Mr. Washburn to Mr. Seward.
Sir: At length I have escaped alive from Paraguay, and have brought the larger part of my family with me. Two members of my legation, however, Porter C. Bliss and George F. Masterman, were seized by the police of President Lopez, at the moment of their starting to accompany me to the steamer, at the time of my departure. The condition of affairs in Paraguay, at the time I left, was horrible beyond description. All, or nearly all, of the foreigners were in prison and heavily fettered, and I believe if the steamer that came to take me away had been a month later, I should have shared their fate. Lopez pretended, some three or four months ago, to have discovered some sort of a conspiracy, and after arresting almost all the foreigners, demanded of me that I should deliver up to the tribunals those who had sought asylum in my house at the time the Brazilian fleet went to Asuncion in February last, To defend these men and save them from the clutches of Lopez, I had a correspondence with the government long enough to make a volume of diplomatic dispatches. It was all in vain, however. They all had to go; though none, except Bliss and Masterman, were taken by force. Had not the Wasp come to my rescue, I have no doubt I also should have been shot, or else held a prisoner and subjected to torture. Lopez pretended to believe that I, too, was engaged in the conspiracy, and in his last letters gives what he says are the declarations of his two brothers, his ex-minister of foreign affairs, Don Jose Berges (the same who went as commissioner to the United States, in 1859) and his chief justice, Señor Urdapilleta, in which they all say that they were engaged in a great conspiracy, and that the American minister was at the head of it, and used his official seal to cover the correspondence between the traitors and the enemy. Of course, when he included such declarations in official correspondence, I asked for my passports, but I did not receive them until the arrival of the Wasp. Even then I was not able to get away for nearly a week, and until I was on board the Wasp, I had good reasons to apprehend I should not get away at all.[Page 671]
Since my arrival here I have had no time to write a full or succinct account of the horrors of the last three months. Nor can I send you copies of my correspondence till the next steamer. I send, however, with this the Buenos Ayres Standard, containing my last note to Lopez, written after I was on board the Wasp, and also a letter written by me to the English minister here, after my arrival, giving him an account of the situation of his countrymen and of all foreigners in Paraguay. This will give as good an idea of the real condition there as anything I could write. I will, however, as soon as I possibly can, give you even a more full and detailed statement than this. But since my arrival here I have been completely run down by people who have come to inquire of me inregard to their friends in Paraguay. I regret that I have butone answer for them all: “Lopez has killed your friends, or holds them in prison loaded with fetters.” I fear, too, that none of them will escape with their lives. I take it for granted that all of those whose declarations have been published, including the two brothers of Lopez, and his ex minister Jose Berges, have been or will be executed. They will not be left to deny them, or to give an account of the tortures by which they were extorted.
I am confident there has never been any conspiracy, for I do not believe that under the system of espionage that exists throughout Paraguay, and the universal distrust that everybody has for everybody else, there are three men in the country so foolhardy as to engage in anything of the kind. Lopez, however, in his policy of extermination, and of leaving no one to testify aganst him, has declared that there is, and seems to imagine that confessions extorted by torture will justify him before the world in executing those who have made them; or rather, those whom he declares to have made them. It was to dispel this illusion that I sent him my note of September 12, when on board the Wasp.
My letter to the English minister was first published in the Standard, and has been translated and published in most of the native papers. It has caused a general thrill of horror. The English, French, Italian, and Portuguese ministers have all sent gunboats up the river, in hope of rescuing their unfortunate coutrymen. Neither of them, however, would have been allowed to pass the blockade had not the Wasp done so previously. The French and Italian ministers are very much concerned about their consuls there, as Lopez has taken and is reported to have shot the Portugese consul, and subjected the vice-consul to such treatment that he died under it. They all say there is no question now of national dignity, of law or right; all these considerations are to be sunk under the imperative duty of rescuing their countrymen from the grasp of a madman.
In regard to the publication of this correspondence, I wish to say that Lopez began to publish it in his Semanario and continued it till, in my note of the 11th of August, I showed, by citing facts and dates, the entire falsity of the declarations said to have been made by Berges, Carreras, and others, and that for some three weeks the Semanario did not appear again, and that when finally another number did appear, a day or two before my departure, though bearing date nearly a month before, no more of the correspondence was published nor was any allusion made to it. Copies of the Semanario having the correspondence as far as published, however, were brought below without my knowledge by the Wasp, and besides these copies of the last notes of the government to me were somehow smuggled through in the same way to be published here. On being informed of this, after my arrival, I considered that it would be better to have it published complete than to have only such [Page 672] parts of it given as might suit the purposes of President Lopez. I have, therefore, given to the newspapers here those notes that Lopez seemed most anxious to suppress, and believe that under the circumstances my course was judicious and will be approved.
Though I have staid the last year in Paraguay, to my great pecuniary loss, and have been compelled to live without many of the necessaries of life, and have done it all in order to be of service to others, nearly all of whom were of different nationalities than my own, I find on arriving here I am greeted by the press (with the exception of the Standard) with a perfect storm of obloquy.
The newspapers publish eagerly all my correspondence, and give my testimony as evidence of the wisdom and justice of the “triple alliance” and a vindication of the conduct of the war. At the same time they cannot conceal their vexation that Lopez did not shoot me. Twice I had forced their blockade in vindication of the rights of nations and my rights as a minister of a nation friendly to all the belligerents, and because I had done that, they supposed I was a great friend of Lopez, whereas I have always regarded him as the worst man, and his as the worst government in the world. In this published correspondence there also appear some expressions not at all complimentary to the allies. I believe all the world is of my opinion that throughout this war they have shown a degree of slowness never surpassed, as if it were their purpose to exterminate the Paraguayans without meeting them in battle. They have, therefore, regarded me with great disfavor ever since I returned to Paraguay, and they cannot conceal their chagrin that Lopez did not make a climax of his atrocities by killing me. This, they imagine, would have justified the “triple alliance,” and established the courage and endurance of the allies, in taking as many years to conquer Paraguay as they ought to have been months.
But, had Lopez made me a prisoner, and shot me as a conspirator, they know that the contempt they have brought upon themselves by their imbecility would be diverted from them, and that the burden of the war would be transferred to a more powerful nation, and that they would be relieved from further responsibility in regard to its further prosecution. Their vexation and annoyance, therefore, that Lopez did not kill me is extreme, and the same papers that quote me as authority for their execration of Lopez quote his tortured witnesses as evidence against me.
I learn that a new minister has been appointed for Paraguay, and it is supposed he will soon be here. I shall not feel justified in leaving this place till he arrives, and I can fully advise him of the condition of affairs in Paraguay. I take it for granted that, if he comes, he will not go up the river till he has further instructions from the department. Should he go up now, or a month hence, he would probably find that Lopez had fled to the Cordilleras; bat should he not come soon, I shall consider that I ought to remain here till I can consult Mr. Webb, in Rio, in regard to the case of those two members of my legation, Mr. Bliss and Mr. Masterman, who were taken from me by force by President Lopez. I cannot abandon them as long as there is a possibility of saving them. Truth is, I fear they have both been executed before this, though I know that nothing exists or could be proved against them were the witnesses outside of Paraguay. Lopez, however, can produce declarations of honorable men that they have committed every imaginable crime, including sorcery, treason, arson, flat burglary, and trespass on the case.[Page 673]
I was unable to comply with your instructions to leave the archives of the legation with some responsible American citizen in Paraguay, in whom I had confidence. Unfortunately all such were prisoners at the time I left. I therefore gave them in charge of the Italian consul there, Mr. Lorenzo Chapperson.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.