Peace Negotiations

“On the light of Liberty you saw arise the light of Peace, like
‘another morn,
Risen on mid-noon’;
and the sky on which you closed your eye was cloudless.”
LA FAYETTE in France was not unmindful of the interests of America.
Largely through his influence a grand armament was put in preparation by
France and Spain, to encounter the British power in the West Indies and
North America. Sixty vessels and twenty-four thousand men assembled at
Cadiz. La Fayette was appointed chief of the staff of both armies. These
vast preparations were looked upon by England with alarm, and quickened
their negotiations with the United States for arranging a peace.
At this time La Fayette wrote the following letter to Washington, dated
at Brest, December, 1782, and marked “_Tout-à-fait confidentielle_”:—
“MY DEAR GENERAL: My preceding letters have apprised you that though the
politicians speak much of peace, an expedition is about to take place,
of which the command has been given to Count d’Estaing. I will add that,
having been solicited to take part in it, I have accepted willingly,
thinking it was the only means in the world of succeeding in that which
you have charged me to obtain.
“Colonel Gouvion ought to be with you, and I refer, my dear General, to
that letter which I have sent to you by him; also to some notes which I
have written in cipher. _Les Antilles_ are the first object. Spain will
come after. We have nine ships of the line to send by the first
favorable wind. Your Excellency knows that the Count d’Estaing has gone
to Spain. We have the maritime superiority. Will you prepare your
propositions and your projects relative to New York, Charleston,
Penobscot, and the New World? A French vessel will be sent to America,
and from there, by your orders, to the West Indies.
“I will write you by the next opportunity. I have the honor of sending
to you, with this, a copy of a letter to Congress. I hope that you can
say that you are satisfied with my conduct. In truth, my dear General,
it is necessary to my happiness that you should think thus. When you are
absent, I strive to do that which seems to me that you would have
counselled if you had been present. I love you too much to be for a
moment satisfied unless I can think that you approve my conduct.
“They talk much of the peace. I think, _entre nous_, that the greatest
difficulty will come from the Spaniards, and, moreover, I believe that
the enemies are not sincere.
“They have piled up disputes and artifices _à propos_ to the question of
the American limits, and thus it rests. My opinion is, that at the
bottom of their hearts they are determined, if they can, to attempt to
bring about some turn of their affairs in the next campaign. God grant
that we shall be able to make a vigorous effort, particularly as regards
New York.
“I arrived here but yesterday morning, and am much occupied with the
affairs of the service.”
On the 20th of January, 1783, the final treaty was signed. La Fayette
was then at Cadiz preparing to sail to America, bearing the news of the
glad tidings of peace, when an occurrence took place which revealed the
unselfishness of his ambition, and the loyalty of his love for America.
Mr. Carmichael, who had been appointed by Congress _Chargé d’Affaires_
to the court of Madrid, was not received by the king of Spain in his
diplomatic relation, although that monarch had signed the treaty
acknowledging the independence of the States. In this emergency, Mr.
Carmichael wrote to La Fayette, seeking his aid. The marquis generously
determined to deprive himself of the great pleasure of announcing to
Washington the joyful news of the treaty; and he therefore sent a letter
to the President of Congress, communicating the tidings of peace, while
he himself hastened to Madrid to negotiate in behalf of the honor of
America; and he obtained from the king the full recognition of the
American ambassador in his official character.
The following is the memorable letter of La Fayette to Congress,
announcing the treaty of peace:—
“_To the President of Congress._
“CADIZ, Feb. 5, 1783.
“SIR: With such celerity as I can despatch a ship, I hope to inform
Congress of the news of a general peace. Moreover, such are my
sentiments under these circumstances that I cannot delay to present my
felicitations. These sentiments one can judge of better through a
knowledge of my heart, which, by means of such expressions, can only
feebly render its emotions.
“I remember our former times with pleasure and with pride. Our present
situation renders me happy. I behold in the future a tempting prospect.
“The preceding letters have made known to Congress how, until now, I had
the intention of leaving France. I have been detained by some
despatches. I refer to my letter of the 3d for a fuller explanation of
my conduct.
“Now the noble struggle is ended. I rejoice in the benefits of peace.
There are here anchored nine ships of the line, with twenty thousand
men, with whom the Count d’Estaing was about to join the combined forces
of the West Indies, and which would have co-operated with our American
army. It had even been arranged that while the Count d’Estaing was
employed elsewhere, I should enter the St. Lawrence at the head of a
French corps. For that which concerns myself, I have no regrets; but
independent of personal considerations, you know that I have always
longed for the addition of Canada to the United States.
“I promised myself to return to America after the peace. Notwithstanding
the pain of being detained, it is necessary to defer this voyage. Any
sacrifice will not be counted by me for the accomplishment of my duties;
and since it has pleased Congress to order that their ministers should
consult with me, my first interest is to merit their confidence.
“From my letter to M. Livingston, one can form an opinion of our
situation in Spain. They have demanded my aid, and I have given it. They
desire my services, and instead of departing for America I will go to
Madrid, which is so far from my plan; but I believe that it will be
better for me to go there during the residence of Mr. Jay in Paris; so
that nothing shall hinder me, unless Congress honors me with their
orders. I shall embark in the coming June, because I am very eager to
behold again the American shores.
“To-day our noble cause has triumphed; our independence is firmly
established; and American virtue has obtained its recompense. I hope no
efforts will be neglected to strengthen the federal union.
“May the states be always strongly united in a manner to defy European
intrigues! Upon such union will repose their importance and their
happiness. This is the first wish of a heart most truly American, and
which cannot refrain from expressing these words.
“I have the honor to be, with the greatest respect, etc.”
After divers negotiations attempted from the commencement of the year
1782, the preliminaries of a peace between France and England were
signed at Versailles, on the 20th of January, 1783, by M. de Vergennes
and Mr. Fitz-Herbert, plenipotentiary of his British Majesty. These
preliminaries were converted into a definite treaty of peace the 3d of
September, 1783. It was signed, for France, by M. de Vergennes; for
Spain, by the Count d’Aranda; and for England, by the Duke of
Manchester. The final treaty between Great Britain and the United States
was signed at Paris, Jan. 20, 1783, by Mr. David Hartly, on the one
side, and by Messrs. John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay, on the
other side. This sitting had also concluded at Paris the peculiar treaty
between Great Britain and the _états-généraux_ of Holland.
We cannot refrain from quoting also a portion of the delightful letter
written to Washington by La Fayette, of the same date as the above
communication, addressed to Congress.
“MY DEAR GENERAL: If you were such a man as Cæsar, or as the king of
Prussia, I should have been much grieved for you to behold the grand
tragedy terminated, in which you have played so great a rôle. But I
congratulate myself with my dear general over this peace which has
accomplished all our wishes.
“Recall to your mind our times at Valley Forge, and let the remembrance
of those past dangers and afflictions add greater joy to the happiness
of our present situation. What sentiments of pride and satisfaction I
feel in pondering upon the circumstances which determined my engagement
in the cause of America! As for you, my dear General, one can truly say
that it is all your work; such must be the sentiments of your good and
virtuous heart, in this happy moment which establishes and which crowns
the revolution which you have made.
“I feel that every one will envy the happiness of my descendants, as
they cherish and honor your name. To have had one of their ancestors
amongst your soldiers, to know that he had the happy fortune to be the
friend of your heart, will be an eternal honor in which they will glory;
and I shall bequeath to the eldest amongst them, down to the latest of
my posterity, the favor which you have been willing to confer upon my
son George.
“I was intending to go to America with the news of the peace. You know
me too well, my dear General, not to judge of the pleasure which I felt
in advance, at the hope of embracing you and being reunited to my
companions in arms. Nothing could please me so much as that delightful
prospect; but I have been suddenly forced to change the execution of my
favorite plan, and as I have had at last the happiness of receiving a
letter from you, I know that you will approve of my prolonging my
absence, for political motives.
“A copy both of my letter to Congress and that which I have written
officially to M. Livingston, requesting that they may be communicated to
you, will inform you more fully of the reasons which press me to depart
for Madrid. After that, I shall go to Paris, and in the month of June
embark for America. Happy, ten-times happy shall I be to embrace my dear
general, my father, my best friend, whom I cherish with an affection and
respect which I feel so deeply that I know it is impossible to express
“You will see by my letter to Congress that independently of the plans
which had been proposed to you, and for which were united immense forces
by sea and land, it had at length been decided that I should enter into
Canada. I have had the hope of embracing you at Montreal, when I was to
have been joined by a detachment of the army. The necessity of some
diversion secured for us the consent of Spain; but these projects have
vanished, and we ought to console ourselves in thinking of the happiness
of that part of the continent to which you have given deliverance.
“I am impatient, my dear General, to hear from you, and to inform you of
myself, for which purpose I send my servant by this vessel, and for whom
I have arranged that he be landed on the coast of Maryland. I hope to
receive your reply before leaving France, and I shall be then where I
wish to go. If you are at home, I will direct my way toward the
Chesapeake Bay.
“You cannot, my dear General, employ your influence more wisely than to
persuade the American people to strengthen the federal ties. This is a
task which appeals to your heart, and I consider this result as
necessary. Be assured that the European politicians will be disposed to
create a division amongst the states. This is the time when the powers
of Congress ought to be fixed, their possible limits determined, and the
Articles of Confederation revised. This work, which should interest all
the friends of America, is the last test; this is wanting to the
perfection of the temple of Liberty.
“And the army, my dear General! What is to be its future? I hope that
the country will be grateful. If it is otherwise, I shall be very
unhappy. Our part of the army, will they remain united? If not, I hope
that we shall not lose our noble titles as officers and soldiers of the
American army; and that in a time of danger we can be recalled from all
corners of the world, and reunited for the defence of a country which
has been so heroically saved.
“I am anxious to know the measures which will be taken. Truly, I count
upon your kindness to write me a very detailed letter, not only in the
public interests, but also because I have the desire to be informed of
all that which concerns you personally.
“Adieu! adieu, my dear General! If the Spaniards had common sense, I
should have been spared this wretched journey to Madrid, but I am called
there by a duty to America.
“Let us return, at present, to our own affairs; for I will urge you to
return to France with me. The best way to arrange it will be for Madame
Washington to accompany you. She will render Madame de La Fayette and
myself perfectly happy. I pray your Excellency to offer my compliments
to Tilghman, to George, to all the staff. Remember me to all my friends
in the army. Have the kindness to speak of me to your respected mother.
I wish her happiness, with all my soul. Adieu, yet once more, my dear
General, with all the sentiments, etc.”
La Fayette’s letter, bearing its weighty message, was sent in a
fast-sailing vessel appropriately named _The Triumph_. This ship arrived
in Philadelphia on the 23d of March, 1783, bringing to Congress the
intelligence of the treaty of peace. Testimonials in honor of La Fayette
were passed by Congress, and Washington wrote to him these words of
“It is easier for you to conceive, than for me to express, the
sensibility of my heart at the communication of your letter of the 5th
of February, from Cadiz. It is to these communications we are indebted
for the only account yet received of a general pacification. My mind,
upon the receipt of this intelligence, was instantly assailed by a
thousand ideas, all of them contending for pre-eminence; but, believe
me, my dear friend, none could supplant or ever will eradicate that
gratitude which has arisen from a lively sense of the conduct of your
nation, and to my obligations to many of its illustrious characters (of
whom, without flattery, I place you at the head), and from my admiration
of your august sovereign, who, at the same time that he stands confessed
the father of his own people, and the defender of American rights, has
given the most exalted example of moderation in treating with his
“The armament which was preparing at Cadiz, and in which you were to
have acted a distinguished part, would have carried such conviction with
it, that it is not to be wondered at that Great Britain should have been
impressed with the force of such reasoning. To this cause, I am
persuaded, the peace is to be ascribed. Your going to Madrid from
thence, instead of coming immediately to this country, is another
instance, my dear Marquis, of your zeal for the American cause, and lays
a fresh claim to the gratitude of her sons, who will at all times
receive you with open arms.”
American independence having been secured, La Fayette now interested
himself in advancing the commercial influence of America in France. The
whale fishery was an important American industry; and La Fayette, by
persevering efforts, secured a total exemption of duties on sixteen
thousand quintals of oil, to be furnished by merchants of Boston to the
contractor-general for lighting the cities of Paris and Versailles.
Regarding this he modestly wrote: “I worked very hard to bring even as
much as this about, and am happy at having at last obtained a point
which may be agreeable to New England and the people of Boston. I wish
they may, at large, know I did not neglect their affairs; and although
this is a kind of private bargain, yet as it amounts to a value of about
eight hundred thousand French livres, and government has been prevailed
upon to take off all duties, it must be considered a matter of no little
From the quiet retreat of Mount Vernon, Washington wrote to the marquis,
and renewed his previous invitation to visit him when peace should have
been accomplished. The weary warrior thus pictures his retired life:—
“At length I have become a private citizen on the banks of the Potomac;
and under the shadow of my own vine and fig-tree, free from the bustle
of the camp and the busy scenes of public life, I am solacing myself
with those tranquil enjoyments of which the soldier, who is ever in
pursuit of fame; the statesman, whose watchful days and sleepless nights
are spent in devising schemes to promote the welfare of his own, perhaps
the ruin of other countries (as if this globe was insufficient for us
all); and the courtier, who is always watching the countenance of his
prince, in the hope of catching a gracious smile, can have very little
conception. I have not only retired from all public employments, but am
retiring within myself, and shall be able to view the solitary walk and
tread the paths of private life with heart-felt satisfaction. Envious of
none, I am determined to be pleased with all; and this, my dear friend,
being the order of my march, I will move gently down the stream of life
until I sleep with my fathers.”
Again La Fayette turned his face toward the New Land of Liberty. He
arrived in New York in August, 1784, where he was received with
distinguished honors, and his journey to Philadelphia and Baltimore was
a succession of triumphs. Bells echoed from mountain-peak to hill-top,
cannon boomed their thunders of welcome, and old Revolutionary soldiers
gathered around their honored comrade with admiring respect. But he
hastened to the alluring heights of Mount Vernon, where his beloved
chief and general impatiently awaited his arrival. Twelve days of
delight he spent with Washington in that picturesque retreat.
Triumph after triumph yet awaited the nation’s guest, the now
illustrious but still youthful Marquis de La Fayette; loved better in
America as the valiant major-general than as the gentleman of rank. But
amid all the cities that strove to do him honor, Boston, this time,
outstripped them all. His ovation there occurred on the anniversary of
the surrender of Cornwallis, and the governor of the state, the
president the Senate, and the speaker of the House of Representatives
assembled in the great hall where thousands awaited to do him honor. The
apartment was brilliantly and appropriately ornamented, and emblems of
the thirteen states of the Union floated from arch and pillar. After
dinner thirteen patriotic toasts were drunk, followed each by thirteen
guns stationed in the square without. As the name of Washington was
spoken, and La Fayette arose to reply, a curtain behind the marquis was
mysteriously lifted, revealing a noble portrait of the great general
encircled with laurels and decorated with the entwined flags of America
and France. La Fayette, surprised and moved, regarded those loved
features with evident emotion, and his silent admiration was at length
broken by a voice exclaiming, “_Long live Washington!_” And the cry was
quickly taken up, and from all the people rose a shout of vociferous
applause, “_Long live Washington!_”
Congress, then assembled at Trenton, tendered a farewell to their
illustrious guest; and to the courtly greeting of Mr. Jay, chairman of
the committee appointed to wait upon him, La Fayette made this fitting
“_May this immense temple of Freedom ever stand a lesson to oppressors,
an example to the oppressed, and a sanctuary for the rights of mankind!_
and may these happy United States attain that complete splendor and
prosperity which will illustrate the blessings of their government, and
for ages to come rejoice the departed souls of its founders!”
And the echoes of La Fayette’s words come still rolling down the years,
“May this temple of Freedom stand!”
La Fayette’s parting from Washington was most tender and affecting. As
the old general pressed to his heart the youthful form of his beloved
and adopted son, tears filled his eyes, and La Fayette, too, looked
through dim mists, and both were proud to show their mutual love.
With a prophetic presentiment that they should never meet again,
Washington afterwards wrote to La Fayette these touching words:—
“In the moment of our separation, and every hour since, I have felt all
that love, respect, and attachment for you, with which length of years,
close connection, and your merits have inspired me. I often asked
myself, as our carriages separated, whether that was the last sight I
should ever have of you; and though I wished to say no, my fears
answered yes! I called to mind the days of my youth, and found that they
had fled to return no more; that I was now descending the hill I had
been fifty years climbing, and that, though I was blessed with a good
constitution, I was of a short-lived family, and might soon expect to be
entombed in the mansion of my fathers. These thoughts darkened the
shades and gave a gloom to the picture, and, consequently, to my
prospect of seeing you again.”
And truly this was their last meeting and their last parting on this
earth. When, in after years, La Fayette again visited America,
Washington slept under the sod at Mount Vernon, and the sorrowful
marquis could only satisfy his affectionate remembrance of that ideal
friendship by dropping his silent tears upon the tomb of his adopted
The following act to naturalize Major-General the Marquis de La Fayette
and his heirs male forever was passed November session, 1784, by the
Assembly of Maryland:—
“_Whereas_, the General Assembly of Maryland anxious to perpetuate a
name dear to the state, and to recognize the Marquis de La Fayette as
one of its citizens, who, at the age of nineteen, left his native
country, and risked his life in the late revolution; who, on his joining
the American army, after being appointed by Congress to the rank of
major-general, disinterestedly refused the usual reward of command, and
sought only to deserve, what he attained, the character of patriot and
soldier; who, when appointed to conduct an incursion into Canada, called
forth, by his prudence and extraordinary discretion, the approbation of
Congress; who, at the head of an army in Virginia baffled the
manœuvres of a distinguished general, and excited the admiration of
the oldest commanders; who early attracted the notice and obtained the
friendship of the illustrious General Washington; and who labored and
succeeded in raising the honor and name of the United States of America:
“_Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Maryland_, That the Marquis
de La Fayette and his heirs male forever shall be, and they, and each of
them, are hereby deemed, adjudged, and taken to be natural-born citizens
of this state, and shall henceforth be entitled to all the immunities,
rights, and privileges of natural-born citizens thereof, they and every
one of them, conforming to the constitution and laws of this state, in
the enjoyment and exercise of such immunities, rights, and privileges.”
A similar act was also passed by the legislature of Virginia.
La Fayette returned to Paris in January, 1785. During this year the
marquis visited the courts of many of the German princes, and was
everywhere received with marked distinction. But the fawning of
courtiers could not move La Fayette from his declared position as an
upholder of freedom. Even old Frederick the Great was forced to
acknowledge the power of the impulsive champion of liberty. La Fayette
was invited by the admiring tyrant to Sans Souci, and the Prussian
monarch treated him with distinguished consideration. Many were their
warm discussions upon liberty and the American Revolution, the success
of which made even the haughty old king tremble on his tottering throne.
In one of these conversations Frederick declared that the American
Republic would not last. “She will return to the good old system by and
by,” said he; to which La Fayette, with earnestness, replied: “Never,
Sire; never! Neither monarchy nor aristocracy can ever exist in America.
Do you believe that I went to America to obtain military reputation? It
was for liberty I went there. He who loves liberty can only remain quiet
after having established it in his own country.”
To which the old tyrant grimly and sarcastically answered: “Sir, I knew
a young man, who, after having visited countries where liberty and
equality reigned, conceived the idea of establishing the same system in
his own country. Do you know what happened to him?”
“No, Sire.”
“He was hanged,” said the old monarch, with a meaning smile.
When La Fayette took his leave of the Prussian warrior, Frederick
presented to the marquis his miniature set in diamonds, as a token of
his admiring regard. In La Fayette’s “Memoirs” he thus sketches
Frederick the Great as he appeared at the time of this visit:—
“I have been to Potsdam,” says the marquis, “to pay my court to the
king; and though I had heard much of his appearance, I was not fully
prepared to see him dressed in an old, ragged, dirty uniform, all
covered with Spanish snuff, his head leaning over one shoulder, and his
fingers almost dislocated with gout. But what surprised me most was the
fire, and occasionally the softness, in his eyes—the handsomest eyes I
have ever seen; so that his face can be as charming when he is pleased
as it can be stern and threatening at the head of his army. I was in
Silesia when he reviewed thirty-one battalions and seventy-five
squadrons—thirty thousand men in all, seventy-five hundred of them being
“It is with the greatest pleasure that I viewed the Prussian army!
nothing can be compared to the beauty of the troops,—to the discipline
which rules in all the ranks, to the simplicity and uniformity of their
movements. It is a perfectly regular machine, wound up these forty
years, and which has not suffered from other changes than those which
could render it more simple and more swift. All the situations which one
can suppose in a war, all the movements which ought to be introduced,
have been, by constant habit, so inculcated in their heads, that all
these operations are made almost mechanically.
“If the resources of France, the vivacity of her soldiers, the
intelligence of her officers, the national ambition, the delicate
sensibilities which they are known to possess, had been applied to a
system as well carried out, we should have been then as much ahead of
the Prussians as our army is at this moment inferior to theirs; and that
is much to say.

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“I have seen also the Austrians, but not all assembled. Their general
system of economy should be more admired than the manœuvres of their
troops. Their method is not simple; our regiments are better than
theirs, and such advantage as they could have in line over us, we could
with a little practice surpass them. I really believe that there is no
need for more instructions of details in some of our best regiments than
in those of the Prussians; but their manœuvres are infinitely
preferable to ours.
“In a week I dined with the Prussian king, his dinner lasting three
hours. The conversation was confined to the Duke of York, the king,
myself, and two or three others, so that I had plenty of opportunity to
listen to him, and to admire the vivacity of his wit and the charm of
his graciousness.
“At last I almost forgot he was a despot, selfish and severe. Lord
Cornwallis was there. The king placed him next me at table, and on his
other hand he had the son of the king of England; then he asked a
thousand questions on American affairs.”
This was surely a strange combination of circumstances and of guests;
but just this sort of ironical environments would delight the sarcastic
soul of the cunning old warrior.
La Fayette had an equally strange experience in America. During his
campaign in Virginia, in an action in which he was in command, General
Phillips was killed, and this general had been the officer who had
commanded the enemy’s troops at Minden when the father of La Fayette was
La Fayette met Cornwallis again in 1801, when the English lord came over
to Paris to negotiate a general peace.
American independence having been secured, La Fayette’s sympathies were
aroused in behalf of the oppressed African race. His soul abhorred
injustice of any sort, and when he met a wrong he always endeavored to
aid in righting it.
He did not content himself with æsthetically expressing his sympathy,
but his enthusiasm always led him to action. Whatsoever he did he
entered into with his whole might, and where there was wrong and
oppression, he felt himself called upon to devote his energies, his
position, and his purse in the cause of the oppressed. So greatly was he
moved in behalf of the negro slaves, that he wrote to Washington soon
after the American war as follows:—
“Permit me, my dear General, now that you are about to enjoy some
repose, to propose a plan for elevating the African race. Let us unite
in purchasing a small estate where we may try the experiment of freeing
the negroes, and use them only as tenants. Such an example as yours
would render the practice general; and if we should succeed in America,
I will cheerfully devote a part of my time to render the plan
fashionable in the West Indies. If it be a wild scheme, I would rather
be mad in that way than be thought wise on the other tack.” Although
Washington, Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, Madison, Patrick Henry, and
others cordially sympathized with him, nothing definite was done except
by the indefatigable La Fayette himself. Not waiting for others, he
purchased a plantation in Cayenne, upon which were a large number of
slaves, and in order to prepare them for gradual emancipation, he began
to fit them for their freedom by a thorough course of education.
Regarding this philanthropic act of La Fayette, his daughter Virginie
“An earnest wish to contribute to all that was good, and a horror for
all injustice, were prominent features in my mother’s character. It was,
therefore, with deep satisfaction that she witnessed my father’s efforts
in favor of the abolition of the slave trade. He purchased a plantation
at Cayenne, La Belle Gabrielle, in order to give the example of gradual
emancipation. Every just and liberal idea found a place in my mother’s
heart, and her active zeal made her seek ardently for every means of
putting them into immediate execution. My father entrusted her with all
the details of this undertaking, in which the desire of teaching the
negroes of that plantation the first principles of religion and of
morals was united with the wish she shared with my father of making them
worthy of liberty. Her charity was excited by the hope of teaching the
blacks to know and love God, and of proving to the free-thinkers who
sympathized with the negroes that the success of their undertaking would
be in great part due to religion. The events of the Revolution have not
allowed us to see these hopes realized, but we have at least had the
satisfaction of hearing that the negroes of La Belle Gabrielle did not
commit the atrocities which were perpetrated in other places.”
Regarding this philanthropic plan of La Fayette’s for the uplifting of
the negroes, Washington thus wrote to him in 1786: “Your late purchase
in Cayenne, with a view of emancipating your slaves, is a generous and
noble proof of your humanity. Would to God a like spirit might diffuse
itself generally into the minds of the people of this country! But I
despair of seeing it. Some petitions were presented to the Virginia
Assembly at its last session for the abolition of slavery, but they
could scarcely obtain a hearing. To set the slaves afloat at once would,
I really believe, be productive of much inconvenience and mischief; but
by degrees it certainly might, and assuredly ought, to be effected, and
that, too, by legislative authority.”
La Fayette also interested himself at this time in behalf of the
persecuted French Protestants. Though himself belonging to the Romish
Church, he was neither bigoted nor intolerant, and hated the tyranny of
priests as bitterly as the tyranny of kings.
In the midst of the sterner subjects regarding war and politics, which
form so large a part of the correspondence between Washington and La
Fayette, it may be pleasing to note the following homely little incident
which brings both men in somewhat closer relationship with lesser
mortals whose lives are made up of petty details and home affairs. In
the “Mémoires et Manuscrits” of La Fayette, a work published by his
family, in Paris, in 1837, and which has never been entirely translated
into English, only scattered letters having been from time to time
culled therefrom, for the various sketches given regarding the life of
La Fayette, we have noticed much valuable and interesting information
not elsewhere to be found.
Among the correspondence of General La Fayette many letters from
Washington were collected, several of which were quoted in their proper
chronological order, and of the date of June, 1786, we find the
following little note, which is interesting, as it takes us into the
home-circle at Mount Vernon, and shows us the goodly housewife in the
person of Lady Washington, and the kindly host rather than the stately
general in this picture of Washington. The note reads as follows:—
“MY DEAR MARQUIS: You will be astonished to see so ancient a date upon
the letter which I send you, if I did not say to you that the ship which
was to have carried this letter has since returned. Nothing new has
occurred since then, and I would not give you the weariness of a second
epistle, if I had not forgotten to say to you that Madam Washington
sends to Madame de La Fayette a cask of ham. I know not if these are
better, or even as good, as those in France, but these are of our own
making, and you know that the ladies of Virginia pride themselves upon
the excellence of their ham, and we remember that it was a dish much to
your taste. She has therefore desired that I offer them to you. I had
wished to send with them a barrel of old brandy peaches, but I have not
been able to procure enough of good quality to be placed by the side of
your luscious wines, and so I send them not. After all, these two gifts
would be more proper to offer as a ration after a long march in the rain
than to figure upon your table in Paris.”
The Honorable Chauncey M. Depew, in his memorial address, delivered at
the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, the gift of
France to America, thus ably comments upon the French alliance, and the
character of General La Fayette:—
“The French alliance, which enabled us to win our independence, is the
romance of history. It overcame improbabilities impossible in fiction,
and its results surpass the dreams of imagination. The most despotic of
kings, surrounded by the most exclusive of feudal aristocracies, sending
fleets and armies officered by the scions of the proudest of nobilities
to fight for subjects in revolt and the liberties of the common people,
is a paradox beyond the power of mere human energy to have wrought or
solved. The march of this mediæval chivalry across our states,
respecting persons and property as soldiers never had before, never
taking an apple or touching a fence-rail without permission and payment,
treating the ragged Continentals as if they were knights in armor and of
noble ancestry, captivating our grandmothers by their gallantry, and our
grandfathers by their courage, remains unequalled in the poetry of war.
It is the most magnificent tribute in history to the volcanic force of
ideas and the dynamitic power of truth, though the crust of the globe
imprison them. In the same ignorance and fearlessness with which a
savage plays about a powder magazine with a torch, the Bourbon king and
his court, buttressed by the consent of centuries and the unquestioned
possession of every power to the state, sought relief from cloying
pleasures and vigor for enervated minds in permitting and encouraging
the loftiest genius and the most impassioned eloquence of the time to
discuss the rights and liberties of man. With the orator the themes were
theories which fired only his imagination, and with the courtiers they
were pastimes or jests. Neither speakers nor listeners saw any
application of these ennobling sentiments to the common mass and
grovelling herd whose industries they squandered in riot and debauch,
and whose bodies they hurled against battlement and battery to gratify
ambition or caprice. But these revelations illuminated many an ingenuous
soul among the young aristocracy, and with distorted rays penetrated the
Cimmerian darkness which enveloped the people. They bore fruit in the
heart and mind of one youth, to whom America owes much, and France
everything,—the Marquis de La Fayette. As the centuries roll by, and in
the fulness of time the rays of Liberty’s torch are the beacon lights of
the world, the central niches in the earth’s Pantheon of Freedom will be
filled by the figures of Washington and La Fayette.
“It is idle now to speculate whether our fathers could have succeeded
without the French alliance. The struggle would have been indefinitely
prolonged and probably compromised. But the alliance secured our
triumph, and La Fayette secured the alliance. The fabled argosies of
ancient, and the armadas and fleets of modern, times were commonplace
voyages compared with the mission enshrined in this inspired boy. He who
stood before the Continental Congress and said, ‘I wish to serve you as
a volunteer, and without pay,’ and at twenty took his place with Gates,
and Green, and Lincoln as major-generals in the Continental army. As a
member of Washington’s military family, sharing with that incomparable
man his board, and bed, and blanket, La Fayette won his first and
greatest distinction in receiving from the American chief a friendship
which was closer than that bestowed upon any other of his compatriots,
and which ended only in death. The great commander saw in the reckless
daring with which he carried his wound to rally the flying troops at
Brandywine, the steady nerve with which he held the column wavering
under a faithless general at Monmouth, the wisdom and caution with which
he manœuvred inferior forces in the face of the enemy, his
willingness to share every privation of the illy-clad and starving
soldiery, and to pledge his fortune and credit to relieve their
privations, a commander upon whom he could rely, a patriot he could
trust, a man he could love.
“The surrender of Burgoyne at Saratoga was the first decisive event of
the war. It defeated the British plan to divide the country by a chain
of forts up the Hudson and conquer it in detail. It inspired hope at
home and confidence abroad. It seconded the passionate appeals of La
Fayette and the marvellous diplomacy of Benjamin Franklin; it overcame
the prudent counsels of Necker, warning the king against this
experiment; and won the treaty of alliance between the old Monarchy and
the young Republic. La Fayette now saw that his mission was in France.
He said, ‘I can help the cause more at home than here.’ and asked for
leave of absence. Congress voted him a sword and presented it with a
resolution of gratitude, and he returned, bearing this letter from that
convention of patriots to his king, ‘We recommend this young nobleman to
your Majesty’s notice, as one whom we know to be wise in council,
gallant in the field, and patient under the hardships of war.’ It was a
certificate which Marlborough might have coveted, and Gustavus might
have worn as the proudest of his decorations. But though king and court
vied with each other in doing him honor, though he was welcomed as no
Frenchman had ever been by triumphal processions in the cities and fêtes
in villages, by addresses and popular applause, he reckoned them of
value only in the power they gave him to procure aid for Liberty’s fight
in America. ‘France is now committed to war,’ he argued, ‘and her
enemy’s weak point for attack is in America. Send there your money and
men.’ And he returned with the army of Rochambeau and the fleet of De
“‘It is fortunate,’ said De Maurepas, the prime minister, ‘that La
Fayette did not want to strip Versailles of its furniture for his dear
Americans, for nobody could withstand his ardor.’ None too soon did this
assistance arrive, for Washington’s letter to the American commissioners
in Paris passed it on the way, in which he made this urgent appeal: ‘If
France delays a timely and powerful aid in the critical posture of our
affairs, it will avail us nothing should she attempt it hereafter. We
are at this hour suspended in the balance. In a word, we are at the end
of our tether, and now or never deliverance must come.’ General
Washington saw in the allied forces now at his disposal that the triumph
of independence was assured. The long, dark night of doubt and despair
was illuminated by the dawn of a hope. The material was at hand to carry
out the comprehensive plans so long matured, so long deferred, so
patiently kept. That majestic dignity which had never bent to adversity,
that lofty and awe-inspiring reserve which presented an impenetrable
barrier to familiarity, either in council or at the festive board, so
dissolved in the welcome of these decisive visitors that the delighted
French and the astounded American soldiers saw Washington for the first
and only time in his life express his happiness with all the joyous
effervescence of hilarious youth.
“The flower of the young aristocracy of France, in their brilliant
uniforms, and the farmers and frontiersmen of America, in their faded
continentals, bound by a common baptism of blood, became brothers in the
knighthood of liberty. With emulous eagerness to be in at the death,
while they shared the glory, they stormed the redoubts at Yorktown, and
compelled the surrender of Cornwallis and army. While this practically
ended the war, it strengthened the alliance and cemented the friendship
between the two great peoples. The mutual confidence and chivalric
courtesy which characterized their relations has no like example in
international comity. When an officer from General Carlton, the British
commander-in-chief, came to headquarters with an offer of peace and
independence, if the Americans would renounce the French alliance,
Washington refused to receive him; Congress spurned Carlton’s secretary
bearing a like message; and the states, led by Maryland, denounced all
who entertained propositions of peace which were not approved by France
as public enemies. And peace with independence meant prosperity and
happiness to a people in the very depths of poverty and despair. France,
on the other hand, though sorely pressed for money, said, in the
romantic spirit which permeated this wonderful union: ‘Of the 27,000,000
livres we have loaned you, we forgive you 9,000,000 as a gift of
friendship, and when with years there comes prosperity, you can pay the
balance without interest.’
“With the fall of Yorktown La Fayette felt that he could do more for
peace and independence in the diplomacy of Europe than in the war in
America. His arrival in France shook the continent. Though one of the
most practical and self-poised of men, his romantic career in the New
World had captivated courts and peoples. In the formidable league which
he had quickly formed with Spain and France, England saw humiliation and
defeat, and made a treaty of peace by which she recognized the
independence of the Republic of the United States.
“The fight for liberty in America was won. Its future here was
threatened with but one danger,—the slavery of the negro. The soul of La
Fayette, purified by battle and suffering, saw the inconsistency and the
peril, and he returned to this country to plead with state legislatures
and with Congress for the liberation of what he termed ‘my brethren, the
blacks.’ But now the hundred years’ war for liberty in France was to
begin. America was its inspiration, La Fayette its apostle, and the
returning French army its emissaries. Beneath the trees by day and in
the halls at night, at Mount Vernon, La Fayette gathered from Washington
the gospel of freedom. It was to sustain and guide him in after years
against the temptations of power and the despair of the dungeon. He
carried the lessons and the grand example through all the trials and
tribulations of his desperate struggle and partial victory for the
enfranchisement of his country. From the ship, on departing, he wrote to
his great chief, whom he was never to see again, this touching good by:
‘You are the most beloved of all the friends I ever had or shall have
anywhere. I regret that I cannot have the inexpressible pleasure of
embracing you in my own house, and welcoming you in a family where your
name is adored. Everything that admiration, respect, gratitude,
friendship, and filial love can inspire is combined in my affectionate
heart to devote me most tenderly to you. In your friendship I find a
delight which no words can express.’ His farewell to Congress was a
trumpet blast which resounded round a world then bound in the chains of
despotism and caste. Every government on the continent was an absolute
monarchy, and no language can describe the poverty and wretchedness of
the people. Taxes levied without law exhausted their property; they were
arrested without warrant, and rotted in the Bastile without trial, and
they were shot as game, and tortured without redress, at the caprice or
pleasure of their feudal lords. Into court and camp this message came
like the handwriting on the wall at Belshazzar’s feast. Hear his words:
‘May this immense temple of freedom ever stand a lesson to oppressors,
an example to the oppressed, a sanctuary for the rights of mankind, and
may these happy United States attain that complete splendor and
prosperity which will illustrate the blessings of their government, and
for ages to come rejoice the departed souls of its founders.’ Well might
Louis the Sixteenth, more far-sighted than his ministers, exclaim,
‘After fourteen hundred years of power the old monarchy is doomed.’”