“The War with Paraguay”

April 30, 1859

John McLenan

“The War with Paraguay”

Presidential Administration, James Buchanan; U.S. Military;

No 'People' indexed for this cartoon.

Latin America; Paraguay;

How the People at Home Supposed the War Would End.

How the War Did End.

This Harper's Weekly cartoon by John McLenan covers an episode in American military history which gained much press at the time, but is mainly forgotten today:  the U.S. military expedition to Paraguay in 1858-1859.

During the 1850s, Carlos Antonio Lopez, dictator of the small, landlocked, South American country of Paraguay, was a thorn in the side of the United States government.  In 1853, Lopez refused to ratify a commercial and navigational treaty with the United States, and began confiscating the property of American citizens resident in Paraguay.  Because of a dispute with Britain, Lopez closed Paraguayan waters to foreign warships.  In February 1855, Paraguayan soldiers fired upon an American ship engaged in a scientific survey of the Parana River, killing one American crew member.  

Nearly three years after the incident, and with a second scientific expedition in preparation, President James Buchanan decided that a show of force was necessary to bring about a redress of the situation.  In his first annual message to Congress of December 1857, Buchanan requested funding for a military expedition to Paraguay.  With a Congressional allocation of $10,000, a naval squadron of 19 vessels, 200 guns, and 2500 sailors and marines under the command of Commodore William B. Shubrick embarked for Paraguay in the early winter of 1858.  It was the largest military expedition in the peacetime history of the United States to that date.  Harper's Weekly emphasized the importance of the mission's demand that American citizens in Paraguay be granted the same rights and protections that Paraguayan citizens in the United States were accorded.

After landing at Montevideo, Uruguay, the American force began the 1000-mile journey up the Parana River to the Paraguayan capital of Asuncion. This was one of the major news stories in Harper's Weekly during the spring of 1859.  The newspaper provided illustrations, portraits, maps, letters from participants, and reports from a special correspondent.  The situation was dramatized by the news that the 2500 Americans were preparing to face 15,000 of the best troops in South America.  For more information, the journal directed its readers to a book on the region which had been published recently by the newspaper's parent company, Harper & Brothers.  

The April 2 issue of Harper's Weekly announced that a peaceful settlement was probable, and the lead editorial of April 16 confirmed that the matter had been resolved amicably through the good offices of the Argentine president, General Justo Jose de Urquiza.  Lopez, the Paraguayan dictator, formally apologized for the shooting incident of 1855, compensated the family and employer of the slain sailor, and signed a treaty of commerce and navigation with the United States.  Cartoonist McLenan contrasts how the expedition to Paraguay was expected to end--with a military victory for the United States--and how it actually did end--with a peaceful resolution and cordial celebration.

Robert C. Kennedy

“The War with Paraguay”
March 21, 2023

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