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Marquis de Lafayette (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

On September 6, 1757, Marquis de Lafayette drew his first breath in the woods of France, a region called Auvergne. We know this man better by the name Lafayette, his surname. His family genealogy was dotted with generations of warrior heroes, including his own father Michel du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette. A brave soldier, Marquis de Lafayette never knew his father Michel; his first year of life Colonel Michel du Motier died in the Seven Years War (1756-1763) against Brtain at the Battle of Minden. At age 14, his mother Marie Louise Jolie de la Rivière died as well, followed by the death of his grandfather.

Lafayette was an orphan – but a very rich orphan, for he had been living with his deceased grandfather for some time in his huge palace in Paris and had a boatload of money to his name. His wealth only increased two years later when he married Marie Adrienne Françoise de Noailles, daughter of the Duke of Noailles. Lafayette declined the offer of life in the royal court. He aimed to follow in the steps of generations of Lafayettes and enlist in the army – to fight for France, not dance gaily about the court. The Duke granted him this wish and connected him with some regiments to train and follow.

Then, nineteen years old, Lafayette was struck by an urge to go to America. This was 1776 and the land to the west was fighting for independence from England and King George III. Centuries-long rivalry between England and France, along with Lafayette’s conviction that freedom extend to all people, persuaded him to fight for America. He slipped away from Adrienne and family early one March to sail away. After ages of letters and arguing, for the French government and the American colonies discouraged his decision, Lafayette finally reached America.

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Lafeyette’s Baptism by Fire (c. 1909), by Edward Percy Moran

Lafayette served as a major-general. Being foreign and young, this was a very high honor for our Marquis de Lafayette. In July 1777, on his way to Philadelphia, Lafayette encountered General George Washington for the first time, and that confrontation paved the path for a friendship that would last until George Washington died in 1799. Lafayette fell under Washington’s command. In 1778, America invited France as an ally, so Lafayette could fight for America through France. He traveled back to France, warmly welcomed by his wife and a child that had been born while he was gone. He was a hero in two worlds.

In 1780, the French government decided it was time to send an expedition to America to aid in the Revolution. Lafayette served in America for only that year, leaving in 1781 following the siege of Yorktown to return to his family, now with three children. He named his one son in honor of George Washington – George Washington de La Fayette.

Even in his youth, Lafayette had a heart for others. Back in Auvergne, he watched the peasants that passed, and wished to better their lives. When, in 1776, he heard the Declaration of Independence read in Paris, that wish strengthened. He couldn’t help France at the time, but he would help America. Perhaps the American Revolution would, in turn, help France. As it turns out, the American Revolution did inspire France’s fight for equality in the French Revolution (1787-1799).

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Washington and Lafayette at Valley Forge (1856), by John Ward Dunsmore
“Humanity has won its battle. Liberty now has a country.” – Marquis de Lafayette
(Alternative wording: “Humanity has gained its suit; liberty will nevermore be without asylum.”)

I originally wrote this essay some years back, and have lost the bibliography for the sources used.