Lafayette Calls the United States the “Land of Freedom”, and Contrasts It to France, Where the Privileged Elite Hold Too Much Power

He speaks well of the nephew of his patron in arranging his joining the American cause in 1777, and mentions numerous worthies, including Thomas Jefferson’s grandson

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This letter speaks to Lafayette’s strong ties to Harvard

In August 1775, the Marquis de Lafayette was introduced to the Charles François, the Count de Broglie, commander of the French Army of the East. Through Broglie, Lafayette became associated with the Freemasons, who advocated freedom both in France and America. One of...

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Lafayette Calls the United States the “Land of Freedom”, and Contrasts It to France, Where the Privileged Elite Hold Too Much Power

He speaks well of the nephew of his patron in arranging his joining the American cause in 1777, and mentions numerous worthies, including Thomas Jefferson’s grandson

This letter speaks to Lafayette’s strong ties to Harvard

In August 1775, the Marquis de Lafayette was introduced to the Charles François, the Count de Broglie, commander of the French Army of the East. Through Broglie, Lafayette became associated with the Freemasons, who advocated freedom both in France and America. One of the most memorable events in the Marquis’ life occurred when de Broglie invited the Duke of Gloucester to dinner and the Duke criticized the colonists. After hearing the reasons as to why the colonists where fighting for their freedom, the Marquis became convinced that he had to join in the effort. Lafayette wrote, “When I first learned of that quarrel, my heart was enlisted and I thought only of joining the colors.” After this encounter, the Marquis convened with like-minded gentlemen in Paris to discuss the involvement of France in the American Revolution. One was Johann de Kalb, a Prussian-born soldier on de Broglie’s staff. The men agreed to go to America as volunteers. Broglie at first rebuffed Lafayette, saying that his duty was to his family and France. But Lafayette persisted; Broglie relented and sent Lafayette with Kalb to see American envoy Silas Deane, who was seeking volunteers among the French officer corps. The young marquis was not the type of seasoned recruit that Deane sought, but Lafayette recalled, “I spoke more of my ardor in the cause than of my experience.” Won over, Deane offered Lafayette a commission as a major-general on December 7, 1776.

The Count’s nephew was Victor de Broglie, the third Duke, and he was one of the pro-democracy liberals in France, of whom Lafayette was one. Lafayette was close to his patron’s nephew, and fond of him and his family. This confidence was well-placed, as the younger de Broglie would twice be his country’s Prime Minister.

Lafayette has strong ties to Harvard College. On October 21, 1784, in Cambridge, he had been awarded an honorary degree. The crowd was so pressing to get a look at Lafayette that people were worried about being crunched. The degree was awarded in the name of Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert Du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette. John Thornton Kirkland served as President of Harvard from 1810 to 1828. When Lafayette visited Harvard during his triumphant 1824 tour of America, Kirkland gave the welcoming address. He told Lafayette, “As the patron, the champion, and benefactor of America, you have a relation to us, by which we call you our own, and join gratitude and affection to exalted esteem. The early and costly pledges you gave pledges you gave of devotion to the principles and spirit of our institutions, your adoption of our perilous and uncertain contest for national existence, your friendship in our hour of greatest need, have associated your name in the minds of hearts of Americans with the dearest and most affecting recollections. The fathers teach their children, and the instructors their pupils, to hold you in love and honor…”

George Ticknor was a Harvard professor who introduced the study of contemporary writers and was the first to suggest that Harvard be organized on departmental lines. He was well acquainted with the eminent men of the time, such as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, and his pupils included James Russell Lowell and Henry David Thoreau. Ticknor was a friend of Lafayette, and saw the general during his tour of the United States. In 1825 Ticknor wrote Lafayette’s biography, “Outline of the Principal Events in the Life of General Lafayette”, and in the wake of the tour, “Lafayette’s Visit to America”.

In the following letter, John Gorham Palfrey was a Unitarian minister, professor, editor of the North American Review, and congressman from Massachusetts, best known for his multi-volume “History of New England.” Thomas Jefferson Randolph was the grandson of Thomas Jefferson and as sole executor of his estate; in 1826 he was struggling to pay his grandfather’s debts. His brother-in-law was Joseph Coolidge, who attended the reunion of Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette at Monticello.

Isidore Guillet had been an interpreter for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs under the old regime, and at the time of the French Revolution shared experiences with Lafayette, who was commander of the Paris National Guard, with both of them hoping France would follow the American example and become a democracy. Years later, in 1826, he wrote Lafayette saying he and his son Isidore Jr. were planning a trip to America to do research for a book, and asking for recommendations. Two names he sought reference to were U.S. Supreme Court justice Joseph Story and Stephen Longfellow, a former Congressman and father of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Guillet also suggested that he come visit Lafayette.

Autograph letter signed, Paris, February 23, 1827, to Ticknor, alluding to his degreemembership in the Harvard community, referring to the U.S. as the land of freedom, bemoaning the power of the privileged elite in France, and remembering some of his friends in America, including Thomas Jefferson’s grandson.

“This letter will be delivered by Mr. Guillet, a scientific gentleman conversant with the ancient languages, particularly a great Hellenist, who is visiting the U.S. with a view to gather information relative to his studies, and he is very desirous to be introduced to members of the American seminaries of knowledge, with an ultimate view, it appears to publish his traveling observations. not unconnected with a desire to settle himself and family on the land of freedom. This introduction will be common with you to our fellows at the university and to good doctor Kirkland to whom I beg you to present the affectionate regards of the first in date, although the last in science, of the doctors who have the pleasure to acknowledge him as the respected president.

“Your European friends in Paris take a great interest in asking me questions about you, Mrs. Ticknor, and your happy situation, none more than Broglie whose talents and virtues are a bright ornament of the House of [Broglie], and his wife, more beautiful, more accomplished, more good if possible, than ever, and admirable mother of family to one son and two daughters, three very amiable children.

“I came here, as usual, with my family for eight or ten weeks, and will return as soon as I can, to La Grange. I have had a slight fit of the gout, and am well again. As to public concerns, while government, princes, the privileged and place men are progressing one way, national mind and good sense move in a contrary direction. The definitive result cannot be questioned, but the when and how is quite in the dark.

“Be pleased to present me more affectionately to Mrs. Ticknor, and to our good friends in the good and beloved city of Boston. I have been anxiously looking for an answer from Mrs. Randolph and Mrs. Coolidge, and most tenderly wish to hear from them. Mr. Palfrey’s health is now, I hope, quite well. His worthy reverend colleague is going to leave Paris, and so is Mr. Buckingham. My son and Le Batteur beg to be remembered to you, and I am ever your affectionate friend, Lafayette.” He adds a PS: “How happy I would be at La Grange if Mrs. Ticknor and you had a mind to visit this side of the Atlantic.”

While there is no record that Guillet the father ever came to the U.S., Isidore Jr. arrived in New York on August 27, 1827, aboard the ship Montana. Likely based on references from Lafayette, in New York he was introduced into society. There he met and proposed to the heiress Elizabeth Eden, whose guardian was Aaron Burr. The two married, which was not at all to Burr’s liking, as he thereby lost control of her estate.

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