Mr. McMahon to Mr. Seward.

No. 7.]

Sir: Shortly after the departure of the mail yesterday containing my dispatch of the 26th instant, numbered 6, I received from Hon. James Watson Webb, envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary near the court of Brazil, a communication in relation to the affairs of the Paraguayan mission, a copy of which I inclose, marked A.

I had expected that this communication would contain an assurance that the government of Brazil would oppose no military obstacles to my passage up the river an assurance which I was directed in your dispatch of September last, numbered 3, to obtain.

I find in General Webb’s communication no mention of this subject. I have written to him in reply, calling his attention to the omission, and adding that if it suits his view of duty I would be pleased to receive from him the information I desire in an official note before the sailing of the Guerriere. I inclose a copy of my reply, marked B.

Upon the subjects which are discussed in General Webb’s communication I have no comment to make further than to remark that he did not, it appears, correctly understand my intention and desire, so far as they were communicated to him in the interview to which he refers. I will leave this port to-morrow on the flag-ship Guerriere, in company with Admiral Davis, as stated in my dispatch of yesterday. The other vessels of the squadron sailed to-day to rendezvous at Montevideo.

The latest intelligence from Paraguay represents President Lopez as occupying a strong position, strongly fortified, at Villeta, and the position of the allied forces as somewhat critical, on account of the swampy nature of the country and the great difficulty and expense of obtaining supplies. I learn also that Señor Berges, former minister of foreign affairs, alleged to have been executed for treason some months since, is still alive, and that all prisoners held for political offenses in Paraguay are treated with no unnecessary harshness.

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


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



Mr. Webb to Mr. McMahon.

My Dear Sir: When you did me the honor to call at this legation yesterday and intimated your intention to go up to Asuncion accompanied by Admiral Davis and [Page 682] the smaller vessels of the United States squadron, with a view of presenting your credentials to President Lopez and demanding the release of the members of our legation forcibly detained by him, I at once said that nothing of the kind could be done without bringing deep disgrace upon our country and rendering us the laughing stock of the world.* * * * * * * *

To this you answered, that there were so many versions of what had taken place in Paraguay, that you would not decide what to do until you reached the La Plata. I replied, “That is an error; there is but one version of the facts of the case to which you, I, or Admiral Davis 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 conduct.”

I then placed in your hands for perusal my correspondence with Admiral Davis, urging him to employ the squadron under his command for the sole and only purpose it is kept here, viz: the vindication of our national honor and the protection of the commerce and lives of our people, instead of keeping it idly in this harbor when the ships of every other nationality are hastening to the scene of outrage upon us, and, through us, upon the civilized world. You proceeded to read what I placed in your hands; and when nearly through with it, handed me your official instructions from the State Department, directing you to see me, before you proceeded to the river.

After you had finished reading the correspondence, upon which no commentaries were made by either of us, you proceeded to detail your programme on arrival at the La Plata. I listened, and said I did not like to make any commentaries upon it, unless you requested me to do so; although I fully admit, that on further reflection I should have deemed it my duty to have earnestly protested against any such proceeding, and distinctly have placed before you what I considered to be your duty in the premises. You thought of addressing a letter to the admiral, setting forth your official character, &c., &c., and that you desired to present your credentials and deliver to Lopez certain very friendly messages and assurances from the President, which letter the admiral might use. I advised against any such proceeding and objected to your making any advances whatever towards Lopez; the whole matter having entirely changed since you were accredited to Paraguay. Lopez has placed himself entirely beyond the pale of civilized nations; and least of all can the United States have intercourse with him, except through the naval and military power of our country. To me your duty appears very simple; and I will proceed to give you my view of it, holding myself responsible to our common superior for so doing.

I think you should at once address an official note to Admiral Davis, stating who you are, and requiring from him the employment of the naval force under his command in rescuing the members of the United States legation, forcibly seized in violation of every principle of international law and the comity of nations. And you should particularly press upon him the gravity of the emergency, and strive to enlighten him in regard to his duty in the premises; in order that our country may, as far as practicable, be relieved from the odium of being careless in affording protection to our legations throughout the world, and unmindful of our national honor. * * *

Do all in your power to induce him to take all his squadron, except the Guerriere, up the Paraguay, and from the deck of his flag-ship send a flag of truce into the country, demanding, without parley, the immediate surrender of Bliss and Masterman.

* * * * * * *

He (Lopez) has virtually declared war upon the United States, and neither you nor I have a right to make peace, or to decide what the offended dignity of our country demands. If he is no longer in authority, then you have nothing to do with him; while, if he is, then it is for our government to deal with him, and you and I have nothing to do but await its action. If, in the mean time, the allies should set up a government of their own in Paraguay, as by treaty they are pledged to do, most assuredly you can have nothing to do with that affair; and if recognized at all, it must be by our own government, and not by you or me; and you will do well to enlighten the admiral in regard to his duties in such a contingency, which, in all probability, is certain to occur.

Under all the circumstances of the case, then it is manifest that it is your duty to remain quietly at Buenos Ayres or Montevideo until you can receive further instructions from Mr. Seward. All your instructions, and all your messages from the President to Lopez, are cancelled by the latter’s act of war against the United States. This letter to you will constitute a part of my dispatch to the Department of State, by the Mississippi, on the 26th, and, beyond all peradventure, you will be in possession of fresh instructions on or before the 1st of January next; which will be less than two months after your arrival at the river. They will come by the return steamer, or if not then by telegraph to our legation in London, and hence to the river by any one of the seven lines of steamers now sailing monthly from Europe to the La Plata, touching at Rio. My only apprehension is that if Bliss and Masterman are still alive they will have been rescued by some of the vessels of war belonging to other nationalities now[Page 683]in the Paraguay. That such is their intention, I know, and such intentions are not concealed in the general indignation of the public at the non-action of our squadron on this station. God grant that we may be spared that blow.

In my opinion, your course is a very simple one. You have no duties to discharge in connection with Paraguay. Lopez, by an act of war against the United States, has cancelled alike your duties and your instructions, and nothing remains for you to do but to consult the honor and dignity of your country by remaining here, or in the La Plata, until you can hear from Washington. You say it is very desirable you should meet Mr. Washburn. I think it is. He will arrive here on the 4th November, and your presence at the river is not immediately necessary.

I inclose you a copy of Mr. Washburn’s official letter to the British envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to the Argentine, and through him to the other legations in Buenos Ayres. It is a duplicate of the one sent to me by Mr. Washburn, and which I sent to Admiral Davis, indorsing its authenticity, and I furnish it to you under like circumstances.

* * * * * * *

I am, my dear general, very sincerely, your colleague and obedient servant,


His Excellency General Martin T. McMahon, United States Minister Resident to Paraguay.



Mr. McMahon to General Webb.

My Dear Sir: The communication of the 23d instant, which you did me the honor to address to me, reached me last night through the courtesy of Mr. Monroe. After reciting some portions of a conversation held at your residence on the 22d instant, your excellency proceeds to advise me fully and earnestly as to the course proper to be taken by me in anticipation of instructions from Washington in regard to the late unfortunate occurrence at Asuncion.

I trust it is needless to inform you that the counsel of a colleague so distinguished for all the qualities that tend to give value to advice will receive such attentive and respectful consideration as your excellency’s high character and great experience deserve for it.

Referring to the interview held at your house on the 22d instant, I ask leave to remind you that the purpose of my visit on that occasion was to lay before you, by the direction of the Secretary of State, his letter of instructions to me, which contained the following paragraph, to which I specially called your attention:

“You will, however, stop at Rio long enough to communicate with Mr. Webb, and also at Montevideo and Buenos Ayres, to communicate with the consulate and legation at those places, and to ascertain whether the military obstacles to your passage up the river, which were heretofore apprehended, have been removed.”

You were good enough to assure me promptly that you knew no obstacles would be opposed by the government of Brazil to my passage up the river, and also, at my request, you promised to send me an official communication on the following day containing this assurance.

In the communication I have had the honor to receive from you no mention is made of this subject. Believing that it may have escaped your attention, I take the liberty of referring to it for the purpose of asking if it is your excellency’s wish that I should rely on the verbal assurance given in the interview of the 22d instant, which will, of course, be sufficient if you should for any reason deem it unadvisable to make it the subject of an official note.

On the occasion already twice referred to, I informed your excellency that Rear-Admiral Davis had notified me that he held himself in readiness to proceed with his squadron to the La Plata, and thence with the lighter vessels of the fleet up the river, and that he invited me to accompany him on the flag-ship for purposes of mutual consultation. I informed the admiral then that I must delay for the purpose of obtaining from you the assurance in relation to the action of the government of Brazil to which I have referred, and subsequently that I was desirous of meeting Hon. Mr. Washburn, my predecessor, who your excellency informed me was daily expected to arrive from Buenos Ayres. Mr. Washburn, it appears, did not arrive on the packet of last week, and I now indulge the hope of meeting him in Buencs Ayres. I mention these things for the purpose of adding that the flag-ship will sail to-morrow for the river, and the other vessels of the fleet to-day, and that it is my intention to accompany the [Page 684] admiral. If, therefore, your excellency has not decided that it is unnecessary to communicate to me in an official note the assurance in regard to military obstacles to my passage up the river, may I ask that, if it suits your convenience, you will do me the favor to send it before the departure of the Guerriere. If I do not receive it I will infer that in your excellency’s opinion the verbal assurance already received is all that is required to fulfill the instructions contained in the extract I have made from the letter of the Secretary of State.

Your excellency will perceive that the little time allowed me before sailing for the river will prevent my referring to the several points of interest and importance contained in your letter of the 23d instant, further than to thank you sincerely for the kind interest you manifest in a subject not free from difficulty, and in regard to which I trust that my official action may be such as to meet the approval of the government at Washington, and at the same time give no ground for the belief that the kind offices of our distinguished representative in Brazil have not been appreciated at their full value.

In conclusion, permit me to refer to one other point. From your letter of the 23d instant, to which I am replying, I learn that I created the impression on your mind in the interview of the 22d instant, that notwithstanding recent deplorable events in Paraguay, it was my intention and desire to reopen diplomatic relations with the government of President Lopez. In conveying this impression unintentionally, I had the misfortune to fail to make myself correctly understood. In calling attention to the subject now, I beg of your excellency to believe it is solely because of my anxiety to secure, as far as may be possible, the approval of your excellency’s judgment.

* * * * * * * * *

Your colleague and obedient servant,

M. T. McMAHON, Minister Resident of the United States at Paraguay.

His Excellency General James Watson Webb, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary near the Court of Brazil.