The Lexington Incident Part 4
Intro.....Part 1.....Part 2.....Part 3.....Part 4
George Washington Slacum apparently was a real ass.
By virtually every account, the man was overly ambitious, insubordinate, spiteful and self-aggrandizing. Not that all that much is known about him. He was the son of the mayor of Alexandria, DC (now Virginia) and had an ambitious brother who made his way from being a ship's purser to US Special Diplomatic Agent to Mexico.
G.W. Slacum was appointed US Consul to Buenos Aires in 1824 and this is the best description on the web of his personality:
The events of the controversy were handled by George W. Slacum, the American Consul. Slacum was a man of enormous ambitions and slight discretion whose character is revealed in his relationships with his fellow citizens.Apparently, Slacum's clerk may have cut himself in on a piece of the deal while salvaging the stranded cargo in Patagonia (or MAYBE... cut Slacum OUT of the deal!)
Political liaison was Mr. Forbes's job.
Commercial enterprises, the welfare of American merchant seamen, and the state of trade in general were Mr. Slacum's normal and proper area of responsibility.
In 1825, the American merchant schooner La Meroupe was stranded on the coast of Patagonia, and it was discovered that a part of its valuable cargo of wax was salvable. Slacum sent his trusted clerk and confidant, John Duffy, to take charge of the salvage and protect the owners' rights.
Rather than handle the matter "diplomatically", Slacum threw the guy into the street and called the local Buenos Aires police on him; a strange and extreme action between two members of the diplomatic corps and one that caused Slacum's boss, John Murray Forbes, to write to him expressing concern... and maybe suspicion... at Slacum's treatment of a man that appeared to be a friend as well as a co-worker:
"...it make on part of my present purpose to consider...whether its recovery...was or was not the most probable result of the steps you took...the placing of Mr. Duffy's person at the disposition of the Police...was a precipitate assumption of authority not warranted by the nature and functions of your consular office..."Slacum got defensive, as anybody would.
"Duffy was the companion of your labors and your leisures...In a moment of doubt, you break to the bitterest enmity, and Mr. Duffy is cast to the fangs of the Police as a criminal. I thank God Sir, that my heart is not a moral kaleidoscope where the feelings...can be changed with that quickness of lightning...(3)"
However, he then upped the ante considerably.
He seemed to take a page right out of today's neo-con/fox-news playbook and changed the subject to possible corruption by his boss and accused Forbes of orchestrating the whole salvage shakedown with Forbes' buddy, the German consul to Buenos Aires.
This was the final insult for the chargé, who refused to accept any but official communications from the consul and urged that Slacum "...state your greifs (sic) and even to present yourself a reasonable latitude of personality that your rancour...may be presented to the judgement of our masters, the President and Secretary of State...(4)"To be fair, Forbes himself was provoked to making some undiplomatic statements. But by then old Forbes was sick, close to death, and undoubtedly maddened by the accusations of his subordinate.
Here the unhappy affair stood. In January, 1827, writing to Secretary of State Henry Clay from Annapolis, Slacum denounced the "continued oppression" of his superior, lamenting that he had been "...the object of personal jealousy of Mr. Forbes and the victim of official and private slander...(5)"
Slacum's own personal physician wrote the US Secretary of State:
"...Slacum...is capable of making use of dishonorable means against an opponent and considers every man his enemy who does not think it proper to hold opinions similar to his own...you must know that he is an exceedingly vain person, loves his own person exceedingly well...(6)That was the situation Forbes faced when he died... just months before the US destruction of the Argentine settlement in the Malvinas.
Forbes' death left Buenos Aires without a chargé d'affaires and left Consul Slacum, at least temporarily, the highest ranking US diplomat in Argentina.
Although Slacum's status hadn't really changed at all, he considered himself automatically promoted to Forbes' old job.
His letter to Secretary of State Van Buren is a curious mixture of bold self-assurance and humility: "...from the good understanding subsisting between the governments of the United States and Buenos Ayres, as well as from my intimate...personal acquaintance, I shall find no difficulty in proctecting the honor and interests of my country...until the Government shall be pleased to send some other representative more competent than myself...(7)Washington DC probably considered him harmless. But with the seizure of a US merchant ship only a few months later, Slacum would show his ass to the world... and the US would be forced to cover it.