Mr. Washburn to Mr. Seward.
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.