View Full Version : AP: Lafayette's Image Still Looms in D.C.

10-15-2001, 10:02 PM
Lafayette's Image Still Looms in D.C.

By LAWRENCE L. KNUTSON, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - In the summer of 1824, an aging French aristocrat with a legendary passion for liberty crossed the Atlantic and went on the road.

The return to America of Marie Jean Paul Joseph Roche Yves Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette, soon became a legend all its own.

Over the next 14 months, Lafayette traveled thousands of miles and visited all 24 states. After an absence of 40 years he was thronged, feasted and endlessly toasted throughout.

Lafayette mania ruled America.

There were reasons Americans longed to salute the 67-year-old Frenchman they quickly dubbed "The Nation's Guest.''

The 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence was rapidly approaching. Lafayette was the last surviving general officer of the American Revolution and a steady advocate of its ideals before his death in 1834. As a young volunteer in 1776 he had poured his own fortune into the cause.

Many saw him as a living link to George Washington who had admired and virtually adopted the young Frenchman.

Cannon salutes roared out from the moment Lafayette landed in New York City. Small boys climbed trees to see him. Ladies waved white handkerchiefs as he passed.

There were parading soldiers, illuminations, banners, bonfires, triumphal arches and countless reunions with grizzled but enthusiastic revolutionary veterans.

"There was, in fact, no town where Lafayette was not anxiously awaited, no state which could bear to miss his visit,'' one biographer wrote.

Arriving in Washington, the general was ushered into the rotunda of the Capitol while cannon boomed outside and thousands of people "rent the air with acclamations of joy and welcome.''

At a dinner that evening Lafayette delighted his hosts with the toast: "The City of Washington, the central star of the constellation which enlightens the whole world.''

There was gold amid the glitter.

Aware that the French Revolution and the wars that followed had drained Lafayette's fortune, Congress voted him $200,000 and 25,000 acres of federal land in Florida.

Being Congress, it couldn't quite do it without debate.

Sen. Nathaniel Macon of North Carolina said that, while it was true Lafayette had spent much money in the service of the United States, so had many native-born Americans.

That was no reason not to compensate Lafayette, Sen. Robert Hayne of South Carolina replied.

Hayne calculated that in the six years beginning in 1776, Lafayette had spent $140,000 of his own money in the service of the United States, a total that easily reached $200,000 when interest was added.

"He put shoes on the feet of your barefoot and suffering soldiery,'' Hayne cried. "He spent his fortune on you, he shed his blood for you; and without acquiring anything but a claim upon your gratitude he impoverished himself.'' The bill passed the Senate, 37-7. President James Monroe quickly signed it into law.

Lafayette accepted with the thanks "of an old American soldier and adopted son of the United States - two titles dearer to my heart than all the treasures of the world.'' He quickly sold most of the Florida land.

The old general revisited the battlefield at Yorktown, stood silently before Washington's tomb at Mount Vernon and was Thomas Jefferson's guest at Monticello.

"They flew into the arms of each other,'' one newspaper reported.

On his travels Lafayette witnessed an American presidential election in which Monroe was succeeded by John Quincy Adams. He was called upon for every imaginable service: giving away brides at weddings, laying cornerstones, presenting trophies for prize pigs and cattle.

He traveled south to Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans, then journeyed up the Mississippi to St. Louis and pressed on to Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Boston - a distance of more than 5,000 miles for that leg of the trip alone.

"What a journey!'' a Baltimore journal enthused.

A souvenir industry grew up in Lafayette's wake. It produced a cascade of sheet music, portraits, commemorative plates, bottles, jewelry and medals of all descriptions.

Towns and counties in at least 26 states named themselves for Lafayette or for LaGrange, his home in the French countryside.

The park across from the White House was renamed Lafayette Square. And the House of Representatives accepted a full-length portrait of the old general.

After 177 years the painting remains in the House chamber flanking the speaker's chair.


10-16-2001, 12:35 AM
That is interesting, Scott. I'd wondered why several ancestors had the middle name of Lafayette (including my Dad). They often named the children after historical figures.:) I research in genealogy, and like to know the history.

10-16-2001, 11:37 PM
I've been devoting a lot of my time to American Revolution research lately. Nice to see other WC members with interest.

Why, right now my other Internet explorer window is at http://www.walika.com/sr/uniforms/uindex.htm

Now I'll have to see if I can find the painting you're talking about online...

10-17-2001, 12:13 AM
Hi Jean and Nathan - I agree. The history "behind" the art often fascinates me more than the body of work. :)


10-17-2001, 12:31 AM
Found this snippet:

There are, however, a few interesting portraits in other areas of the House Wing. The two most accessible are those of the Lafayette and Washington, which rest on the left and right sides, respectively, of the Speaker's Rostrum in the House Chamber. These large, full-length portraits in the "grand manner"; each convey significant themes, and each has a notable history of its own. In December of 1884 Lafayette addressed a joint session of Congress assembled in the Old Hall of the House of Representatives, the first foreigner to do so. Two weeks later Henry Clay read the following letter, sent from France to the Speaker of the House:

"SIR: I sent by the ship Cadmus Captain Francis Allyn (who had kindly promised to take it on to Washington) a full-length portrait painted by me, which I pray you do me the honor to accept for the Hall of the House of Representatives over which you preside.
As the friend and admirer of General Lafayette and of American liberty, I feel happy to have it in my power to express in this way my grateful feelings for the national honors which the free people of the United States are at this moment bestowing on the friend and companion of your illustrious Washington, on the man who has been so gloriously received by you as the "Nation's guest".
Accept, Sir, with the above testimony of my sentiments for your country and for my venerable friend and sincere assurance of my profound respect.

ARY SCHEFFER" (Fairman 85)

I am attaching an image of an engraving of Scheffer's painting, circa 1823 (I couldn't find a copy of the original color work off hand):