Behind a Discovery: Lafayette’s Great Tour in 1824-25

How the Marquis de Lafayette’s Own Words Provided Clues to Understand This Powerful Memento of His Triumphant Return to the Country he Helped Found


Sometimes a document’s secrets are hidden just below the surface. So it was with a letter of the Marquis de Lafayette dated simply “Monday.” It was written in French, usually an indication that it relates to Lafayette’s post-Revolutionary War period. It contained no date, place, or recipient, and it reads in full: “My Dear Edward, Mr. Buckingham has asked me to lead with me some officers of the general staff or others; but it seems to me better that they might be invited by the committee. You are familiar with its composition; you are connected with Mr. Buckingham. Arrange this as you would like with him.”

The first thing we noticed about this letter is that, though it is written in French, it references two men with clearly English names. Edward is spelled as it would be in America or England and not Edouard, as in France. So perhaps this was not in fact written in France but rather in the English-speaking world.

The identities of Edward and Buckingham would prove the clues we needed to identify it.

It turns out that biographies of Edward Livingston from the mid 19th century noted that “Dear Edward” was an affectionate term that Lafayette is known to have used for Edward Livingston, indeed we were able to find it applied to no other person. So why in French then when Lafayette spoke English? Well, Livingston, who served as Secretary of State, was chosen to represent Louisiana in Congress because he and his brother, Robert R. Livingston, who was Ambassador to France under Thomas Jefferson, were fluent in French. We had found our recipient.

Edward Livingston
Edward Livingston, 1827.

Then who is Buckingham? There are prominent Buckinghams on both sides of the Atlantic. But the question remained for us: in which country during this era was Lafayette most likely to be feted? It seemed very unlikely that he would receive a hero’s welcome in England. And the American identity of the recipient was further testament to that.

We found a contemporary newspaper account that stated that Joseph T. Buckingham not only knew Lafayette but was planning an event in his honor for his return to the states in 1824. We even identified the date. And at this event was expected to be soldiers and “general staff” from his former time in the war. Buckingham was too young to have served such a role prior to Lafayette’s post-war departure.

The clues that Lafayette himself left transformed what could have been a fairly common missive in France after the war to one of the few letters of Lafayette written in the U.S. during his famous Farewell Tour, relating to that tour, that we have seen reach the market.

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