Gilbert , du Motier, marquis de Lafayette
b.6 Sep 1757 Auvergne, France
d.20 May 1834
Facts and Events
Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de La Fayette, Marquis de La Fayette (; 6 September 1757 – 20 May 1834), often known simply as Lafayette, was a French aristocrat and military officer born in Chavaniac, in the province of Auvergne in south central France. Lafayette was a general in the American Revolutionary War and a leader of the Garde nationale during the French Revolution.
In the American Revolution, Lafayette served as a major-general in the Continental Army under George Washington. Wounded during the Battle of Brandywine, he still managed to organize a successful retreat. He served with distinction in the Battle of Rhode Island. In the middle of the war, he returned to France to negotiate an increase in French support. On his return, he blocked troops led by Cornwallis at Yorktown while the armies of Washington and those sent by King Louis XVI under the command of General de Rochambeau, Admiral de Grasse, and Admiral de Latouche Tréville prepared for battle against the British.
Lafayette was the most important link between the American and the French Revolutions. As an ardent supporter of the United States' constitutional principles he called on all nations to follow the American example. Lafayette was impressed by George Washington and other Protestants. During his short stay in France he visited Paul Rabaut and his son Jean-Paul Rabaut Saint-Etienne, two Reformed pastors. Under Lafayette's influence Louis XVI issued the edict of toleration in 1787 (Edict of Versailles), which particularly benefitted the Huguenots. Back in France in 1788, Lafayette was called to the Assembly of Notables to respond to the fiscal crisis. Lafayette proposed a meeting of the French Estates-General, where representatives from the three traditional orders of French society—the clergy, the nobility and the commoners—met. He served as vice president of the resulting body. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was largely based on his draft, which had the assistance of Thomas Jefferson. Lafayette was appointed commander-in-chief of the Garde nationale in response to violence. During the French Revolution, Lafayette attempted to maintain order—to the point of ordering the Garde nationale to fire on demonstrators at the Champ de Mars in July 1791—an action for which he ultimately was persecuted by the Jacobins. In August 1792, as the radical factions in the Revolution grew in power, Lafayette tried to flee to the United States through the Dutch Republic. He was captured by Austrians and spent more than five years in prison.
Lafayette returned to France after Napoleon Bonaparte secured his release from prison in 1797. He refused to participate in Napoleon's government, but was elected to the Chamber of Deputies under the Charter of 1815, during the Hundred Days. With the Bourbon Restoration, Lafayette became a liberal member of the Chamber of Deputies in 1815, a position he held until his death. In 1824, President James Monroe invited Lafayette to the United States as the "nation's guest"; during the trip, he visited all twenty-four states in the union at the time. In honor of his contributions to the American Revolution, many cities and monuments throughout the United States bear his name. During France's July Revolution of 1830, Lafayette declined an offer to become the French dictator; instead he supported Louis-Philippe's bid as a constitutional monarch. Lafayette died on 20 May 1834, and is buried in Picpus Cemetery in Paris, under soil from Bunker Hill.
He became an American citizen during his lifetime, and received honorary United States citizenship in 2002. For his accomplishments in the service of both France and the United States, he is known as "The Hero of the Two Worlds".