The Marquis de Lafayette Looks to Build France’s First Republican, Revolutionary Army, and Turns to America As An Example, Writing the Man Who Organized General Washington’s Army, Gouverneur Morris

Presaging Napoleon's military rise: An incredible document connecting the French and American Revolutions and Revolutionaries, also docketed by its recipient

“Permanent armies have always been regarded as one of the great obstacles to the establishment of a free constitution; it is however necessary in France to maintain a large one”; He hopes to give powers to the King, but only such as will not be “compromising the public liberty”

Provenance: the descendants...

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The Marquis de Lafayette Looks to Build France’s First Republican, Revolutionary Army, and Turns to America As An Example, Writing the Man Who Organized General Washington’s Army, Gouverneur Morris

Presaging Napoleon's military rise: An incredible document connecting the French and American Revolutions and Revolutionaries, also docketed by its recipient

“Permanent armies have always been regarded as one of the great obstacles to the establishment of a free constitution; it is however necessary in France to maintain a large one”; He hopes to give powers to the King, but only such as will not be “compromising the public liberty”

Provenance: the descendants of Gouverneur Morris

The Marquis de Lafayette was a key figure in securing American liberty, and a close confidant of General George Washington, who considered him like a son.  On Lafayette’s  return to France, he was a national hero, and also a voice for the third estate in France (those not members of the clergy or nobility).  He became a leader of the liberal aristocrats and an outspoken advocate of religious toleration and the abolition of the slave trade. He called for the re-instatement of the States General, where the people would have a say in elected government.  He was elected as a representative of the nobility to the States General that convened in May 1789.

In 1789, the National Assembly proclaimed the end of the old “feudal” social system, with its complex and suffocating system of titles, tithes, taxes, and seigneurial obligations. With the foundations of a new social order barely even scratched in the ground, fear and confusion spread, especially among the long-suffering peasantry, leading to social unrest that swelled in great waves through the countryside. Armed force would be needed to keep the peace.

On July 15, 1789 Lafayette was named commander-in-chief of the National Guard of France, an armed force established to maintain order, and under the control of the National Assembly. Lafayette proposed the name and the symbol of the group: a blue, white and red cockade. This combined the red and blue colors of the city of Paris with the royal white, and originated the French tricolor. He faced a difficult task as head of the Guard—the King and many loyalists considered Lafayette and those who agreed with him little better than revolutionaries, whereas many commoners felt he was helping the King maintain power.

In late 1789, Lafayette began the process of creating a new French Army. And as leader of the National Guard, Lafayette attempted to maintain order and steer a middle ground, even as the radicals gained increasing influence.

In December 1789, a former officer proposed to the National Assembly the creation of a conscripted, 1,200,000-strong army re­serve force. “In France every citizen must be a soldier, and every soldier must be a citizen, or we will never have a constitution,” he argued. They hoped the new force would make France too strong for any sane enemy to attack, and since the French were now “cured of the sickness of conquest” (as the future war minister Joseph Servan blithely put it in another argument for national service), the country would never fight foreign wars again.

Gouverneur Morris was a signatory to the Articles of Confederation, a significant contributor to the Constitution of the United States and one of its signers. He wrote the preamble, and has been called the “Penman of the Constitution.”  He went to France on business in 1789 and served as U.S. Minister Plenipotentiary to France from 1792 to 1794. His diaries during that time have become a valuable chronicle of the French Revolution, capturing much of the turbulence and violence of that era, as well as documenting his affairs with women there.

In early 1790, Lafayette looked to the U.S. and his experience in the American Revolution to create the new army, and he turned to Morris for counsel. After all, Morris, during the war, had been placed in charge of coordinating reforms of the military with George Washington. After witnessing the army encamped at Valley Forge, Morris was so appalled by the conditions of the troops that he became the spokesman for the Continental Army in Congress, and subsequently helped enact substantial reforms in its training, methods, and financing.

Manuscript document signed, January 3, 1790, being a list of questions and issues from Lafayette, followed by his request to Morris.  “Permanent armies have always been regarded as one of the great obstacles to the establishment of a free constitution; it is however necessary in France to maintain a large one; in order that we have the usage of these troops, we feel the necessity of establishing a precise discipline and to give great authority to the King over the army.  Many members of the assembly feel that the national assembly, either through its constituent power, or through its legislative power, ought to regulate the following objects:

1) The number of troops, officers as well as soldiers, distinguishing those troops on horseback and those on foot and also those in charge of artillery;

2) The mode of recruitment, of the manner in which in time of war, the army is to be reinforced;

3) Pay for officers and soldiers;

4) The general means of advancement, leaving to the choice of the King half of those advancements beginning with the grade of captain;

5) The annual renewal of subsidies to pay the troops;

6) The oath taken by the troops;

7) The question of knowing if the troops can be employed, whether in the collection of import duties or the interior service and in what form;

8) The penal code and form of the councils of warm.

“These objects appear to me of such importance that we ought to promptly organize the army and to establish its discipline. I hope to be able to leave to the King all that is possible to give to the executive power without compromising the public liberty and I believe this decree is all the more important, as the powers which wish to disturb the revolution will be decided by the energy that we will to the Constitution on this point.

“I pray you to give me your ideas here. On the different objects to tell me those which you believe ought to be removed or added to the above points, of which it appears that the National Assembly must occupy itself and to do offer that opinion by tomorrow at one o’clock in the afternoon.”

Lafayette writes below in an Autograph note signed, “I beg your pardon, my dear friend, for the trouble I give you but want very much your opinion on these heads, Bonjour, Lafayette,” adding, “Do let me know what they do in England with respect to all that.”

Morris has written on the back “Paris (without date but beginning of Feb or rather 31 January 1790.  Mr. La Fayette on the proper constitution of an army.  Note I answered verbally being too busy to write especially on a subject of such extensive magnitude.”

What advice did Morris give? He tells us in his journal in a description of a meeting in mid-January, saying that he told Lafayette that it was better at that stage to create nothing and leave it be under his control, rather than change.  “At dinner Lafayette asked me what they should do about their militia. I told him nothing for they cannot do what is right and therefore had better leave it in such situation as that it can be mended which would not be the case if fixed by the constitution.”

After his dinner with Lafayette, Morris reported back to Washington.  “Our friend, lafayette.. left America you know when his Education was but half finished. What he learnt there he knows well; but he did not learn to be a Government Maker.”

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