Mr. McMahon to Mr. Seward.

No. 6.]

Sir: I have the honor to inform you that I arrived at this port on the 20th instant, and on the 21st, in obedience to instructions, submitted your dispatch of the 2d September last, numbered 3, to Rear-Admiral Charles H. Davis, commanding the United States squadron on this station, on board the flag-ship Guerriere; and on the day following to Hon. James Watson Webb, envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary of the United States at the court of Brazil, at his residence at Boa Viagem.

Mr. Webb informed me that he personally knew that no objection would be made upon the part of the government of Brazil to my passing through the blockading lines on the tributaries of the La Plata, and at my instance promised to communicate to me on the following day official assurance to that effect.

This communication I have not yet received, and I fear it may not now reach me in time to inclose a copy with this dispatch.

The admiral informed me that in consequence of the insult offered to the government of the United States, in the forcible seizure and detention of two members of the United States legation at Asuncion by order of President Lopez, he deemed it advisable to proceed with his entire squadron to the La Plata, and ascend the river with such of the vessels as are suited to that service, for the purpose of exacting such reparation from the government of Paraguay as the honor and dignity of the government of the United States may require. He requested me also to accompany him on the flag-ship, and offered to transfer his flag in the La Plata to one of the smaller vessels, and proceed with me to the headquarters of President Lopez at Villeta, to take such action as we would mutually decide upon, in anticipation of instructions from Washington.

The seizure of the two members of the United States legation at Asuncion, one of whom, Porter C. Bliss, is an American citizen, the other, George Masterman, a British subject, has been, I am informed, fully Communicated to the government by Mr. Webb, and also by my predecessor, Mr. Washburn.

It was also published by Mr. Washburn, in Buenos Ayres, in the form of a letter to the Hon. William Stuart, her Britannic Majesty’s minister plenipotentiary at Buenos Ayres, containing a detailed account of the unfortunate occurrences in Paraguay that preceded Mr. Washburn’s departure.

A printed copy of this letter, I am informed by Mr. Webb, will accompany his communication to me on the subject of Paraguayan affairs, and will be transmitted with this, if received in time.

[Page 679]

The correspondence between Mr. Washburn and the government of Paraguay which preceded his departure from that country I have read with as much care as its great length and the little time allowed me would permit. All that portion of it which relates to the privilege of asylum at the house of the minister, the right of the government to establish the proper place for diplomatic residence, the attempt to implicate Mr. Washburn in a conspiracy for the overthrow of the government, I believe it is no part of my official duty, under existing circumstances, to consider.

It appears that the government of Paraguay demanded of the ministerof the United States the dismissal from the legation of Messrs. Bliss andMasterman, members of the legation, reported as such to the minister of foreign affairs some time previous to the demand for their delivery. Mr. Washburn declined to comply with this demand. The minister of foreign affairs insisted, denying that the individuals named were members of the United States legation, and alleging that they had been indicted for treason and conspiracy before the judicial tribunal, and that evidence to sustain the charges was in the possession of the government. I wouldc all attention here to the fact that at a subsequent stage of the correspondence the minister of foreign affairs alleged that similar evidence against the minister of the United States was on record in the tribunal of justice, and produced certain depositions alleged to have been made by members of the conspiracy then awaiting trial or already convicted. A peremptory demand was also made upon Mr. Washburn for the surrender of a package of papers alleged to have been intrusted to him by one of the traitors. He denied in positive and explicit terms that such a package had been delivered to him, whereupon the demand of the Paraguayan government was discourteously repeated. After a correspondence of great length, much embarrassed by the painful and ingenious attempt to connect the minister of the United States with the conspiracy for the overthrow of the government, Mr. Washburn finally receives his passport, in accordance with his repeated request, and is notified that a steamer is in readiness to convey him to Villeta, where the United States steamer Wasp awaits him. The government refuses passports for Messrs. Bliss and Masterman, and arrests them in the street, while on their way to the steamer in company with the minister and his family. Mr. Washburn, after addressing a letter to President Lopez, solemnly protesting against the arrest and detention of members of his legation and other acts done in Paraguay, proceeded to Buenos Ayres, where he still remains.

These events have naturally produced great excitement in South America, and there exists, of course, much speculation, with some diversity of opinion as to the course of action proper to be taken in anticipation of instructions from the government at Washington. Mr. Webb, our minister at the court of Brazil, has frankly and with characteristic kindness expressed to me his views as to the proper course to be followed, and has informed me that in the communication which I am now hourly expecting to receive from him he will discuss the affairs of the Paraguayan mission, and inform me at length of his opinions. I thanked him for the kind interest he manifested in a subject of some embarrassment to me, and will give to his letter of advice such careful and respectful consideration as his high character and great experience deserve for it. At the same time, I am confident the department will not expect of me that I will permit myself to be deterred by the high consideration and respect entertained for Mr. Webb from proceeding at once with the admiral to the nearest proper point of approach to the capital of Paraguay, for the [Page 680] purpose of promptly advising the Secretary of events as they occur. I make this remark because, in consultation with Mr. Webb, he informed me that it was his opinion that I ought not under any circumstances to proceed beyond Buenos Ayres; that the United States are now in a state of war with Paraguay; that my instructions are therefore abrogated; that, having no power to make peace, I would compromise the dignity of the government by approaching Paraguayan territory. From these views I am compelled to dissent. I believe it my duty to inform the Secretary of State of all that occurs in Paraguay, and this duty I can perform properly only by proceeding up the Parana River with the squadron.

I have officially acquainted the admiral with the state of affairs as already communicated to the department, and informed him that, in the absence of instructions from Washington, diplomatic relations with the government of Paraguay will not be resumed until the two members of the legation, now held by President Lopez, are released, and such reparation made as may seem proper in view of the serious character of the offense committed against the honor and dignity of the United States.

The admiral has announced his intention of proceeding on the information communicated to him, promptly, and with all necessary firmness. He has requested that I will accompany him to Villeta, to the end that we may consult upon ulterior action, should the demand for the rendition of Bliss and Masterman be denied by the Paraguayan government. We will accordingly sail to-morrow for Montevideo with the entire squadron, and thence with such of the vessels as are adapted to river service up the Parana.

It is proper to add that the information in regard to affairs in Paraguay to be obtained in Brazil is usually of the most unreliable kind. What is asserted to-day most positively is contradicted to-morrow unequivocally. In regard to the unfortunate circumstances now claiming attention, Captain Kirkland, of the United States steamer Wasp, an officer whose course in Paraguay displayed great discretion, writes unofficially to Admiral Davis that it is important that our government should thoroughly investigate the subject before taking decisive action; that such an investigation may reveal important facts not yet made public; that President Lopez expressed to him great anxiety to preserve friendly relations with the United States, and solicited his mediation with Mr. Washburn, for the purpose of restoring a more amicable state of feeling between the government of Paraguay and the representative of the United States. It appears also that the statements positively and repeatedly made in this city that the Portuguese consul, Mr. Leite Pereira, a former refugee at the house of the United States minister at Asuncion, had been executed by President Lopez, are incorrect. The French consul, also reported as put to death, is not only alive but has left Paraguayon a French man-of-war, and reports by the admiral of the French fleet on this station that he was at no time during his stay in Paraguay disquieted on account of his personal safety. In view of these facts, I am led to indulge the hope that Messrs. Bliss and Masterman have suffered at the hands of the Paraguayan authorities no personal discomfort other than their forced detention, and that they will soon be restored to the protection of the national flag.

I have endeavored in this dispatch to touch but briefly on those matters which have already been made known to you in full, as I am informed, and to communicate such other circumstances as may help to afford you a full understanding of the existing state of affairs.

The communication I had expected to receive from Mr. Webb, [Page 681] conveying the assurance that the government of Brazil will interpose no obstacle to my passage through their lines, has not yet reached me.

* * * * * * *

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


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