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Marquis de Lafayette
1757 - 1834

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LAFAYETTE, Marie Jean Paul Joseph Roche Yves Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de, French soldier, born at the castle of Chavagnac, in Auvergne, 6 Sept., 1757" died in Paris, 20 May, 1834. The family has been for more than three centuries distinguished in French history. The subject of this article was son of Michel Roche Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, colonel of grenadiers, who was killed in the battle of Min-den, 1 Aug., 1759, and Marie Louise, daughter of Joseph Yves Hyacinthe, Marquis de la Riviere. In 1768 he was taken by his mother to Paris, and entered the College of Louis-le-Grand. In 1770 the death of his mother and grandfather left him with a very large fortune. He became a page to the queen Marie Leczinska, and through her influence received a lieutenant's commission in the royal musketeers, a body of soldiers charged with the defense of the king's person. He married, 11 April, 1774, Anastasie Adrienne de Noailles. second daughter of the Duke d'Ayen, afterward Duke de Noailles.

Having been commissioned a captain of artillery in a regiment stationed at Metz, toward the end of 1776 he happened to meet at dinner the Duke of Gloucester, brother of George III., and heard of the Declaration of Independence and other events that had lately occurred in the United States. An enthusiastic sentiment of devotion to "liberty" and the "rights of man" was then growing up among youthful Frenchmen in all classes of society. Many young officers were eager to go to America, some from an intelligent interest in the cause at stake there, others from a love of romantic adventure or a desire to strike a blow at the English in revenge for the disasters of the Seven Years' War. This last motive was strongly operative at court, though opinion was far from unanimous there. Louis XVI. had no sympathy with Americans or with rebels, and was fond of repeating the humorous remark of his brother-in-law, Joseph II. : " I am a royalist by my trade, you know."

The policy of Choiseul, however, which would leave no stone unturned to undo the work of the Seven years' war and weaken the colonial empire of England, found favor with Marie Antoinette, as well as with Count Vergennes, the able minister of foreign affairs. Caution was needed, however. It was no part of the policy of Vergennes to run the risk of a quarrel with Great Britain until it should become quite clear that the American alliance was, from a military point of view, worth having. For the present, accordingly, he contented himself with sending secret aid to the Americans in the shape of money, arms, and ammunition. This aid was furnished through the agency of the famous author, Beaumarchais (q. v.), and in such a manner that the government might officially pretend to be ignorant of what was going on. In this surreptitious way as early as the spring of 1777 a large quantity of military stores had been conveyed to America, and had been followed by such officers as Pulaski, La Rouerie, and some fifty others. The Duke of Montmorency-Laval and other young nobles asked the king's permission to go to America; but it was refused, and for the sake of keeping up appearances the refusal had something of the air of a reprimand. It was necessary, therefore, for Lafayette to proceed with caution when he made up his mind, as the result of the conversation at Netz, to cross the ocean and offer his services to congress. He consulted with the Baron de Kalb, who was cherishing a similar intention. De Kalb introduced him to Silas Deane, who gave him, 7 Dec., 1776, a letter of introduction to congress, in which he alluded to the great dignity and influence of Lafayette's family, and asked for him a major-general's commission. Lafayette now proceeded secretly and at his own expense to fit out a vessel at Bordeaux, but his preparations were somewhat delayed by the necessity of making a journey to London in company with the Prince de Poix. He did not think it best to decline the invitation to this journey for fear of exciting suspicion as to his real plans. While at London, hearing of Washington's victories at Trenton and Princeton, he expressed such keen pleasure as to attract the notice of Lord Shelburne, the warm friend of the Americans. Madame de Lafayette's uncle, the Marquis de Noailles, was then the French ambassador at the court of St. James, and every word and action of his young visitor was sure to be carefully watched and weighed. After three weeks he returned secretly to Paris, leaving it to be supposed that he was still in England, while, to keep up the concealment as long as possible, the Marquis de Noailles explained his nonappearance in society by spreading a report that he was slightly ill. After three days at De Kalb's house in Paris, Lafayette went on to Bordeaux. There he learned that the court had information of his movements and had issued an order for his arrest. To avoid this he sailed with his ship to Passage, a Spanish port, where his preparations were completed.

Here he received letters from his family and the ministry which led him to return for a short, time to Bordeaux. A letter which he now wrote to the government, begging permission to proceed with his enterprise, remained unanswered. In a private letter to Maurepas, he observed that "silence gives consent," and he should go on. There was more than mere pleasantry in this. He doubtless understood well enough that the royal disapproval of his movements was in great part assumed for the sake of appearances. He set sail from Pasage, 26 April, 1777, taking with him De Kalb and eleven other officers, and landed, 14 June, at Georgetown, S. C., whence he proceeded to Charleston. After a journey of more than a month on horseback he arrived in Philadelphia, where congress was in session. Congress was at that time beset with so many applications from foreign officers in quest of adventure, and in some instances, as in that of Du Coudray (q. v.), these applications led to so much jealousy and discontent that Lafayette at first met with a rather cold reception ; but, after he had declared his wish to serve as a volunteer and at his own expense, Congress (31 July, 1777) appointed him major-general.

The next day he was introduced to Washington, and the life-long friendship between the two was at once begun. As it appeared that his appointment was for the present merely honorary, Lafayette served for a time as a sort of volunteer aide upon Washington's staff. At the Battle of Brandywine, 11 Sept., he behaved very gallantly and received a wound in the leg, which laid him up for two months. During this time he remained under the care of the Moravian Brethren at Bethlehem. On 25 Nov., in a reconnaissance of General Greene against Cornwallis's position at Gloucester Point, Lafayette with 300 men defeated a superior force of Hessians. In recognition of this service he was appointed, 4 Dec., to command the division of Washington's army lately under Gen. Stephen, who had been removed for alleged misconduct in the Battle of Germantown. The intrigue known as the "Conway cabal," for removing Washington from the chief command of the Continental army and putting Gates in his place, seemed at this time to be faring prosperously. Among the schemes of the intriguers was one for an invasion of Canada, which Washington was known to disapprove. It was thought that with the aid of Stark enough Green Mountain boys could be enlisted to join with a small force of regulars stationed at Albany, so as to make up an invading army of 4,000 men. The command of this small army was offered by the board of war to Lafayette, and it was hoped that on his arrival in Canada the French population of that country would hail him as their deliverer, and would forthwith rise against the British.

Lafayette's appointment was dated 23 Jan., 1778, and at the same time Washington's enemy, Conway, was made second in command. His first information of the appointment was conveyed in a letter of 24 Jan. from Gates, enclosed in one from that officer to Washington. Lafayette did not accept the command until he had first consulted with Washington, and he furthermore insisted that De Kalb, who outranked Conway, should accompany the expedition. On arriving at Albany it appeared that the scheme was a fiasco quite worthy of the shallow intriguers who had conceived it. The few regulars at Albany were in nowise equipped for a winter march, no help could be .got from Stark, and not a volunteer could be found m any quarter. The new alliance with France (6 Feb., 1778) had put an end to the desire of the New England people for conquering Canada. They feared that France might insist upon retaining it at the end of the war, and they greatly preferred Great Britain to France for a neighbor. The failure of this scheme was a serious blow to the enemies of Washington, to whose camp Lafayette joyfully returned early in April. Throughout the whole affair he showed much sagacity along with unswerving fidelity to Washington.

On 19 May the British General Grant, with an overwhelming force, surprised him at Barren Hill, near Philadelphia; but Lafayette succeeded in withdrawing his troops and artillery without loss. Here he gave proof of the skill in handling men which afterward characterized his campaign in Virginia. Washington's confidence in him was shown soon afterward at the Battle of Monmouth, 28 June. The command of the force entrusted with the attack upon Clinton's rear division was at first assigned to Lee as the officer highest in rank next to Washington. When Lee expressed his unwillingness to undertake the attack, Washington at once assigned this very important operation to Lafayette. On the eve of the battle Lee changed his mind, and begged for the command which he had before refused. The operation was accordingly assigned to Lee, and Lafayette commanded one of the divisions of his force. When the strange disorder and retreat began, he was one of the first to suspect Lee's treachery, and sent a messenger to Washington to hasten his arrival upon the field. During the remainder of the battle, Lafayette commanded the second line with ability. He was sent, 21 July, with two brigades of infantry, to operate under Sullivan in Rhode Island. After the destructive storm of 19 Aug., he tried in vain to dissuade D'Estaing from taking the fleet away to Boston: and, 29 Aug., rode on horseback from Newport to Boston to urge the admiral's speedy return; next day a gallop of eighty miles in eight hours brought him back to Rhode Island just in time to assist in superintending the retreat of the American forces. For his zealous efforts in this campaign he received from congress a vote of thanks.

Having witnessed the ill success of this important enterprise, due chiefly to the misunderstandings and want of co-operation between the French and American commanders, Lafayette now thought that he could for a while be more useful to the American cause in France than in the United States. The alliance between the two countries would now insure him a favorable reception at court, in spite of the technical irregularity of his first departure for America, and the opportunity to visit wife and family could not but be grateful to the young soldier. He obtained leave of absence from congress, 21 Oct., but was seized with a fever which kept him for several weeks dangerously ill at Fishkill. He sailed from Boston, 11 Jan., 1779, in the new American frigate "Alliance." a swift and well-built ship, but manned by a rough and motley crew, picked up at short notice. A plot was laid among these ruffians to seize the ship and take her into a British port, after murdering all on board except Lafayette, who was to be delivered up to the British government as a prisoner of suitable rank to be exchanged for Gen. Burgoyne. The plot was betrayed to the marquis, who caused thirty of the mutineers, to be put in irons. Arriving m Paris, 12 Feb., he was forbidden the king's presence until he should have passed a week in confinement at his father-in-law's palace. After purifying himself by this kind of "political quarantine" from the stain of former disobedience, he was received with favor at court, and appointed colonel of dragoons to serve in the army with which it was designed to invade England early in the summer. The invasion depended upon the combined support of the French and Spanish fleets, and owing to the failure of this naval support was abandoned. Lafayette took much pains in laying before Vergennes a clear and correct statement of the situation in the United States, and on his own responsibility urged him to send a land force as well as a fleet to cooperate with Washington's army. This was a step in advance of the policy of congress, which as yet desired only naval assistance, and dreaded the dissensions likely to arise between French and American soldiers serving together. To avoid such dissensions, Lafayette recommended that all disputes about precedence should be forestalled by expressly placing the French auxiliary army under Washington's command, and ordering that in all cases a French officer should be regarded as junior to an American officer of equal rank.

These views were supported by D' Estaing upon his arrival in France early in 1780, and they were adopted by the ministry in sending out the auxiliary force of 6,000 men, under Count Rochambeau, which arrived in Rhode Island 10 July of that year. To report these negotiations to congress and prepare for the arrival of the troops, Lafayette sailed from Rochelle in the French frigate "Hermione," 19 March, 1780, and arrived, 27 April, in Boston harbor. After transacting business at Philadelphia and Newport, connected with these matters, Lafayette repaired to Washington's headquarters at Tappan on the Hudson, and was appointed, 7 Aug., to command a special corps of 2,000 light infantry ; his place, from first to last, was with the American army, not with the French auxiliaries. An interview between Washington and Rochambeau was arranged for 20 Sept. at Hartford, and Lafayette and Knox accompanied the American commander thither. Returning to the Hudson, they reached West Point, 26 Sept., the day on which Arnold's treason was discovered. Lafayette was a member of the board of fourteen generals that condemned Andr5 to death.

 

When Arnold, with a British force, invaded Virginia, early in 1781, Lafayette was sent with 1,200 men from the New England and New Jersey lines to assist in the defense of that state. His troops were ill equipped for a campaign; for want of tents they were obliged to pass the frosty nights in the open air, and many of them were without hats or shoes. At Baltimore he purchased the necessary clothes and equipments for the troops, paying for them in drafts on the French treasury, which he endorsed for greater security in ease the French government should not see fit to add the amount to the loans already appropriated for the United States. The military stores of Virginia were in great part concentrated at Richmond, and the British commanders Arnold and Phillips had planned the destruction of that town; but Lafayette arrived there, 29 April, in time to foil the designs of the enemy. For some days skirmishing went on between Lafayette and Phillips, who was suddenly seized with fever, and died 13 May, leaving Arnold in sole command. Lord Cornwallis, retreating from North Carolina after the battle of Guilford, arrived 20 May at Petersburg, where he effected a junction with Arnold. The British force now numbered 5,000 men, and Lafayette did not feel strong enough to oppose it until he should have been re-enforced by Wayne, who was moving southward with 1,000 infantry of the Pennsylvania line. He accordingly retreated northward from Richmond toward Fredericksburg, with Cornwallis in full pursuit. "The boy cannot escape me," wrote the British general in a letter which was intercepted; but the young Frenchman's retreat was admirably conducted.

He crossed the Rapidan at Ely's Ford, 4 June, and secured a strong position, while Cornwallis paused for a moment and detached Tarleton on a raid to Charlottesville, to break up the legislature which was in session there, and to Albemarle, where a quantity of military stores had been collected. The first part of the raid was partially successful, but Lafayette effected his junction with Wayne, 7 June, and prevented Tarleton from approaching Albemarle. Cornwallis now, when rejoined by Tarleton, abandoned as imprudent the idea of an offensive campaign in the interior of the country, so far from his base of operations on the sea-coast, and accordingly retreated to Richmond. Lafayette was presently re-enforced by Steuben, so that he outnumbered Cornwallis, who accordingly, 20 June, continued his retreat, crossing the Chickahominy near White Oak Swamp, and marching down to the peninsula to Williamsburg. At Green Spring, near that town, an indecisive action was fought between parts of the two armies, 6 July, the Americans attacking, but unsuccessfully. Cornwallis continued his retreat to Yorktown, while Lafayette occupied Malvern Hill, and awaited further developments. Washington and Rochambeau, with 6,000 men, started, 19 Aug., from the Hudson, and reached the head of Chesapeake bay, 5 Sept., the same day on which the French fleet, under De Grasse, repulsed the British fleet, and obtained full possession of the Virginia waters. Cornwallis as yet knew nothing of Washington's approach, but there was just a chance that he might realize his danger, and, crossing the James river, seek safety in a retreat upon North Carolina.

This solitary chance was now forestalled by Lafayette. The troops of Saint-Simon, brought by the fleet, had now increased his army to 8,000, and with his force he took his stand, 7 Sept., across the neck of the peninsula at Williamsburg, thus cutting off Cornwallis's retreat. Washington arrived, 14 Sept., at Lafayette's headquarters and took command, and the ensuing concentration of all the allied forces at Williamsburg sealed the doom of Cornwallis. During the whole campaign, from 20 May to 14 Sept., while Lafayette was in command opposed to Cornwallis, his conduct was prudent and skilful, and contributed in no slight degree toward the grand result. On 22 Dec. he sailed again from Boston in the "Alliance," and on his arrival in France was greeted with enthusiasm. An army of 24,000 French and Spanish troops was about to assemble at Cadiz, and Lafayette was appointed chief-of-staff, with a brevet of major-general. Before the preparations for this expedition were completed, the war was at an end, and Lafayette sent from Cadiz the swift frigate "Triumph," which arrived, 23 March, 1783, at Philadelphia, with the first news of peace. Next year, at Washington's invitation, he returned to the United States, and after a visit to Mount Vernon made a journey through the country from Virginia to Massachusetts. On 25 Dec., 1784, he sailed from New York in the French frigate "Nymphe." In 1785 he traveled in Germany. About this time he was deeply interested in the abolition of slavery, and purchased a large plantation in Cayenne, where great numbers of slaves might be educated with a view to gradual emancipation. Washington, Jefferson, and others were interested in this experiment, which it was hoped might furnish an example for imitation in the United States.

In 1787 Lafayette was a member of the assembly of notables, and in the states-general of 1789 he sat as representative of the nobility of Auvergne. He was chosen, 26 July, 1789. commander-in-chief of the National guard, a position which he held till 8 Oct., 1791. Part of his difficult duties at this time related to the protection of the king and queen, who distrusted him, as they distrusted every one who might have been of real service to them. His moderate views made Lafayette very distasteful to the Jacobins, and with their rise to power his influence and popularity diminished. Having been promoted lieutenant-general, 30 June, 1791, he was appointed, on the declaration of war against Austria, 20 April, 1792, to command the army of the center, 52,000 strong, between Philippeville and Lauterbourg. From his camp at Maubeuge, 16 June, he wrote the famous letter to the National assembly, in which he denounced the dangerous policy of the Jacobins. The insurrection of 20 June followed. On the 28th Lafayette came to Paris, and appeared before the assembly to defend his course. After two days, finding the Jacobins all-powerful in the city, he returned to camp, and formed a plan for removing the king from Paris. Before the plan was fully matured, and while his army was at Sedan, only four days' march from the capital, there came the news of the revolution of 10 Aug. and the imprisonment of the king. Lafayette now refused to obey the orders of the assembly, and arrested the three commissioners sent by that body to his camp. In return the assembly removed him from command and appointed Dumouriez in his place, 19 Aug.; his impeachment was also decided upon, and it became evident that his soldiers were in sympathy with the Jacobins. He fled into Belgium with half a dozen companions, was taken prisoner by the Austrians, and handed over by them to the Prussians, by whom he was imprisoned first at Wesel, afterward at Magdeburg. He was offered his liberty on condition of assisting the allies in their invasion of France, but refused. After a year's incarceration at Magdeburg, he was transferred to Austria for safe keeping, and passed the next four years in a loathsome dungeon at Ohnutz, where he was treated with barbarous cruelty. Much sympathy was felt for him in the United States and in England. In parliament, Fox, Wilberforee, and Sheridan were active in his behalf, and Washington wrote to the emperor, Francis I1., asking that he might be allowed to come on parole to the United States. In the autumn of 1794, through the boldness and skill of Dr. Bollmann, a young German physician, and Francis Kinlock Huger, of South Carolina, he was actually set free, and had nearly got clear of Austrian territory when he was captured, loaded with irons, and carried back to his dungeon. With much difficulty, in 1795, his wife and two daughters got permission to share his captivity.

In these sufferings Lafayette served as the scapegoat upon which the emperor could freely vent his rage at the revolutionary party in general for the indignities heaped upon his kinswoman Marie Antoinette. The unfortunate victim was at length set free, 23 Sept., 1797, by the victories of Bonaparte. After a sojourn in Holstein and then in Holland, he returned to France in March 1800, after the overthrow of the Directory, and retired to his castle of La Grange, in Brie, about forty-three miles from Paris. Napoleon sought to gain his adherence by offering him a senatorship, the cross of the Legion of honor, and the position of minister to the United States; but he declined these offers. He also declined President Jefferson's offer in 1805 to appoint him governor of Louisiana. During Napoleon's rule he remained in the quiet of his home at La Grange, where his wife died, 24 Dec.,1807. Click here to see house illustration.

On Napoleon's return from Elba, it seemed desirable to secure the support of that moderate liberal sentiment which Lafayette had always consistently represented, and Joseph Bonaparte was accordingly sent to La Grange to sound Lafayette and secure his allegiance. Lafayette refused to accept a place in the hereditary peerage which the Corsican proposed to re-establish, or to attach himself in any way to his fortunes. "If I should ever again appear in public life," said he, "it can only be as a representative of the people." When a chamber of representatives was established he was chosen member for the Department of Seine-et-Marne, but took little or no part in the proceedings until after Waterloo. On 21 June, 1815, he insisted that Napoleon's abdication should be demanded, while at the same time his life and liberty should be guaranteed by the nation. He endeavored unsuccessfully to procure for Napoleon the means of escaping to the United States. In 1818, after three years of seclusion at home, he was elected to the chamber of deputies, where he sat till 1824, as a leader of the opposition, opposing the censorship of the press, and voting for all truly liberal measures. In 1824 congress passed unanimously a resolution requesting President Monroe to invite Lafayette to visit the United States. He sailed from Havre, 12 July, in an American merchantman, and arrived 15 Aug. in New York. In the course of the next fourteen months he traveled through the whole country, visiting each of the twenty-four states and all the principal cities, and was everywhere received with tokens of enthusiastic reverence and affection. In consideration of his services in the Revolutionary war, congress voted him a grant of $200,000, besides a township of 24,000 acres, to be assigned somewhere among the unappropriated public lands. His sixty-eighth birthday, 6 Sept., 1825, was celebrated at the White House in Washington, on which occasion a noble farewell speech was pronounced by President Adams, and next day he sailed from the Potomac in the frigate "Brandywine," and arrived in Havre, 5 Oct. The illustration click here represents a vase that was presented to him by the midshipmen of the frigate shortly after his arrival, he was again, in 1827, elected to the chamber of deputies.

In the revolution of July, 1830, he was made commander-in-chief of the National guard, and was instrumental in placing Louis Philippe on the throne, in the hope that France, might thus at. length be enabled to enter upon the path of peaceful constitutional progress. He remained a member of the chamber of deputies un til his death. He received a magnificent funeral, and his remains were interred beside those of his wife in the cemetery of Picpus in the faubourg Saint-Antoine. The grave is shown in the illustration above. He left one son, George Washington, and two daughters, Anastasie and Virginie; the elder married Charles de Latour Maubourg, and the younger the Count de Lasteyrie.

In person Lafayette was tall and powerfully built, with broad shoulders, deep chest, and a tendency toward corpulence. His features were large and strongly marked. He had much dignity of manner, and was ordinarily quiet and self-possessed. Perhaps the best testimony to his purity of character is the fact that his bitterest detractors, in the absence of any other available charge, are in the habit of insisting upon his vanity. Among all the eminent Frenchmen of the revolutionary period, he was perhaps the only one in whose career there was nothing to be really ashamed of. His traits of character were solid rather than brilliant; and he was too thoroughly imbued with American ideas to identify himself with any one of the violent movements originating in the French revolution of 1789. His love of constitutional liberty was too strong for him to cooperate either with Bourbons or with Jacobins or with Bonapartists; and from all three quarters attempts have been made to detract from his rightful fame. In European history his place, though not among the foremost, is respectable ; in American history he is not only a very picturesque and interesting figure, but his services in our struggle for political independence were of substantial and considerable value.

Lafayette left a journal of the principal events in which he took part, which was published by his son, and completed with some supplementary documents, letters of Washington and other statesmen, under the title "Memoires, manuscrits et correspondance du General de Lafayette " (6 vols., Paris, 1837-'8). See also E. de la Be-dolliere, "Vie politique du Marquis de Lafayette" (Paris, 1833)" Jules Cloquet, " Souvenirs de la vie privee du General Lafayette" (Paris, 1836) ; E. Laboulaye, "Histoire politique des Etats-Unis"; Henri Martin, "Histoire de France "" Duruy, "Histoire de France "" Thiers, "Revolution Francaise"" Sainte Beuve, "Portraits historiques et litteraires" and "Critiques sur Menoires de Lafayette" (" Revue des Deux-Mondes," 1838) ; Louis Blanc, "ttistoire de mon temps"" Napoleon, "Md-morial de Sainte II51ene" ; L. de Lomenie, " Gale-rie des contemporaires"" Chateaubriand, " Me-moires d'outre tombe "; Louis Blanc, "Histoire de 10 ans"; Vaulabelle, "Les deux restaurations" ; A. Nettement, " Histoire de la restauration"; Villemain, " Souvenirs "" Bourguelat, "Etudes critiques" ; Guizot, "Mdmoires" and "Essai sur Washington "; A. Maurin, "Chute des Bourbons" ; De Barante, "De la declaration des droits" ; Mira-beau, "Correspondance et memoires" ; Mme. de Stae1; Rivarol, " Portrait de Lafayette," etc. There are also numerous biographies of him both in French and English.--

His son, George Washington Lafayette, born in Paris in 1779; died in December, 1849, entered the army as a lieutenant in 1800 and served with distinction until 1808, when he resigned and retired with his father to La Grange. During the Hundred Days he was elected to the house of representatives, and in 1822 to the chamber of deputies, voting constantly for all liberal measures. In 1824 he accompanied his father during his visit to the United States. He was re-elected to the chamber of deputies in 1827, and at all the subsequent elections till 1848. He left two sons, OSCAR THOMAS GILBERT DU MOTIER, born in Paris, 20 Aug., 1815, served as an artillery officer from 1835 till 1842, when he was elected to the chamber of deputies, and made himself conspicuous for his liberal opinions. Re-elected in 1848 and 1849, he sent his resignation after the coup d'eat, 2 Dec., 1851, and lived quietly in La Grange under the reign of Napoleon III. In 1871 he was elected to the national assembly, and in 1875 became a life-senator. His brother, FRANCOIS EDMOND GILBERT DU MOTIER, born 11 July, 1818, was in 1848 elected to the legislative assembly. Since 1876 he represents the department of La Sarthe to the chamber of deputies, and is a Radical in politics. -- Edited Appleton's Cyclopedia American Biography Copyright© 2001 by VirtualologyTM

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