Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette
Lafayette as a Lieutenant General, in 1791. Portrait by Joseph-Désiré Court
|Nickname(s)||The Hero of the Two Worlds (Le Héros des Deux Mondes in French)|
|Born||6 September 1757
|Died||20 May 1834
|Allegiance|| Kingdom of France
United States of America
|Service/branch|| French Army
American Continental Army
|Rank|| Major General (US)
Maréchal de camp (France)
Wife: Marie Adrienne Françoise de Noailles (1759–1807)Son: Georges Washington (1779–1849)
Daughters: Anastasie (1777–1863)
Estates General (Auvergne)
Member of the National Assembly
Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de Lafayette, Marquis de Lafayette (French pronunciation: [maʁki də la fajɛt]; 6 September 1757 – 20 May 1834), in the U.S. often known simply as Lafayette, was a French aristocrat and military officer who was a general in the American Revolutionary War and a close friend of George Washington. Lafayette was a key figure in the French Revolution of 1789 and the July Revolution of 1830.
Born in Chavaniac, in the province of Auvergne in south central France, Lafayette came from a wealthy landowning family. He followed its martial tradition, and was commissioned an officer at age 13. He became convinced that the American cause in the revolutionary war was noble, and came to the New World seeking glory in it. There, he was made a major general, though initially the 19-year-old was not given troops to command. Wounded during the Battle of Brandywine, he still managed to organize a successful retreat. He served with distinction in the Battle of Rhode Island. In the middle of the war, he returned home to lobby for an increase in French support. He again sailed to America in 1780, and was given senior positions in the Continental Army. In 1781, troops in Virginia under his command blocked forces led by Cornwallis until other American and French forces could position themselves for the decisive Siege of Yorktown.
Lafayette returned to France, and in 1787 was appointed to the Assembly of Notables to respond to the fiscal crisis. Lafayette supported the calling of the French Estates-General, where representatives from the three traditional orders of French society—the clergy, the nobility and the commoners—met, and he was elected a member. He helped write the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, with the assistance of Thomas Jefferson. After the storming of the Bastille, Lafayette was appointed commander-in-chief of the National Guard, and tried to steer a middle course though the French Revolution. In August 1792, the radical factions ordered his arrest. Fleeing through Belgium, Lafayette was captured by Austrian troops and spent more than five years in prison.
Lafayette returned to France after Napoleon Bonaparte secured his release in 1797. He refused to participate in Napoleon's government. With the Bourbon Restoration, Lafayette became a liberal member of the Chamber of Deputies in 1815, a position he held for most of the remainder of his life. In 1824, President James Monroe invited Lafayette to the United States as the nation's guest; during the trip, he visited all twenty-four states in the union at the time, meeting a rapturous reception. During France's July Revolution of 1830, Lafayette declined an offer to become the French dictator; instead he supported Louis-Philippe as king, but turned against him when the monarch became autocratic. Lafayette died on 20 May 1834, and is buried in Picpus Cemetery in Paris, under soil from Bunker Hill. For his accomplishments in the service of both France and the United States, he is sometimes known as "The Hero of the Two Worlds".
- 1 Early life
- 2 Departure from France
- 3 American Revolution
- 4 Hero of two worlds
- 5 French Revolution
- 6 Prisoner
- 7 Gentleman farmer
- 8 Return to politics
- 9 Grand tour of the United States
- 10 Revolution of 1830
- 11 Final years and death
- 12 Assessment
- 13 See also
- 14 Notes
- 15 References
- 16 Works cited
- 17 Further reading
- 18 External links
Lafayette was born on 6 September 1757 to Michel Louis Christophe Roch Gilbert Paulette du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette, colonel of grenadiers, and Marie Louise Jolie de La Rivière, at the château de Chavaniac, in Chavaniac, near Le Puy-en-Velay, in the modern department of Haute-Loire.[a]
Lafayette's lineage appears to be one of the oldest in Auvergne. Members of the family were noted for their contempt for danger. His ancestor Marshal of France Gilbert de Lafayette III was a companion-at-arms who led Joan of Arc's army in Orléans. Lafayette's great-grandfather was the Comte de La Rivière, commander of the Mousquetaires du Roi, or Black Musketeers, King Louis XV's personal horse guard. According to legend, another ancestor acquired the Crown of Thorns during the 6th Crusade. Lafayette's uncle Jacques-Roch died fighting the Austrians and left the marquis title to Lafayette's father.
Lafayette's father, struck by a cannonball while fighting a British-led coalition at the Battle of Minden in Westphalia, died on 1 August 1759. Lafayette became marquis and Lord of Chavaniac, but the estate went to his mother. Devastated by the loss of her husband, she went to live in Paris with her father and grandfather. Lafayette was raised by his paternal grandmother, Mme de Chavaniac, who had brought the château into the family with her dowry.
In 1768, when Lafayette was 11, he was summoned to Paris to live with his mother and great-grandfather at the comte's apartments in the Luxembourg Palace. The boy was sent to school at the Collège du Plessis (Lycée Louis-le-Grand), and it was decided that he would carry on the family martial tradition. The comte enrolled the boy in a program to train future Musketeers. Lafayette's mother and her grandfather died, on 3 and 24 April 1770 respectively, leaving Lafayette an income of 25,000 livres. Upon the death of an uncle, the 12-year-old Lafayette inherited a handsome yearly income of 120,000 livres.
In May 1771, Lafayette was commissioned a sous-lieutenant in the Musketeers. His duties were mostly ceremonial (he continued his studies as usual), but included marching in military parades, and presenting himself to King Louis. The next year, Jean-Paul-François de Noailles, duc d'Ayen, was looking to marry off some of his five daughters. The young Lafayette, aged 14, seemed a good match to him for his 12-year-old daughter, Marie Adrienne Françoise, and he spoke to the boy's guardian (Lafayette's uncle, the new comte) to negotiate a deal. However, the arranged marriage was opposed by the duc's wife, who felt the couple, and especially her daughter, were too young. The matter was settled by agreeing not to mention the marriage plans for two years, during which time the two spouses-to-be would meet from time to time, seemingly accidentally. The scheme worked; the two fell in love and were happy together from the time of their marriage in 1774 until her death in 1807.
Departure from France
Finding a cause
After the marriage contract was signed in 1773, Lafayette lived with his young wife in his father-in-law's house in Versailles. He continued his education, both at the riding school at Versailles (his fellow students included the future Charles X) and at the prestigious Académie de Versailles. He was given a commission as a lieutenant in the Noailles Dragoons in April 1773. With the death of Louis XV in 1774, Louis XVI became king. The taciturn Lafayette was not popular at court.
In 1775, Lafayette took part in his unit's annual training in Metz, where he met Charles-François de Broglie, marquis de Ruffec, the Army of the East's commander. Both men discussed at dinner the ongoing revolt against British rule by Britain's North American colonies. According to Marc Leepson in his book on Lafayette's military career, the marquis was disposed to hate the British for killing his father, and felt that a British defeat would diminish the nation's stature internationally. Harlow Unger in his biography of Lafayette noted that the marquis had recently become a Mason and talk of the rebellion "fired his chivalric—and now Masonic—imagination with descriptions of Americans as 'people fighting for liberty' ".
In September 1775, Lafayette turned 18, returned to Paris, and received the captaincy in the Dragoons he had been promised as a wedding present. In December, his first child, Henriette, was born. In Paris, he joined a local Masonic lodge and fell under the spell of Abbé Guillaume Raynal, who criticised the nobility, the clergy and the practice of slavery. The monarchy banned Raynal from speaking, augmenting his appeal. Lafayette became convinced that the American Revolution was a cause that reflected his own beliefs, saying "My heart was dedicated."
The year 1776 saw delicate negotiations between Silas Deane and other American agents and Louis XVI and his foreign minister, Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes. The king and his minister hoped that by supplying the Americans with arms and officers, they might restore French influence in North America, and exact revenge against England for the loss in the Seven Years' War (known in America as the French and Indian War). When Lafayette heard that French officers were being sent to America, he demanded to be among them. He met Deane, and persuaded him to include him despite his youth. On 7 December 1776, Deane enlisted Lafayette as a major general.
The plan to send French officers (as well as other aid) to America came to nothing when the British heard of it and threatened war. Lafayette's father-in-law, de Noailles, scolded the young man and told him to go to London and visit the Marquis de Noailles, the ambassador to Britain and Lafayette's uncle, which he did in February 1777. In the interim, he did not abandon his plans to go to America, seeking to purchase a ship. Lafayette was presented to George III, and spent three weeks in London society. On his return to France, he went into hiding from his father-in-law (and superior officer), writing to him that he was planning to go to America. De Noailles was furious, and got King Louis to issue a decree forbidding French officers from serving in America, specifically ordering Lafayette to return. In addition, Vergennes may have persuaded the king to order Lafayette's arrest, though this is uncertain.
Departure for America
Lafayette found that the Continental Congress did not have the money for his voyage; hence he acquired the sailing ship La Victoire himself. He journeyed to Bordeaux, where La Victoire was being prepared for her trip, and sent word to a friend asking for information on family reaction. The response, enclosing letters from his wife and other relatives, threw Lafayette into emotional turmoil. Soon after departure, he ordered the ship turned around and returned to Bordeaux, to the frustration of the officers traveling with him. The army commander there ordered Lafayette to report to his father-in-law's regiment in Marseilles. De Broglie, who hoped to become a military and political leader in America, met with Lafayette in Bordeaux and convinced him that the government actually wanted him to go. Though there was considerable public support for Lafayette in Paris, where the American cause was popular, this was not true. Lafayette wanted to believe it, and pretended to comply with the order to report to Marseilles, going only a few miles east before turning around and returning to his ship. La Victoire set sail for the United States on 20 April 1777.
The two-month journey to the New World was marked by seasickness and boredom. The ship's captain intended to stop in the West Indies to sell cargo; however Lafayette, fearful of arrest, bought the cargo to avoid docking at the islands. He landed on North Island near Georgetown, South Carolina, on 13 June 1777.
On arrival, Lafayette met Major Benjamin Huger, a wealthy landowner, with whom he stayed two weeks before going to Philadelphia. The Continental Congress had been overwhelmed by French officers recruited by Deane, many of whom could not speak English or lacked experience. Lafayette had learned some English en route, and his Masonic membership opened many doors in Philadelphia. After Lafayette offered to serve without pay, Congress commissioned him a major-general on 31 July 1777. Lafayette's advocates included the recently arrived American envoy to France, Benjamin Franklin, who by letter urged Congress to accommodate the young Frenchman.
General George Washington, commander in chief of the Continental Army, came to Philadelphia to brief Congress on military affairs. Lafayette met him at a dinner on 5 August 1777; according to Leepson, "the two men bonded almost immediately." Washington was impressed by the young man's enthusiasm and was inclined to think well of a fellow Mason; Lafayette was simply in awe of the commanding general. General Washington took the Frenchman to view his military camp; when Washington expressed embarrassment at its state and that of the troops, Lafayette responded, "I am here to learn, not to teach." He became a member of Washington's staff, although confusion existed regarding his status. Congress regarded his commission as honorary, while he considered himself a full-fledged commander who would be given control of a division when Washington deemed him prepared. To address this, Washington told Lafayette that a division would not be possible as he was of foreign birth; however, Washington said that he would be happy to hold him in confidence as "friend and father".
Brandywine, Albany, and the Conway Cabal
Lafayette's first battle was at Brandywine on 11 September 1777. The British commanding general, General Sir William Howe, planned to take Philadelphia by moving troops south by ship to Chesapeake Bay (rather than heavily defended Delaware Bay) and bringing them overland to the rebel capital. After the British outflanked the Americans, Washington sent Lafayette to join General John Sullivan. Upon his arrival, Lafayette went with the Third Pennsylvania Brigade, under Brigadier Thomas Conway, and attempted to rally the unit to face the attack. In face of the British and Hessian superiority, Lafayette was shot in the leg. During the American retreat, Lafayette rallied the troops, allowing a more orderly retreat before being treated for his wound. After the battle, Washington cited him for "bravery and military ardour" and recommended him for the command of a division in a letter to Congress, which was hastily evacuating, as the British took Philadelphia later that month.
Lafayette returned to the field in November after two months of recuperation in the Moravian settlement of Bethlehem, and received command of the division previously commanded by Major General Adam Stephen. He assisted General Nathanael Greene in reconnaissance of British positions in New Jersey; with 300 soldiers, he defeated a numerically superior Hessian force in Gloucester, on 24 November 1777.
Lafayette stayed at Washington's encampment at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777–78, and shared the hardship of his troops. There, the Horatio Gates-led War Board asked him to prepare an invasion of Canada from Albany, New York. Thomas Conway hoped to replace Washington with Gates, who had been successful in the Battle of Saratoga. Conway concocted a plot known as the Conway Cabal. Part of the scheme separated Washington from Lafayette, one of Washington's firmest supporters. Lafayette alerted Washington of his suspicions about the plot before leaving. When Lafayette arrived in Albany, he found too few men to mount a Canadian invasion. He wrote to Washington of the situation, and made plans to return to Valley Forge. Before departing, he recruited the Oneida tribe, who referred to Lafayette as Kayewla (fearsome horseman), to the American side. In Valley Forge, he criticized the War Board's decision to attempt an invasion of Canada in winter. The Continental Congress agreed, and Gates was removed from the Board. Meanwhile, treaties signed by America and France were made public in March 1778, and France formally recognized American independence.
Barren Hill, Monmouth and Rhode Island
The prospect of French intervention caused the British to want to concentrate their land and naval forces in the same location, New York City. In May 1778, the British began to evacuate Philadelphia. On 18 May 1778, Washington dispatched Lafayette with a 2,200-man force to reconnoitre near Barren Hill, Pennsylvania. The next day, the British heard that Lafayette had made camp nearby and sent 5,000 men to trap and capture him. On 20 May, General Howe led a further 6,000 soldiers and ordered an attack on Lafayette's left flank. The flank scattered, and Lafayette organized a retreat while the British remained indecisive. To feign numerical superiority, Lafayette ordered men to appear from the woods on an outcropping known as Barren Hill (now Lafayette Hill) and to fire upon the British periodically. Lafayette's troops simultaneously escaped via a sunken road. Lafayette was then able to cross Matson's Ford with the remainder of his force.
Unable to trap Lafayette, the British marched from Philadelphia toward New York; the Continental Army, including Lafayette, followed and finally attacked at Monmouth Courthouse, in central New Jersey. At Monmouth, Washington appointed General Charles Lee to lead the attacking force. On 28 June, Lee moved against the British flank; however, soon after fighting began, he gave conflicting orders, causing chaos in the American ranks. Lafayette sent a message to Washington to urge him to the front; upon his arrival he found Lee's men in retreat. Washington relieved Lee, took command, and rallied the American force. The British withdrew in the night, and successfully reached New York, though suffering significant casualties at Monmouth.
The French fleet arrived in America on 8 July 1778, under Admiral d'Estaing, with whom General Washington planned to attack Newport, Rhode Island, the other major British base in the north. Lafayette and General Greene were sent with a 3,000-man force to participate in the attack. Lafayette wanted to control a joint Franco-American force in the attack but was rebuffed by the admiral. On 9 August, the American land force attacked the British without consulting d'Estaing. When the Americans asked the admiral to place his ships in Narragansett Bay, d'Estaing refused and, at sea, sought to defeat the British fleet under Lord Howe. The fighting was inconclusive as a storm scattered and damaged both fleets.
D'Estaing moved his ships north to Boston for repairs. When the fleet arrived, Bostonians rioted because they considered the French departure from Newport a desertion. John Hancock and Lafayette were dispatched to calm the situation. Lafayette then returned to Rhode Island to prepare the retreat made necessary by d'Estaing's departure. For these actions, Lafayette was cited by the Continental Congress for "gallantry, skill and prudence". Lafayette wanted to expand the war to fight the British elsewhere in North America and even, under the French flag, in Europe, but found little interest in his proposals. In October 1778, he requested leave of Washington and Congress to go home on furlough, and they agreed, with Congress voting to give Lafayette a ceremonial sword, to be presented to him in France. His departure was delayed by illness, and he sailed for France in January 1779.
Return to France
In February 1779, Lafayette returned to Paris. For disobeying the king by going to America, he was placed under house arrest for eight days. This was merely face-saving by Louis XVI; Lafayette was given a hero's welcome and was soon invited to hunt with the king. As the American envoy was ill, Benjamin Franklin's grandson presented him with the 4,800-livre gold-encrusted sword commissioned by the Continental Congress.
Lafayette pushed for an invasion of Britain, with himself to have a major command in the French forces. Spain was now France's ally against Britain, and sent ships to support the invasion. The Spanish ships did not arrive until August 1779, to be met by a faster squadron of British ships, that the combined French and Spanish fleet could not catch. In September, the idea of an invasion was abandoned, and Lafayette turned his hopes to a return to America.
In December 1779, Adrienne bore Lafayette a son, Georges-Washington Lafayette. Working with Franklin, Lafayette secured the promise of 6,000 soldiers to be commanded by General Jean-Baptiste de Rochambeau. Lafayette would resume his position as a major general of American forces, serving as liaison between Washington and Rochambeau. Washington would be in command of Rochambeau's forces. In March 1780, Lafayette departed for America aboard the frigate Hermione, from Rochefort. He arrived in Boston on 27 April 1780.
Second trip to America
On his return, Lafayette found the American cause at a low ebb, rocked by several military defeats, especially in the south. Lafayette was greeted in Boston with enthusiasm, seen as "a knight in shining armor from the chivalric past, come to save the nation". He journeyed southwest and on 10 May had a joyous reunion with Washington at Morristown, New Jersey. The general and his officers were delighted to hear that the large French force promised Lafayette would be coming to their aid. Washington, aware of Lafayette's popularity, had him write (with Alexander Hamilton to correct his spelling) to state officials to urge them to provide more troops and provisions to the Continental Army. This bore fruit in the coming months, as Lafayette awaited the arrival of the French fleet. However, when the fleet arrived, there were fewer men and supplies than expected, and Rochambeau decided to wait for reinforcements before seeking battle with the British. This was unsatisfactory to Lafayette, who proposed grandiose schemes for the taking of New York City and other areas, and Rochambeau briefly refused to receive Lafayette until the young man apologized. Washington counseled the marquis to be patient.
Washington, that summer, placed Lafayette in charge of a division of troops. He spent lavishly on his command, which patrolled Northern New Jersey and adjacent New York State. Lafayette saw no significant action, and in November, Washington disbanded the division, sending the soldiers back to their state regiments. The war continued badly for the Americans, with most battles in the south going against them, and General Benedict Arnold abandoning them for the British side.
Lafayette spent the first part of the winter of 1780–81 in Philadelphia, where the American Philosophical Society elected him its first foreign member. Congress asked him to return to France to lobby for more men and supplies, but Lafayette refused, sending letters instead.
The Continental victory at the Battle of Cowpens in South Carolina in January 1781 caused Washington to order that Lafayette re-form his force and go south to Virginia to link up with those commanded by Baron von Steuben and try to trap British forces commanded by Benedict Arnold, with French ships preventing his escape by sea. If the plan was successful, Arnold was to be summarily hanged. British command of the seas prevented the plan, though Lafayette and a small part of his force (the rest left behind in Annapolis) was able to reach von Steuben in Yorktown, Virginia. Von Steuben proposed a plan, and sent it to General Washington, to use French and American forces, and French ships, to trap the main British force under Lord Cornwallis. When he received no new orders from Washington, Lafayette began to move his troops north toward Philadelphia, only to be ordered to Virginia to assume military command there. An outraged Lafayette assumed he was being abandoned in a backwater while decisive battles took place elsewhere, and objected to Washington. He also sent letters to the Chevalier de la Luzerne, French ambassador in Philadelphia, telling how ill-supplied his troops were. As Lafayette hoped, la Luzerne sent his letter on to France with a recommendation of massive French aid, which would pay a crucial part in the battles to come. Washington refused to change his orders. Fearing the letter might be captured by the British, he could not tell Lafayette that he planned to trap Cornwallis in a decisive campaign.
Virginia and Yorktown
Lafayette evaded Cornwallis' attempts to capture him in Richmond. In June, Cornwallis received orders from London to proceed to the Chesapeake Bay and to oversee construction of a port, in preparation of an attack on Philadelphia. As the British column travelled, Lafayette sent small squads that would appear unexpectedly, attacking the rear guard or foraging parties, and giving the impression that Lafayette's forces were larger than they were.
On 4 July, the British left Williamsburg and prepared to cross the James River. Cornwallis sent only an advance guard to the south side of the river, hiding many of his other troops in the forest, hoping to ambush Lafayette should he attack. In the Battle of Green Spring on 6 July, Lafayette ordered General "Mad" Anthony Wayne to strike British troops on the north side with roughly 800 soldiers. Wayne found himself vastly outnumbered against the full British force and, instead of retreating, led a bayonet charge. The charge bought time for the Americans, and Lafayette ordered a retreat. The British did not pursue. The result was a victory for Cornwallis, but the American army was bolstered by the display of courage by the men.
By August, Cornwallis had established the British at Yorktown, and Lafayette took up position on Malvern Hill, building artillery positions surrounding the British, who had orders to build fortifications to protect the British ships in Hampton Roads. Lafayette's containment trapped the British when the French fleet arrived and won the Battle of the Virginia Capes, depriving Cornwallis of naval protection. On 14 September 1781, Washington's forces joined Lafayette's, which had succeeded in containing the British. On 28 September, with the French fleet blockading the British, the combined forces laid siege to Yorktown. On 14 October, Lafayette's 400 men on the American right took redoubt 9 after Alexander Hamilton's forces had charged redoubt 10, in hand-to-hand combat. These two redoubts were key to breaking the British defenses. After a failed British counter-attack, Cornwallis surrendered on 19 October 1781.
Hero of two worlds
Although Yorktown was to be the last major land battle of the American Revolution, the British still held several major port cities. Lafayette wanted to lead expeditions on them, but Washington felt he would be more useful seeking additional naval support from France. In Philadelphia, Congress appointed him its advisor to the three American envoys abroad—Franklin in Paris, John Jay in Madrid, and John Adams in The Hague, "to communicate and agree on everything with him". It also sent Louis XVI an official letter of commendation.
Lafayette left Boston for France on 18 December 1781. He was welcomed as a hero, and on 22 January 1782, was received at Versailles. He witnessed the birth of his daughter, whom he named Marie-Antoinette Virginie upon Thomas Jefferson's recommendation. He was promoted to maréchal de camp, skipping numerous ranks. Lafayette then helped prepare for a combined French and Spanish expedition against the British West Indies. The Treaty of Paris signed between Great Britain and the U.S. in 1783 made the expedition unnecessary—Lafayette took part in the negotiations.
In France, Lafayette worked with Jefferson to establish trade agreements between the United States and France. These negotiations aimed to reduce U.S. debt to France, and included commitments on tobacco and whale oil. He joined the French abolitionist group Society of the Friends of the Blacks, which advocated the end of the slave trade and equal rights for free blacks. In 1783, in correspondence with Washington, a slaveowner, he urged the emancipation of slaves; and to establish them as tenant farmers. Although Washington demurred, Lafayette purchased land in French Guiana for a plantation.
In 1784, Lafayette returned to America. He was welcomed enthusiastically, visiting all the states except Georgia. The trip included a visit to Washington's farm at Mount Vernon on 17 August. In Virginia, Lafayette addressed the House of Delegates where he called for "liberty of all mankind" and urged emancipation. Lafayette advocated to the Pennsylvania Legislature for a federal union, and visited the Mohawk Valley in New York for peace negotiations with the Iroquois, some of whom had met Lafayette in 1778. Lafayette received an honorary degree from Harvard, a portrait of Washington from the city of Boston, and a bust from the state of Virginia. Maryland's legislature honored him by making Lafayette and his male heirs "natural born Citizens" of the state, which made him a natural born citizen of the United States after ratification of the new national Constitution.[b] Lafayette later boasted that he had become an American citizen before the concept of French citizenship existed. Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Virginia also granted him citizenship.
Through the next years, Lafayette made his house, the Hôtel de La Fayette in the rue de Bourbon the headquarters of Americans in Paris, where Franklin, John and Sarah Jay, and John and Abigail Adams, met every Monday, and dined in company with family and the liberal nobility, such as Clermont-Tonnerre, and Madame de Staël. Lafayette continued to work on lowering trade barriers in France to American goods, and on assisting Franklin and his successor as envoy, Jefferson, in seeking treaties of amity and commerce with European nations. He also sought to eliminate the severe disabilities against Protestants in France, following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes a century before.
Assembly of Notables and Estates-General
King Louis XVI convoked the Assembly of Notables on 29 December 1786, in response to France's fiscal crisis. The King appointed Lafayette to the body, which convened on 22 February 1787. In speeches, Lafayette decried those with connections at the court, who had profited from advance knowledge of government land purchases, and called for reform. He called for a "truly national assembly", which represented the whole of France. Instead, the King chose to hold an Estates General, to convene in 1789. Lafayette was elected as a representative of the nobility (Second Estate) from Riom in the Estates General. The Estates General, traditionally, cast one vote for each of the three Estates: clergy, nobility, and commons, meaning the much larger commons was generally outvoted.
The Estates General convened on 5 May 1789; debate began on whether the delegates should vote by head or by Estate. If voting was by Estate then the nobility and clergy would be able to overturn the commons; if by head, then the larger Third Estate could dominate. Before the meeting, Lafayette agitated for the voting by head, rather than estate, as a member of the "Committee of Thirty". Lafayette could not get a majority of his own Estate, but the clergy was willing to join with the commons, and on the 17th, the group declared itself the National Assembly. The royalist response was to was to lock out the group, while those who had not supported the Assembly met inside. This action led to the Tennis Court Oath, where the excluded members swore to not separate until a constitution was established. Lafayette, along with forty-six other nobles, joined the National Assembly and on 27 June, the rest followed. On 11 July 1789, Lafayette presented a draft of the "Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen", written by himself in consultation with Jefferson. The next day, after the dismissal of Finance Minister Jacques Necker, Camille Desmoulins organized an armed mob. The King had the Royal Army under the duc de Broglie surround Paris. On 14 July, the fortress known as the Bastille was stormed by the mob.
National Guard, Versailles, and Day of Daggers
On 15 July, Lafayette was acclaimed commander-in-chief of the National Guard of France, an armed force established to maintain order under the control of the Assembly. Lafayette proposed the name and the symbol of the group: a blue, white and red cockade. This combined the red and blue colors of the city of Paris with the royal white. He faced a difficult task—the king and many loyalists considered Lafayette and those who agreed with him little better than revolutionaries, whereas many commoners felt he was helping the king keep power. On 26 August, the National Assembly approved the Declaration.
On 2 October, the king rejected the Declaration. Three days later, a Parisian crowd, led mostly by woman fishmongers, marched to Versailles in response to the scarcity of bread. Members of the National Guard followed the march, with Lafayette reluctantly leading them. At Versailles, the king accepted the Assembly's votes on the Declaration, but refused requests to go to Paris. At dawn, the crowd broke into the palace. Before it succeeded in entering the queen's bedroom, Marie Antoinette fled to the king's apartments. Lafayette took the royal family onto the palace balcony and attempted to restore order. The crowd insisted that the king and his family move to Paris and the Tuileries Palace. At the balcony, King Louis simply appeared, and the crowd started chanting "Vive le Roi!". Then when Marie Antoinette appeared with her children, she was told to send the children back; afterwards, when she came out alone, people shouted to shoot her, but when she stood her ground, no one opened fire. Lafayette kissed her hand. After several seconds and the lowering of muskets, people started to chant "Vive la Reine!" ("Long live the Queen").
As leader of the National Guard, Lafayette attempted to maintain order and steer a middle ground, even as the radicals gained increasing influence. On 12 May 1790, he instituted, along with Jean Sylvain Bailly (mayor of Paris), a political club called the "Society of 1789". The club's intention was to provide balance to the influence of the Jacobins. On 14 July 1790, Lafayette, before a huge assembly, took the civic oath on the Champs de Mars, vowing to "be ever faithful to the nation, to the law, and to the king; to support with our utmost power the constitution decreed by the National Assembly, and accepted by the king." That oath was taken as well by Lafayette's troops, and also by the king.
Lafayette continued to work for order in the coming months. On 20 February 1791, the Day of Daggers, armed nobles converged around the Tuileries, afraid the king would be attacked. Lafayette, who had been away dealing with disturbances elsewhere, returned to Paris to disarm the nobles. On 18 April, the National Guard disobeyed Lafayette and stopped the king from leaving for Saint-Cloud, where he planned to attend Mass.
Decline: Flight to Varennes and Champs de Mars massacre
On 20 June 1791, an unsuccessful plot, called the Flight to Varennes, nearly allowed the king to escape from France. As leader of the National Guard, Lafayette had been responsible for the royal family's custody. He was thus blamed by Danton for the mishap and called a traitor to the people by Robespierre. These accusations made Lafayette appear a royalist, damaging his reputation in the eyes of the public, and strengthened the hands of the Jacobins and other radicals. Lafayette continued to urge the constitutional rule of law, but was drowned out by the mob and its leaders.
Through the latter half of 1791, Lafayette's stature continued to decline. On 17 July, the Cordeliers organized an event, at the Champs de Mars, to gather signatures on a petition to the National Assembly that it either abolish the monarchy or allow its fate to be decided in a referendum. The assembled crowd, estimated to be up to 10,000, hanged two men believed to be spies after they were found under the platform. At the head of his troops, Lafayette rode into the Champs de Mars to restore order; they were met with gunshots and thrown stones. When a dragoon went down, the soldiers fired on the crowd, and some 100 were killed. Martial law was declared, and the leaders of the mob, such as Danton and Marat, fled or went into hiding. In September, the Assembly finished a constitution, and on 1 October, Lafayette resigned from the National Guard, turning over his command to Bailly, the mayor.
Conflict and exile
Lafayette returned to his home province of Auvergne. France declared war on Austria on 20 April 1792, and preparations to invade the Austrian Netherlands (today's Belgium] began; Lafayette received command of one of the three armies, the Army of the Center, based at Metz. Lafayette did his best to mold inductees and National Guardsmen into a cohesive fighting force, but found that many of his troops were Jacobin sympathizers, and hated their superior officers. This emotion was common in the army, as demonstrated after the Battle of Baisieux, when the routed French troops dragged their commander to Lille, where he was torn to pieces by the mob. One of the army commanders, Rochambeau, resigned, but Lafayette did not. Lafayette, along with the third commander, Nicolas Luckner, asked the Assembly to begin peace talks, concerned at what might happen if the troops saw another battle.
In June 1792, Lafayette criticized the growing influence of the radicals through a letter to the Assembly from his field post, and ended his letter by calling for their parties to be "closed down by force". He misjudged his timing, for the radicals were in full control in Paris. Lafayette went there, and on 28 June delivered a fiery speech before the Legislative Assembly denouncing the Jacobins and other radical groups. He was instead accused of deserting his troops. Lafayette called for volunteers to counteract the Jacobins; when only a few people showed up, he understood the public mood and hastily left Paris. Robespierre called him a traitor and the mob burned him in effigy.
The 25 July Brunswick Manifesto, which warned that Paris would be destroyed by the Austrians and Prussians if the king was harmed led to the downfall of the general and the royal family. A mob attacked the Tuileries on 10 August, and the king and queen were imprisoned at the Legislative Assembly, then taken to the Temple. The Assembly abolished the monarchy—king and queen would be beheaded in the coming months. On 14 August, the minister of justice, Danton, put out a warrant for Lafayette's arrest. Hoping to travel to the United States, Lafayette entered Belgium, where he was taken prisoner by the Austrians.
Lafayette was taken prisoner near Rochefort, when another former French officer, Jean Bureaux de Pusy, asked for rights of transit through Austrian territory on behalf of a group of others. This was initially granted, as it had been for others fleeing France, but was revoked when the famous Lafayette was recognized. Frederick William II of Prussia, Austria's ally against France, had once received Lafayette, but that was before the French Revolution—the king now saw him as a dangerous fomenter of rebellion, to be interned to prevent him from overthrowing other monarchies.
Lafayette was held at Nivelles, then transferred to Luxembourg where an coalition military tribunal declared him, de Pusy, César de La Tour-Maubourg, and Alexandre de Lameth, all previously deputies in the French National Convention, to be prisoners of state for their leading roles in the Revolution. The tribunal ordered them held until a restored French king could render final judgment on them. On 12 September 1792, pursuant to the tribunal's order, the prisoners were transferred to Prussian custody. The party travelled to the Prussian fortress-city of Wesel, where the Frenchmen remained in verminous individual cells in the central citadel from 19 September to 22 December 1792. When victorious French revolutionary troops began to threaten the Rhineland, King Frederick William II transferred the prisoners east to the citadel at Magdeburg, where they remained an entire year, from 4 January 1793 to 4 January 1794.
Frederick William decided that he could gain little by continuing to battle the unexpectedly successful French forces, and that there were easier pickings for his army in the Kingdom of Poland. Accordingly, he stopped armed hostilities with the Republic and turned the state prisoners back over to his erstwhile coalition partner, the Habsburg Austrian monarch Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor. Lafayette and his companions were initially sent to Neisse (today Nysa, Poland) in Silesia. On 17 May 1794, they were taken across the Austrian border, where a military unit was waiting to receive them. The next day, the Austrians delivered their captives into a barracks-prison, formerly a college of the Jesuits, in the fortress-city of Olmütz, Moravia (today Olomouc in the Czech Republic).
Lafayette, when captured, had tried to use the American citizenship he had been granted to secure his release, and contacted William Short, United States minister in The Hague. Although Short and other U.S. envoys very much wanted to succor Lafayette for his services to their country, they knew that his status as a French officer took precedence over any claim to American citizenship. Washington, who was by then president, had instructed the envoys to avoid actions that entangled the country in European affairs, and the U.S. did not have diplomatic relations with either Prussia or Austria. They did send money for the use of Lafayette, and for his wife, whom the French had imprisoned, and when word reached Philadelphia, Secretary of State Jefferson found a loophole allowing Lafayette to be paid, with interest, for his services as a major general from 1777 to 1783. An act was rushed through Congress and signed by President Washington. These funds allowed both Lafayettes privileges in their captivity.
A more direct means of succoring the former general was an escape attempt sponsored by Alexander Hamilton's sister-in-law Angelica Schuyler Church and her husband John Barker Church, a British Member of Parliament who had served in the Continental Army. They hired as agent a multilingual young physician from the Electorate of Hanover, Justus Erich Bollmann, who established contact with Lafayette in prison and acquired an assistant, a South Carolinian medical student named Francis Kinloch Huger, son of the Benjamin Huger whom Lafayette had stayed with upon his first arrival in America. With their help, Lafayette managed to escape an escorted carriage drive in the countryside outside Olmütz. Lafayette, however, lost his way and was recaptured.
Once Adrienne was released from prison in France, she, with the help of James Monroe, obtained passports for her and her daughters from Connecticut, which had granted the entire Lafayette family citizenship. Her son Georges-Washington had been smuggled out of France and taken to the United States. Adrienne and her two daughters journeyed to Vienna for an audience with Emperor Francis, who granted permission for the three women to live with Lafayette in captivity. Lafayette, who had endured harsh solitary confinement since his escape attempt a year previously, was flabbergasted when soldiers opened his prison door to usher in his wife and daughters on 15 October 1795. For the next two years, the family spent the days confined together in Lafayette's original quarters, while the daughters spent the nights in an adjacent room.
Through the press, diplomacy, and personal appeals, Lafayette's sympathizers on both sides of the Atlantic made their influence felt, most importantly on the post-Reign of Terror French government. A young, victorious general, Napoleon Bonaparte, negotiated the release of the state prisoners at Olmütz, as a prelude to the Treaty of Campo Formio. Lafayette's captivity of over five years thus came to an end. The Lafayette family and their comrades in captivity left Olmütz under Austrian escort early on the morning of 19 September 1797, crossed the Bohemian-Saxonian border north of Prague, and were officially turned over to the American consul in Hamburg on 4 October.
From Hamburg, Lafayette sent a note of thanks to General Bonaparte. The French government, the Directorate, was unwilling to have Lafayette return unless he swore allegiance, which he was not willing to do, as he believed it had come to power by unconstitutional means. As revenge, it had his remaining properties sold, leaving him a pauper. The family, soon joined by Georges-Washington, who had returned from America, recuperated on a property near Hamburg belonging to Adrienne's aunt. Due to conflict between the United States and France, Lafayette could not go to America as he had hoped, making him a man without a country.
Adrienne was able to go to Paris, and attempted to secure her husband's repatriation, flattering Bonaparte, who had returned to France after more victories. After Bonaparte's coup d'état of 18 Brumaire, 9 November 1799. Lafayette used the confusion caused by the change of regime to slip into France with a passport in the name of "Motier". Bonaparte expressed rage, but Adrienne was convinced he was simply posing, and proposed to him that Lafayette pledge his support, then retire from public life to a property she had reclaimed, La Grange. France's new ruler allowed Lafayette to remain, though originally without citizenship and subject to summary arrest if he engaged in politics, and with the promise of eventual restoration of civil rights. Lafayette remained quietly at La Grange, and when Bonaparte held a memorial service in Paris for Washington, who had died in December 1799, Lafayette was not invited, nor was his name mentioned.
Bonaparte restored Lafayette's citizenship on 1 March 1800, after which the retired general was able to recover some of his properties. The ruler offered to make Lafayette ambassador to the United States, but was met with a firm refusal, as Lafayette would not have anything to do with his government. In 1802, Lafayette was part of the tiny minority that voted no in the referendum that made Bonaparte consul for life. Bonaparte offered to appoint Lafayette to the Senate and to bestow the Legion of Honor upon him, but Lafayette declined, though he stated he would gladly have taken the honors from a democratic government.
In 1804, Bonaparte was crowned Emperor Napoleon I after a plebiscite in which Lafayette did not participate. The retired general remained relatively quiet, although he spoke publicly on Bastille Day events. After the Louisiana Purchase, Jefferson asked if he would be interested in the governorship. Lafayette declined, citing personal problems and his desire to work for liberty in France. During a trip to Auvergne in 1807, Adrienne became ill, suffering from complications stemming from her time in prison. She became delirious but recovered enough on Christmas Eve to gather the family around her bed and to say to Lafayette: "Je suis toute à vous" ("I am all yours"). She died the next day.
In the years after Adrienne's death, Lafayette mostly remained quietly at La Grange as the Emperor Napoleon's power in Europe waxed, and then waned. Lafayette was visited by many influential people and ordinary members of the public, especially Americans. He wrote many letters, especially to Jefferson, and exchanged gifts with him, as the Frenchman had once done with Washington.
Return to politics
Return of the monarchy; the Hundred Days
In 1814, the coalition that opposed Napoleon invaded France and restored the monarchy; the comte de Provence took the throne as Louis XVIII. Lafayette was received by the new king, but opposed the new, highly restrictive franchise for the Chamber of Deputies, that allowed only 90,000 the vote in a nation of 25,000,000. Lafayette did not stand for election in 1814, remaining at La Grange.
There was discontent in France among demobilized soldiers and others. Napoleon had been exiled to Elba; seeing an opportunity, he landed at Cannes on 1 March 1815 with a few hundred followers. Frenchmen flocked to his banner, and he took Paris later that month, causing Louis to flee to Ghent. Lafayette refused Napoleon's call to serve in the new government, but accepted election to Chamber of Representatives under the new Charter of 1815. There, after Napoleon's defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, Lafayette called for his abdication. Responding to the emperor's brother Lucien, Lafayette argued:
By what right do you dare accuse the nation of...want of perseverance in the emperor's interest? The nation has followed him on the fields of Italy, across the sands of Egypt and the plains of Germany, across the frozen deserts of Russia.... The nation has followed him in fifty battles, in his defeats and in his victories, and in doing so we have to mourn the blood of three million Frenchmen.
On 22 June 1815, four days after Waterloo, Napoleon abdicated. Lafayette arranged for the former emperor's passage to America, but the British prevented this, and Napoleon ended his days on the island of Saint Helena.
The Chamber appointed Lafayette to a peace commission, that was ignored by the victorious allies, who occupied much of France, with the Prussians taking over La Grange as a headquarters. Once they left La Grange in late 1815, Lafayette returned there, a private citizen again.
Lafayette's homes, both in Paris and at La Grange, were open to any Americans who wished to meet the hero of their Revolution, and to many other people besides. Among those whom Sydney, Lady Morgan met at table during her month-long stay at LaGrange in 1818 were the Dutch painter Ary Scheffer and the historian Augustin Thierry, who sat alongside American tourists. Others who visited included philosopher Jeremy Bentham, American scholar George Ticknor, and writer Fanny Wright.
During the first decade of the Bourbon Restoration, Lafayette lent his support to a number of conspiracies in France and other European countries, all of which came to nothing. He was involved in the various Carbonari plots, and agreed to go to the city of Belfort, where there was a garrison of French troops, and assume a major role in the revolutionary government. Warned that the royal government had found out about the conspiracy, he turned back on the road to Belfort, avoiding overt involvement. More successfully, he supported the Greek Revolution, and by letter attempted to persuade American officials to ally with the Greeks. Louis's government considered arresting Lafayette, as well as his son Georges-Washington, who was also involved, but were wary of the political ramifications if they did. Lafayette remained a member of the restored Chamber of Deputies until 1823, when new plural voting rules helped defeat his bid for re-election.
Grand tour of the United States
President James Monroe and Congress invited Lafayette to visit the United States in 1824, in part to celebrate the nation's upcoming 50th anniversary. Monroe intended to have Lafayette travel on an American warship, but the general felt having such a vessel as transport was undemocratic, and booked passage on a merchantman. Louis XVIII did not approve of the trip, and his officers had troops disperse the crowd that gathered at Le Havre to see Lafayette off.
Lafayette arrived from France at New York, on 15 August 1824, accompanied by his son Georges-Washington and his thirty-year old secretary, Auguste Levasseur. At arrival, Lafayette was greeted by a group of Revolutionary War veterans, who had fought alongside him so many years before. New York erupted for four continuous days and nights of celebration, and when he departed for what he thought would be a restful trip to Boston, found the route lined by cheering citizens and welcomes organized in every town along the way. "It was a mystical experience they would relate to their heirs through generations to come. Lafayette had materialized from a distant age, the last leader and hero at the nation's defining moment. They knew they and the world would never see his kind again."
New York, Boston, and Philadelphia did their best to outdo each other in the celebrations honoring Lafayette. Needing a place to hold a reception for him, Philadelphia renovated the Old State House (today Independence Hall), which might otherwise have been torn down. Until that point, it had not been usual in the United States to build monuments, but Lafayette's visit set off a wave of construction, usually with Lafayette, in his capacity as Mason, laying the cornerstone. The arts benefitted by his visit as many cities commissioned portraits for their civic buildings, and the likenesses were seen on innumerable souvenirs. Lafayette had intended to visit only the original thirteen states in a four month visit; the stay stretched to sixteen months as he visited all twenty-four.
The towns and cities he visited, including Fayetteville, North Carolina, the first city named in his honor, gave him enthusiastic welcomes. He visited Washington City, the capital, and was surprised by the simple clothing worn by President Monroe, and the lack of any guards around the White House. In Virginia, he went to Mount Vernon, as he had forty years before, this time viewing Washington's grave. On 19 October 1824, he was at Yorktown for the anniversary of Cornwallis's surrender, then journeyed to Monticello to meet with his old friend Jefferson—and his successor, James Madison, who unexpectedly arrived. Lafayette had dined with the other living former president, 89-year-old John Adams, at his home near Boston.
With the roads becoming impassible, Lafayette stayed in Washington City for the winter of 1824–25, and thus was there for the climax of the hotly-contested 1824 presidential election, in which no presidential candidate was able to secure a majority of the Electoral College, throwing the decision to the House of Representatives. On 9 February 1825, that body selected Secretary of State John Quincy Adams as president; that evening, the runner up, General Andrew Jackson, shook hands with Adams at the White House as Lafayette looked on.
In March 1825, Lafayette began to tour the southern and western states. The general pattern of the trip was that he would be escorted between cities by the state militia, and he would enter each town through specially-constructed arches to be welcomed by local politicians or dignitaries, all anxious to be seen with Lafayette. There would be special events, visits to battlefields and historic sites, celebratory dinners, and time set aside for the public to meet the legendary hero of the Revolution.
Lafayette visited General Jackson at his home, The Hermitage, in Tennessee. While traveling up the Ohio River by steamboat, Lafayette's vessel ran aground and sank beneath him; he was put in a lifeboat by his son and secretary. He was taken to the Kentucky shore and then succored by another steamboat, which was going the other direction, but its captain insisted on turning around and taking Lafayette to Louisville. From there, he went generally northeast, viewing Niagara Falls, and taking the Erie Canal, considered a modern marvel, to Albany. Again in Massachusetts in June 1825, he laid the cornerstone of the Bunker Hill Monument after hearing an oration by Daniel Webster. From Bunker Hill, Lafayette took home soil that would, at his death, be sprinkled on his grave.
After Bunker Hill, Lafayette went to Maine and Vermont, thus reaching all the states. He met again with John Adams, then went back to New York and then its rival city of Brooklyn, where he laid the cornerstone for its public library. Lafayette celebrated his 68th birthday on 6 September at a reception with President John Quincy Adams at the White House, and departed the next day. He took with him, besides the soil to be placed on his grave, other gifts. Congress, at Monroe's request, had voted him $200,000 in gratitude for his services to the country. and a large tract of public lands in Florida. The passage back to France was aboard a ship that was originally named the Susquehanna, but was renamed the USS Brandywine in honor of the battle where the Marquis de Lafayette shed his blood for the United States.
Revolution of 1830
While Lafayette was returning to France, Louis XVIII died, and Charles X took the throne. King Charles intended to restore the absolute rule of the monarch, and his decrees had already prompted protest by the time Lafayette arrived. Lafayette was the most prominent of those who opposed the king. In the elections of 1827, the 70-year-old Lafayette was elected to the Chamber of Deputies again. Unhappy at the outcome, Charles dissolved the Chamber, but Lafayette won his seat again.
As Charles increased restrictions on civil liberties, introducing censorship of the press, Lafayette was outspoken against him. He made fiery speeches in the Chamber, denouncing the new decrees and advocating American-style representative government. He hosted dinners at La Grange, for Americans, Frenchmen, and others, who came to hear him speak on politics. He was popular enough that Charles felt he could not be safely arrested, but was spied on: one government agent noted "his seditious toasts ... in honor of American liberty".
On 25 July 1830, the king signed the Ordinances of Saint-Cloud, taking the franchise from the middle class and dissolving the current Chamber of Deputies. The decrees were published the following day. On 27 July, Parisians began erecting barricades throughout the city, and riots erupted. When Lafayette, who was at La Grange, heard what was going on, he raced into the city, to be acclaimed as a leader of the revolution. When his fellow deputies were indecisive, Lafayette went to the barricades, and soon the royalist troops were being routed. Fearful that the excesses of the 1789 revolution were about to be repeated, deputies made Lafayette head of a restored National Guard, charged with keeping order. The Chamber was willing to proclaim him as ruler, but he refused a grant of power he deemed unconstitutional. He refused to deal with Charles. Many young revolutionaries sought a republic, but Lafayette felt this would lead to civil war, and chose to offer the throne to the duc d'Orleans, Louis-Philippe, who had lived in America and had far more of a common touch than did Charles. Lafayette secured Louis-Philippe's agreement to various reforms. The general remained as commander of the National Guard. This did not last long—the brief concord at the king's accession soon faded, and the conservative majority in the Chamber voted to abolish Lafayette's National Guard post on 24 December 1830. Lafayette went back into retirement, expressing his willingness to do so.
Final years and death
Lafayette grew increasingly disillusioned with Louis-Phillippe, who backtracked on reforms and denied promising to make them. The retired general angrily broke with his king, a breach widened when the government used force to put down a strike in Lyon. Lafayette used his seat in the Chamber to make liberal proposals, and his neighbors in 1831 elected him mayor of the village of La Grange and to the council of the département of Seine-et-Marne. The following year, Lafayette served as a pallbearer and spoke at the funeral of General Jean Maximilien Lamarque, another opponent of Louis-Phillippe. There were riots in the street despite Lafayette urging calm, and a barricade was erected at the Place de la Bastille. The king forcefully broke the June Rebellion, to Lafayette's outrage. Lafayette returned to La Grange until the Chamber met in November 1832. He condemned Louis-Phillippe for introducing censorship, as Charles X had.
Lafayette spoke for the last time in the Chamber of Deputies on 3 January 1834. The winter was wet and cold, and the next month he collapsed at a funeral from pneumonia. Although he recovered, the following May was wet and, after being caught in a thunderstorm, he became sick and bedridden.
On 20 May 1834, Lafayette died on 6 rue d'Anjou-Saint-Honoré in Paris (now 8 rue d'Anjou in the 8th arrondissement of Paris) at age 76. He was buried next to his wife at the Picpus Cemetery under soil from Bunker Hill, which his son Georges sprinkled upon him. King Louis-Philippe ordered a military funeral in order to keep the public from attending. Crowds formed to protest their exclusion.
In the United States, President Jackson ordered that Lafayette receive the same memorial honors that had been bestowed on Washington in 1799. Both Houses of Congress were draped in black bunting for thirty days, and members wore mourning badges for thirty days. Congress urged Americans to follow similar mourning practices. Later in 1834, former president John Quincy Adams gave a eulogy of Lafayette that lasted three hours, calling him "high on the list of the pure and disinterested benefactors of mankind".
Throughout his life, Lafayette was an exponent of the ideals of the Age of Enlightenment, especially on human rights and liberal nationalism. Despite the fact that he spent most of his political career in opposition, his views were taken very seriously by intellectuals and others on both sides of the Atlantic.
In the United States, Lafayette's image, from the time of the American Revolution, focused on his "disinterestedness" in fighting, without pay, for the freedom of a country not his own. As Samuel Adams put it, Lafayette, in "foregoing the pleasures of Enjoyment of domestick [sic] Life and exposing himself to the Hardship and Dangers" of war meant he fought "in the glorious cause of freedom". This view was shared by many other contemporaries, establishing an image of Lafayette seeking to advance, not a patriotic interest of one country or another, but instead the liberty of mankind. As Lafayette took on his roles in the French Revolution, he gained a new role in American eyes: that of an advocate for the virtues of the American republic, seeking to transport it from New World to Old. This was reinforced by his position as surrogate son and disciple of George Washington, who was seen as Father of His Country and embodiment of the American experiment.
Lafayette's progress to the status of American icon was aided by the fact that he was not associated with any particular region of the country: he was of foreign birth, did not live in America, and had fought in New England, the Mid-Atlantic states, and in the South. Thus, he was a uniting figure. His role in the French Revolution, in which he was seen by Americans as steering a middle course, enhanced this popularity. Americans were naturally sympathetic to a republican cause, but also remembered Louis XVI as a friend of the nascent United States. When Lafayette fell from power in 1792, Americans tended to blame factionalism for the ouster of a man who they thought above such things.
In 1824, Lafayette returned to the United States, at a time when Americans were questioning the success of the republican experiment in view of the disastrous economic Panic of 1819 and the intersectional conflict over the Missouri Compromise. Lafayette's hosts saw him as a judge of how successful the experiment had been. According to Kramer, Lafayette (as well as a later visitor to America, Alexis de Tocqueville), "provided foreign confirmations of the self-image that shaped America's national identity in the early nineteenth century and that has remained a dominant theme in the national ideology ever since: the belief that America's Founding Fathers, institutions, and freedom created the most democratic, egalitarian, and prosperous society in the world".
Historian Gilbert Chinard wrote in 1936, “Lafayette became a legendary figure and a symbol so early in his life, and successive generations have so willingly accepted the myth, that any attempt to deprive the young hero of his republican halo will probably be considered as little short of iconoclastic and sacrilegious.” That legend has been used politically: the name and image of Lafayette were repeatedly invoked in 1917 in seeking to gain popular support for America's entry to World War I, culminating in the famous phrase, "Lafayette, we are here". This occurred at some cost to Lafayette's image in America: veterans returned from the front singing "We've paid our debt to Lafayette, who the hell do we owe now?" A longer-term threat was the increasing sophistication of Americans and the lessened need for symbols of patriotism; by 1971, according to Anne C. Loveland, "Lafayette no longer served as a national hero-symbol." In 2002, Congress voted to grant Lafayette honorary citizenship.
Lafayette's reputation in France is more problematic. Thomas Gaines, in his book about Lafayette, noted that the response to Lafayette's death was far more muted in France than in America, and suggested that may have been because Lafayette was the last surviving hero of America's only revolution, whereas the evolution of the French government has been far more episodic. Lafayette's role, especially in the French Revolution, has led to a more mixed picture of him in France. To historian Jules Michelet, Lafayette was a "mediocre idol", lifted by the mob far beyond what his talents deserved. In their "Histoire et dictionaire de la Révolution française ", Jean Tulard, Jean-François Fayard, and Alfred Fierro noted Napoleon's deathbed comment about Lafayette that had Napoleon had Lafayette's place during the French Revolution, "the king would still be sitting on his throne". They called Napoleon's comment "not too excessive" and deemed Lafayette "an empty-headed political dwarf [and] one of the people most responsible for the destruction of the French monarchy". Gaines disagreed, and noted that liberal and Marxist historians have also dissented from that view of Lafayette. Lloyd Kramer related that in a survey of the French public, just before the Revolution's bicentennial in 1989, 57% deemed Lafayette the figure from the Revolution they most admired, with Marat and Saint-Just tying for second with 21% each: "he clearly had more French supporters in the early 1990s than he could muster in the early 1790s".
Leepson concluded his study of Lafayette's life:
The Marquis de Lafayette was far from perfect. He was sometimes vain, naïve, immature, and egocentric. But he consistently stuck to his ideals, even when doing so endangered his life and fortune. Those ideals proved to be the founding principles of two of the world's most enduring nations, the United States and France. That is a legacy that few military leaders, politicians or statesmen can match.
- His full name is rarely used; instead he is often referred to as the marquis de La Fayette or Lafayette (in the United States, not in France where a two words spelling is official). Biographer Louis R. Gottschalk says that Lafayette spelled his name both Lafayette and La Fayette. Other historians differ on the spelling of Lafayette's name: Lafayette, La Fayette, and LaFayette. Contemporaries often used "La Fayette", similar to his ancestor, the novelist Madame de La Fayette; however, his immediate family wrote Lafayette. See Gottschalk, pp. 153–154
- The New York Times article contained a facsimile and transcript of the Maryland act: " An Act to naturalize Major General the Marquiss de la Fayette and his Heirs Male Forever. ... Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Maryland—that the Marquiss de la Fayette and his Heirs male forever shall be and they and each of them are hereby deemed adjudged and taken to be natural born Citizens of this State and shall henceforth be instilled to all the Immunities, Rights and Privileges of natural born Citizens thereof, they and every one of them conforming to the Constitution and Laws of this State in the Enjoyment and Exercise of such Immunities, Rights and Privileges."
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- Folliard, Edward T. "JFK Slipped on Historical Data In Churchill Tribute" Sarasota Journal, 25 May 1973.
- Cornell, Douglas B. "Churchill Acceptance 'Honors Us Far More'" Sumter Daily Item, 10 April 1963.
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- "Lafayette: Citizen of Two Worlds". Lafayette: Citizen of Two Worlds. Cornell University Library. 2006. Retrieved 2012-09-29.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette.|
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- Société des Cincinnati de France, site of the French Society of the Cincinnati
- Works by Gilbert du Motier, (formerly) Marquis de Lafayette at Project Gutenberg
- French Founding Father at the New-York Historical Society
- The Cornell University Library Lafayette Collection
- The Marquis de Lafayette collection, Cleveland State University
- Lafayette College, The Marquis de Lafayette Collections
- Marquis de Lafayette Collection, Library of Congress
- Martha Joanna Lamb, Lafayette letters from prison, The Magazine of American History with Notes and Queries, pp. 353–376
- Works by or about Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Booknotes interview with Lloyd Kramer on Lafayette in Two Worlds: Public Cultures and Identities in an Age of Revolutions, 15 September 1996.
- La Grange, France, Chateau of General Lafayette
- "LAFAYETTE TRIUMPHANT: His 1824-1825 Tour and Reception in the United States"
- Thomas Jefferson Letter, 1813 Nov. 30. From the Collections at the Library of Congress