Lafayette for Young Americans - Rupert Holland

The United States Welcomes the Hero

The first half century of American independence was drawing near, and the Congress of the United States, mindful of the days when Lafayette had offered his sword in defense of liberty, voted unanimously that President Monroe be requested to invite the General to visit America as the guest of the nation. President Monroe joyfully acted as Congress requested, and placed at Lafayette's service an American war-ship. The Frenchman, now sixty-seven years old, was eager to accept, but he declined the use of the war-ship, and sailed instead, with his son George Washington Lafayette and his private secretary on the American merchantman Cadmus, leaving Havre on July 13, 1824.

As he sailed out of Havre the American ships in the harbor ran up their flags in his honor and fired their guns in salute, an intimation of the welcome that was awaiting him on the other side of the Atlantic. The Cadmus reached Staten Island on August fifteenth, and the guest landed in the midst of cheering throngs. Most of the men who had taken part with him in the birth of the country had now passed off the scene, and to Americans Lafayette was a tradition, one of the few survivors of the nation's early days of strife and triumph. He was no longer the slim and eager boy of 1777; he was now a large, stout man, slightly lame, but his smile was still the same, and so was the delight with which he greeted the people.

The United States had grown prodigiously in the interval between this visit and his last. Instead of thirteen separate colonies there were now twenty-four United States. The population had increased from three to twelve millions. What had been wilderness was now ripe farmland; backwoods settlements had grown into flourishing towns built around the church and the schoolhouse. Agriculture and commerce were thriving everywhere, and everywhere Lafayette saw signs of the wisdom, honesty, and self-control which had established a government under which men could live in freedom and happiness.

His visit carried him far and wide through the United States. From New York he went by way of New Haven and Providence to Boston, from there to Portsmouth by the old colonial road through Salem, Ipswich, and Newburyport. From there he returned to New York by Lexington, Worcester, Hartford, and the Connecticut River. The steamer James Kent took him to the old familiar scenes on the banks of the Hudson, reminding him of the day when he and Washington had ridden to the house of Benedict Arnold.

Starting again from New York he traveled through New Jersey to Philadelphia, the scene of the stirring events of his first visit, and thence to Baltimore and Washington. He went to Mount Vernon, Yorktown, Norfolk, Monticello, Raleigh, Charleston, and Savannah. In the spring of 1825 he was at New Orleans, and from there he ascended the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, sailed up Lake Erie, saw the Falls of Niagara, went through Albany and as far north as Portland, Maine. Returning by Lake Champlain he reached New York in time for the great celebration of the Fourth of July in 1825. He had made a very comprehensive tour of the United States.

The whole of this long journey was one triumphal progress. He constantly drove through arches bearing the words "Welcome, Lafayette!" Every house where he stopped became a Mecca for admiring crowds. The country had never welcomed any man as it did the gallant Frenchman. Balls, receptions, dinners, speeches, gifts of every kind were thrust upon him; and the leading men of the republic were constantly by his side.

He was present at the laying of the corner-stone of the Bunker Hill Monument and heard the great oration of Daniel Webster. "Fortunate, fortunate man!" exclaimed the orator turning toward Lafayette. "With what measure of devotion will you not thank God for the circumstances of your extraordinary life! You are connected with both hemispheres and with two generations. Heaven saw fit to ordain that the electric spark of liberty should be conducted, through you, from the New World to the Old; and we, who are now here to perform this duty of patriotism, have all of us long ago received it from our fathers to cherish your name and your virtues. You now behold the field, the renown of which reached you in the heart of France and caused a thrill in your ardent bosom. You see the lines of the little redoubt, thrown up by the incredible diligence of Prescott, defended to the last extremity by his lion-hearted valor, and within which the corner-stone of our monument has now taken its position. You see where Warren fell, and where Parker, Gardner, M'Cleary, Moore, and other early patriots fell with him. Those who survived that day, and whose lives have been prolonged to the present hour, are now around you. Some of them you have known in the trying scenes of the war. Behold, they now stretch forth their feeble arms to embrace you! Behold, they raise their trembling voices to invoke the blessing of God on you and yours forever!"

The welcome he received in New York and New England was equaled by that of Philadelphia and Baltimore and the South. At Charleston Colonel Huger, the devoted friend who had tried to rescue Lafayette from his Olmutz prison, was joined with him in demonstrations of the people's regard. A great military celebration was given in Lafayette's honor at Yorktown, and in the course of it a box of candles was found which had formed part of the stores of Lord Cornwallis, and the candles were used to furnish the light for the evening's entertainment.

Lafayette first went to Washington in October, 1824. He was met by twenty-five young girls dressed in white and a military escort. After a short reception at the Capitol he was driven to the White House. There President Monroe, the members of his cabinet, and officers of the army and navy were gathered to receive him. As the guest of the nation entered, all rose, and the President advanced and welcomed him in the name of the United States. Lafayette stayed in Washington several days and then went to make some visits in the neighborhood.

During his absence Congress met and received a message from the President which set forth Lafayette's past services to the country, the great enthusiasm with which the people had welcomed him, and recommended that a gift should be made him which should be worthy of the character and greatness of the American nation. Senator Hayne described how the rights and pay belonging to his rank in the army had never been claimed by Lafayette and how the land that had been given him in 1803 had afterward through a mistake been granted to the city of New Orleans. Then Congress unanimously passed a bill directing the treasurer of the United States to pay to General Lafayette, as a recognition of services that could never be sufficiently recognized or appreciated, the sum of two hundred thousand dollars.

When he returned to Washington he went to the Capitol, where Congress received him in state, every member springing to his feet in welcome to the nation's guest. Henry Clay, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, held out his hand to the gallant Frenchman. "The vain wish has been sometimes indulged," said Henry Clay to Lafayette, "that Providence would allow the patriot, after death, to return to his country and to contemplate the immediate changes which had taken place; to view the forests felled, the cities built, the mountains leveled, the canals cut, the highways constructed, the progress of the arts, the advancement of learning, and the increase of population. General, your present visit to the United States is a realization of the consoling object of that wish. You are in the midst of posterity. Everywhere you must have been struck with the great changes, physical and moral, which have occurred since you left us. Even this very city, bearing a venerated name, alike endeared to you and to us, has since emerged from the forest which then covered its site. In one respect you behold us unaltered, and this is the sentiment of continued devotion to liberty, and of ardent affection and profound gratitude to your departed friend, the Father of his Country, and to you, and to your illustrious associates in the field and in the Cabinet, for the multiplied blessings which surround us, and for the very privilege of addressing you which I now exercise. This sentiment, now fondly cherished by more than ten millions of people, will be transmitted with unabated vigor down the tide of time, through the countless millions who are destined to inhabit this continent to the latest posterity."

Henry Clay was a great prophet as well as a great orator. We know now how the affection of the United States for Lafayette has grown and grown during the century in which the republic has stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific and its people increased from ten millions to more than a hundred millions.

In his journey through the country Lafayette passed through thousands of miles of wilderness and had several opportunities to renew his old acquaintance with the Indians. He had won their friendship during the Revolution by his sympathy for all men. Now he found that they had not forgotten the young chief whom they had called Kayoula. A girl of the Southern Creeks showed him a paper she had kept as a relic which turned out to be a letter of thanks written to her father by Lafayette forty-five years before. In western New York he met the famous chief Red Jacket, who reminded him that it was he who had argued the cause of the Indians at the council at Fort Schuyler in 1784. Lafayette remembered, and it delighted him greatly that the Indians were as eager to greet him as their white brothers.

Only one mishap occurred during the many journeys which might easily have proved full of perils. While ascending the Ohio River on his way to Louisville his steamer struck on a snag on a dark and rainy night. The boat immediately began to fill. Lafayette was hurried into a small boat and rowed ashore, in spite of his protests that he would not leave the steamer until he secured a snuff-box that Washington had given him. His secretary went below and got the snuff-box and his son George saved some other articles of value. All the party were safely landed, but they had to spend some hours on the river-bank with no protection from the rain and only a few crackers to eat. The next morning a freight steamer took them off and they proceeded on their journey.

[Illustration] from Lafayette for Young Americans by Rupert Holland


When he was in Washington Lafayette made a visit to Mount Vernon, and spent some time in the beautiful house and grounds where he had once walked with the man whose friendship had been so dear to him. Like Washington, almost all the men of the Revolution had departed. The Frenchman found few of the soldiers and statesmen he had known then. One, however, Colonel Nicholas Fish, who had been with him at the storming of the redoubt at Yorktown, welcomed him in New York and went with him up the Hudson. "Nick," said Lafayette, pointing out a certain height to Colonel Fish, "do you remember when we used to ride down that hill with the Newburgh girls on an ox-sled?" Many places along the Hudson served to remind him of incidents of the time when Washington had made his headquarters there.

In New York the Frenchman visited the widow of General Montgomery and Mrs. Alexander Hamilton. He found some old friends in Philadelphia and Baltimore. In Boston he saw again the venerable John Adams, who had been the second President of the country. He went to Thomas Jefferson's home of Monticello in Virginia, and passed some days with the man whom he revered almost as much as he did Washington. With Jefferson he talked over the lessons that were to be learned from the French Revolution and the career of Napoleon. And he met foreigners in the United States who called to mind the recent eventful days in his own land. He visited Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon's brother, at Bordentown in New Jersey. At Baltimore he found Dubois Martin, the man who as secretary to the Duke de Broglie had helped Lafayette to secure the ship in which he had first sailed to America. And at Savannah he discovered Achille Murat, the son of Joachim, the ex-king of Naples, one of the men Napoleon had placed upon a temporary throne, and learned that Murat was now cultivating an orange-orchard in Florida.

A man named Haguy came one hundred and fifty miles to see the General, and proved to be one of the sailors who had crossed on the Victory with him and had later fought under him in the Continental Army. Here and there he found veterans of his campaign in Virginia, and Lafayette was as glad to see his old soldiers as they were to welcome him.

Before he left for Europe John Quincy Adams, the son of the second President, was elected to succeed Monroe. The new President invited Lafayette to dine at the white House in company with the three ex-Presidents Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, all of them old and trusted friends of the Frenchman. What a dinner that must have been, with five such men at the table!

Perhaps the thing that delighted him most in America was the self-reliant independence that marked the people everywhere. This type of democracy was most inspiring to a man who had seen the constant turmoil and bickerings of the Revolution and Napoleonic era in France. America was young and her citizens were too busy developing their country to pay much attention to class distinctions or the social ambitions that were so prominent in Europe. They felt quite able to run their government to suit themselves, and it seemed to Lafayette that they were working out their problems in a most satisfactory manner.

In 1824 he witnessed a Presidential election with four candidates, Adams, Jackson, Clay, and Crawford. Party feelings ran high, and there was great excitement. But when the election was over the people settled down to their work again in remarkable harmony and the government continued its course serenely. This Lafayette, with his knowledge of other countries, regarded as evidence of a most unusual genius for self-control in the American nation.

All parties, all classes of men, praised and venerated him as they praised and venerated the founders of their republic. His tour was a tremendous popular success, the greatest reception ever given to a guest by the United States. It must have made up to him for the many disappointments of his career in France. And when he sailed for home he knew that the country to which he had given all he had in youth would never cease to love and honor him.

President John Quincy Adams at the White House, standing beside Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, said to Lafayette, "You are ours, sir, by that unshaken sentiment of gratitude for your services which is a precious portion of our inheritance; ours by that tie of love, stronger than death, which has linked your name for the endless ages of time with the name of Washington. At the painful moment of parting with you we take comfort in the thought that, wherever you may be, to the last pulsation of your heart, our country will ever be present to your affections. And a cheering consolation assures us that we are not called to sorrow, most of all that we shall see your face no more, for we shall indulge the pleasing anticipation of beholding our friend again. In the name of the whole people of the United States, I bid you a reluctant and affectionate farewell."

An American frigate, named the Brandywine, in compliment to Lafayette's first blow for liberty in America, carried the guest of the nation back to France. And the memory of that visit, and of what it stood for, has been kept green in American history ever since.