Lafayette for Young Americans - Rupert Holland

The Lover of Liberty

The frigate Brandywine reached Havre on October 5, 1825. The French people had heard of the wonderful reception given Lafayette by the United States and now they, in their turn, wanted to welcome the returning hero of liberty. But the Bourbon king who sat on the throne of France and the royalists disliked Lafayette so much that they did their best to prevent the people from greeting him. It was only after a long discussion that the forts of the harbor at Havre were permitted to return the salute of the Brandywine, and at Rouen, while citizens were serenading their hero beneath the windows of the house where he was staying, officials of the government ordered a troop of soldiers to charge upon the crowd and disperse it with drawn swords. The people, however, insisted on honoring their famous fellow-countryman. They, as well as the Bourbon king, saw in him the patriot and champion of independence. Louis XVIII. had been succeeded on the throne by his brother, Charles X., and the latter said of Lafayette, "There is a man who never changes." And the people knew this, and honored the General for his lifelong devotion to their cause.

He went back to his quiet family life at Lagrange. Prominent statesmen came to hint for advice, but be rarely went to Paris. The nobility had been restored to their ancient social standing, and Lafayette was urged to resume his title of marquis. He refused to do this, however, and the refusal embittered the royalists even more against him. The Bourbon government feared his influence in 1825, ,just as the aristocrats had feared it in 1785, the Jacobins in 1795, and Napoleon in 1805.

Yet Charles X. could not always conceal the fact that he had a strong personal liking for the old republican. One day in 1829 the newspapers announced that Lafayette was ill. The King met several members of the Chamber of Deputies. "Have you any news of Monsieur de Lafayette?" asked King Charles. "How is he?"

"Much better, sire," answered a deputy.

"Ah! I am very glad of it!" said the King. "That is a man whom I like much, and who has rendered services to our family that I do not forget. We have always encountered each other, although moving in opposite directions; we were born in the same year; we learned to ride on horseback together at the Versailles riding-school, and he belonged to my bureau in the Assembly of the Notables. I take a great deal of interest in him."

King Charles and his friends, however, paid no attention to the new spirit that was awake in France. The people had won a constitution, but the King tried to limit it as far as he could and to override it in some ways. He roused the resentment of the country by trying to bring back the old extravagance of his ancestors, and he even dared to attempt to intimidate the Chamber of Deputies. In 1829 he dissolved the National Assembly and appointed as ministers men who had won the hatred of the nation for their autocratic views. The gauntlet was thrown down between king and people, and the latter were not slow to pick it up.

At this time Lafayette happened to be traveling to Chavaniac, where his son now lived. He was greeted at every town with the usual marks of respect. At Puy he was given a public dinner, and toasts were drunk to "The charter, to the Chamber of Deputies, the hope of France!" When he reached the city of Grenoble he was met by a troop of horsemen, who escorted him to the gates. There citizens presented him with a crown of oak leaves made of silver "as a testimony of the gratitude of the people, and as an emblem of the strength with which the inhabitants of Grenoble, following his example, will sustain their rights and the constitution."

All along his route he was greeted with cheers and expressions that showed the people looked to him to protect their rights. At Lyons a speaker protested against the recent unlawful acts of the King and spoke of the situation as critical. "I should qualify as critical the present moment," Lafayette replied, "if I had not recognized everywhere on my journey, and if I did not perceive in this powerful city, the calm and even scornful firmness of a great people which knows its rights, feels its strength, and will be faithful to its duties."

Through the winter of 1829-30 the hostile attitude of Charles X. to his people continued. The new Chamber of Deputies was rebellious, and again the King dissolved it and ordered fresh elections. The country elected new deputies who were even more opposed to the King than the former ones had been. Then King Charles, urged on by his ministers, resolved to take a decisive step, to issue four edicts revoking the liberty of the press and taking from the deputies their legal powers. "Gentlemen," said the King to his ministers as he signed the edicts, "these are grave measures. You can count upon me as I count upon you. Between us, this is now a matter of life and death."

The King had virtually declared war on the country. The country answered by taking up arms. The royal troops in Paris, moving to take control of important points in the city, were met by armed citizens who fought them in the streets. Marmont, head of the King's military household, sent word to Charles, "It is no longer a riot, it is a revolution. It is urgent that your Majesty should adopt measures of pacification. The honor of the crown may yet be saved; to-morrow perhaps it will be too late."

King Charles paid no heed. The citizens defeated the royal troops, and in a few days had them besieged in their headquarters. Then the deputies turned to Lafayette and urged him to accept the position of commander of the National Guard, the same position he had held many years before. "I am invited," he answered, "to undertake the organization of the defense. It would be strange and even improper, especially for those who have given former pledges of devotion to the national cause, to refuse to answer the appeals addressed to them. Instructions and orders are demanded from me on all sides. My replies are awaited. Do you believe that in the presence of the dangers which threaten us immobility suits my past and present life? No! My conduct at seventy-three years of age shall be what it was at thirty-two."

Lafayette took command of the Guards and quickly had the city of Paris in his possession. Only then did King Charles, fearing alike for his crown and his life now, consent to sign a new ordinance revoking his former edicts. Commissioners brought the ordinance of the King to Lafayette at the Hotel de Ville. "It is too late now," Lafayette declared. "We have revoked the ordinances ourselves. Charles X. has ceased to reign."

The question now was as to the new form of government for the country. The people still remembered the days of the Reign of Terror and were not ready for a real republic. The Duke of Orleans, who had opposed King Charles, was very popular, and it was decided to appoint him lieutenant-general of the nation. The people would have liked to have Lafayette as their governor. The French captain of the ship that carried the fugitive Charles X. away from France, said to the ex-King, "If Lafayette, during the recent events, had desired the crown, he could have obtained it. I myself was a witness to the enthusiasm that the sight of him inspired among the people."

But Lafayette did not want the crown, nor even to be the constitutional head of the nation. It seemed to him best that the Duke of Orleans should receive the crown, not as an inheritance, but as a free gift of the people accompanied by proper limitations. So he took steps to have the country accept the Duke as its new ruler.

The people of France had at last become an important factor in deciding on their own form of government. The Duke of Orleans, better known as Louis Philippe, did not seize the crown, as earlier kings had done; he waited until the Chamber of Deputies and Lafayette, representing the nation, offered it to him, and then he accepted it as a republican prince. The deputies marched with the Duke to the Hotel de Ville, and as they went through the streets there were more shouts of "Vive la liberté!"  than there were of "Vive le Duc d'Orleans!"  Liberty meant far more to the people now than a king did, and Prince Louis Philippe knew it. As he went up the stairs of the Hotel de Ville he said conciliatingly to the armed men among whom he passed, "You see a former National Guard of 1789, who has come to visit his old general."

Lafayette had always wanted a constitutional monarchy for France; he knew Louis Philippe well, being allied to him through marriage with the Noailles family, and he believed that the Duke would make a capable ruler, his authority being limited by the will of the people. So when Louis Philippe came to him at the Hotel de Ville Lafayette placed a tricolored flag in the Duke's hand, and leading him to a window, embraced him in full sight of the great throng in the street. The people had been undecided; they did not altogether trust any royal prince; but when they saw Lafayette's act, they immediately followed his lead, and cheers for the constitution and the Duke greeted the men at the window.

Lafayette had given France her new ruler, declining the crown for himself, even as Washington had done in the United States. He made it clear to the new king that he expected him to rule according to the laws. He said to Louis Philippe, "You know that I am a republican and that I regard the Constitution of the United States as the most perfect that has ever existed."

"I think as you do," answered Louis Philippe. "It is impossible to have passed two years in America and not to be of that opinion. But do you believe that in the present situation of France and in accordance with general opinion that it would be proper to adopt it?"

"No," said Lafayette; "what the French people want to-day is a popular throne surrounded by republican institutions."

"Such is my belief," Louis Philippe agreed.

Charles X. had fled from his kingdom before Lafayette and the people even as his brother Louis XVIII. had once fled from it before Napoleon and the people. On August 9, 1830, the Duke of Orleans entered the Palais Bourbon, where the Chambers were assembled, as lieutenant-general of the kingdom, and left it as Louis Philippe, King of the French. The constitution which he had sworn to obey was not, like former charters, a favor granted by the throne, but was the organic law of the land, to the keeping of which the sovereign was as much bound as the humblest of his subjects. Lafayette and the people had at last won a great victory for independence after all the ups and downs of the Revolution and the days of Napoleon.

As Lafayette marched his reorganized National Guard, thirty thousand strong, in review before the King, it was clear that the General was the most popular, as well as the most powerful, man in France. And at the public dinner that the city of Paris gave him on August fifteenth, when he congratulated his fellow-citizens on the success and valor with which they had defended their liberties and besought them to preserve the fruits of victory by union and order, he could justly feel that a life devoted to the cause of freedom had not been spent in vain.

The coming years were to show that the people of France had much yet to learn about self-government, but when one contrasts the results of the revolution of 1830 with that of 1789 one sees how far they had progressed in knowledge.

Lafayette's presence was needed at Louis Philippe's court to act as a buffer between the sovereign and the people, and again and again he saw revealed the truth of the old adage, "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown." Presently a revolution in Belgium left the throne of that country vacant and it was offered to Lafayette. "What would I do with a crown!" he exclaimed. "Why, it would suit me about as much as a ring would become a cat!"

The duties of his office as Commander of the National Guard, the tact that was constantly required of him as intermediary between the people and the royal court began to wear upon him, and he soon resigned his position as Commander. Then, as a member of the Chamber of Deputies, he continued his political labors. In time he saw many incidents that pointed in the direction of new aggressions on the part of the King, and he even came to believe that the fight for liberty was not yet won and never would be so long as a Bourbon occupied the throne of France. But he wanted the desired end to be reached by peaceful means, constantly preached loyalty to the government they had founded as the chief duty of the nation, and when, in 1832, a new revolution seemed imminent he would have no part in it and by his indignant words quickly brought the attempt to an end. He was now seventy-seven years old and great-grandchildren played about his knees at his home at Lagrange.

His work for France and for America and for the world was done. In the spring of 1834 he caught a severe cold, which sapped his strength. On May twentieth of that year he died, having worked almost to the last on problems of government. As his funeral wound through the streets of Paris to the little cemetery of Picpus, in the center of the city, a great throng followed. On that day church-bells tolled in France, Belgium, Poland, Switzerland, and England. All nations that loved liberty honored the great apostle of it. In the United States the government and the army and navy paid to Lafayette's memory the same honors they had given to Washington, the Congress of the United States went into mourning for thirty days and most of the people of the nation followed its example. America vowed never to forget the French hero; and America never has.

Men have sometimes said that Lafayette's enthusiasm was too impulsive, his confidence in others too undiscriminating, his goal too far beyond the reach of his times; but these were the marks of his own sincere and ardent nature. He was remarkably consistent in all the sudden shiftings of an age full of changes. Other men had sought favor of the Jacobins, of Napoleon, and of Louis XVIII. as each came into power; but Lafayette never did. All men knew where he stood. As Charles X. said of him, "There is a man who never changes." He stood fast to his principles, and by standing fast to them saw them ultimately succeed.

He was a man who made and held strong friends. Washington, Jefferson, and Fox loved him as they loved few others. Napoleon and Charles X. could not resist the personal attraction of this man whom neither could bribe and whom both feared. Honesty was the keynote of his character, and with it went a simplicity and generosity that drew the admiration of enemies as well as of friends.

He had done a great deal for France, he had done as much for the United States. He was a man of two countries and two revolutions; and never once, throughout the difficult course of events in which he played a leading part, did he swerve from his high ideal of liberty. The world loves a knight-errant, and such was this boy of Chavaniac, this brother-in-arms of Washington, this commander of the National Guard of France, this patriot who suffered imprisonment and exile, this friend of the Rights of Man. The United States took Lafayette as one of its heroes early in its career; it has cherished him ever since; his love of liberty has been a bond that has united two great nations in friendship and admiration. He was the great apostle of freedom and justice, one of the truest servants of men in the annals of history.