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This Week in History
August 11-17, 1824

Lafayette Returns as 'Guest of the Nation'

August 2013

The United States was just shy of 50 years old, when the leading members of the American patriotic faction extended an invitation to the last surviving general from the Revolutionary War, General Marquis de Lafayette, to tour the country whose independence he had played a critical role in winning. In late 1823, General Lafayette, then living on his estate in France, received an invitation from President James Monroe to be a "Guest of the Nation," through 1824 and 1825. The General began his tour on Aug. 16, 1824, and spent more than a full year travelling through all 24 states of the Union, before he left on Sept. 9, 1825.

General Lafayette's tour sparked the most extraordinary outpouring of celebration, and patriotism, wherever he went. It was the occasion for the revival of a revolutionary spirit, which included the re-emergence of the Society of the Cincinnati, and other historical and philosophical groupings. Most importantly, the political climate which the visit inspired, provided a crucial margin in the election to the Presidency of John Quincy Adams, who went on to carry out the mission of public improvement in domestic and foreign policy which the Founding Fathers had advocated, but which had been coming under increasing attack by subversive interests.

General Lafayette, then 67 years old, who was travelling with his son George Washington Lafayette, and his secretary, began his visit in New York City. Five days of celebration ensued, including banquets, receiving lines, plays, and concerts. There, as in every other city he visited, that dwindling generation of Revolutionary War veterans came out to meet the man who was the embodiment of the sacrifice made by French patriots, and other international republican forces, and to rekindle their resolve to defend the ideas for which he, and they, had fought. They were joined by others, down to the very young. Everybody knew and spoke about the hardships Lafayette had suffered, he having been thrown into an Austrian prison during the period of the 1790s, and rescued by his wife, and then gone on to fight a losing battle in France itself against the Napoleonic beast. The nation poured out its gratitude, including with a gift of money and land, which he could use to finance republican operations at home.

This grand tour played both a public and private role in mobilizing the nation's patriots. Among the public highlights were Lafayette's two addresses to joint sessions of Congress, one on Dec. 9-10, 1824, and the other, just before his departure, on Sept. 6, 1825.

Speaker of the House Henry Clay greeted Lafayette at the December joint session, with the following words:

"The vain wish has been sometimes indulged, that Providence would allow the patriot, after death, to return to his country, and to contemplate the intermediate changes which had taken place—to view the forests felled, the cities built, the mountains levelled, the canals cut, the highways constructed, the progress of the arts, the advancement of learning and the increase in population—General, your present visit to the United States is a realization of the consoling object of that wish. You are in the midst of posterity. Everywhere, you must have been struck by the great changes, physical and moral, which have occurred since you left us."

President John Quincy Adams took a different tack, when he said farewell to the General, before the September 1825 appearance:

"Go, then, our beloved friend—return to the land of brilliant genius, of generous sentiment, of heroic valour; to that beautiful France, the nursing mother of the Twelfth Louis, and the Fourth Henry; to the native soil of Bayard and Coligni, of Turenne and Catinat, of Fenelon and D'Aguesseau. In that illustrious catalogue of names which she claims as of her children, and with honest pride holds up to the admiration of other nations, the name of Lafayette has already for centuries been enrolled. And it shall henceforth burnish into brighter flame; for if, in afterdays, a Frenchman shall be called to indicate the character of his nation by that one individual, during the age in which we live, the blood of lofty patriotism shall mantle in his check, the fire of conscious virtue shall sparkle in his eye, and he shall pronounce the name of Lafayette. Yet we, too, and our children, in life and after death, shall claim you for our own...."

Lafayette, the person who had dubbed the victorious United States the "Temple of Liberty, ... a lesson to oppressors, an example to the oppressed, a sanctuary for the rights of mankind," back in the 1780s, expressed again his great optimism for his adopted country, and its influence in the world, during his last speech before the U.S. Congress:

"I have had proudly to recognize a result of the republican principles for which we have fought, and a glorious demonstration to the most timid and prejudiced minds, of the superiority, over degrading aristocracy, or despotism, of popular institutions founded on the plain rights of man, and where the local rights of every section are preserved under a constitutional bond of union. The cherishing of that union between the states, as it has been the farewell entreaty of our great paternal Washington, and will ever have the dying prayer of every American patriot, so it has become the sacred pledge of the emancipation of the world, an object in which I am happy to observe that the American people, while they give the animating example of successful free institutions, in return for an evil entailed upon them by Europe, and of which a liberal and enlightened sense is everywhere more and more generally felt, show themselves every day more anxiously interested...."

While Lafayette did not succeed in creating a true republican revolution in Europe, he knew he had made a lasting contribution to history by creating the United States. It was up to later generations to ensure that the United States lived up to its mission, as this great man and his collaborators conceived it.


The original article was published in the EIR Online’s Electronic Intelligence Weekly, as part of an ongoing series on history, with a special emphasis on American history. We are reprinting and updating these articles now to assist our readers in understanding of the American System of Economy.