by Gerald Boerner


JerryPhoto_8x8_P1010031 During our nation’s struggle to become independent from the British, we received help from two foreign sources — the Marquis de Lafayette (France) and the Baron von Steuben (Prussia). Each of these two men provided aid to the American colonists in their own way. Today, we look at the contributions of Lafayette.

And contribute he did. He was actively involved with several campaigns as well as advocating the case for France to join into the conflict on the side of the Americans. Eventually, through the intervention of Lafayette, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams, the French government recognized the new nation, provided financial support and provided naval support which was a major factor in the victory over the British in Yorktown.

This nobleman, the Marquis de Lafayette, was at heart an American Patriot and carried the benefits of the Revolution back to France, where it was, unfortunately, ignored by the rebels who were set of taking down their monarchy. But, as they say, that is another story.  GLB


“Humanity has won its battle. Liberty now has a country.”
— Marquis de Lafayette

“If the liberties of the American people are ever destroyed, they will fall by the hands of the clergy.”
— Marquis de Lafayette

“True republicanism is the sovereignty of the people. There are natural and imprescriptible rights which an entire nation has no right to violate.”
— Marquis de Lafayette

“When the government violates the people’s rights, insurrection is, for the people and for each portion of the people, the most sacred of the rights and the most indispensible of duties.”
— Marquis de Lafayette

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
— John F. Kennedy

“A revolution can be neither made nor stopped. The only thing that can be done is for one of several of its children to give it a direction by dint of victories.”
— Napoleon Bonaparte

“Let the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workingmen of all countries, unite!”
— Karl Marx

“I cannot help fearing that men may reach a point where they look on every new theory as a danger, every innovation as a toilsome trouble, every social advance as a first step toward revolution, and that they may absolutely refuse to move at all.”
— Alexis de Tocqueville


Marquis de Lafayette: The Gentleman Soldier

Gilbert_du_Motier_Marquis_de_Lafayette Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette (1757 – 1834), or Lafayette, was a French aristocrat and military officer born in the province of Auvergne in south central France. Lafayette was a general in the American Revolutionary War and a leader of the Garde Nationale during the French Revolution.

In the American Revolution, Lafayette served in the Continental Army under George Washington. 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 to France to negotiate an increased French commitment. On his return, he blocked troops led by Cornwallis at Yorktown while the armies of Washington and Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, prepared for battle against the British.

Back in France in 1788, Lafayette was called to the Assembly of Notables to respond to the fiscal crisis. Lafayette proposed a meeting of the French Estates-General, where representatives from the three traditional classes of French society — the clergy, the nobility and the commoners — met. He served as vice president of the resulting body and presented a draft of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Lafayette was appointed commander-in-chief of the French (Garde nationale) National Guard in response to violence leading up to the French Revolution. During the Revolution, Lafayette attempted to maintain order, for which he ultimately was persecuted by the Jacobins. In 1791, as the radical factions in the Revolution grew in power, Lafayette tried to flee to the United States through the Dutch Republic. He was captured by Austrians and served nearly five years in prison.

Lafayette returned to France after Bonaparte freed him from an Austrian prison in 1797. He was elected to the Chamber of Deputies under the Charter of 1815, during the Hundred Days. With the Bourbon Restoration, Lafayette became a liberal member of the Chamber of Deputies in 1815, a position he held until his death. In 1824, President James Monroe invited Lafayette to the United States as the "nation’s guest"; during the trip, he would visit all of the then twenty-four states. For his contributions to the American Revolution, many cities and monuments throughout the United States bear his name (Fayetteville, North Carolina was the only one of those he actually visited in person). During France’s July Revolution of 1830 Lafayette declined an offer to become the French dictator; instead he supported Louis-Philippe’s bid as a constitutional monarch. Lafayette died on 20 May 1834, and is buried in Picpus Cemetery in Paris, under soil from Revolutionary War battlefield Bunker Hill. He became a natural born citizen of the United States during his lifetime and received honorary United States citizenship in 2002.

Joining the American War

In 1775, Lafayette took part in his unit’s annual training in Metz, where he met Charles-François, comte de Broglie, the Army of the East’s commander and a superior. When the Duke of Gloucester, King George III’s brother and colonial policy critic, travelled through the region, he was invited to dinner with de Broglie and his men. Lafayette wrote in his memoirs that at this dinner when he

…first learned of that quarrel, my heart was enlisted and I thought only of joining the colors.

Lafayette returned to Paris in the fall and participated in sociétés de pensée (thinking groups) that discussed French involvement in the American Revolution. At these meetings, a frequent speaker, Abbé Guillaume Raynal emphasised the "rights of man". He criticised the nobility, the clergy and the practice of slavery. The monarchy banned Raynal from speaking, and he expressed his views secretly in the Masonic Lodges of which Lafayette was a member.

On 7 December 1776, Lafayette arranged through Silas Deane, an American agent in Paris, to enter the American service as a major general. Lafayette visited his uncle Marquis de Noailles, the Ambassador to Britain, as he promised. During a ball at Lord George Germain’s, he met Lord Rawdon, met Sir Henry Clinton at the Opera, and met Lord Shelburne at breakfast. However, Lafayette refused to toast King George, and left after three weeks. In 1777, the French government granted the American military one million livres in supplies after Minister Charles Gravier pressed for French involvement. De Broglie intrigued with his old subordinate, German Johann de Kalb, (who had previously done a reconnaissance of America), to send French officers to fight alongside the Americans, (and perhaps set up a French generalissimo). De Broglie approached Gravier, suggesting assistance to the American revolutionaries. De Broglie then presented Lafayette, who had been placed on the reserve list, to de Kalb.

Departure for America

Going back to Paris, Lafayette found that the Continental Congress did not have the money for his voyage; hence he acquired the sailing ship La Victoire himself. The king officially forbade him to leave after British spies discovered his plan, and issued an order for Lafayette to join his father-in-law’s regiment in Marseille, disobedience of which would be punishable by imprisonment. The British ambassador ordered the seizure of the ship Lafayette was fitting out at Bordeaux, and Lafayette was threatened with arrest. He eluded capture disguised as a courier, and travelled to Spain. On 20 April 1777, he sailed for America with eleven companions, leaving his pregnant wife in France. 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.

American Revolution

Washington_and_Lafayette Washington and Lafayette
at Valley Forge

On arrival, Lafayette met Major Benjamin Huger, with whom he stayed for two weeks before departing on the thirty-two day journey to Philadelphia. In Pennsylvania, the Continental Congress delayed Lafayette’s commission, as they had tired of "French glory seekers" and other men sent by Silas Deane. Congress, impressed by Lafayette’s offer to serve without pay, commissioned the rank of major-general on 31 July 1777. The commission, however, became effective on that date, not from his original agreement with Deane. In addition, he was not assigned a unit; he nearly returned home for this reason.

Benjamin Franklin, however, wrote George Washington recommending acceptance of Lafayette as his aide-de-camp, hoping it would influence France to commit more aid. Washington accepted, and Lafayette met him at Moland House in Bucks County, Pennsylvania on 10 August 1777. When Washington expressed embarrassment to show a French officer the state of their camp and 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

Woundedatbrandywine Lafayette wounded
at the battle of Brandywine

Lafayette’s first battle was at Brandywine on 11 September 1777, which was lost. After the British outflanked the Americans, Washington acquiesced to a request by 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 numeric superiority, Lafayette was shot in the leg. During the American retreat, Lafayette created a control point allowing a more orderly retreat before being treated for his wound.[35] 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.

Lafayette returned to the field in December after two months of rest, and received command of Major General Adam Stephen’s division. 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.

He returned to Valley Forge for the winter, where 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. He concocted a plot known as the Conway Cabal which 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 in the winter. 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 vocally criticised the War Board’s decision to attempt an invasion of Canada in the 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 recognised American independence.

Barren Hill, Monmouth and Rhode Island

Barren-hill-map Map of the battle of Barren Hill

After France entered the war, the Americans tried to sense what the British forces’ reaction would be. 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 capture him for his symbolic value representing the Franco-American alliance. 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 organised a retreat while the British remained indecisive. To feign numerical superiority, he 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 resumed their march north from Philadelphia to New York; the Continental Army, including Lafayette, followed and finally attacked at the Monmouth Courthouse. At Monmouth, Washington appointed General Lee to lead the attacking force. On 28 June, Lee moved against the British flank; however, soon after fighting began, he began acting strangely. Lafayette sent a message to Washington to urge him to the front; upon his arrival he found Lee’s men in retreat. Washington was able to rally the American force and repel two British attacks. Due to the day’s heat, fighting ended early and the British withdrew in the night.

The French fleet arrived in America on 8 July 1778 under Admiral d’Estaing, with whom General Washington planned to attack Newport, Rhode Island. 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. On 9 August, the American force attacked the British without consulting d’Estaing. When the Americans asked the admiral to leave his fleet in Narragansett Bay, d’Estaing refused and attacked the British under Lord Howe. The attack dispersed the British fleet, but a storm damaged the French ships.

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, and then Lafayette returned to Newport to prepare for the retreat made necessary by d’Estaing’s departure. For these actions, Lafayette was cited by the Continental Congress for "gallantry, skill and prudence". However he realized that the Boston riot might undermine the Franco-American alliance in France, so he requested and was given permission to return to France.

Lafayette-model Lafayette (by Cyrus
Edwin Dallin 1889)

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 two weeks. Nevertheless, his return was triumphant. Benjamin Franklin’s grandson presented him with a 4,800 livre gold-encrusted sword commissioned by the Continental Congress, and the king asked to see him. Louis XVI, pleased with the soldier after Lafayette proposed schemes for attacking the British, restored his position in the dragoons. Lafayette used his position to lobby for more French aid to America. Working with Franklin, Lafayette secured another 6,000 soldiers to be commanded by General Jean-Baptiste de Rochambeau.

Lafayette received news that Adrienne had borne him a son, Georges Washington Lafayette. After his son’s birth, he pushed for additional commitments of support from France for the American Revolutionary War. He ordered new uniforms and arranged for the fleet’s departure. Before returning to America, Lafayette and the French force learned that they would be operating under American command, with Washington in control of military operations. In March 1780, Lafayette gave power of attorney to business manager Jacques-Philippe Grattepain-Morizot and Adrienne, and left France, departing for the Americas aboard the Hermione, from the harbour of Rochefort. He arrived in Boston on 28 April carrying the then secret news that he had secured French reinforcements (5,500 men and 5 frigates) for George Washington.

Virginia and Yorktown

Plan_of_the_Battle_of_Yorktown_1875 A map of key sites in the
Battle of Yorktown

Lafayette returned to America in May 1781 and was sent to Virginia to defend against Benedict Arnold and to replace Baron von Steuben 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 followed in a bold show of force that encouraged new recruits. In June, Lafayette’s men were joined by forces under General (Mad) Anthony Wayne. Soldiers deserted both leaders; Wayne executed six for desertion. Lafayette offered to release his men from service because of the great danger ahead; all of his men remained.

On 4 July, the British decamped at Williamsburg and prepared to cross the James River. Cornwallis sent only an advance guard across the river, with intentions to trap, should Lafayette attack. Lafayette ordered Wayne to strike on 6 July 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 the retreat. The British did not pursue. The result was a victory for Cornwallis, but the American army was bolstered from the display of courage by the men.

By August, Cornwallis had established the British at Yorktown, and Lafayette took up position on Malvern Hill. This manoeuvre trapped the British when the French fleet arrived. On 14 September 1781, Washington’s forces joined Lafayette’s, which had succeeded in containing the British until supplies and reinforcements arrived. On 28 September, with the French fleet blockading the British, the combined forces attacked in what became known as the Siege of Yorktown. Lafayette’s detail formed the right end of the American wing, the 400 men of which took redoubt 10, in hand-to-hand combat. After a failed British counter-attack, Cornwallis surrendered on 19 October 1781.

Return to France and Visit to America

Lafayette returned to France on 18 December 1781 from Boston. He was welcomed as a hero, and on 22 January 1782, he 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, of which he was appointed chief-of-staff, against the British West India Islands. The Treaty of Paris signed between Great Britain and the U.S. on 20 January 1783 made the expedition unnecessary.

In France, Lafayette worked with Thomas Jefferson to organize trade agreements between the United States and France. These negotiations aimed to reduce debt owed to France by the U.S., and included commitments on tobacco and whale oil. He joined the French abolitionist group Society of the Friends of the Blacks, which advocated for ending slave trade and equal rights for free blacks. In 1783, in correspondence with Washington, he urged the emancipation of slaves; and to establish them as farmer tenants. Although Washington demurred, Lafayette purchased land in the French colony of Cayenne for his plantation La Belle Gabrielle, to "experiment" with education, and emancipation.

Washington_and_Lafayette_at_Mount_Vernon,_1784_by_Rossiter_and_Mignot,_1859 Lafayette and Washington at Mt. Vernon, 1784

In 1782 Lafayette returned to America, and visited all of 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 and prayed 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 between 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. Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Virginia also granted him honorary citizenship.

Upon his return to France, Historian Louis Gottschalk concluded that Lafayette became involved in an affair with the comtesse Aglaé d’Hunolstein, that he broke off on 27 March 1783 by letter, at the insistence of her family. He became briefly linked amorously to Madame de Simiane; however, scholars are divided, whether Adrienne knew of these two extramarital affairs. Enemies of Lafayette made much of the court gossip.

Through the next years, Lafayette was active in the Hôtel de La Fayette, in the rue de Bourbon, the headquarters of Americans in Paris, Benjamin Franklin, Mr. and Mrs. John Jay, and Mr. and Mrs. John Adams, who met every Monday, and dined in company with family and the liberal nobility, such as Clermont-Tonnerre, and Madame de Staël.



Other Events on this Day:

  • In 1777…
    The Marquis de Lafayette arrives in the United States to aid the Patriot cause

  • In 1805…
    The Lewis and Clark expedition reaches the Great Falls of the Missouri River.

  • In 1917…
    The first U.S. troops sent to fight in Europe during World War I depart New York Harbor.

  • In 1967…
    President Lyndon Johnson nominates Thurgood Marshall to become the first black justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

  • In 1983…
    The probe Pioneer 10 becomes the first spacecraft to leave the solar system.

Dates and events based on:

William J. Bennett and John Cribb, (2008) The American Patriot’s Almanac Daily Readings on America. (Kindle Edition)

Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:

Wikipedia: Marquis de Lafayette…

Brainy Quote: Marquis de Lafayette Quotes…