Marquis De Lafayette During The French Revolution

The oath of Lafayette. (Public Domain photo. Info can be found here)

Lafayette came back from America a hero and would quickly become a military leader of France. He became important enough to become close with the royal family, and would even name his daughter Marie-Antoinette, although this was done because Thomas Jefferson said he should. He would be elected to the Estates-General and would be among the first people to call for equal representation in it. He was elected Vice President of the Assembly and the commander-in-chief of the National Guard the day after the Bastille fell. He would make a major imprint on the revolution in the early days by proposing the name, symbol and flag, and writing the Constitution.

He would resign his commission to the National Guard on 3 separate occasions because he was powerless to prevent the problems in the country, but would always be begged by someone powerful to come back. His personal belief in a constitutional monarchy would cause him to save the King a number of times, every time arousing more suspicion by the revolutionaries. None of these would be more problematic than his role in the Champs de Mars Massacre (1791), which probably would have gotten him killed had he not escaped France before.

He would correctly claim that the trial of the king by only the most radically liberal portion of the assembly an illegal power grab and would try to convince his troops to invade Paris and take over in order to defend the Constitution. This was done despite the fact that they had offered him an executive position in the government. His men were unwilling to take this risk though, knowing they would be put to death as an anti-revolutionary if it didn’t work. The assembly would declare him a traitor and he would flee to the Republic of the United Netherlands with his family using his status as the “hero of America” for his freedom. Unfortunately he was thrown in jail instead, and spent 5 years there despite all of the attempts by George Washington to get him out (because the Dutch didn’t recognize the US as a country at that point). Alexander Hamilton’s sister-in-law would also try to

break him out of jail, but they would be caught on the way out of the city because of his accent. The US would get his wife out of Europe before the Reign of Terror when James Monroe sent passports to get the family out. They didn’t actually go to the US though, choosing instead to live with Lafayette in jail. They would finally be released at the request of Napoleon (1797) and would return to France.

After returning to France he would choose to stay out of politics and simply live his life. He knew that if he returned to power he would be seen as a potential political rival so he stayed away on purpose. Jefferson would offer him a position of governor of the entire Louisiana Purchase territory, but he refused because he wanted to work on problems within his own country. He would finally return to politics as an elected member of the Chamber of Representatives under the Charter of 1815 and be among the group who pushed Napoleon to abdicate (end of 100 days). Near the end of his life he would refuse an offer to become the Dictator of France during the July Revolution (1830). He would choose to forgo this issue though because he was unwilling to allow people to die on his behalf. He instead threw his support behind Louis-Philippe’s bid as a constitutional monarch.

When he died King Louis-Philippe ordered to give him a military funeral in order to keep the public away, but the people protested because they wanted to be able to see the funeral so the King backed off and made it public. He was always popular in America but the French had a more complicated, with the left seeing him as a traitor and the right seeing him as an ineffective leader. Despite the somewhat complicated view of him in France, he is seen worldwide as the “Hero of the 2 Worlds” for his role in the 2 important revolutions. Finally, he would be the most important link between the 2 revolutions, and partially inspired all nations to start following the principles they developed.