Lafayette's Handwritten Toast, hoping that Americans may "more and more enjoy the blessings of Republican freedom and Republican industry.".
On December 7, 1776, Silas Deane struck an agreement with two French officers in sympathy with the American cause, Baron Johann DeKalb and his young protégé, the Marquis de Lafayette, to offer their military knowledge and services to help achieve American independence. King Louis XVI feared angering Britain and prohibited Lafayette's departure,...
On December 7, 1776, Silas Deane struck an agreement with two French officers in sympathy with the American cause, Baron Johann DeKalb and his young protégé, the Marquis de Lafayette, to offer their military knowledge and services to help achieve American independence. King Louis XVI feared angering Britain and prohibited Lafayette's departure, but Lafayette purchased his own ship and readied for the trip. The British ambassador to the French court demanded the seizure of Lafayette's ship, and Lafayette was threatened with arrest. He managed to set sail nonetheless and arrived in America on June 13, 1777. Lafayette then traveled to Philadelphia and tendered his services to Congress. Although Lafayette's youth (he was just 19) made Congress reluctant to promote him over more experienced officers, the young Frenchman's willingness to volunteer his services without pay won their respect and Lafayette was commissioned as a major-general. He became Washington's aide-de-camp, and a close personal, virtually father to son, relationship developed between the two men. Lafayette was active at the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777, and was wounded; after the battle, Washington cited him for "bravery and military ardor." He was with Washington at Valley Forge, and then participated in the Battle of Monmouth. Following the formal treaty of alliance with France, Lafayette asked to return to France to consult the King as to his future service and to act as an advocate of the American cause. In 1779, Benjamin Franklin reported from Paris that Lafayette was performing the latter function very effectively at the French court. Following a six-month respite in France, Lafayette returned American and was involved in the war effort in Virginia. He played a key role in the successful siege of Yorktown in 1781, helping contain British forces long enough for them to be trapped and have no alternative but surrender. After the war Lafayette returned to France, where he became a key figure in the early days of the French Revolution. But his influence waxed and waned, he spent seven years in an Austrian prison, and over the decades faced many trials, tribulations and failures.
In 1824 the United States was in the midst of the Era of Good Feelings, was growing and progressing, and seeing a brilliant future. At the same time the generation of the Founding Fathers and Mothers who had created the republic was passing from the scene; the memory of their deeds and their ideals was growing dim, even as their grandchildren enjoyed the benefits of their labors. So the nation was looking forward and backward at the same time. Lafayette was the last surviving general of the Revolution, and although neglected in Europe, the story of his gallantry during that war, his wounds suffered at the Battle of Brandywine, his Virginia campaign that forced Lord Cornwallis into Yorktown, his relationship with the beloved Washington, were all part of the American legend. President Monroe invited him to visit. He accepted, and his 1824-5 visit to the United States became one of the landmark events of the first half of the 19th Century in America. For those who had been involved in that fight—the Revolutionary officers and those of the Society of the Cincinnati and similar organizations—the visit of their old chief would be the occasion to again light the torch just on time to pass it to a new generation. For their progeny, it would be the chance to bid a symbolic farewell to the fading, revered generation of the Revolution.
As Lafayette arrived in New York Harbor on August 15, 1824, a salute was fired and the sea was filled with ships containing admiring onlookers eager to catch a glimpse of the returning hero. This pandemonium was only a foretaste of what was to come. During his trip, he visited all 24 American states, traveling more than 6,000 miles. He toured the northern and eastern states in the fall of 1824, then went south. However, Lafayette was asked to return to Bunker Hill at the end of his tour the following year, before parting for France, in order to lay the cornerstone for the planned Bunker Hill Monument. So he went north again in the spring of 1825.
He made a stop to visit John Adams at Quincy, Mass. At Monticello, Thomas Jefferson excitedly met him on the lawn; they embraced and kissed each other's cheeks, French style. Soon Lafayette was surrounded by Jefferson's family and his guests, among whom were James and Dolley Madison. He was received by President Monroe at the White House. At every town he visited, he was greeted by the veterans of the Revolution. Men grown old and gray, forgotten by the years but now remembered, regularly turned out to see their old commander; chapters of the various states' Cincinnati Societies arranged events wherever Lafayette would go. His receptions were enthusiastic, even wildly so. There were meetings, concerts, parades, celebrations, dinners, military reviews, reunions, speeches about Lafayette, speeches by Lafayette. Edward Everett welcomed him to Boston, saying "Greetings! Friend of our fathers!" In New York, the reception room was decorated with trophies of arms, and with 60 banners bearing the names of the principal heroes who died for liberty during the Revolutionary War. Towards the end of the meal, a curtain was raised suddenly, revealing a large transparency representing Washington and Lafayette hand in hand before the altar of liberty, receiving a civic crown from the hands of America. This was greeted by shouts of joy from the veterans. Lafayette then visited West Point in the company of Alexander Hamilton's widow. The reception in Philadelphia was grand, and the procession stretched four miles. Included were 150 Revolutionary War veterans, drawn in three great cars, each pulled by four horses, each trimmed with red and white bunting. On one side of the car was written "Defenders of Our Country," and on the other "The Survivors of 1776." In the front of the cavalcade was written "Washington," and at the rear "Lafayette." At Independence Hall, Lafayette, in the company of John Quincy Adams, heard a speaker express pleasure to be "with the surviving few of your companions in arms to felicitate your arrival, and to cherish your residence in the land of your adoption…and even enhance the grateful and unanimous congratulations of a free and happy people." And so it went everywhere.
Returning east from Kentucky and Ohio to lay the cornerstone for the Bunker Hill Monument in June 1825, Lafayette first went to Albany, then stopped in Massachusetts at Pittsfield and Worcester, before arriving at Boston on June 15. There he was received by Governor Levi Lincoln. On the 17th there was a giant parade of 7,000 citizens, led by survivors of the Battle of Bunker Hill, with Lafayette in a carriage drawn by six white horses. It was a magnificent sight. Lafayette laid the cornerstone for the monument (which still stands) and was permitted to take soil from Bunker Hill.
On June 13 Lafayette stayed at the Peace Party House in Pittsfield. There was a dinner in his honor that night, and the chief welcome was given by Edward Dorr Griffin, President of Williams College. Lafayette, his son George Washington Lafayette, and Griffin wrote down the toasts they made, and these give you a real sense of what it was like to be there at that sparkling moment. It is interesting that before Lafayette's name, the word "1st" appears, indicating that he spoke first. Autograph toast signed, Pittsfield, Mass., June 13, 1825. "1st. Lafayette's Toast. Berkshire County and the town of Pittsfield: May they more and more enjoy the blessings of Republican freedom and Republican industry." On the same page, below that, appears the toast of Dr. Griffin: "Our honored and beloved guest. May the gratitude which a nation has manifested do as much to establish the liberty of the world as did the valiant exploits of his youth."George Washington Lafayette, the General's son, warmly and inspirationally, wound up these toasts. His reads: "The American constellation – the political lighthouse of the world." This toast is the only signed toast of a significant 18th or 19th-century notable we can recall seeing, nor has our research turned up any others. Since toasts were ephemeral, and many were not even written down, its survival is extraordinary.
"The History of Pittsfield" contains a full account of Lafayette's visit, and includes these very toasts. It states: "General Lafayette was welcomed to the county, and the commonwealth, by Sheriff Brown, and after acknowledgments made with his usual grace and courtesy, he took his seat in an elegant coach…richly festooned with flowers, and drawn by four spirited grays, bore him pleasantly and rapidly to the village of Pittsfield. The approach of the cavalcade to the village was announced by bells and cannon, and thousands of citizens from all parts of Berkshire assembled in the park, and neighboring streets, to greet the expected guest, who, at a little before six o'clock, alighted from his carriage, at the door of Captain Herrick's coffee-house, and the most enthusiastic cheers of the multitude. On the green, between the church and the Old Elm, a beautiful triumphal arch had been erected; bearing in the center of the front the salutation, 'Welcome Lafayette', and on the sides, the names of the American battlefields upon which he had most distinguished himself. Above the arch hung a well-proportioned national flag, forty-seven feet long, which the ladies of the village had made that morning, and which had been suspended…from the top of the Old Elm, where, in the favoring breeze of the day, it floated with imposing effect. General Lafayette, accompanied by the committee, passed between two columns of citizens and soldiery, to the arch, under which he was addressed by Hon. Jonathan Allen, in a few comprehensive and striking remarks; to which he replied with much feeling, expressing his reciprocation of their affection, and a deep sense of the unequaled honor bestowed upon him. He then proceeded through two lines of school-children to the church, where he was addressed by Professor Batchelder, of the Medical College, in behalf of the ladies of Berkshire, who filled the house to overflowing…He was here also introduced to many of the clergy and to a number of Revolutionary veterans, several of whom had been his companions in arms. He then returned to the coffee-house, escorted by the Berkshire Grays – a favorite military company…the citizens crowding upon the procession, anxious to behold, and, all who could, to touch the hem of his garment; among them some of the leaders of the Shakers, who, contrary to their custom, approached the august personage with their hats in hand. At the hotel, a sumptuous dinner had been prepared; the hall and tables being decorated with evergreens and flowers, mingled with paintings and standards, some of great elegance, which attracted the particular notice of the general and suite, and the admiration of all." The toasts are then described, with the exact text as they appear here.
Manuscript mementos from Lafayette's epochal tour of America are rare, and important ones extremely so. This is the first we have had.
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