In a narrative both panoramic and intimate, Tom Chaffin captures the four-decade friendship of Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette.
Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette shared a singularly extraordinary friendship, one involved in the making of two revolutions—and two nations. Jefferson first met Lafayette in 1781, when the young French-born general was dispatched to Virginia to assist Jefferson, then the state’s governor, in fighting off the British. The charismatic Lafayette, hungry for glory, could not have seemed more different from Jefferson, the reserved statesman. But when Jefferson, a newly-appointed diplomat, moved to Paris three years later, speaking little French and in need of a partner, their friendship began in earnest.
As Lafayette opened doors in Paris and Versailles for Jefferson, so too did the Virginian stand by Lafayette as the Frenchman became inexorably drawn into the maelstrom of his country's revolution. Jefferson counseled Lafayette as he drafted The Declaration of the Rights of Man and remained a firm supporter of the French Revolution, even after he returned to America in 1789. By 1792, however, the upheaval had rendered Lafayette a man without a country, locked away in a succession of Austrian and Prussian prisons. The burden fell on Jefferson, along with Lafayette's other friends, to win his release. The two would not see each other again until 1824, in a powerful and emotional reunion at Jefferson’s Monticello.
Steeped in primary sources, Revolutionary Brothers casts fresh light on this remarkable, often complicated, friendship of two extraordinary men.
Through extensive reliance on Thomas Jefferson's and the Marquis de Lafayette's writings, along with their contemporaries', Chaffin (Giant's Causeway) burnishes his reputation as a popular historian with this compulsively readable deep dive into "the story of a single, and singularly extraordinary, friendship, and its role in the making of two revolutions and two nations." The two men met in 1781; Lafayette had been given a command by George Washington after allying himself with the American rebels and traveling to the colonies in 1777, and was dispatched to Virginia to help defend it from British attacks during Jefferson's term as governor of that colony. That assignment began a friendship that deepened after the Revolutionary War's end; Lafayette was able to facilitate Jefferson's diplomatic efforts after Jefferson joined a delegation to Paris negotiating treaties with European nations. Lafayette sought to help resolve France's fiscal crisis of 1787, the precursor to the French Revolution, and Chaffin is especially good at detailing Lafayette's shifting roles during that tumultuous period. Noting that "cherished legends" concerning both men are more familiar than the "more complex, sometimes less ennobling, truths," Chaffin successfully elucidates the latter, such as Jefferson's hypocrisy regarding slavery and Lafayette's "vacillations during the French Revolution." This worthy history will deepen lay readers' understanding of both men.