without a knowledge of all the circumstances of the case, I may not, possibly, attach so much value to it as you seem to expect.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
His Excellency J. Watson Webb, United States Minister Plenipotentiary and Envoy Extraordinary to the Court of Brazil.
Mr. Webb to Rear-Admiral Davis.
Sir: On returning from the United States consulate to the ferry, yesterday afternoon, when passing a Portuguese corner grocery, known as “Portuguese Joe’s,” the proprietor stopped my carriage and placed in my hands your official letter dated yesterday, October 8, in answer to my official letter of the 6th, delivered on board the Guerriere on the same day, by my secretary in person. Your letter is as follows:
“Sir: I owe you, perhaps, an apology for not having acknowledged sooner the reception of your letter of the 6th instant, in which you give me the unsolicited benefit of your opinion on the subject of my official duties.
“Since your opinion is formed without a knowledge of all the circumstances of the case, I may not, possibly, attach as much value to it as you seem to expect.”
There is no mistaking the purport of this language; although it does appear incredible to me that it should have been penned by you.[Page 306]
The first paragraph of your response to my letter of the 6th is, as subsequent reflection must have satisfied you, equally inaccurate and unjust. To demonstrate this declaration, I am compelled to go back to the origin of a difference of opinion which the tenor of your note aims to convert into a personally offensive correspondence.
Immediately on receiving and reading Mr. Washburn’s letter, which I did at the consulate on the 5th, I handed it to Fleet Surgeon Duvall to read and deliver to you; and while he was reading it, I addressed to you the following hasty note and handed it to the doctor, which you subsequently returned to me:
“My Dear Admiral: I inclose for your perusal a letter from Washburn. I think we should talk over this matter and see if anything can be done to relieve the two members of the United States legation, so outrageously seized by Lopez. It is one of the cases in which to do nothing is to do wrong and it appears to me that the mere fact of sending up a force to look after our people would at least avert much reproach that will otherwise fall upon us.
* * * * * * *
“J. WATSON WEBB.”
On my arrival on board you promptly indicated your unwillingness to act in the affair, and put to me the question, “What would you have me do?” I certainly did not consider that you thereby intended to ask my advice in the premises, because you took prompt measures to intimate that my advice was not desirable. But I understood then, as I do now, that, I having invited a friendly consultation on the subject, you were really desirous of knowing what it was I would have you do. To that question I replied at length in my letter of the 6th, and in that reply as I did not only stated my wishes as the envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary of the United States accredited to Brazil, but, as it was my imperative duty to do, I gave you my reasons for desiring prompt and energetic action on your part in vindication of the honor of our country, as well as to afford protection to our much-abused citizens.
To what you allude as “official duties” I am quite unable to determine. Most assuredly I have not attempted to interfere with the administration of the affairs of your squadron, and I do not pretend even to have any knowledge of its internal condition. I have contented myself with the discharge of my duty in pointing out to you what in my judgment the honor and dignity of our country demand, and wherein our people require that protection which it is made the duty of our navy to afford; and to secure which is the sole object of your presence here, at the cost of many millions annually to the public treasury. In doing this I have not gone beyond the strict line of my duty, as better information in regard to what a minister’s duty is, in an emergency like the present, cannot fail to convince you. But I might have gone still further than I did, and not only have pointed out your duty and advised you what to do, but finding you tardy in recognizing your duty in the premises, and ignoring the testimony of United States officials and adopting the charges and rumors of the Brazilian press and of Americans in Brazilian employ, I might with great propriety have formally remonstrated against your supineness and your rejection of official testimony, while you indorsed the slanders put forth against Mr. Washburn by those whose interest it is to traduce him.
When I addressed you my letter of the 6th, I regretted the necessity of so doing, and dreaded an official collision between friends. Your letter of yesterday has completely eradicated all those regrets. Its deliberate ignoring of a minister’s having any opinion whatever in regard to matters relative to which he should be far better posted than under any circumstances you can be, and your arrogantly assuming to yourself, and consequently to the junior lieutenant in the navy, an absolute superiority over the envoys extraordinary of our country, be they who they may, brings at once to an amicable issue a question which it is the interest of our country should be settled by legislation, and not be left longer to the whims and caprices of officers of the navy, to the very serious injury and possible dishonor and discredit of our country. According to your theory, it is positive offense against your dignity, meriting rebuke such as is conveyed to me in your note of yesterday, for the envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary from the United States to Brazil to entertain any opinion whatever upon a great outrage such as has been perpetrated by Paraguay against the honor and dignity of the United States; and if he should happen to entertain such an opinion and, in the discharge of what he considers a duty, should venture to express it, no matter how courteously, and point out what in his judgment should be done, he is guilty of a crime for which any ensign in the navy who happens to be in command of a gunboat may rebuke and insult him!
Permit me to illustrate my meaning. For more than three years past we have had on this coast a South Atlantic squadron, consisting of from six to eight steamers in [Page 307]number, and sustained certainly at a cost of not less than $5,000,000; and yet, during that period the only national services required of it have been the firing of a salute to the Brazilian flag in Bahia as an amende honorable, promised by me, the United States envoy extraordinary, in consequence of our having violated Brazilian neutrality in cutting out and capturing in Brazilian waters the pirate Florida. That salute should have been fired by the flag-ship, because, when a great nation resolves to make an amende honorable, self-respect demands that such amende shall be made in a magnanimous and manly manner. But your predecessor, having denounced any such concession to the wounded honor of Brazil, and actuated by anything but a commendable feeling towards the civil service of our country, and incapable of appreciating the chivalry of the act, sent one of the smallest gunboats in our navy to perform this duty, while he in the flagship remained in this harbor; and when the duty had been discharged in a manner so disreputable to us and so offensive to Brazil, he immediatly sailed for Bahia to demonstrate, as it were, the contemptuous manner in which the matter had been disposed of. One high in authority here very justly remarked: “It was an act of grace performed most ungraciously;” and it became my duty to explain that no slight was intended by our government, and that it was our misfortune to have had in command a naval officer who could not understand, much less appreciate, the delicate duty with the performance of which he was intrusted, and who did not perceive that it was his own country and not Brazil that was slighted by his proceeding.
The salute referred to was fired by the Nipsic, commanded at that time by one of the junior lieutenant commanders in service.
The next national service rendered by the squadron was by the gunboat Shamokin, which was permitted to take Mr. Washburn, our minister to Paraguay, through the enemy’s lines, because I gave notice to this government that if they refused such permission I should demand my passport.
And the third occasion upon which our squadron has rendered a national service was when you sent the Wasp to Asuncion for Mr. Washburn, and after a detention of seven weeks at the allied headquarters, permission to pass was peremptorily refused by the Marquis de Caxias. You, at my request, reported the facts to me, and I, contrary to your judgment, insisted upon our right to send her to Asuncion, and demanded that all hinderance to her passing up should cease. Twice, in formal notes from the Foreign Office, was the demand rejected, and the conduct of the Marquis de Caxias approved. I then again, in opposition to the advice of cautious friends, assumed the responsibility of inforrning this government that on a certain day either my passports or an order for the Wasp’s going up to Asuncion must be sent me.
Thereupon all opposition to the Wasp’s passing the blockading lines of the allies was withdrawn. I communicated the facts to you, and requested that the same vessel, commanded by the same intelligent gentleman, might be sent up to Paraguay. You promptly complied with my request, and, thank God, she not only arrived safely at her destination, but most providentially just in time to save the lives of our minister and family.
Now you know that the Nipsic could have rendered all the national services performed for our squadron by the Shamokin and Wasp; and at the same time have made an annual visit to the coast of Africa. Let us suppose, then, that the Mpsic, commanded by a lieutenant commander, had been the only United States vessel of war on the station, and that upon receiving Mr. Washburn’s report of the gross outrage perpetrated in Paraguay against the honor of our country and the rights and liberties of our people, I had addressed him the identical letter I addressed to you; are you prepared to say that such lieutenant in command would have been justified in sending me in response such an exceedingly offensive note as that to which I am replying? You will not pretend that any immunity in the premises attaches to you which would not equally apply to him. The rights and immunties, whatever they may be, attach to the position, to the officer in command, and have no relation to his rank.
I now pass to the second paragraph of your note, in which you say:
“Since your opinion is formed without a knowledge of the circumstances of the case, I may not, possibly, attach so much value to it as you seem to expect.”
This is a most extraordinary, gratuitous, and, I must add, a most reckless assertion. And upon what is it based? If upon testimony of a higher character than that of our duly accredited minister, received by you since our interview, then, most assuredly it was your duty to have apprised me of such testimony being in your possession. But such a supposition is simply impossible; because, there can be no reliable testimony—nay, there cannot, in the nature of things, be any testimony whatever in the case which can for one moment weigh against Mr. Washburn’s history of what has occurred in Paraguay, as reported to me and as has been set forth by him in his official letter to the British minister accredited to the Argentine Republic. Besides, you distinctly informed me on Monday, that although you had received Cammander Kirkland’s official report of his having performed the duties assigned him, he had made no report upon the events which had transpired in Paraguay. Of course not. Commander [Page 308]Kirkland is too wise to pretend to make a report upon events of which he necessarily could know nothing except what he learned from Mr. Washburn.
It follows, then, that your unwarranted assumption that my “opinion was formed without a knowledge of all the circumstances of the case,” has no other foundation whatever than the abuse heaped upon Mr. Washburn in the allied press, because he has told, imprudently perhaps, disagreeable truths about the Marquis de Caxias, and upon the slanderous stories concocted by the allies, and retailed and circulated by Americans in the pay of Brazil, who consider it a condition of their employment that they shall be more Brazilian than Brazilians themselves. And upon such data you venture to set aside the elaborate and carefully prepared testimony of the American minister, who has just escaped from Paraguay with his life; and as an apology for so doing affect to discover in his own report of events the evidence of a man writing under such excitement (the result of bodily fear) as discredits his testimony. This is, indeed, an extraordinary state of things; and whatever may be “your official duties,” and however disagreeable it may be to receive “unsolicited” opinions in regard to them, I venture the assertion, that thus to repudiate the direct testimony of a duly accredited United States minister upon the unfounded slanders of his enemies cannot and does not constitute any part of such “duties.” And I assert, moreover, that your repudiation of Mr. Washburn’s testimony, officially indorsed by me, has no more warrant than your uncalled for assumption and unqualified declaration that my” opinion is formed without a knowledge of all the circumstances of the case.”
I will only add, in conclusion, that the question of the relative duties and respective rights of United States ministers and naval officers in command, which for some purpose that I cannot fathom you have thought proper to raise, should, and I trust will, be speedily settled by Congress. Whether in your favor or mine, does not matter. We are simply the instruments whose differences in a far-off land, in regard to what action is demanded by our naval forces on this station in vindication of the nation’s honor, the rights of its officials, and the lives of our citizens, must and will call forth congressional legislation too long delayed. To secure such a result I shall cause this correspondence to be called for at the next session of Congress; and to convince you that, in the performance of my whole duty in this emergency, I do not intend to permit an official difference of opinion to degenerate into a personal controversy, I inclose herewith a copy of my dispatch to the Department of State written yesterday, when you were penning your extraordinary note to me, and which went forward by the steamer to Southampton this morning. Its spirit will be found somewhat different from that which guided your pen, and invited a personal controversy. To that spirit I shall adhere; and now feel it my duty to reiterate my requisition upon you, promptly and properly, to employ the large naval force under your command in the vindication of our national honor, the protection of the diplomatic rights of our country, and to attempt at least to save the lives of our outraged officials.
You may not know—and probably, if you did, would ignore it if reported to you by any one in the civil service of our country, but it is nevertheless my duty to inform you—that among the diplomatic representatives of foreign governments at this court, so far as I can learn, there is no difference of opinion in regard to what is expected from our minister and naval force on this station. They do not know that you and I are at variance on the question of duty; and, judging me by the past, they assume most naturally that we will not be unmindful of what is due to our country, and in her vindication, to the civilized world. As evidence of this sentiment, I copy from a note of his excellency George Buckley Matthew, the envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary of Great Britain at this court, his opinion upon this emergency, and which undoubtedly is the opinion of all his colleagues. You will perceive by its date that it was written on Tuesday, although it only reached me last evening:
“My Dear General: ’Tis not pleasant to add to bad news, but a line to the eleventh hour tells me that your unfortunate countryman, Bliss, had been cruelly tortured, and that his companion was said to have been shot.
“If U. S. (Uncle Sam) stands that he can’t hold up his head again. * * *
I am in the receipt, too, of another letter from Mr. Washburn, dated the 29th September, (doubtful authority, the Brazilians, native and adopted, will tell you,) by which it appears that, in ignorance of your estimate of his character and the character of his testimony, he has addressed you a letter on the subject of his affairs. He says, among other things:
“Come what may, I fear that I am embargoed here for several weeks. The reaction that has come upon Mrs. Washburn renders it out of the question that she should venture to sea at present. While the danger lasted, and we did not know but I should be arrested, tortured to death or shot, and she sent on foot to the Cordilleras, she held up bravely. But the danger is past, and she has completely broken down. Visions of [Page 309]imprisonment, fetters and stripes for your humble servant, disturb and haunt her, and her doctor tells me to-day she must keep entirely quiet, and not go out for weeks. This excitement and prolonged strain on the nerves has brought on * * * * *; so that there is no remedy but to wait here till she is sufficiently restored to start for home. What she most needs is quiet, together with sleep, undisturbed by horrid visions of Lopez and torture.”
A horrible picture this; but horrible as it is, be assured, no matter what others will tell you to the contrary, and no matter how great your unfounded prejudices against Mr. Washburn, it is strictly true. Mr. Washburn is incapable of falsehood. His report of events in Paraguay is as worthy of credit as if signed by you or by me and we may judge from Mrs. Washburn’s present state what she and her husband have passed through.
May I not indulge the hope that this picture of the present consequences of past events may induce you to accept the truth as officially presented to you instead of your being biased in your judgment, and permitting your official action to be controlled by the representations of interested individuals? General Quitman, a northern man and classmate of mine, brought me a challenge from Brooks after his brutal assault upon Sumner, and my account of that infamous affair; and in justification of his bringing the challenge he informed me that no northern man could live quietly in the south unless he proclaimed himself more ultra upon the question of slavery than the slaveholders themselves. May not this be the condition of our countrymen in the employ of Brazil? Be this as it may, the only purpose for which the United States squadron is stationed on this coast, at enormous cost to our treasury, is to give protection to American commerce and American citizens, and to defend and vindicate the national honor, no matter by whom assailed. This cannot be accomplished by its lying idly in the harbor of Rio. The squadron you command is not here either for your pleasure or your convenience; and patriotism requires that it should be in the waters of the La Plata. And therefore it becomes my imperative duty, earnestly but respectfully, to urge upon you an immediate departure for the south.
Saturday, October 10.
While writing, I have had placed in my hands the following from the British minister, written yesterday. I have not seen Governor Matthew for a week, but I know he speaks the sentiments of the entire diplomatic corps as well as the wishes of every disinterested and patriotic American in this region:
“My Dear General: Is your fleet going down to the river and up? I hope so. I declare to you I think we should have a general raid upon that wretch, who, with such a foe as Caxias, will go on for months.
“G. BUCKLEY MATTHEW.”
Does it not occur to you, admiral, that it is alike strange and unaccountable that you alone, of all intelligent men in Brazil, and without the sympathy of a solitary disinterested countryman, should look unconcernedly upon the outrage perpetrated against our national honor, and should persistently refuse to employ our squadron for the purposes for which alone it was intrusted to your care? Does it not become you to scan close the influences which guide and mislead you, and, irrespective of self, to try and discover what the honor of our country requires at your hands?
Should this correspondence be continued, I request that you will send your official notes to me in the same manner that you have heretofore forwarded your private correspondence, that is, by a boat from the Guerriere direct to the legation. Or if that should be inconvenient, please send your letters to our consulate, which is in close proximity to the fleet landing. It is not seemly that an official correspondence between the United States minister and the naval officer in command of a station, no matter how exalted or humble his rank, should be left at a corner grocery, to be forwarded when the proprietor of such grocery finds it convenient to, send lard and groceries to the minister’s kitchen. One proceedng of that nature is quite sufficient to indicate your contempt for the subject discussed, even if not intended to be personally offensive to your minister.
This note, like my previous one, will be delivered to you in person on board the Guerriere, by my secretary.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Rear-Admiral Charles H. Davis, Commanding South Atlantic Squadron.[Page 310]
Rear-Admiral Davis to Mr. Webb.
Sir: I received your letter dated the 9th instant on the evening of Saturday, the 10th instant.
Its style and language, and the character of its imputations, forbid the continuance, on my part, of this correspondence.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
His Excellency J. Watson Webb, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States, Boa Viagem.
Mr. Webb to Rear-Admiral Davis.
Sir: I am in the receipt of your letter, in which you say:
“Sir: I received your letter dated the 9th instant on the evening of Saturday, the 10th instant.
“Its style and language, and the character of its imputations, forbid the continuance, on my part, of this correspondence.”
I immediately read with great care the notes which have passed between us, with an avowed, determination that if I discovered in aught I have written any imputation whatever upon your character or conduct, promptly to withdraw and apologize for it. The result of such careful examination of our correspondence is a conviction that the only imputations contained in it are to be found in your unwarranted and uncalled-for note of the 6th instant. A statement of facts, however disagreeable, cannot be considered “imputations.”
I am sorry my “style” does not please you. Looking only to the discharge of a public duty, I did not consider it incumbent upon me to aim at any peculiarity of “style” in order to render grave official truths acceptable to a fastidious taste, and I employed the simple language of earnest conviction as eminently suited to the occasion.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Rear-Admiral Charles H. Davis, Commanding South Atlantic Squadron.
- For this letter see inclosure A to dispatch from United States minister to Paraguay, No. 7, October 27, 1868.↩