Most men and women the duration of their lives cannot say they caused radical change leading to a new era of governance, at least one man can claim this act of honor twice in the middle of a violent power struggle between the superior factions of Western Europe and claims of authority in the new world. A significant historical figure in both French and American history, Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de Lafayette, often referred to as Marquis or simply just Lafayette. Born of nobility in France at fall of 1757, Marquis de Lafayette, fatherless by two and motherless by twelve, become a sort of aristocratic orphan, joined the French Royal Army at age fourteen. At the young age of sixteen, Lafayette married, aligning himself with an extremely wealthy, influential, and elite family. Lafayette was gaining incredible rank and responsibility as a young officer. He was sympathetic to the idea of the American Revolution since his first memoirs regarding the situation, although this may have been due to his hatred of the British Empire. At the brisk age of nineteen he left to America to attempt to serve and volunteer to the independence effort.
Lafayette paying personally for his entire voyage and supplies, arrived in America, boarding with a landowner until he could make his way to Philadelphia, the headquarters of the makeshift American congress. Ironically Marquis was a member of the fraternity of the freemasonry such as many revolutionaries, founding fathers, and even modern presidents. This helped him greatly in making connections his first weeks in Philadelphia. He eventually made it congress whom debated if his service was entirely necessary due to the overwhelming amount of Frenchman attempting to join to do anything to curb the English influence in the new world while being paid to do so. Lafayette pleaded that he would serve with great loyalty on the promises that he would receive no salary and solely be a wartime volunteer. With the help of American representative to the French, Benjamin Franklin, Congress accepted his humble offer, and in the end of July 1777, a decree is made establishing Marquis’ rank as a major-general within the American Continental Army to report to General Washington who would decide if to actually utilize and recognize Lafayette’s newly acquired position. Even after being declared an officer, Lafayette found it difficult to gain control of his own division because he was a foreigner, which made congress weary of his extent in their domestic military.
His first battle of the American Revolution took place in Brandywine, he assisted a failed defense to the British march towards Philadelphia, which they would later capture and occupy. Although losing ground and being shot in the leg, the newly appointed officer organized an impressively efficient retreat, enough so for General George Washington to write a letter to congress finally permitting Marquis de Lafayette to command his own small regiment of troops. By December of that year, he and his soldiers would be suffering alongside Washington in Valley Forge. Although his American military career is considered insignificant compared to his diplomatic skills when looking at the revolution as a whole, he would go on to fight in Albany and Rhode Island before being granted a return visit to his home in France in 1778, departing in early 1779.
He received both American honors and French military promotion in his homecoming. Lafayette’s sought to command an invasion of England, ultimately his campaign was rejected. From the beginning, and more so towards the conclusion of his homeland visitation, Marquis pleaded for aid and additional funding to America. He called for dramatic strengthen in forces sent to the colonies. In his decision to a second voyage to he was equipped with nearly twelve thousand troops and granted some supplies for American colonial forces.
The French had by this time declaring war, offered a military alliance to the United States and was in the process of sending their navy to fight the English at the colonial coast line. France was also able to extend the allies of our cause to Spain and the Netherlands, due partly because of the international attention of the declaration of independence.
Through Boston, he entered America for the second time he recounted with life time friend general George Washington in New Jersey on May 10th, 1780. Through the rest of his combat service in America would be spent evading capture, setting up the siege of Yorktown, and providing artillery fire from the hillsides leading to the final surrender of English ground forces. Marquis proposed collecting the remaining British naval ports, instead congress assigned him back to France as an advisor to the American envoys being sent across France to solidify relations as newly official nation.
His return to France is not well welcomed by the public due to the rise of radicals within the French government and growing support for overthrowing the king. His political and military standing declines swiftly. He is labelled as a member of ‘old regime’ although he is calling for peace talks and following constitutional law. By the early 1790’s his public standing was nearly destroyed hoping to flee to America. Marquis Lafayette was captured by the Prussian-Austrian coalition in the Netherlands and kept as a bargaining chip as the new republic of French declares war. Lafayette attempted to utilize his American citizenship for release, even contacting the embassy in Prague. President Washington makes it clear to his envoys that America is to remain neutral in Europe. The minister to France, James Monroe was at least able to secure passports for Marquis wife and children. A youthful and courageous Napoleon Bonaparte secured the release of most French prisoners and ended the war with Austria. Lafayette’s citizenship was restored in 1800 after five years of imprisonment.
His final years in the public were spent being offered political power and wealth by Napoleon who had moved France into a dictatorship, even offering military high command and a senate appointment. Marquis despised a undemocratic ruling party and spoke often that he would have accepted all positions if offered by a free nation. Lafayette lived the rest of his days in leisure from America to Paris. Reliving political duties as Napoleon as being exiled in 1815, Lafayette set up his initial set down from power and arranged his failed escape attempt to America. And again in 1830 as 70 year old Marquis was elected to Chamber of Representatives until his death in 1836 He had three children, naming his son George Washington Lafayette and his eldest daughter Marie Antoinette Lafayette via the advice of Thomas Jefferson.