Mr. McMahon to Mr. Seward.
Sir: I have the honor to inform you that I left Buenos Ayres on the 21st November ultimo in company with Admiral Charles H. Davis, commanding the South Atlantic squadron, who had transferred his flag to the Wasp. We passed the military lines of the allied belligerents on the 3d instant at Las Palmas and arrived the same day opposite the headquarters of President Lopez, and in front of the Paraguayan battery of Angostura. Three vessels of the squadron, the Pawnee, Quinnebago, and Kansas, remained at Corrientes below the allied lines.
Immediately upon arriving the admiral communicated with President Lopez, demanding the delivery of the two men, Bliss and Masterman. His letter, a copy of which I inclose, marked A, was delivered to the President by Captain Kirkland, of the Wasp, who returned in a few hours with the information that the President requested an interview with the admiral on the beach, and also expressed a desire that I should be present at the interview. Believing that it would be more consistent with the dignity of the government that the negotiations for the delivery of Bliss and Masterman should be conducted wholly by the admiral, I declined to accompany him to the interview. Shortly after five o’clock in the afternoon the arrival of the President at the beach was signified to the ship by the dipping of the Paraguayan flag in the fort. The admiral immediately went on shore and had an interview of some hours’ duration, in which it appears the President expressed the following views: That the men, Bliss and Masterman, were guilty of serious crimes, and were not members in good faith of the United States legation; that they were at that moment actually undergoing trial; that, nevertheless, the President of Paraguay, confiding in the justice of the American government, would deliver them to the authorities of the United States, thereby exercising arbitrary authority in taking them from the custody of the judicial authorities, and expected to justify their seizure [Page 692] in Asuncion by showing to the government of the United States that their pretended connection with its legation was merely for the purpose of shielding them from the consequences of their guilty acts; that, if he had delivered them under the terms of the admiral’s letter claiming them as attached to and under the protection of the legation, he believed that it would be conceding an important point, which he denied and hoped to disprove. The admiral, although not fully concurring in this construction of his first letter, or of its effect, consented to replace it by another in different terms.
On the following day he sent the second letter, as agreed upon—a copy inclosed, marked B. He received on the same day a reply, a translation of which is inclosed, marked C. This reply of the President was not definite. He was willing to deliver the men, and confide them to the justice of the government of the United States; but he still objected to the terms.
Here the correspondence was interrupted by two Brazilian iron-clads, which came around the point about a mile below us, the leading one carrying the American flag and a flag of truce at the fore. The commanding officer notified us that he was about to open fire on the Paraguayan batteries. We accordingly dropped out of range—an example shortly afterwards followed by the Brazilian vessels. They continued their fire, however, until the following morning, the Paraguayans not replying after dark.
The next day we returned to our former position, and the admiral addressed a letter, a copy of which is inclosed, marked D, in which he stated in substance that it was not his province, nor had he authority either to offer or refuse any terms that would in any manner affect the status before the law of the men whose delivery he claimed. The same day the President replied to the effect that the men would be delivered on board the flag-ship on Tuesday, the 8th instant, at three o’clock in the afternoon, and requested that the admiral would appoint one or two officers to witness the verification of the legal process against the accused on the morning of the same day. This communication, a copy of which is inclosed, marked E, stated that the delivery was made as an act of courtesy on the part of the government of Paraguay, and as a proof of its friendship for the government of the United States and of confidence in its justice, and that he did not understand it to be in answer to a reclamation or demand.
The admiral’s previous communication having sufficiently expressed that his purpose was simply to obtain the men, and that his doing so did not commit him to or against any view which the government of Paraguay might entertain or express on the subject, replied that he would be prepared to receive the men on board at the hour named, and would send two officers to verify or witness the legal declarations, as requested. (See inclosure, marked F.)
Before this reply was sent ashore we were again disturbed by the arrival of a Brazilian iron-clad flying the American flag and a flag of truce at the fore, as a notice to the Wasp, followed by a single turreted monitor. We dropped down the river out of range, and in half an hour the Brazilians did the same.
The following morning we returned and the letter was sent ashore. Later in the day an officer came on board with the information that the President was at Ivahé, a few miles above us on the river, where on the day previous he had defeated the Brazilians with heavy loss.
On the 8th instant Commander Ramsey and Lieutenant Commander Kirkland went to the headquarters of President Lopez and heard the [Page 693] declarations of the accused persons, Bliss and Masterman, read over to them, sworn to and signed. The officers who witnessed the transaction inform me that the declarations are voluminous, containing much irrelevant matter; that the manner of the two men while listening to their declarations and undergoing examination was different. Bliss seemed self-possessed and frequently corrected his testimony; Masterman was nervous and frightened, and when questioned by Captain Ramsey as to whether he intended to swear voluntarily to all he had heard, said, “Please don’t ask me any questions.”
On the 10th (yesterday) at 11 p. m. the men were seat on board the Wasp, at the same time the President sent to inquire at what time I desired to land. I replied that I would land to-day at 1 p. m.
The papers which accompanied the prisoners are sealed and addressed to you and will be transmitted by the admiral.
I trust that my course under the circumstances I have narrated in this and previous dispatches will be approved by the government.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.