the marquis de lafayette -- 10/3/22
Today's selection -- from Biddle, Jackson, and a Nation in Turmoil: The Infamous Bank War by Cordelia Frances Biddle. In 1824, the U.S. was swept up into a patriotic fever for the return visit of the Marquis de Lafayette, a prominent hero of the American Revolution:
"In August 1824, a frenzy over the American visit of General Lafayette took hold of the nation. In every city and hamlet, committees were formed to welcome him during his year-long progress from. Providence, Rhode Island to Boston, from Hartford to New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Alexandria, Yorktown, Norfolk, Fredericksburg, Charleston, and Savannah. A visit to Mt. Vernon was planned. Jewelers cast gold and silver medallions with George Washington's likeness on one side, and Lafayette's on the other; suitably decorated ladies' sashes and waistbands sold out; metal workers advertised they could refurbish and burnish muskets, pistols, and swords at 'the shortest notice.' Uniforms long unused were taken from storage trunks and boxes and repaired; everyone wanted to look their best for 'the Nation's Guest.' Lafayette represented all that was noble in America's history. Lest anyone forget, newspapers reprinted personal and official accounts from the Revolutionary War, reminding readers who were too young to remember that the sixty-seven-year-old Frenchman had fought alongside that greatest of heroes, George Washington. In the growing political cynicism and polarity of the United States during the first quarter of the nineteenth century, Lafayette shone a beacon backward to a time when men and women cleaved to a grand ideal.
|Lafayette in the uniform of a major general of the Continental Army, by Charles Willson Peale, between 1779–1780
"At least, that was the public sentiment his tour inspired. Thousands lined each of his routes, the women waving white handkerchiefs and openly sobbing; the men were also wiping away tears while shouting continual 'Huzzas.' Military parades accompanied him from town to town; smartly turned out militias, and mayors and their ladies and other prominent citizens welcomed him at every stop; children, dressed in white, presented flowers, and in Hartford, eight hundred children recited an ode entitled 'Nous vous aimons, La Fayette' that concluded with the heartfelt lines:
When our blooming cheeks shall fade,
Pale with time, or sorrows' shade;
When our clustering tresses fair,
Frosts of wintry age shall wear.
E'en till memory's sun be set,
nous vous aimons La Fayette.
In Boston, as in every other place he and his son and entourage passed, emotions of gratitude and awe gushed out. The mayor there declared, 'The citizens of Boston welcome you on your return to the United States; mindful of your early zeal in the cause for American Independence, graceful for your distinguished share in the perils and glories of its achievement.'
"Lafayette, who spoke perfect, idiomatic English, replied with equal passion. 'The emotions of love and gratitude which I have been accustomed to feel on my entering chis city, has ever been mingled with a sense of religious reverence for the cradle, and, let us hope it will hereafter be said, of universal liberty.'
"New York tried to outdo Boston with fireworks over Vauxhall Gardens, a grand fete at Castle Garden, evenings at the theater, oratorios written in Lafayette's honor, public balls, and private dinners. Not to be bested by their northern neighbor, Philadelphia arranged processions through every neighborhood, from the Northern Liberties to Southwark. The population was reported to have nearly doubled with residents from the state's western reaches who arrived en masse to see liberty's champion with their own eyes.
"Lafayette's approach from Trenton to Princeton and thence south was reported with the same intensity once devoted to Lord Howe's victorious army as it advanced upon a fearful city. Anyone recollecting those long and bitter months found ample cause to weep in thanksgiving. On September 28, at the Frankford Bridge, the general and his suite met a 'numerous cavalcade of citizens' who declared in a kind of religious ecstasy, 'We have left our ploughs idle in the furrow; we have left the axe in the tree on the hill side .... ' Naturally, a ball was held in Lafayette's honor, each distinguished guest welcomed with a flourish of trumpets; the city set ablaze with fireworks and artistic illuminations. All the French community in Philadelphia attended the various dinners and receptions, as did Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, and the DuPont family of Delaware, the general's personal friends. Point Breeze and the count welcomed Lafayette, as a matter of course."