The Marquis de Lafayette: Hero of the American Revolution? Or traitor to freedom and liberty in France? Scholar Laura Auricchio examines this complex man and his legacy.
A major biography of the Marquis de Lafayette, French hero of the American Revolution, looks past the storybook general and selfless champion of righteous causes who, at the age of nineteen, volunteered to fight under George Washington, casting aside fortune and family (from one of France’s oldest families; his ancestors served in the Crusades and alongside Joan of Arc) to advance the transcendent aims of liberty and justice.
We see how Lafayette’s reputation rose to great heights during the American Revolution, but collapsed more than a decade later during the French Revolution; how when the Bastille fell on July 14, 1789, Parisians hailed Lafayette as the French Washington, appointing him commander of their National Guard in the hope that he would be able to restore order to a city wracked by starvation and violence. As revolutionaries hurtled in radical directions and staunch monarchists dug in their heels, Lafayette lost control, remaining steadfast in his belief that the French monarchy needed to be reformed, but not abolished, and doing everything in his power to prevent an American-style republic from taking root in his native land. Formerly seen as France’s heroic figure, he was now a traitor to his nation, forced to flee his country, and today remains a murky figure in French memory.