Marquis de Lafayette

April 27, 2009
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In the history of Enlightenment and revolutions, many people have brought forth new ideas for living and have greatly influenced the changes of government. A man who greatly influenced the changes of government through revolutions was Marquis de Lafayette. He not only played a crucial role in the American Revolution, but also in the French Revolution. He was a man who left the world with a legacy of revolution.

Marquis de Lafayette was born on September 6, 1757 at the Chateau de Chavaniac in the Province of Auvergne in France. He was born into a very well known aristocratic family who were famous for military action. His father was killed in the Battle of Minden against the British in 1759 and his mother and grandfather died in 1770. He was raised and educated by his aunt and two priests at the Lycee Louis-le-Grand. As a young boy, Lafayette had great interest in military and at the age of sixteen, Lafayette chose to follow in the career of his father and grandfather and joined the French Military in 1771. With the birth of the American Revolution, Lafayette traveled to America as a volunteer and was granted the rank of Major General, one rank below General George Washington who became his lifelong best friend. He played a vital role in many of the battle victories of the war and fought until the war’s end. The American Revolution influenced almost all his political and philosophical beliefs for the rest of his life and became the basis for his position n the French Revolution. He returned to France in 1781, becoming a national hero and promoted to the rank of Brigadier General in the French Army.

The French Revolution began in 1787 in which Lafayette was a main leader and played many important roles that shaped the new government. Before the revolution, Lafayette had very little or almost no political experience. However, through his beliefs influenced particularly by George Washington, the Founding Fathers, and the American people, became the basis for his political views. Lafayette renounced his title of nobility and became the Vice-President of the liberal-moderate group named the National Assembly in 1789. The National Assembly and Lafayette believed that the ideal government was a constitutional-limited monarchy which gave more common people representation along with the limited ruling of a king, in this case Louis XVI. He based almost all of his actions and proposals off the American Revolution, which he considered very successful and was incredibly fond of. Under the National Assembly, Lafayette supported and called for social equality, common people representation, religious tolerance, freedom of press, and the emancipation of slaves. He also drafted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, very similar to the American Bill of Rights, which was adopted by the Assembly. Lafayette was also commissioned as the commander of the National Guard during the duration of the revolution and was called into action on July 17, 1791. A large riot of mostly Jacobin radicals formed in Paris attempting to overthrow the constitutional monarchy. Lafayette believed that it was fine to oppose and/or revolt the decisions of the government, because of his support of common people representation. However, he believed it should be done in a certain civilized manner in which terror can be caused and turned bloody. The National Guard came to cease the riot, but the crowd only grew angrier and fired two shots and pelted rocks upon the National Guard. When the crowd refused to cooperate, Lafayette ordered open fire on the rioters, killing over fifty people. This day became known as the “Massacre of the Champ de Mars” which ended the alliance between the liberal-moderate constitutional limited monarchists and the Jacobin radicals. Later in the year, Lafayette was placed as commander of three armies that were formed to attack Austria. Meanwhile at the same, there were many attacks being directed towards Lafayette, most notably from Jean-Paul Marat who was the leader of the Jacobin radicals. In August of 1792, the Assembly called Lafayette a traitor and the co-leader of the Jacobin radicals, Georges Danton took over control of the National Guard. During this time known as the “Reign of Terror,” Lafayette and is imprisoned for five years, first in Prussia and then in Austria. During this time he and his wife, Adrienne, are nearly publicly executed by the guillotine of the Jacobin radicals. Adrienne, through many letters to Austria, pleads for her husband’s release and the new ruler of France, Napoleon Bonaparte, is forced to agree under the Treaty of Campo Formio. Napoleon dislikes Lafayette and exiles him from France, hoping he will leave to America for the rest of his life. He eventually returned to France in 1799 after Adrienne’s pleading to Napoleon. Lafayette died on May 20, 1834 in France at the age of seventy-seven.

Marquis de Lafayette was a man who greatly influenced the changes of government through the American and the French Revolutions. He played very crucial roles in revolutions that greatly changed the forms of government and left a legacy of possibly one of the greatest foreign military commanders of all time. Thus, Marquis de Lafayette was a man who greatly influenced the changes of government through both the American and French Revolutions.





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