Gilbert Motier Lafayette

GILBERT MOTIER LAFAYETTE, (formerly marquis de,) was born at Chavagnac, near Brioude, in Auvergne, Sept. 6, 1757, was educated in the college of Louis le Grand, in Paris, placed at court as an officer in one of the guards of honor, and, at the age of 17, was married to the granddaughter of the duke de Noailles. It was under these circumstances that the young marquis de Lafayette entered upon a career so little to be expected of a youth of vast fortune, of high rank, of powerful connections, at the most brilliant and fascinating court in the world. He left. France secretly. for America, in 1777, and arrived at Charleston, South Carolina, April 25, being then 19 years old. The state of this country, it is well known, was at that time most gloomy: a feeble army, without clothing or arms, was with difficulty kept together before a victorious enemy; the government was without resources or credit, and the American agents in Paris were actually obliged to confess that they could not furnish the young nobleman with a conveyance. . Then,' said he, will fit out a vessel myself, and he did so. The sensation produced in this country, by his arrival, was very great: it encouraged the almost disheartened people to hope for succor and sympathy from one of the most powerful nations in Europe. Immediately on his arrival, Lafayette received the offer of a command in the continental army, but declined it, raised and equipped a body of men at his own expense, and then entered the service as a volunteer without pay. He lived in the family of the commander-in-chief, and won his full affection and confidence. He was appointed major general in July, and, in September, was wounded at Brandywine. He was employed in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island in 1778, and, after receiving the thanks of his country for his important services, embarked at Boston, in January, 1779, for France, where it was thought that he could assist the cause more effectually for a time. The treaty concluded between France and America, about the same period, was, by his personal exertions, made effective in our favor, and he returned to' America with the intelligence that a French force would soon be sent to this country. Immediately on his arrival, he entered the service, and received the command of a body of infantry of about 2000 men, which he clothed and equipped, in part, at his own expense. His forced march to Virginia, in December, 1780, raising 2000 guineas at Baltimore, on his own credit, to supply the wants of his troops; his rescue of Richmond; his long trial of generalship with Cornwallis, who boasted that the boy could not escape him;' the siege of Yorktown, and the storming of the redoubt, are proofs of his devotion to the cause of American independence. Desirous of serving that cause at home, he again returned to France for that purpose. Congress, which had already acknowledged his merits on former occasions, now passed new resolutions, Nov: 23, 1781, in which, besides the usual marks of approbation, they desired the American ministers to confer with him in their negotiations. In France, a brilliant reputation had preceded him, and he was received with the highest marks of public admiration.

Still he urged upon his government the necessity of negotiating with a powerful force in America, and succeeded in obtaining orders to this effect. On his arrival in Cadiz, he found 49 ships with 20,000 men, ready to follow him to America, had not peace rendered it unnecessary. A letter from him communicated the first intelligence of that event to congress. The importance of his services in France may be seen by consulting his letters in the Correspondence of the American Revolution, (Boston, 1831.) He received pressing invitations, however, to revisit the country. Washington in particular, urged it strongly; and, for the third time, Lafayette landed in the United States, Aug. 4, 1784. After passing a few days at Mount Vernon, he visited Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, etc., and was everywhere received with the greatest enthusiasm and delight. Previous to his return to France, congress appointed a deputation, consisting of one member from each state, to take leave of him on behalf of the country, and assure him that these United States regard him with particular affection, and will not cease to feel an interest in whatever may concern his honor and prosperity.' After his return, he was engaged in endeavoring to mitigate the condition of the Protestants in France, and to effect the abolition of slavery. In the assembly of the notables, in 1787, he proposed the suppression of lettres de cachet, and of the state-prisons, the emancipation of the Protestants, and the convocation of the representatives of the nation. When asked by the count D'Artois, since Charles X, if he demanded the states-general-' Yes,' was his reply, and something better.' Being elected a member of the states general, which took the name of national assembly (1789), he proposed a declaration of rights, and the decree providing for the responsibility of the officers of the crown. Two days after the attack on the Bastile, he was appointed (July 15) commander-in-chief of the national guards of Paris. The court and national assembly were still at Versailles, and the populace of Paris, irritated at this, had already adopted, in sign of opposition, a blue and red cockade (being the colors of the city of Paris). July 26, Lafayette added to this cockade the white of the royal arms, declaring at the same time that the tri-color should go round the world. On the march of the populace to Versailles (October 5 and 6), the national guards clamored to be led thither. Lafayette refused to comply with their demand, until, having received orders in the afternoon, he set off, and arrived at 10 o'clock, after having been on horseback from before daylight. He requested that the interior posts of thechateau might be committed to him; but this request was refused, and the outer posts only were entrusted to the national guards. This was the night on which the assassins murdered two of the queen's guards, and were proceeding to further acts of violence, when Lafayette, at the head of the national troops, put an end to the disorder, and saved the lives of the royal family. In the morning he accompanied them to Paris. On the establishment of the Jacobin club at Paris, he organized, with Bailly, then mayor of Paris, the opposing club of Feuillans. Jan. 20, 1790, he supported the motion for the abolition of titles of nobility, from which period he renounced his own, and has never since resumed it. The constitution of a representative monarchy, which was the object of his wishes, was now proposed, and July 13, 1790, was appointed for its acceptance by the king and the nation, and, in the name of 4,000,000 national guards, Lafayette swore fidelity to the constitution.

Declining the dangerous power of constable of France, or generalissimo of the national guards of the kingdom, after having organized the national militia, and defended the king from the popular violence, he resigned all command, and retired to his estates. The first coalition against France (1792) soon called him from his retirement. Being appointed one of the three major-generals in the command of the French armies, he established discipline, and defeated the enemy at Philippeville, Maubeuge and Florennes, when his career of success was interrupted by the domestic factions of his country. Lafayette openly denounced the terrible Jacobins, in his letter of June 16, in which he declared that the enemies of the revolution, under the mask of popular leaders, were endeavoring to stifle liberty under the excesses of licentiousness. June 20, he appeared at the bar of the assembly, to vindicate his conduct, and demand the punishment of the guilty authors of the violence. But the Mountain had already overthrown the constitution, and nothing could be effected. Lafayette then offered to conduct the king and his family to Compiegne. This proffer being declined, he returned to the army, which he endeavored to rally round the constitution. June 30, he was burnt in effigy at the Palais-Royal, and Aug. 5, was accused of treason before the assembly. Still he declared himself openly against the proceedings of August 10; but, finding himself unsupported by his soldiers, he determined to leave the country, and take refuge in some neutral ground. Some persons have charged general Lafayette with a want of firmness at this period; but it is without a full understanding of the situation of things. Conscious that a price was set on his head at home, knowing that his troops would not support him against the principles which were triumphing in the clubs and the assembly, and sensible that, even if he were able to protract the contest with the victorious faction, the frontiers would be exposed to the invasions of the emigrants and their foreign allies, with whom he would have felt it treason against the nation to have negotiated, he had no alternative. Having been captured by an Austrian patrol, he was delivered to the Prussians, by whom he was again transferred to Austria. He was carried, with great secrecy, to Olmutz, where he was subjected to every privation and suffering, and cut oft from all communication with his friends, who were not even able to discover the place of his confinement until late in 1794. An unsuccessful attempt was made to deliver him from prison by Dr. Bollman, a German, and colonel Huger, of Charleston, S. C. His wife and daughters, however, succeeded in obtaining admission to him, and remained with him nearly two years, till his release. Washington had written directly to the emperor of Austria on his behalf, without effect; but, after the memorable campaign of Bonaparte in Italy, the French government required that the prisoners at Olmutz should be released, which was done Aug. 25, 1797, after a negotiation that lasted three months. Refusing to take any part in the revolutions of the 18th. Fructidor, or of the 18th Brumaire, he returned to his estate at La Grange, and, declining the dignity of senator, offered him by Bonaparte, he gave his vote against the consulate for life, and, taking no further part in public affairs, devoted himself to agricultural pursuits. On the restoration of the Bourbons, in 1814, he perceived that their principles of government were not such as France required, and he did not therefore leave his retirement, The 20th of March, 1815, again saw Napoleon on the imperial throne, and endeavoring to conciliate the nation by the profession of liberal principles. Lafayette refused, though urged, through the medium of Joseph, to see him, protested against the acte additionnel of April 22, declined the peerage offered him by the emperor, but accepted the place of representative, to which the votes of his fellow-citizens called him. He first met Napoleon at the opening of the chambers: the emperor received him with great marks of kindness, to which, however, he did not respond; but, although he would take no part in the projects of Napoleon, he gave his vote for all necessary supplies, on the ground that France was invaded, and that it was the duty of all Frenchmen to defend their country. June 21, Napoleon returned from Waterloo, and it was understood that it was determined to dissolve the house of representatives, and establish a dictatorship. Two of his counselors informed Lafayette that in two hours the representative body would cease to exist. Immediately on the opening of the session, he ascended the tribune, and addressed the house as follows: When, for the first time after an interval of many years, I raise a voice which all the old friends of liberty will still recognize, it is to speak of the dangers of the country, which you only can save. This, then, is the moment for us to rally round the old tri-colored standard, the standard of '89, of liberty, of equality, of public order, which we have now to defend against foreign violence, and domestic usurpation.' He then moved that the house declare itself in permanent session, and all attempts to dissolve it high treason; that whoever should make such an attempt, should be considered a traitor, etc. In the evening, Napoleon sent Lucien to the house, to make one more effort in his favor. Lucien, in . a strain of impassioned eloquence, conjured the house not to compromise the honor of the French nation by inconstancy to the emperor. At these words, Lafayette rose in his place, and, addressing himself directly to the orator, exclaimed, Who dares accuse the French nation of inconstancy to the emperor? Through the sands of Egypt, and the wastes of Russia, over 50 fields of battle, this nation has followed him devotedly; and it is for this that we now mourn the blood of three millions of Frenchmen.'

This appeal had such an effect on the assembly, that Lucien resumed his seat without finishing his discourse. A deputation of five members from each house was then appointed to deliberate in committee with the council of ministers. Of this deputation, general Lafayette was a member, and he moved that a committee should be sent to the emperor to demand his abdication. The arch-chancellor refused to put the motion; but the emperor sent in his abdication the next morning (June 22). A provisional government was formed, and Lafayette was sent to demand a suspension of hostilities of the allies, which was refused. On his return, he found Paris in possession of the enemy; and, a few days after (July 8), the doors of the representatives' chamber were closed, and guarded by Prussian troops. Lafayette conducted a number of the members to the house of Lanjuinais, the president, where they drew up a protest against this act of violence, and quietly separated. Lafayette now retired once more to La Grange, where he remained till 1818, when he was chosen member of the chamber of deputies. Here he continued to support his constitutional principles, by opposing the laws of exception, the establishment of the censorship of the press, the suspension of personal liberty, etc., and by advocating the cause of public instruction, the organization of a national militia, and the inviolability of the charter.

In August, 1824, he landed at New York, on a visit to the United States, upon the invitation of the president, and was received, in every part of the country, with the warmest expressions of delight and enthusiasm. He was proclaimed, by the popular voice, the guest of the nation,' and his presence was everywhere the signal for festivals and rejoicings. He passed through the 24 states of the Union in a sort of triumphal procession, in which all parties joined to forget their dissensions, in which the veterans of the war renewed their youth, and the young were carried back to the doings and sufferings of their fathers. Having celebrated, at Bunker hill, the anniversary of the first conflict of the revolution, and, at Yorktown, that of its closing scene, in which he himself had borne so conspicuous a part, and taken leave of the four ex-presidents of the United States, he received the farewell of the president in the name of the nation, and sailed from the capital in a frigate named, in compliment to him, the Brandywine, September 7, 1825, and arrived at Havre, where the „citizens, having peaceably assembled to make some demonstration of their respect for his character, were dispersed by the gendarmerie. In December preceding, the congress of the United States made him a grant of $200,000, and a township of land, in consideration of his important services and expenditures during the American revolution.' The grant of money was in the shape of stock, bearing interest at six per cent., and redeemable December 31, 1834. In August, 1827, he attended the obsequies of Manuel, over whose body he pronounced a eulogy. In November, the chamber of deputies was dissolved. Lafayette was again returned a member by the new elections. Shortly before the revolution of 1830; he traveled to Lyons, etc., and vas enthusiastically received - a striking contrast to the conduct of the ministers towards him, and an alarming symptom to the despotic government. During the revolution of July, 1830, he was appointed general-in-chief of the national guards of Paris, and, though not personally engaged in the fight, his activity and name were of the greatest service. To the Americans, Lafayette, the intimate friend of Washington, had appeared, in his late visit, almost like a great historical character returning from beyond the grave. In the eyes of the French, he was a man of the early days of their revolution - a man, moreover, who never changed side or principle. His undeviating consistency is acknowledged by all, even by those who do not allow him the possession of first rate talents. When the national guards were established throughout France, after the termination of the struggle, he was appointed their commander-in-chief, and his activity in this post was admirable. August 17, he was made marshal of France. His influence with the government seems to have been, for some time, great, but whether his principles were too decidedly republican to please the new authorities (a few days after the adoption of the new charter, he declared himself against hereditary peerage, and repeatedly called himself a pupil of the American school), or whether he was considered as the rallying point of the republican party, or whatever may have been the reason, he sent in his resignation in December, 1830, which was accepted, and count Lobau appointed chief of the national guards of Paris. Lafayette declared from the tribune, that he had acted thus in consequence of the distrust which the power accompanying his situation seemed to excite in some people. On the same occasion, he also expressed his disappprobation of the new law of election. Shortly before his resignation, he exerted himself most praiseworthily to maintain order during the trial of the ex-ministers. The Poles made him first grenadier of the Polish national guards. He died at Paris, May 18, 1834. Regnault-Warin's Memoires sur le General La Fayette (Paris, 1824), contains many facts relative to his political life in France. His secretary, M. Levasseur, published an account of his tour in the United States (Paris, 1825), which has been translated in America.