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FRANCIA THE DICTATOR, THE LOUIS XI OF PARAGUAY
 AMONG the varied countries of South America the little republic of Paraguay, clipped closely in between Bolivia,
Argentina, and Brazil, presents the most singular history, this being due to the remarkable career of the
dictator Francia, who ruled over it for a quarter of a century, and to the war-like energy of his successor
Lopez. The tyranny of Francia was one of the strangest which history records, no man ever ruling with more
absolute authority and more capricious cruelty. For many years Paraguay was completely cut off by him from the
rest of the world, much as Japan was until opened to civilization by Commodore Perry. Unlucky was the stranger
who then dared set foot on Paraguayan soil. Many years might pass before he could see the outer world again.
Such was the fate of Bonpland, the celebrated botanist and companion of Humboldt, who rashly entered this
forbidden land and was forced to spend ten years within its locked confines. Such is the country, and such was
the singular policy of its dictator, whose strange story we have hero to tell.
In May, 1811, Paraguay joined the other countries of South America in the general revolt against Spain. There
was here no invasion and no
blood-  shed; the armies of Spain were kept too busy elsewhere, and the revolution was accomplished in peace. A
governing committee was formed, with Fulgincio Yegros for its chairman and José Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia
for its secretary. The first was a man of little ability; the latter was a man whose powers will soon be seen.
The committee decreed the independence of Paraguay. Two years later a new convention was held, which dissolved
the committee and elected two consuls, Yegros and Francia, to govern the country. Two chairs were made for
them, resembling the curule chairs of Rome, and called Cæsar's and Pompey's chairs. On entering office Francia
coolly seated himself in Cæsar's chair, leaving that of Pompey for his associate. This action showed the
difference in force of character between the two men.
In fact, Francia quickly took possession of all the powers of government. He was a true Cæsar. He appointed a
secretary of state, undertook to reorganize the army and the finances, and deprived the Spaniards in the
country of all civil rights. This was done to gain the support of the Indian population, who hated the
Spaniards bitterly. He soon went farther. Yegros was in his way and he got rid of him, making the
simple-minded and ignorant members of the congress believe that only a sovereign magistrate could save the
country, which was then threatened by its neighbors. In consequence, on the 8th of October, 1814, Francia was
 made dictator for three years. This was not enough to satisfy the ambitious ruler, and he played his cards so
shrewdly that, on the 1st of May, 1816, a new congress proclaimed him supreme and perpetual dictator.
It was no common man who could thus induce the congress of a republic to raise him to absolute power over its
members and the people. Francia at that time was fifty-nine years of age, a lean and vigorous man, of medium
stature, with piercing black eyes, but a countenance not otherwise marked. The son of a Frenchman who had been
a tobacco manufacturer in Paraguay, he was at first intended for the church, but subsequently studied the law.
In this profession he had showed himself clever, eloquent, and honorable, and always ready to defend the poor
and weak against the rich. It was the reputation thus gained which first made him prominent in political
Once raised to absolute power for life, Francia quickly began to show his innate qualities. Love of money was
not one of his faults, and while strictly economical with the public funds, he was free-handed and generous
with his own. Thus, of the nine thousand pesos of annual salary assigned him, he would accept only three
thousand, and made it a strict rule to receive no present, either returning or paying for any sent him. At
first he went regularly every day to mass, but he soon gave up this show of religious faith and dismissed his
private chaplain. In fact, he grew to
 despise religious forms, and took pleasure in ridiculing the priests, saying that they talked about things and
represented mysteries of which they knew nothing. "The priests and religion," he said, "serve more to make men
believe in the devil than in God."
Of the leading principle of Francia's political system we have already spoken. It had been the policy of the
old Jesuit missions to isolate the people and keep them in strict obedience to the priesthood, and Francia
adopted a similar policy. Anarchy prevailed without, he said, and might penetrate into Paraguay. Brazil, he
declared, was seeking to absorb the country. With these excuses he forbade, under the severest penalties,
intercourse of any character between the people of Paraguay and those of neighboring countries and the entry
of any foreigner to the country under his rule.
In 1826 he decreed that any one who, calling himself an envoy from Spain, should dare to enter Paraguay
without authority from himself should be put to death and his body denied a burial. The same severe penalty
was decreed against any native who received a letter speaking of political affairs and did not at once present
it to the public tribunals. These rigid orders were probably caused by some mysterious movements of that
period, which made him fear that Spain was laying plans to get possession of the country.
In the same year the dictator made a new move
 in the game of politics. He called into being a kind of national assembly, professed to submit to its
authority, and ratified a declaration of independence. Just why this was done is not very clear. Certain
negotiations were going on with the Spanish government, and these may have had some-thing to do with it. At
any rate, a timely military conspiracy was just then discovered or manufactured, a colonel was condemned to
death, and Francia was pressed by the assembly to resume his power. He consented with a show of reluctance,
and only, as he said, till the Marquis de Guarini, his envoy to Spain, should return, when he would yield up
his rule to the marquis. All this, however, was probably a mere dramatic move, and Francia had no idea of
yielding his power to any one.
The dictator had a policy of his own—in fact, a double policy, one devoted to dealing with the land and
its people; one to dealing with his enemies or those who questioned his authority. The one was as arbitrary,
the other as cruel, as that of the tyrants of Rome.
The crops of Paraguay, whose wonderful soil yields two harvests annually, were seized by the dictator and
stored on account of the government. The latter claimed ownership of two-thirds of the land, and a communal
system was adopted under which Francia disposed at will of the country and its people. He fixed a system for
the cultivation of the fields, and when hands were needed for the
 harvest he enlisted them forcibly. Yet agriculture made little progress under the primitive methods employed,
a broad board serving for a plough, while the wheat was ground in mortars, and a piece of wood moved by oxen
formed the sugar-mill. The cotton, as soon as picked from the pods, was spun on the spinning-wheel, and then
woven by a travelling weaver, whose rude apparatus was carried on the back of an ox or a mule, and, when in
use, was hung from the branch of a tree.
Commerce was dealt with in the same way as agriculture. The market was under Francia's control, and all
exchange of goods was managed under rules laid down by him. He found that he must open the country in a
measure to foreign goods, if he wanted to develop the resources of the country, and a channel of commerce was
opened on the frontier of Brazil. But soldiers vigilantly watched all transactions, and no one could act as a
merchant without a license from him. He fixed a tariff on imports, kept them in a bazaar under military guard,
and sold them to the people, limiting the amount of goods which any of his subjects could purchase.
As a result of all this Francia brought about a complete cessation of all private action, the state being all,
and he being the state. All dealing for profit was paralyzed, and agriculture and commerce alike made no
progress. On the other hand, everything relating to war was developed. It was his purpose to cut off Paraguay
completely from foreign
 countries, and to be fully prepared to defend it against warlike invasion.
Of his books, the one he most frequently consulted was a French dictionary of the arts and industries. From
this he gained the idea of founding public workshops, in which the workmen were stimulated to activity alike
by threats and money. At one time he condemned a blacksmith to hard labor for awkwardness. At another, when he
had erected a gallows, he proposed to try it on a shoemaker if he did not do his work properly, while
promising to richly reward him if he did.
Military roads were laid out, the capital and other cities were fortified, and a new city was built in the
north as a military post to keep the savage Indians under control. As for the semi-civilized Mission Indians,
they were gradually brought under the yoke, made to work on the land, and enrolled in the army like other
citizens. In this way a body of twenty thousand militia and five thousand regular troops was formed, all being
well drilled and the army supplied with an excellent cavalry force. The body-guard of the dictator was made up
of picked troops on whose fidelity he could rely.
INDIAN SPINNING AND WEAVING.
Francia dwelt in the palace of the old Spanish governors, tearing down adjoining houses to isolate it.
Constantly fearful of death and danger, he did not trust fully to his vigilant body-guard, but nightly slept
in a different room, so that his sleeping apartment should not be known. In this he
 resembled the famous Louis XI., whom he also imitated in his austerity and simplicity of manners, and the fact
that his principal confidant was his barber,—a mulatto inclined to drink. His other associate was
Patinos, his secretary, who made the public suffer for any ill-treatment from his master. The remainder of the
despot's household consisted of four slaves, two men and two women. In dress he strove to imitate Napoleon,
whom he greatly admired, and when drilling his troops was armed with a large sword and pistols.
There remains to tell the story of the cruelties of this Paraguayan Nero. With his suspicious nature and his
absolute power, his subjects had no more security for their lives than those of old Rome. Plots against his
person—which he identified with the state—served him as a pretext for seizing and shooting or
imprisoning any one of whom he was suspicious. One of his first victims was Yegros, his former associate in
the consulate. Accused of favoring an invasion of Paraguay, he and forty others were condemned to death in
More than three hundred others were imprisoned on the same charge, and were held captive for eighteen months,
during which they were subjected by the tyrant to daily tortures. The ferocious dictator took special pleasure
in the torment of these unfortunates, devising tortures of his own and making a diversion out of his revenge.
From his actions it has been supposed that there were the seeds of madness in his mind, and it is certain
 that it was in his frequent fits of hypochondria that he issued his decrees of proscription and carried out
his excesses of cruelty.
When in this condition, sad was it for the heedless wretch who omitted to address him as "Your Excellence the
Supreme, Most Excellent Lord and Perpetual Dictator!" Equally sad was it for the man who, wishing to speak
with him, dared to approach too closely and did not keep his hands well in view, to show that he had no
concealed weapons. Treason, daggers, and assassins seemed the perpetual tenants of Francia's thoughts. One
country-woman was seized for coming too near his office window to present a petition; and he went so far, on
one occasion, as to order his guard to fire on any one who dared to look at his palace. Whenever he went
abroad a numerous escort attended him, and the moment he put his foot outside the palace the bell of the
Cathedral began to toll, as a warning to all the inhabitants to go into their houses. Any one found abroad
bowed his head nearly to the ground, not daring to lift his eyes to the dictator's dreaded face.
It is certainly extraordinary that in the nineteenth century, and in a little state of South America, there
should have arisen a tyrant equal in cruelty, in his restricted sphere, to the Nero and Caligula of old or the
Louis XI. of mediaeval times. Death came to him in 1840, after twenty-six years of this absolute rule and in
his eighty-third year. It came after a few days of illness, during which he
at-  tended to business, refused assistance, and forbade any one not called by him to enter his room. Only the
quick coming of death prevented him from ending his life with a crime; for in a fit of anger at the
curandero, a sort of quack doctor who attended him, he sprang from his bed, snatched up his sword, and
rushed furiously upon the trembling wretch. Before he could reach his intended victim he fell down in a fit of
apoplexy. No one dared to disregard his orders and come to his aid, and death soon followed. His funeral was
splendid, and a grand mausoleum was erected to him, but this was thrown down by the hands of some enemies
Thus ended the career of this extraordinary personage, one of the most remarkable characters of the nineteenth
century. Carlos Antonio Lopez, his nephew, succeeded him, and in 1844 was chosen as president of the republic
for ten years, during which he was as absolute as his uncle. He continued in power till his death in 1862, but
put an end to the isolation of Paraguay, opening it to the world's commerce.
He was succeeded by his son, Solano Lopez, whom we mention here simply from the fact that the war which
Francia had so diligently prepared for came in his time. In 1864 the question of the true frontier of the
state brought on a war in which Brazil, the Argentine Republic, and Uruguay combined to crush the little
country in their midst. We need only say here that Lopez displayed
re-  markable powers as a soldier, appeared again and again in arms after seemingly crushing defeats, and fought
off his powerful opponents for five years. Then, on the 1st of May, 1870, he was slain in a battle in which
his small army was completely destroyed. Paraguay, after a valorous and gigantic struggle, was at the mercy
of the allies. It was restored to national life again, but under penalty of the great indemnity, for so small
a state, of two hundred and thirty-six million pesos.