Francia, the Dictator
This singular individual, named Jose Gaspar Rodriguez Francia, was born near Assumpcion, in Paraguay, in the year 17 . His father was either a Frenchman or a Portuguese, and his mother a Paraguay Creole.
He was one of several children. At the university of Cordova, in Tucuman, he received such an education as a classical seminary in the interior of South America could furnish. Being a person of a shrewd, saturnine disposition, and retired, studious habits, he contrived, by close application, to acquire a degree of knowledge seldom placed within the reach of a student whose pursuits were watched by the jealous ecclesiastics of that region. In addition to the branches of education common in the university, he contrived to acquire some knowledge of algebra, geometry and Greek. Having prosecuted his studies through the ordinary term, he returned to Paraguay, and entered into practice as a lawyer. His professional reputation, in that country where justice was regularly bought and sold, was not only unsullied by venality, but conspicuous for rectitude. The following anecdote of his uprightness has been related by a writer no way disposed to be unduly partial to the subject of it.
Francia had an acquaintance in Assumpcion, of the name of Domingo Rodriguez. This man had cast a longing eye upon a certain Naboth's vineyard; and this Naboth, named Estanislao Machain, was Francia's open enemy. Rodriguez, never doubting that the young advocate, like other lawyers, would undertake an unrighteous cause for a suitable reward, went to him, offered a liberal retaining fee, and directed him to institute a suit in law, for the recovery of the estate in question. Francia saw at once that the pretensions were founded in injustice and fraud; and he not only refused to act as his counsel, but plainly told Rodriguez that, much as he disliked his antagonist, Machain, yet if he persisted in his iniquitous suit, he would himself undertake the cause of the injured party. Covetousness, however, is not so easily driven from its purpose. Rodriguez persisted, and, as he was a man of great fortune, the suit appeared to be going against Machain and. his estate. At this critical stage of the affair, the slave who attended the door of the luckless Machain, was astonished, one evening, to see Francia present himself before it, wrapped up in his cloak. Knowing that the doctor and his master, like Montague and Capulet, were smoke in each other's eyes,' he refused him admittance, and ran to inform his mast er, of this strange and unexpected visit. Machain, no less struck by the circumstance than his slave, for some time hesitated, but at length deter mined to admit his old enemy. In walked the silent visitor to Machain's chamber, and spread the papers connected with the law-case upon the table.
Machain,' said Francia, you know I am your enemy. But I know that my friend Rodriguez meditates, and will certainly, unless I interfere, carry on against you an act of gross and lawless aggression. I have come to offer my service in your defense.' The astonished man could scarcely credit his senses; but he poured forth his expressions of gratitude in terms of thankful acquiescence.
Pleas, it would appear, are made in that country by writing. The first paper sent into court confounded the adverse counsel, and staggered the judge, who was in their interest. 'My friend,' said that functionary to the leading advocate for the plaintiff, I cannot proceed in this matter, unless you bribe Dr. Francia to be silent.' I will try,' was the answer; and the advocate went to him with a hundred doubloons. He offered them as a bribe to Francia, to let the matter slip; and more surely to gain his con sent, he advised him that this was done at the suggestion of the judge himself.
Leave my house, with your vile proposals and contemptible gold!' was the indignant answer; and the menial tool of the unjust judge waited for no further dismissal. Francia, putting on his capote, hurried at once to the residence of that magistrate. Sir,' said he, after mentioning the attempt to bribe him, you are a disgrace to law, and a blot upon justice. You are, moreover, completely in my power; and unless tomorrow you pronounce a decision in favor of my client, I will make your seat upon the bench too hot for you; and the insignia of your judicial office shall become the emblems of your shame.' The morrow did not fail to bring a decision in favor of Francia's client. The Judge lost his character, and the young doctor's fame resounded far and wide.
His uncommon reputation for integrity, a more than common acuteness and learning in his profession, profound knowledge of the foibles and peculiarities of his countrymen, together with his fame for a mysterious familiarity with the occult sciences, soon caused Dr. Francia to be regarded as a most remarkable personage. In the deplorable state of ignorance then existing in South America, it was a wonderful faculty that enabled a man to multiply and substract the letters of the alphabet; to read a language written in strange characters; to measure an angle, and ascertain the height of a mountain with a theodolite. Francia, celebrated for universal knowledge, stood upon high vantage-ground, and in a great public exigence could not fail to be looked upon as one of the individuals destined to take the lead in public affairs.