Mr. Washburn to Mr. Seward.

No. 101.]

Sir: With this I send you copies of all the correspondence I had with the government of Paraguay subsequent to my dispatch of January 17, 1868, which appears to be the latest that President Lopez allowed to pass through the military lines. Other dispatches that I sent in the month of April I now learn never reached this city, and I therefore send duplicates of them. In these dispatches, Nos. 97, 98, and 99, I gave full accounts of the events that had transpired in Paraguay subsequent to the passage of the allied squadron above Humaita, and the evacuation of Asuncion. But as I was obliged to intrust them to the hands of Lopez to be forwarded, I felt it necessary to be very guarded, in my language, as I suspected they would be opened and detained by him, and if they contained anything unfavorable to him or his cause, that all to whom I had given shelter and protection would be exposed to his implacable vengeance, and my own situation rendered as disagreeable as possible. I nevertheless repeated my request to be recalled, and gave a full account of the circumstances of the evacuation, and stated my reasons why I wished to get away. Matters had been going on from bad to worse, till even at that time a reign of terror existed, such as had never been known in the worst days of France. I had thought it my duty to stay as long as I could be of any service in giving aid or protection to foreigners, or even to Paraguayans, who might seek the shelter of my flag at the last extremity. It was evident to me by that time, however, that though by remaining I might give a sense of security, the reality I could not give; and that if Lopez were forced to retire into the interior, he would leave no one in his rear, not even me nor anyone belonging to the legation.

These dispatches, with private letters, undoubtedly were opened and read by Lopez, and he learned from them that I was tired, sick, and disgusted with him and his government; for soon after sending them, when I went to visit him at his headquarters on the arrival of the Wasp at Curupaiti, to see if I could not make some arrangements so that she would come above the blockading squadron, I found him morose and churlish. Previously he had always evinced a disposition to keep on amicable terms, and his changed manner I ascribed partly to the fact that he was losing ground in the war, and partly to the circumstance that I had given asylum to so many persons in my legation. I was previously well aware that it was gall and wormwood to him to have it supposed that there was one house, or one person even, in Paraguay, over which he could not exercise his absolute power; and before I left him to return to Asuncion he gave me to understand that the persons whom I had admitted into my house would not be allowed to remain there.

[Page 674]

I then saw clearly that there were “breakers ahead,” and the first thing for me to consider was how I should get my wife and child out of the country without abandoning those who had sought refuge with me, or the larger number who had looked to me as their last and only hope. I knew perfectly well that if I had asked my passports at that time and requested Lopez to send a steamer to convey me under flag of truce to Curupaiti, he would not have done so. He would probably have said that there were so many torpedoes and other obstacles in the river that he would not venture one of his steamers to pass them, and there was no other way by which I could get aboard the Wasp. My only hope, therefore, of getting my family away was that the Wasp would pass above the blockade, and if I could once get them out of danger, I was disposed to remain to give protection, or at least a sense and feeling of protection, to the foreigners. At such a fearful crisis I thought it would appear cowardly and selfish for me to go away leaving hundreds or thousands who believed that my presence in the country was a guarantee of their safety. But at that time I had not the most remote idea of the absurd and preposterous charges that were soon to be made, not only against those whom I had protected, but against myself.

The Wasp, however, was not allowed by the Brazilians to go above the squadron at that time, and her commander, after waiting for nearly two months and finding that he could do nothing to relieve me without going higher up the river, returned for further instructions. I then supposed he would soon return with orders to force the blockade if necessary to effect a passage. Events, however, were occurring about the time of the departure of the Wasp that led me to suppose Lopez had become distrustful of everybody. Gradually I found that the most of those foreigners who had looked to me for safety were one after the other arrested and taken in irons to headquarters. What their offense was no one in my house could imagine. Then came the succession of events as related in my letter to the English minister on my return to Buenos Ayres, a copy of which I send with this.

The several foreign ministers here are greatly exercised concerning the course they ought to pursue. They have all asked my opinion, and I have told them that Lopez was amenable to no principle or sentiment but fear; that his reiterated vaunt that he would fight to the last man and last dollar, and fall on the field of battle when all was lost, was but the whistling of the boy passing through the graveyard; that he would save his own detested person at last if possible, and carry with him all the money and jewels that he could rob from their rightful owners; that with all his apparent recklessness, such was his ultimate intention; that he would sacrifice everybody so far as possible, and yet leave a safe retreat for himself; that he was infatuated with the idea he could seize any foreigner and confiscate his property and then publish what would purport to be his confession or “declaration,” confessing himself to be a conspirator or plunderer of the treasury, or both, and that this would be received as ample justification for shooting him and taking his property; that to leave no intelligent witnesses to testify against him he would take care to butcher all intelligent people, Paraguayans and foreigners alike, relying on the “declarations” he had caused to be promulgated as theirs as his own justification. In conclusion, I have added that being thus convinced of his intentions, and knowing so well his character, the only means that the foreign ministers had of giving security to their countrymen in Paraguay was to awaken the fears of the despot who held them in his power, and that, in my opinion, the most efficient way to do this was for them all to unite in a joint note to Lopez and warn [Page 675] him that he would be held responsible by their respective governments for the lives and good treatment of all their fellow-countrymen.

The course I have suggested, however, has not been adopted. The ministers fear to do so lest it may provoke Lopez to an indiscriminate massacre of all foreigners. They feel that they are treating with a madman, and doubt whether his personal cowardice gives such “method to his madness” as would make him consult his own safety. Instead of the course thus suggested by me, they have sent the gunboats of their respective nations to pass through the squadron, each one to forward a message to Lopez requesting him to send on board the citizens of their repective nationalities.

No good, in my opinion, can result in such half-way measures. Lopez is so absolute that in reply to the demand for the delivery of the subjects of any foreign government, he could send a letter with the veritable signature of every foreigner living in the country—for if he could not get their signatures they would live no longer—saying that they did not wish to leave Paraguay; that they were so well treated by the great Lopez, and were so grateful to him for his care and protection of them, that they never would leave him. And yet, of these very people who would, to save or rather prolong their lives, sign such a paper, there is not, to the best of my knowledge and belief, one out of a hundred that would not give everything he has got in the world, except life, to escape from Lopez’s power.

So far as I can learn, there is not a person outside Paraguay who believes that there has ever been any conspiracy at all; that the pretense that there has been is only to give Lopez an excuse for killing off all foreigners and such Paraguayans as have money enough to tempt his cupidity. Previous to my arrival here, there were many in favor of breaking up the “triple alliance,” and making peace with Lopez. But now, since it is known how he has treated all foreigners, not excepting even the members of the United States legation, the universal sentiment is that he must be destroyed—that he is a common enemy of mankind.

In my last dispatch, No. 100, I mentioned the fact that the newspapers here appeared to be indignant that I had got away from the grasp of Lopez. The correspondence had not then been all published, and at the time of their unfavorable comments they evidently supposed that, by remaining, I could have continued to give protection to more or less people. The last long letter to me from Lopez’s last foreign minister, Luis Caminos, has completely dispelled this impression, and if they show no affection for me, they are constrained to language respectful and decent. I inclose a slip from the Standard of the 30th of September, which is a sharp rebuke of the temper they at first manifested.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.

Mr. Washburn, the United States Minister.

To the Editors of the Standard:

Gentlemen: Like all others, I have been greatly horrified at hearing the accounts given by the Hon. Mr. Washburn of the state of affairs in Paraguay. But my horror at the brutality of Lopez does not equal my disgust at the treatment Mr. Washburn has received at the hands of the native papers. Mr. Washburn, it is well known, [Page 676] remained in Paraguay for a long time, for no other purpose than to give aid and protection to foreigners. He staid there until such charges were brought against him by Lopez that he could not with self-respect hold any more official correspondence with that government. He then demanded his passports. He did not receive them, however, until the arrival of the Wasp, and it is evident that up to that time it was the intention of Lopez to keep the American minister a prisoner in Paraguay; so he told Captain Kirkland. It is also evident that had he committed any act of violence towards Mr. Washburn he would have committed the last, and after he had tortured him to death he would have published such declarations as coming from him as suited his purpose. No wonder Mr. Washburn did not wish to partake of that banquet which Lopez had prepared for him.

Having incurred the implacable wrath of Lopez, it was useless for him to remain any longer in Paraguay. He could give protection or aid to nobody. As he justly says in his parting note to Lopez, the seizure of Bliss and Masterman in the street was as clear a violation of his rights as a minister as if they had been taken from his house by force.

No, Mr. Editor, the conduct of Mr. Washburn throughout this whole fearful time was humane, generous and self-sacrificing, and the abuse that he is now receiving is for other reasons than those alleged. In the correspondence lately published, Mr. Washburn has made very severe and sarcastic remarks in regard to the way the allies have conducted the war. But he is not alone in that; has not Lopez got the sympathy of at least half the world, not from any merit of his own, but by reason of the procrastination of the allies? These comments of Mr. Washburn your contemporaries know to be just and deserved, and they feel them strongly, and they revenge themselves by throwing dirty water at the only man who has ever told the whole truth both about Lopez and the allies.

There is another reason why the American minister is assailed. It is known he gave great offense two years ago by forcing the blockade to get into the country after the Brazilians had told him plainly he never should pass, and now he has forced it again to get out of it, notwithstanding the defiant language of the Marquis de Caxias. They feel humiliated at the arrogance of this Yankee, and are greatly chagrined that Lopez did not make him a prisoner and shoot him. That would have brought the United States into the conflict, and would have promised an end to the war. Their anger at Lopez is not so much because he puts others in prison and shoots them as that he did not do the same to Mr. Washburn. This, they imagine, would have called off the attention of the world from the slow progress of the war, and would have proved the wisdom of the “triple alliance.” The burden, then, of making an end of Lopez would, have fallen on the United States. But Mr. Washburn got away alive, and in their anger at him for doing so they show a sanguinary spirit worthy of the Gaucho. “Hine illœ lacrymœ.”


A word for Mr. Washburn.

Gentlemen: It surely needs but a slight examination of the correspondence which is, thanks to your efforts, now placed in the hands of the public, to see how innocent Mr. Washburn is of all the ridiculous charges brought against him, whether by the outwitted Lopez, or by the partial native press; and it will be difficult for any one to lay down that “lucky volume of letters” without freely confessing the United States representative is one, in all respects, worthy of the trust confided in him by the great republic.

His position was a most difficult one; he had to please Lopez, and, as it seems, this republic as well; nevertheless, he has succeeded in steering as straight and honorable a course as was, under the circumstances, possible. It is urged his praise of the Paraguayans (see letter of July 14) was hypocritical, and that he, in thus writing, was afraid to speak what he really thought. But is this really so? were these sentiments not his real ones? We find (see letter of August 11) that he wrote in the same strain to his government. Surely, then, he was not afraid, but spoke what he felt; and, indeed, who is there that can deny the Paraguayans have fought well, nobly, and most bravely? Thus, remembering he wrote the same to Benitez on this matter as he did to Washington, the charge of hypocrisy, of acting dishonorably, must fall to the ground; and were this fact not so, still, when so many lives depended on his actions, so to speak, surely this praise would not only have been excusable, but altogether profitable. But, is it this which ruffles the spirit of the native press, or the comments on Mitre, Elizalde, Caxias, Tamandare, and a reference to the Shamokin? (in letter of August 11.) Perhaps partiality and party bitterness combined with this is the cause why all the native papers are angry with the United States minister. One thing, however, is certain: did [Page 677] the native press only look at the state of things with an impartial eye, it would be forced to confess Mr. Washburn’s conduct is far from all blame. His conduct has been that of a gentleman, a diplomatist, and of a man not deaf to the cry for help and protection. When we consider the insults at first freely hinted, and then thickly showered upon his shoulders by the Paraguayan government—and may it not be said indirectly upon the United States as well?—one must admire his calm, courteous, and gentlemanly answers. A comparison of Benitez’s letters from July 23, abounding in insults, hints of treachery, and dishonor of the United States minister, and Mr. Washburn’s replies, will show a difference none the less marked than to the latter’s credit.

Mr. Washburn has done well in placing this correspondence in the hands of the public, and so long as that public gives an impartial verdict, his conduct cannot fail to be approved.

It would be well did some writers and thinkers place themselves in Mr. Washburn’s position if they would consider how he was placed; any fool can keep his head above water in a calm, but it is the rough sea which proves what a man is really made of, and the difficult position in which he was placed, and out of which he has sallied victorious, does credit to him and to his government. Let all remember the United States minister was the only one who dared to stick to his post, and not blame him for not causing perhaps the massacre of all the foreigners in Paraguay by an open resistance to Lopez at first; which course would not have done, could not have done any good, but might have caused much harm. Had Mr. Washburn been supported by a fleet of United States iron-clads he might have defied Lopez, but as it was with no protection but what Lopez for the moment chose to give, the case was altered.

By a cautious, honorable, and skilful diplomacy he effected as much as a man situated as he was could do. Surely he may not be blamed for not doing more than was possible. He is blamed by some for giving up his guests, but what good could have resulted from a refusal to comply? He would have to leave Paraguay sooner or later, and then could no longer protect them under the sacred folds of the American flag. Besides which, did he give them up? Rather the reverse; he counselled more than one not to leave, and left it to the choice of all to go or stay; they chose to leave; by what right could he make them remain?

In justice to Mr. Washburn, all should either read this correspondence carefully or else keep their verdict to themselves. No man has the right to judge unless he judges after an impartial, careful, and complete hearing of the evidence for and against.

Apologizing for the length of this, which may perhaps find some unoccupied column,

I am, &c.,