The Marquis De Lafayette, Commissioned July 31, 1777
My Mark Relation, DLAR Intern
Lafayette was a military man, joining the Black Musketeers, an elite unit of royal troops, and began creating important contacts in French high society. In 1775 Lafayette joined a Masonic lodge and began to take interest in the American cause, which would shape the rest of his life. Emboldened by popular French support of the American Revolution, Lafayette crossed the Atlantic aboard the La Victoire and presented himself to the American Congress, offering his services as a volunteer to their military. July 31st, 1777, Lafayette was commissioned as a Major General, but at 19 years old, Congress sent him to Washington’s staff rather than trust such a young officer with an independent command.
During the war, Lafayette served with distinction, commanding troops at Brandywine, Valley Forge, Barren Hill, Monmouth, and Yorktown, not counting numerous other small engagements and skirmishes. Aside from his field command, Lafayette was an important figure in negotiating the alliance between the Americans and the French, and helped pressure the French crown into committing an army and naval forces to the American cause. His greatest success was at the battle of Yorktown, where troops under his own independent command worked in tandem with French officers and ships culminating in the victory that decisively ended British hopes to win back control of America. For his service, Lafayette became immensely popular, both in his adopted country of America and at his native home of France, even called the “hero of two worlds.”
However, Lafayette’s liberal views and political inclinations served to dampen his prominence in the years following the American Revolution in France. Amid the turmoil of the French Revolution, Lafayette ended up supporting the constitutional monarchy and he eventually was imprisoned by the Austrians until the rise of Napoleon, when he and the American government were able to pressure the Austrians into letting Lafayette return to his native France. His political views once again set him against the French public opinion, as he became a vocal critic of Napoleon’s regime and those that replaced it until his death in Paris in May 1834. He may have been naively optimistic, overly confident in his own ability, and constantly at odds with the powers that be, but Lafayette is remembered as one of America’s most beloved supporters of the Revolution. Throughout his life, he was intensely committed to liberty and vehemently fought oppression wherever he saw it, earning his place as a major player in French politics, and as one who helped create our great nation.
Joseph-Desire. Court Portrait of Gilbert Mortier the Marquis De La Fayette as a Lieutenant General. 1791.