Facts and Events
Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de Lafayette, Marquis de Lafayette (; 6 September 1757 – 20 May 1834), in the U.S. often known simply as Lafayette, was a French aristocrat and military officer who fought for the United States in the American Revolutionary War. A close friend of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson, Lafayette was a key figure in the French Revolution of 1789 and the July Revolution of 1830.
Born in Chavaniac, in the province of Auvergne in south central France, Lafayette came from a wealthy landowning family. He followed its martial tradition, and was commissioned an officer at age 13. He became convinced that the American cause in its revolutionary war was noble, and travelled to the New World seeking glory in it. There, he was made a major general, though initially the 19-year-old was not given troops to command. Wounded during the Battle of Brandywine, he still managed to organize an orderly retreat. He served with distinction in the Battle of Rhode Island. In the middle of the war, he returned home to lobby for an increase in French support. He again sailed to America in 1780, and was given senior positions in the Continental Army. In 1781, troops in Virginia under his command blocked forces led by Cornwallis until other American and French forces could position themselves for the decisive Siege of Yorktown.
Lafayette returned to France and, in 1787, was appointed to the Assembly of Notables convened in response to the fiscal crisis. He was elected a member of the Estates-General of 1789, where representatives met from the three traditional orders of French society—the clergy, the nobility and the commoners. He helped write the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, with the assistance of Thomas Jefferson. After the storming of the Bastille, Lafayette was appointed commander-in-chief of the National Guard, and tried to steer a middle course through the French Revolution. In August 1792, the radical factions ordered his arrest. Fleeing through Belgium, he was captured by Austrian troops and spent more than five years in prison.
Lafayette returned to France after Napoleon Bonaparte secured his release in 1797, though he refused to participate in Napoleon's government. After the Bourbon Restoration of 1814, he became a liberal member of the Chamber of Deputies, a position he held for most of the remainder of his life. 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, meeting a rapturous reception. During France's July Revolution of 1830, Lafayette declined an offer to become the French dictator. Instead, he supported Louis-Philippe as king, but turned against him when the monarch became autocratic. Lafayette died on 20 May 1834, and is buried in Picpus Cemetery in Paris, under soil from Bunker Hill. For his accomplishments in the service of both France and the United States, he is sometimes known as "The Hero of the Two Worlds".