Gilbert du Motier was born on September 6, 1757 in Auvergne, France. His full given name was Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier. His father died when he was 2 years old. When his mother and grandfather died 11 years later, he inherited a large fortune. Lafayette, who came from a long line of solders, studied at the Military Academy in Versailles and became a captain in the French cavalry at age 16.
In 1777, Lafayette purchased a ship, and with a crew of adventurers set sail for America to fight in the revolution against the British. Lafayette joined the ranks as a major general, assigned to the staff of George Washington. He served with distinction, leading America forces to several victories. On a return visit to France in 1779, Lafayette persuaded the French government to send aid to the Americans. After the British surrender at Yorktown, Lafayette returned to Paris. He had become a hero in the new United States of America.
At home, Lafayette cooperated closely with Ambassadors Benjamin Franklin, and then Thomas Jefferson on behalf of American interests.
After 1782, Lafayette was absorbed with questions of reform in France. He was one of the first to advocate a National Assembly, and worked toward the establishment of a constitutional monarchy during the years leading up to the French Revolution. These efforts cost him much of his support from the French nobility. As commander of the French National Guard, Lafayette was compelled to use force to put down crowd violence. By 1791, he had lost most of his popularity with the people.
In 1792, Lafayette tried unsuccessfully to curb radicalism against the monarchy. The King and Queen would not accept his assistance. The troops he tried to turn on the Paris mob would not follow his orders. Lafayette was denounced as a traitor and fled the country. He returned to France in 1800 to find that his personal fortune had been confiscated. In 1815 he was elected to the Chamber of Deputies. As one of its vice presidents, he worked for Napoleon’s abdication after the Battle of Waterloo.
Lafayette became a focal point of resistance to the Bourbon kings. In 1830, he became the leader of a Revolution that dethroned the Bourbons. He refused the popular demand that he become president of the new republic, and instead helped make Louis Philippe the constitutional monarch of France. Just before his death in 1834 he began to regret his support of Philippe and supported the move to a pure republic in France.
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Adopted Son: Washington, Lafayette, and the Friendship that Saved the Revolution
by David A. Clary
Clary documents the relationship between the “father” of our country and the nineteen-year-old Lafayette, a French aristocrat who becomes a national hero in both America and France. This narrative history, that outlines Lafayette’s role in the America Revolutionary War and in the French Revolution, is history at its best.
General and Madame de Lafayette: Partners in Liberty’s Cause in the American and French Revolutions
by Jason Lane
Using the letters of Lafayette and his wife, Adrienne, Lane provides a vivid account of two extraordinary individuals who worked together to alter the political course of two great nations.
The Revolution (2006)
Venturing beyond the conventional list of generals and politicians The History Channel introduces the full range of individuals who helped shape this great conflict including some of the war s most influential unsung heroes.
The French Revolution (2005)
This History Channel feature-length documentary vividly unfurls in a maelstrom of violence discontent and fundamental change of this heady period in Western civilization. Includes dramatic reenactments, expert commentary from historians, illustrations and paintings from the era.
The Marquis de Lafayette
At the Colonial Williamsburg Website
Thirteen Extraordinary Days in August
Lafayette, Count Pulaski and the Stars and Stripes Join America’s Revolution During The Neshaminy Encampment at Moland House