Fremont, Ohio: home of Rutherford B. Hayes, one of the eight American presidents born in the state of Ohio, and the present location of the Hayes Presidential Center. The center contains a library containing Hayes’s own 12,000 volume personal collection, in addition to over 70,000 other titles collected over time with the library’s modest acquisitions budget. The library’s primary emphasis is Guilded Age history, as well material to aid genealogy research. The library also collects archival items related to Hayes’s military and political career.
Adjacent to the columned library and museum is the Hayes family residence, a 31 room mansion named Spiegel Grove, after the 30 acre wood that surrounds it. In his retirement, Hayes had the house expanded to resemble Thomas Jefferson’s design for Monticello.
Hayes is remembered as a domestic leader first and foremost. His only notable activity in matters of state was the peace he brokered in South America after the War of the Triple Alliances, in which he successfully prevented Paraguay from being subsumed into Brazil and Argentina. The war had been initiated by Paraguay in 1864 when it invaded both Brazil and Argentina in an attempt to conquer additional territory up and down La Plata Basin. Despite its minuscule size compared to its neighbors, Paraguay boasted an enormous standing army throughout the 19th century, as was the prerogative of its dictatorial rulers who governed the country as thought it were a vast private estate. Brazil and Argentina conscripted an army of hundreds of thousands to meet Paraguay and push her back across the Paraná River, before finally taking Asunción and killing Francisco Solano López.
After the war, Argentina aimed to split Paraguay between itself and Brazil. Brazil wanted to preserve it to act as a buffer with Argentina. Hayes negotiated a treaty wherein Brazil would agree to recognize a newly formed Paraguayan government and replace the pre-war border under the condition that Brazilian vessels be given rights to navigate the Paraguay River. Peace with Argentina was arbitrated in a second treaty by Hayes that gave significant territory in the Pampas to Buenos Aires, but which preserved much of Paraguay’s northern claims to Gran Chaco. In recognition and gratitude of the favorable terms Hayes was able to secure for them, the Paraguayans named one of its new land departments “Presidente Hayes”, a expansive grassy plain stretching between the Pilcomayo and Paraguay Rivers and which is today only sparsely populated by 81,876 farmers and herders.
The episode constitutes only a minor entry in Hayes’s presidential legacy. He is mostly remembered in the United States for ending reconstruction. This was thanks to the Compromise of 1877, where, in exchange for the presidency which he won narrowly by one elector and without the popular majority, Hayes agreed to remove federal troops from the Southern states, thus ending the Civil War occupation.