This just in from NPR’s All Things Considered, the best show around if you’re 80 years old and still use a radio because it reminds you of the dust bowl: Rutherford B. Hayes has finally gotten the recognition he deserves!
Of course, we all know Ruth. He was a U.S. President who, like all great men, was unlucky enough to be born in Ohio. He served one term during the 1870s, during which he impressed his will forevermore on the august Office of the President by famously buying a telephone and drinking a lot of lemonade. More importantly, he was the first U.S. President to adopt the tradition of the Easter egg roll, an ancient ritual from England where children roll hard-boiled eggs down a hill and then kill themselves because they have nothing better to do with their time. Stories of Hayes’s majesty echo in the vaulted chambers of history. His Presidential Memorial, located in scenicly depressing northwest Ohio, contains all kinds of treasures, like an ornate bed that Hayes’s son looted from a palace in China during the 1890s. #GodBlessThisState
But, despite himself, Hayes has actually made a mark on history.
In the late 1860s, the eastern nations of South America were locked in a life-or-death struggle called the War of the Triple Alliance. Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay decided to team up on Paraguay – ruled at the time by a fanatic dictator who would absolutely not accept defeat.
For five long and lethal years, he waged a guerilla war against the allied invaders that, along with cholera and a pre-modern misunderstanding of infection, killed incredible numbers of people. When the dictator finally bit the bullet, nearly 70% of Paraguay’s population – and almost 90% of its young men – were dead. (The devastation was so complete that the Catholic Church briefly legalized polygamy to help the Paraguayans rebuild their shattered state.)
Seven years later, disaster struck again – Brazil demanded the cession of the northern half of Paraguay as war reparations. The country, still in ruins, was completely undefended.
But Brazil was worn out, too. So they asked the United States to judge the case – and President Rutherford B. Hayes, Progenitor of the Terrible Lawn Games, ruled in favor of Paraguay. He put U.S. weight behind their case, protecting them, in a sense, under the U.S. rhetorical aegis. Without Hayes, it’s said, Paraguay might not even exist today; to Paraguayans, he is forever “a giant…a spectacular, immortal figure.” (Thanks, NPR.)
What a frighteningly powerful country this is, where even our most inconsequential leaders make or break entire worlds, continents away.