Dictator of Paraguay and creator of its national independence, known
as El Supremo. 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 Sao Paulo, Brazil, and went to Paraguay to take charge of a plantation of black tobacco for the
government. José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia 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, arid 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 from Spain 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 duurnvirate, 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 cut off Paraguay from the rest of the world by stopping foreign commerce, but carefully fostered its internal industries and agriculture under his personal supervision. Dr. Francia disposed to be hospitable to strangers from other lands, and kept them prisoners for years; lived a life of republican simplicity, and severely punished 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 kept the
aristocracy in subjection and discouraged marriage both by precept and example, leaving behind him several illegitimate children. For the extravagances of his later
years the plea of insanity has -been put forward. On the 20th of September 1840 he was seized with a fit and died.
Historiography: 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—Essay 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. Robeftson, two young Scotsmen whose hopes of commercial success had been rudely destroyed by the
dictators 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).