In a letter to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, he is pleased when educated Europeans come to America to see the admirable situation for themselves
The Marquis de Lafayette was revered in the United States as a hero of the Revolution, and by the 1820s was among a dwindling number of the major players still living. In February 1824, Lafayette received a letter from President James Monroe on behalf of Congress following a joint resolution, inviting him...
The Marquis de Lafayette was revered in the United States as a hero of the Revolution, and by the 1820s was among a dwindling number of the major players still living. In February 1824, Lafayette received a letter from President James Monroe on behalf of Congress following a joint resolution, inviting him to visit the United States. The letter expressed the “sincere attachment of the whole Nation…whose ardent desire is once more to see you amongst them.” Lafayette was excited to return to America and departed from the French port of Le Havre on July 13, 1824. He was accompanied by his son, George Washington Motier de Lafayette.
The celebrations of his arrival that ensued were reportedly some of the largest, most amazing ever held in the United States to that date. He was greeted his entire journey by huge, cheering crowds and lavish banquets and balls of celebration. People were thrilled to entertain one of the most famous heroes of the American Revolution. One account of a ball given in New York City observes that it was “the most brilliant and magnificent scene ever witnessed in the United States.” Six thousand ladies and gentlemen attended it! The entire fort was covered by a 75-foot-high awning and lit by fourteen cut glass chandeliers. Another account tells of of the celebrations in Boston where 3000 children ages 8-12 lined up to receive him. They “wore ribbons in their breasts, stamped with a miniature likeness of Lafayette.” In addition to the celebrations and fashion statements for Lafayette, many monuments were erected in his honor and parks, streets, cities and counties were named for him. Lafayette College in Pennsylvania was named for him.
One of the most moving events was held at Salem, Massachusetts, on August 31, 1824. In Salem, there was also a description of “a body of seamen, of about two hundred, in blue jackets and white trousers, with ribbons on their hats, stamped with the name of Lafayette.” Native son Joseph Story, who was a serving justice of the United States Supreme Court, addressed Lafayette, praising him and his accomplishments, recalling his privations, and saying ”Your private character has not cast a shade on your public honors. In the palaces of Paris and the dungeons of Olmutz, in the splendor of power, and the gloom of banishment, you have been the friend of justice, and the asserter of the rights of man. Under every misfortune, you have never deserted your principles. What earthly prince can afford consolation like this? The favor of princes and the applause of senates, sink into absolute nothingness, in comparison with the approving conscience of a life devoted to the good of mankind.”
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.
Autograph letter signed, Paris, May 28, 1827, to Judge Story, expressing his pleasure when educated Europeans visit the United States to observe for themselves the state of affairs, seeing social and political happiness in America, which he fought so hard in the Revolution to establish, and remembering some of his friends in America, including Salem-born Thomas Pickering, former Quartermaster General of the Continental Army and U.S. Secretary of State. “I am happy in every opportunity to remind you of a friend who feels himself under most pleasing obligations to you. This letter will be delivered by Mr. Guillet, formerly a Secretaire Interprite to the Department of Foreign Affairs, a scientific gentleman who is going to visit the U.S. with a view to collect informations and probably to publish them. He has requested me to send to him at New York these introductory lines. I am pleased whenever learned and well meaning Europeans visit the U.S. because they cannot but be struck with admiration for the state of the country in every respect and for the institutions to which all political, social, and personal blessings are so eminently to be attributed. Present my affectionate respects around you, to family and friends, namely to my old companions in arms Mr. Pickering, and believe me most cordially, yours, Lafayette.” The original integral address panel is still present, addressing the letter to “Honorable Judge Story, Salem, Massachusetts. Favored by Mr. Guillet.”
This is a fascinating letter which shows Lafayette’s broad-based sense that the Revolution, and the freedoms it established, have resulted in social, political, and personal happiness.
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