The War of Paraguay: Chapter XXV, Diplomacy of the War. — Bombardment of Valparaíso. — Reconciliation with Great Britain

Given the reality of the war, the Brazilian government’s denunciation of the Spanish bombardment of Valparaíso (1) continues to be important.

On 31 March 1866 the Spanish fleet bombarded Valparaíso from nine in the morning until the afternoon. It is said that the value of the goods burned in the port’s storehouses surpassed 8,000,000 pesos (2). Mr. Layard, speaking on behalf of the English government in the House of Commons (15 May), laid the most solemn condemnation on Admiral Méndez Núñez’s conduct in “the bombardment of a perfectly defenceless city, which contained a large amount of neutral property.”

The communication Saraiva directed to our representative in Madrid, with the order to read it to the Minister of State, is enough to rectify the idea that the empire, due to its different institutions, had not felt solidarity with the rest of the continent. Precisely at that time, Peru took leadership over a campaign against the Triple Alliance by the Pacific Republics. The protest by Peru, and the other republics that followed it (Chile had not yet come to occupy first position in the Pacific), did not produce any effect. The supposed fear of Western America’s republican spirit yielded before the firmness and resolution of General Mitre. Having ensured that two republics joined the empire in the war against Paraguay was no minor result of the May 1st treaty. Without that, the situation would have been grave for Brazil. This was, indeed, the same time as Napoleon III’s and (another Hapsburg) Maximillian of Austria’s endeavors in Mexico, and the abolitionist cause’s victory in the United States: nothing could pose a greater threat to the strengthening of Brazil’s prestige and ascendency. It can be said that Latin America’s hostility towards us was the norm; and if, instead of having had the Argentine buffer, Mitre had been against us, aided by Prado, Pérez, and even Johnson (3), the empire’s isolation would have proved fatal. Chile was not close with us at that time, and it can be said that their only foreign policy was nothing more than a vague continental sentimentalism, shown in its acceptance of all the ideas of the Pan-American congresses, and in its chivalrous defense of America against Europe, the latter being the sentiment that brought it to intervene in the conflict between Spain and Peru.

William_Dougal_Christie
Sketch if William Dougal Chrisite ca. 1840, by George Richmond.

The diplomatic history of the war is linked in a certain way with the reestablishment of our relations with Great Britain, interrupted in 1863 due to the reprisals for the frigate Forte, in the mouth of the bay of Rio de Janeiro. With the pressure of this blockade, the Brazilian government was made to pay, not without protest, the compensation the English government demanded for the shipwreck of the Prince of Wales, later accepting the Belgian king’s arbitration, regarding the treatment of the officers of the frigate Forte (4). The empire’s eminent diplomat in London, Carvalho Moreira, later Baron of Penedo, requested of the Court of Saint-James: 1st That it show its regret for the events that occurred during the reprisals; 2nd That it demonstrate that it had no intention of violating the empire’s territorial sovereignty; 3rd Compensation for the interested parties. The English government having refused everything, our minister in London resigned. On 18 June 1863, with the arbiter Leopold, uncle of Queen Victoria, chosen, the dispute was decided in our favor. England was left in debt to Brazil, and morally condemned by the arbiter, because of the force that it employed in retaliation against—in part due to the reprisals—actions that were proven to not intend any offense to the dignity of the British navy.

The king of Portugal offered his mediation, and proposed, as a foundation for the renewal of relations, that the very clauses presented by our government, already rejected, be established in the arbiter’s verdict. With this mediation discarded, Great Britain offered (1864) terms of agreement that Brazil didn’t accept either, because they did not recognize our right to compensation for the damages suffered from the capture of merchant vessels.

In 1865 negotiations were renewed, the Olinda cabinet receiving the following proposition: “The minister plenipotentiary of H.B.M. in the Argentine Republic, Mr. Thornton, will be sent on special mission to Brazil. He will express to H.I.M. the regret with which H.B.M. has become aware of the circumstances arising from the interruption of cordial relations between the two courts; he will declare that H.M. most solemnly denies any intention to offend the dignity of the Brazilian Empire; that H.M. accepts, fully and without reserve, the ruling of the Belgians, and that it will be most agreeable to appoint a minister to Brazil, after H.I.M. finds himself ready to resume diplomatic relations.”

As Saraiva said in the Chamber (after, in the April 30th session, José Bonifacio criticized the cabinet for accepting the proposal that its antecedents had rejected), the English government granted a reparation to our honor, but not financial satisfaction. Should we have maintained our position on these conditions, refusing to resume relations with England? The issue was submitted to the ministry in these terms: “1st Will it be fit, given the current circumstances of the government, and given the point which negotiation has reached, to refuse to accept the means to reestablish diplomatic relations, which they are offering us? 2nd Could the act of rejecting the conditions offered, only because pecuniary compensation is not included in them, not potentially damage us in the general opinion of Europe? 3rd Will it be possible to do without this, considering that the English government is taking the first step, sending a special mission, in addition to the permanent one that it will send later? 4th Can the imperial government accept the latest proposal without damage to the country’s dignity?”

The emperor wrote about this episode in the margin of the Tito Franco’s book (5): “I yielded to the opinion of almost all the ministers and councilors of State. If I had done the reverse, and grave complications in Paraguay had occurred, what would they have said of imperialism?”

With national dignity satisfied by Great Britain’s conciliatory embassy, the financial issue was too insignificant to impede the reestablishment of relations, especially given that we had resorted to the London market after we had cut relations. Certainly it was not with the English government that we incurred those debts, and for another thing the interest that we payed because of them proves that they were not signs of generosity, but rather operations whose risks had been exaggerated by the borrowers; but with the purely mercantile nature of the operation admitted, even aside from that it is worth denying any incompatibility between the national sentiment of a people offended and the action of appealing to the purse of the offender. If in 1863 and in 1865 we did so, it is because we did not consider England an enemy, and because England did not completely approve of the conduct of its minister Mr. Christie (6); if it had approved of this it would not have been flippant enough to endorse a loan sent from the great Rothschild bankers, which could have served to fund military preparations against it; not even Palmerston would have tolerated it. The defense of Brazil made by men like Cobden and Bright, Lord Malmesbury, Mr. Fitzgerald, Mr. Osborne, Mr. Roebuck, Mr. Bramley Moore, Lord Brougham, Sir Hugh Cairns, and the current Lord Salisbury, then Lord Cecil, and many others, more than compensated for the disagreeable situation in which they found themselves, owing to their representatives, Lord Russel and Lord Palmerston (7).

If England’s initiative in attempting to restart the interrupted relations, as well as their expression of regret for what occurred, was satisfactory, then the occasion and manner of their undertaking this mission seemed calculated to dispel, by virtue of friendship and courtesy, the slightest record of Mr. Christie. The English government could not have had a more delicate courtesy than the one they showed in ensuring that their special envoy went to the emperor in Uruguaiana to present England’s apologies, and to express to him the queen’s desire to renew relations with the empire. The emperor received him full of patriotic pride, in which all those present participated, understanding the importance of the act. The message heard, the representative of H.M.B. said: “I see renewed, with sincere satisfaction, diplomatic relations between the government of Brazil and Great Britain. The fact that such event has been brought about in the very setting where Brazil and its worthy and courageous allies managed to prove their wisdom in joining moderation with the defense of justice, increases my pleasure and is proof that Brazil’s policy will continue inspiring a spirit of just and dignified harmony with all other nations.”

Translator’s Notes

1. The bombardment of Valparaíso, a major Chilean port city, took place during the Chincha Islands War, a conflict between Spain and many of its former colonies.
2. David Woods in The Bombardment of Paradise (2011) suggests the damages would amount to 224,000,000 USD today.
3. That is: Mariano Ignacio Prado, president of Peru; José Joaquín Pérez, president of Chile; and Andrew Johnson, president of the United States.
4. This is the Christie Affair, first referred to in Chapter X. See translator’s note 4 in that chapter for basic background information.
5. Tito Franco de Almeida was a Brazilian writer and politician. The book referred to is likely O Brazil e a Inglaterra ou o trafico de africanos [Brazil and England; Or, the trafficking of Africans].
6. William Christie, the British ambassador in Brazil who ordered the reprisals, and who gave his name to the Christie Affair.
7. Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom 1859-1865. John Russell, 1st Earl Russell, was Prime Minister 1865-1866.

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