Lafayette We Are Here

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Lafayette  We Are Here
  Most adult Americans are familiar with the famous phrase “ Lafayette, we are here,” attributed to U.S. General John J. Pershing when the first American troops landed in France in 1917 to fight alongside French forces during World War I. The Marquis de Lafayette (spelled La Fayette in France) was not the first but certainly the most famous of the French officers who crossed the Atlantic in the other direction to fight beside American forces in the War of Independence from Great Britain. You are going to hear a lot more about him in the months to come because this year marks the 250th anniversary of his birth on September 6, 1757. The French navy already has sent its frigate La Fayette, named after the Marquis, on a visit to New Orleans and multiple museum exhibitions and commemorative celebrations already have been held or are in the offing in both France and the United States, particularly in places like Lafayette College in Easton, PA, or the city of Lafayette in Louisiana.   In fact, Lafayette’s American adventure was only a small part of a tempestuous career which put him at odds in his own country not only with King Louis XVI before the French revolution of 1789 but later on with French Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte and three more French kings who succeeded him. First and only son of a noble military family, Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, lost his father when he was only two years old and his mother 11 years later. By the age of 13, he was an immensely wealthy orphan whose imagination was fired early on by the democratic ideals of the revolution in America. Married at the age of 17 to Adrienne, the daughter of the Duc d’Ayen, an immensely powerful member of King Louis XVI’s court, he served briefly in the King’s army as an officer of Grenadiers. However, intrigued by the independence battle of the American colonists, he left the army and embarked in 1777 for America, defying in the process orders from both his father-in-law and from the King himself not to leave France. In America, he was accepted into the colonial army, gained a reputation as a brilliant and devoted officer, quickly became a favorite of General George Washington and served with him both at Valley Forge and later during his victory over the British at Yorktown in 1781. The young Frenchman’s close relationship with Washington, who, in a sense became his foster father, was to last for his entire lifetime and help him to become a hero-figure both in his native France and in the newly independent United States. Dispatched by Washington to garner more French support for the American cause, he returned to France temporarily in 1779. Because both the King and Lafayette’s father-in- law, the Duke d’Ayen, found it hard to punish him severely for having deliberately disobeyed them by sailing secretly away to join the American colonial rebellion in 1777, the solution was an order by the King forbidding Lafayette to leave his residence for a symbolic period of 10 days. That tap on the wrist still left him free to hold court in his own home receiving friends and acquaintances and renewing contacts.  Quickly re-establishing a formidable presence in French society his home became a familiar rendezvous for prestigious Americans in France in that period including Benjamin Franklin; John Adams, Thomas Jefferson; Thomas Paine and Gouverneur Morris. During this time he indefatigably promoted the interests of what became, in effect, his foster country and was instrumental in getting the King to dispatch 6,000 French troops to Washington’s assistance. Returning to America in 1780 in time to serve again with Washington in the victory at Yorktown he then went back to France and was in attendance when the treaty consecrating the independence of the United States was signed in Paris in 1783. A year later, when George Washington was unable to accept Lafayette’s invitation to visit France, the Marquis kept contact anyway by returning to America to visit his spiritual father. The trip, for the young Frenchman who had been named an “Honorary Citizen” of the U.S. with the residual rank of Major General in the American army, was a triumphal one and he was greeted enthusiastically as a hero in cities, like Baltimore, Albany and Philadelphia that figured in his War of Independence career.  He was received several times by the Continental Congress and spent a dozen days with the family of George Washington in Mount Vernon. Returning to Europe in late 1784 and often hailed as the “Hero of Two Worlds,” he travelled throughout much of the continent in the same triumphal manner, was received by the Austrian emperor Joseph II in Vienna and recieved (but turned down) a similar invitation from Czarina Catherine II to…
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Comments

  • Roy Moore
    2015-07-31 15:28:33
    Roy Moore
    Pershing did not make that statement. It was his chief of staff Stanton.

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