The more time I spend in France, the more I realize how much we as Americans owe the French.
While I’m no historian of philosophy, I can’t help but note the ideas of the Enlightenment that bubbled up here…Voltaire acted as the world’s first civil rights activist, challenging injustice in the French courts, and Rousseau’s ‘Social Contract’ challenging just about everything else. These revolutionary stands and perspectives took shape at roughly the same time as our demands for independence exploded in the colonies across the pond.
And it wasn’t just ideas that the French contributed. Beaumarchais begged, borrowed and (maybe stole) to get funds for ships and guns to help the American cause. His shipments landed at the battle of Saratoga just in time to turn the tide, giving George Washington’s motley crew the chance to win the battle, and subsequently win the war.
One prominent figure in history–and board-certified OMG–that I recently circled back to was Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette, better known to us Americans as Lafayette.
He was born into an wealthy, aristocratic family with a penchant for military service. Not exactly a late bloomer, Lafayette was a commissioned officer at age 13 and a major general at age 19.
You could chalk both of those up to the titled and entitled background, but his bravery and military expertise were his own. He was shot during the Battle of Brandywine, but carried on, made valuable contributions at the Battle of Rhode Island, and ingeniously held off Cornwallis in Virginia until reinforcements could arrive.
He lobbied the French government to increase its aid to the American cause. With Thomas Jefferson’s help, he contributed to the writing of The Declaration of The Rights of Man and of The Citizen.
During the French Revolution, he tried to steer rival, overzealous factions toward a more moderate path. As no good deed goes unpunished, a warrant for his arrest was issued, and he had to flee the country he’d done so much for.
Out of the frying pan and into the fire, as the saying goes…he was eventually arrested in the Netherlands and thrown in jail for 5 years. Napoleon managed to free him. He returned to public office, serving the citizens of France for the rest of his days, and setting an example for all time.
He’s buried in the Picpus cemetery here in Paris. Fittingly, the soil that covers the surface of his grave comes from Boston. Every year, the US Ambassador to France participates in a ceremony at his gravesite. French and American military personnel stand side by side, and, together, they ensure that American flag that flies there is replaced, that respect is paid, that a bond is renewed.
The great service that Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette rendered to the United States and to France is acknowledged. It is not a casual affair. His contributions were global, grand, and enduring, and the French aren’t the kind of people to forget that.
As Americans, we shouldn’t either.
9 thoughts on “That’s Mr. Marquis To You”
According to Wikipedia, there are almost two dozen cities in the United states named after Lafayette, including the one I live right next to. As a boy, my father taught me how to fish at Lafayette Reservoir. It wasn’t until I was an adult though, that I learned about Lafayette and his contributions to America. It’s a sad statement, but I doubt that even five percent of public high school graduates in the US have ever even heard of Lafayette.
But I’m sure that “Mr. Marquis” would enjoy going for a walk around the reservoir named after him, as would you, Byron.
Thank you for the links, John. And I’m sure you’re 5% estimate is not far off, sad to say. – BGT
Byron, these posts always energize and uplift me. Living in a world of bombast, incivility, low (if any) morals, and general tackiness, the example of the Marquis gives me hope that we can, in our own way, emulate him. Courage, steadfast friendship and honor are still ours to claim, even in today’s world. Thank you for this post and this reminder that are so greatly needed. I’m off to the library to check out some biographies of the Marquis to learn more about him.
Thank you, Sophie. I’m glad you enjoyed. Please let me know which biography you settle on. I’m going to circle back and read more on the marquis, too. – BGT
I’ll echo the sentiments above, especially the first two sentences.
Fair article Byron. All true.
However, let’s be under no illusion that, despite it not being popular to admit, the bedrock influence on the culture, institutions and customs of the United States is British. From George Washington’s military service for the British, to our inheritance of the English common law, to the very language itself, America is at the center of the Anglosphere worldwide. For more on this, see https://thethinkingwasp.wordpress.com/
Very true, WASP. Thank you very much for the link, also. – BGT
Let’s hear it for Her Majesty ! ! !
David, good form is to raise your glass and simply say “The Queen”. The following was NOT good form: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNRXGRFJdDY