Happy 4th of July
Our Frenchman Founding Father
6 months ago by SoPissed
Most Americans know Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence 245 years ago, but many may not know one of the document’s most ardent and consequential champions was a French general and politician - the Marquis de Lafayette.
Lafayette relinquished his noble title in solidarity with the idea that all men are created equal, and left behind a world-changing American legacy that played out generations after generation.
At the tender age of 19 , Lafayette wrote, "The moment I heard of America, I loved her; the moment I knew she was fighting for liberty, I burnt with a desire to bleed for her." And he did just that. Despite his young age, he would go on to become one of Washington’s most trusted aide-de-camps and friends.
In 1777, at the Battle of the Brandywine near Philadelphia, he added Washington’s troops to an orderly retreat and was shot in the leg, but fought gallantly on and rallied the troops.
In 1781, when British troops under General Cornwallis moved into Virginia and encamped at Yorktown after suffering heavy losses in North Carolina, Lafayette commanded French troops to help Washington to block British escape. More Frenchmen under Lafayette than Americans participated in this decisive Battle of Yorktown. On October 19, 1781, Cornwallis surrendered his army, and it marked the beginning of the end of the War of Independence.
Thomas Jefferson once remarked that, in securing America’s rightful place "among the powers of the earth," he had only "held the nail" whereas Lafayette actually "drove it."
But Lafayette’s belief in the founding principles of the nation didn’t end at Yorktown. He carried them back to France, where he displayed a copy of the Declaration of Independence in a double frame--one side empty and waiting, he said, for the French version
"The happiness of America is intimately connected with the happiness of all mankind," he told his wife. Lafayette insisted the human rights articulated in the Declaration of Independence were universal and America made herself an example for a more enlightened world. Lafayette’s "Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen" touched off both the French and Haitian revolutions, and still carries constitutional force in French law today.
In 1824, the Marquis de Lafayette visited the United States. Nearly fifty (50) years had passed since, as a young of twenty, the French nobleman fought at Washington’s side.
Since 1784, when he had lasted journeyed to the US, the nation’s population had tripled to nearly 12 million, its land had more than doubled, and its political institutions had thrived. The thirteen states of 1784 had grown to twenty-four, and he visited every one - a journey that would have been impossible forty years earlier. He traveled up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers by steamboat that was a recent invention. The world’s longest man-made waterway, Erie Canal, which linked the region around the Great Lakes with the Atlantic coast via the Hudson River, was open for business.
It was on this visit that America’s adopted son was forced to reckon with the Declaration’s ideals versus the Constitution’s pledge to build "a more perfect union." Lafayette was appalled by the lack of progress that had been made in ending slavery in the United States; he was not shy about saying so to Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and President James Monroe. Lafayette, having been invited to help Americans heal their divisions, made a point of visiting the African Free School in New York and shaking the hands of Black veterans.
Lafayette, who had purchased a plantation in the West Indies and freed its slaves, once wrote,
"I would never have drawn my sword in the cause of America, if I could have conceived that thereby I was founding a land of slavery.”
Lafayette was a true abolitionist who advocated both emancipation and racial equality, believing the United States would ultimately live up to its promise. "I shall probably not live to witness the vast changes in the condition of man, which are about to take place in the world," he said. "But the era is already commenced, its progress is apparent, its end is certain."
In short, he had faith in the spirit of 1776 and America’s capacity to change and grow. It was a faith that was answered during WWI, when the United States embraced her destiny as a world power and helped end the bloodshed in Europe with the words, "Lafayette, We Are Here." A faith again fulfilled when, during WWII, America threw her might to liberate the Nazi’s first concentration camp at Dachau and many others later, and to save the western democracy.
"This is the glory of America, with all of its faults, this is the glory of our democracy," as Martin Luther King had said. If we resurrect our Frenchman Founding Father’s example, we can rediscover all that is great about America.