Rutherford Hayes, Paraguayan Hero

Boyfriend sometimes gathers his fellow information-junkies and attends quiz nights at bars. (Aside: it’s also the only way you’ll ever get him to step into a bar. Ever.) Sometimes he comes home triumphant, and tells me every question that every participant was asked, and how he got an overwhelming number of them right. Sometimes he admits with a fair amount of embarrassment that he got very few answers right, but then immediately presents an airtight justification for his poor performance: “What can I do, all the questions were about the Twilight books,” or, “Hey, you can’t expect me to know what the bloody Hell Selena Gomez and Taylor Swift are fighting about!” (Are they even fighting? I don’t know. I made that one up, because I saw the this.)

Anyway, the other night he walked in the door after one such quiz and shot this at me:

“Quickly, tell me, how many US Presidents have a state capital named after them?”

I knew the answer. It’s four. Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson. But I also know how perturbed Boyfriend gets when he thinks I’m not indulging his info-tripping. So just to torture him a little bit (Go ahead. Judge me.) I went back to what I was doing, and said I didn’t have the time for this, and that he should have asked me a simpler question, like how many US Presidents have a state named after them. George Washington, so the answer’s one. That’s a number I can remember.

“Actually, that’s not true,” he said, the excitement in his voice indicating he’d spotted an opportunity to throw random trivia at me. “The answer’s not one, it’s two.”

I spy from the corner of my eye, Boyfriend assuming exposition pose. 

“Did you know Rutherford B. Hayes is the only US President other than George Washington to have a subnational entity named for him?”

Wait, who? Rutherford B. Hayes? The one who wasn’t even actually elected? The one with the Owen Wilson nose?

Come on! I cannot be the only one who sees it.

Come on! I cannot be the only one who sees the similarity.

Yes, him. Rutherford B. Hayes – beneficiary of the electoral college, supporter of Chinese immigration (one of the only highlights of his term I could think of) – has a subnational entity named after him. In Paraguay. Because he is a bit of a national hero there. And here’s how that happened:

Around the time the US was going though its Reconstruction Era, there was a bit of a… what should I call it? A williwaw, perhaps? Yes. There was a bit of a williwaw going on in South America, by the name of War of the Triple Alliance. Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay comprised said Triple Alliance. And between 1864 and 1870, Paraguay was fighting them.

The story of how the war originated varies depending on which side of which border your source of information calls ‘home’. Some think it was a direct result of Paraguayan Dictator/President Francisco Solano López’s aggressive policies. Others believe it was a grand conspiracy by the British Empire to force the resourceful, wealthy, and highly centralized and protected Paraguay to come and play in international markets. Some think it was because of the changing equation of friendships in the region: Solano López and Uruguay’s Blanco Party were BFFs. In 1864, however, the Colorado Party came to power in Uruguay, and made it very clear that it preferred the company of Argentina and Brazil, not Paraguay. Still others claim the war was a result of centuries of colonialism in South America, which left the countries in question fighting over the fertile and strategic Río de la Plata region.

My understanding of colonialism and its aftermath leads me to believe the last of these explanations. But whatever the cause, here’s how events unfolded: in 1864 Paraguay declared war on Brazil, which was already allied with Uruguay. Argentina insisted it was neutral, but neutral wasn’t good enough for Solano López because Argentina had, at the same time, allowed both Brazil and Paraguay to navigate its rivers in the Río de la Plata region. So following in the footsteps of Jesus, Solano López declared that whoever was not with him was against him, and invaded Argentina, forcing the country to join the Triple Alliance and declare war on Paraguay. It was a classic Gob Bluth moment.

Oh, you don't say!

Jokes apart, though, the War of the Triple Alliance was one of the deadliest wars in history. Paraguay was heavily outnumbered and outresourced. It was beaten in conventional and guerrilla warfare, and almost 400,000 Paraguayans – more than 60% of the entire population – were killed. It was a tragedy beyond compare. And that’s where Rutherford B. Hayes comes in.

After the War of the Triple Alliance Paraguay and Argentina continued to argue over a critical piece of land. Paraguay claimed the land was theirs, but had no bargaining chips left as far as Argentina was concerned, so the dispute was brought to the then American President, Rutherford B. Hayes. Hayes decided the land belonged to Paraguay, and that Argentina should return it pronto, which it did. Shaken from their terrible losses, Paraguayans were grateful for this intervention, and named the formerly disputed territory – now a Paraguayan subnational entity – Departmento de Presidente Hayes, or the President Hayes Department, with a capital city called Villa Hayes. And that’s not all – in 1907 a football club in Asunción was named Club Presidente Hayes. And if you know anything about modern South America, you know that’s probably an even greater honor than having a state named after you.

Here’s the irony – Rutherford B. Hayes most likely delegated the paperwork and decision-making in this matter to some low-ranking officer. According to the Executive Director of the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Ohio, the entire matter probably “only occupied a few hours of his life.” But what he thought was an issue of little importance permanently impacted the lives of the entire population of a country. Some lessons there for leaders of the so-called free world, don’t you think?

"Ok, here's what we do. You say this, and then I'll say this, and then you go make it look like a totally casual remark, and then I..."

“Ok, here’s what we do. You say this, and then I’ll say this, and then you go make that thing we discussed sound like a totally casual remark, and then I…” Image source. (Alex Wong/Getty)

Want to know more? Go here. And here. Or here, but only if you’re incredibly lazy. (In which case you probably haven’t made it to the end of this post anyway, so maybe I needn’t have included this link after all.)

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2 thoughts on “Rutherford Hayes, Paraguayan Hero

  1. Pingback: Rutherford B. Hayes Was a Sexy Beast | Andrea M. Pawley

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