Monday, February 16, 2009

Of President's Day and Paraguay

C-SPAN conducted a recent survey, here, in which 65 scholars ranked the U.S. Presidents. In light of the observances this year of the 200th anniversary of his birth, it is not surprising that Abraham Lincoln is ranked first. He would not be my first choice, as I consider Washington the essential President. But I will give Lincoln his due. Others in the top 5 include Washington, FDR, Theodore Roosevelt and Truman. I would agree with these picks, though I think Truman is often overrated, merely because he was plain-spoken. I am pleased to see, however, that Jefferson did not make this cut.

I was surprised to find that George W. Bush is ranked only 36th out of 42, which of course begs the question as to what one would have to do to rank 37th? These scholars are more generous souls than I. The article did break-down the statistics a bit. "Bush scored lowest in international relations, where he was ranked 41st, and in economic management, where he was ranked 40th." Aaah, that is more believable.

These rankings would come as something of a surprise, however, in Paraguay. One U.S. President is quite popular in that landlocked South American nation. Oddly enough, that President is Rutherford B. Hayes. With a province (Presidente Hayes) and a provincial capital (Villa Hayes) named after him, Paraguay is wild about Rutherford. The municipal museum of Villa Hayes contains an exhibit (below) dedicated to this august personage. November 12th is a provincial holiday in Hayes' honor. In the late 1990s, a 17-year-old Paraguayan girl miraculously recovered from a coma. A television station granted her wish and gave her an all expense paid trip to the Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont, Ohio.

This is not a news story taken from The Onion. Paraguayans are serious in their appreciation of Hayes, and believe that we revere him "only behind Abraham Lincoln." All I remember about his presidency is that he lost the popular vote in 1876, but was elected by Congress, and that his wife, "Lemonade Lucy," allowed no liquor in the White House. In the late 1860s, Paraguay suffered a massive defeat at the hands of Argentina and Brazil in the War of the Triple Alliance. The small nation was in very real danger of disappearing from the map altogether. Rutherford B. Hayes, as the official mediator of the final boundary settlement, signed a document awarding Paraguay the Chaco District, accounting for some 60% of its present size. So, Paraguay, as we know it today, is in large part the creation of our otherwise unnoticed 19th President. You can read it, here.


Kirk said...

Would that we could return again to the age of the bearded president!

Fascinating post. Thanks.

John said...

I agree.

(and stay tuned here for any late-breaking Paraguay news.)

Milton T. Burton said...

Jefferson is most valuable as a political philosopher. His second term was a pure disaster. Though no doubt brilliant, he lacked Washington's common sense and occasionally gave in to the eternal temptation to try to impose ideology on reality.