JOSE GASPAR RODRIGUEZ FRANCIA (c. 1757-1840), dictator of Paraguay, was born probably about 1757. According to one account he was of French descent; but the truth seems to be that his father, Garcia Rodriguez Francia, was a native of S. Paulo in Brazil, and came to Paraguay to take charge of a plantation of black tobacco for the government. He studied theology at the college of Cordova de Tucuman, and is said to have been for some time a professor in that faculty; but he afterwards turned his attention to the law, and practised in Asuncion. Having attained a high reputation at once for ability and integrity, he was selected for various important offices. On the declaration of Paraguayan independence in 1811, he was appointed secretary to the national junta, and exercised an influence on affairs greatly out of proportion to his nominal position. When the congress or junta of 1813 changed the constitution and established a duumvirate, Dr Francia and the Gaucho general Yegres were elected to the office. In 1814 he secured his own election as dictator for three years, and at the end of that period he obtained the dictatorship for life. In the accounts which have been published of his administration we find a strange mixture of capacity and caprice, of far-sighted wisdom and reckless infatuation, strenuous endeavours after a high ideal and flagrant violations of the simplest principles of justice. He put a stop to the foreign commerce of the country, but carefully fostered its internal industries; was disposed to be hospitable to strangers from other lands, and kept them prisoners for years; lived a life of republican simplicity, and punished with Dionysian severity the slightest want of respect. As time went on he appears to have grown more arbitrary and despotic. Deeply imbued with the principles of the French Revolution, he was a stern antagonist of the church. He abolished the Inquisition, suppressed the college of theology, did away with the tithes, and inflicted endless indignities on the priests. He discouraged marriage both by precept and example, and left behind him several illegitimate children. For the extravagances of his later years the plea of insanity has been put forward. On the 10th of September 1840 he was seized with a fit and died.
The first and fullest account of Dr Francia was given to the world by two Swiss surgeons, Rengger and Longchamp, whom he had detained from 1819 to 1825 - Essai historique sur la revolution de Paraguay et la gouvernement dictatorial du docteur Francia (Paris, 1827). Their work was almost immediately translated into English under the title of The Reign of Doctor Joseph G. R. De Francia in Paraguay (1827). About eleven years after there appeared at London Letters on Paraguay, by J. P. and W. P. Robertson, two young Scotsmen whose hopes of commercial success had been rudely destroyed by the dictator's interference. The account which they gave of his character and government was of the most unfavourable description, and they rehearsed and emphasized their accusations in Francia's Reign of Terror (1839) and Letters on South America (3 vols., 1843). From the very pages of his detractors Thomas Carlyle succeeded in extracting materials for a brilliant defence of the dictator "as a man or sovereign of iron energy and industry, of great and severe labour." It appeared in the Foreign Quarterly Review for 1843, and is reprinted in his Critical and Miscellaneous Essays. Sir Richard F. Burton gives a graphic sketch of Francia's life and a favourable notice of his character in his Letters from the Battlefields of Paraguay (1870), while C. A. Washburn takes up a hostile position in his History of Paraguay (1871).
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