Lafayette’s Farewell Tour: Why Lafayette?

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Lafayette (right) and Washington at Valley Forge. By John Ward Dunsmore (1907)

America stood poised on the cusp of celebrating the golden anniversary of its birth as a nation. With all the rising patriotism came a burst of nostalgia. America’s first and greatest generation—the heroes of the Revolutionary War—were fast leaving their mortal coil. The heirs of that founding cohort desperately wanted one last chance to hear the tales of that victory from those that were there.

Of all the people they might select to focus on, why choose a Frenchman born to the aristocracy?

Well, for one thing, his life story shows he had long ago shorn off the mantle of gentry. Indeed, he not only had the physical scars of Brandywine to prove it, he also had the Continue Reading “Lafayette’s Farewell Tour: Why Lafayette?”

Lafayette’s Tour: America Welcomes The Nation’s Guest

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Landing of Gen. Lafayette at Castle Garden, New York, 16th August 1824, artist unknown, 1886. Public domain from The New York Public Library

The Cadmus, having departed from Havre on July 13, 1824, had been at sea for thirty-two days before seeing land on the horizon. On Saturday, August 14th, the passengers and crew spotted their destination.1 New York Harbor would present the ideal place to make their inaugural landing. The Cadmus would reach that port early the next morning.

The Committee appointed by the Common Council of the City of New York was busy putting the finishing touches on the celebration to welcome Lafayette. It had arranged for a “suite of splendid apartments in the City Hotel” to be set aside for The Nation’s Guest and his party. Besides the military display (anticipated to include 20,000 men), the City planned to host “a great civic feast, in the Banqueting Room in the City Hall, which will be illuminated at night, together with the whole City.” To make a memorable first impression upon entering the Harbor, “a grand salute of 100 guns will be fired from Fort Lafayette, together with salutes from the Batteries and ships of war in the harbor, and the decoration of all the shipping.”2

So, America’s largest city was more than prepared to host The Nation’s Guest. Only, not on Continue Reading “Lafayette’s Tour: America Welcomes The Nation’s Guest”

Lafayette’s Tour: And The Lucky Winner Is…

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The nation waited anxiously for a formal response to President James Monroe’s invitation to General Lafayette. In March and April of 1824, newspapers across the country printed letters hinting that Lafayette had prior commitments.

To Major Joseph Wheaton of Washington came word from Lafayette that “…duties to the cause of freedom make it, if not a matter of hope, at least a point of honor, to keep his present post.”1 Similarly, Lafayette wrote to Dr. James Thatcher, “At this moment a sense of duty keeps me on the European side of the Atlantic.”2

While the papers proclaimed these missives as “the latest communication from Lafayette,”3 they were months old by the time they hit the press. It wasn’t as if Lafayette disliked America. In truth, he loved his adopted country. He wrote his good friend William Eustis, Continue Reading “Lafayette’s Tour: And The Lucky Winner Is…”

Lafayette’s Tour: America In 1824

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The year is 2024. Do you remember 2018? If you’re a political junkie, you may recall it was the year Brett Kavanaugh won confirmation to the Supreme Court. If you enjoy reading People Magazine, then you’ll note it was the year Meghan Markle married into the British royal family. If you prefer business, it was the year both Sears and Toys ‘R’ Us declared bankruptcy.

If you’re an adult, each of those stories endure vividly in your memory. They don’t seem that far distant. And if any of those subject areas carry emotional weight with you, those scars remain to this day.

Now imagine the year 1824. What major event happened in the year 1818 that sticks in Continue Reading “Lafayette’s Tour: America In 1824”

Lafayette’s Tour: A Message From An Old Friend

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By February of 1824, the foreign press had finally revealed the extent of Lafayette’s legal troubles. He had already brought forth the wrath from the newly restored Bourbon monarchy.

In 1814, Napoleon was exiled to Elba. King Louis XVIII was restored to the crown his brother Louis XVI lost his head over during the French Revolution. Napoleon returned briefly in 1815, but quickly (after his defeat at Waterloo 100 days later) returned to exile, this time for good.

With that, the Bourbon Restoration commenced in full bloom. Lafayette, who had remained dormant following his wife’s death, was convinced to return to politics. In 1818 he wasContinue Reading “Lafayette’s Tour: A Message From An Old Friend”

Lafayette’s Tour: The Duty That Held Him Back

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Take a look at his name: Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de La Fayette, Marquis de La Fayette. It exudes aristocracy. With Lafayette, that was a mixed blessing.

On one hand, it meant he benefited from an elite schooling in proper behavior. On the other hand, it meant proper behavior shackled him. It would make him a hero to some. It would also earn him real shackles.

Born in south central France on September 6, 1757, he followed in the military tradition footsteps of both sides of his family. On his father’s side, one of his ancestors served as a Marshal of France and accompanied Joan of Arc’s army during the Siege of Orléans in 1429. His maternal great-grandfather commanded the Second Company of Musketeers (a.k.a., the “Black Musketeers”) until his retirement in 1770.1

For the curious, the “Black Musketeers” had black horses while the First Company “Grey Musketeers” mounted gray horses. The Musketeers were a special forces unit that Continue Reading “Lafayette’s Tour: The Duty That Held Him Back”

Lafayette’s Tour: What Took Congress So Long?

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Senator Robert Y. Hayne, South Carolina, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

James Monroe entered the final year of his second term feeling good. It was, after all, the “Era of Good Feelings.” In eight years, the nation’s fifth President had accomplished much. His country had many things to feel good about.

And there was more coming.

Monroe’s decision to not seek reelection confirmed the tradition of the self-imposed limit of two terms as president. Before this, however, people had a legitimate thought that Monroe would run for an unprecedented third term. He had other thoughts. In a way, they were bigger thoughts.

But he had to wait for a slow-moving Congress to give the thumbs-up.

It seems several citizens took it upon themselves to invite Lafayette to return to the nation where he first made his mark in history. While they weren’t necessarily serving in Continue Reading “Lafayette’s Tour: What Took Congress So Long?”

Lafayette’s Tour: It Was Twenty Decades Ago…

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Two hundred years ago, in January 1824, a struggling Congress asked President James Monroe to dispatch an invitation across the ocean to the only surviving general of the American Revolutionary War. The fifth President of the United States and the last Founding Father to fill that role, Monroe wanted to send a message—on both sides of the Pond.

It was a time of transition. It was a time of hope. It was a time to remember.

Domestically, America had just won its second war of independence from Great Britain. This one-time adversary had now fast become a firm ally. Concurrently, the old monarchies of Europe reappeared, threatening to undo the republican movement in the western hemisphere.

On the verge of his sixty-seventh birthday, Monroe accomplished much by the end of his second term despite a series of controversies and setbacks that marred his first four years as President. Initially elected to the nation’s highest office in 1816, Monroe set his focus on Continue Reading “Lafayette’s Tour: It Was Twenty Decades Ago…”

50 Years Ago—A Reflection On Star Trek: The Animated Series

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What were you doing in September 1973? Were you listening to Art Garfunkel’s first solo album? Watching Billie Jean King beat loud-mouth Bobby Riggs in straight sets? Or how about cheering as the Oakland Raiders’ Ken Stabler threw the winning touchdown pass to give the hated Miami Dolphins their first loss in 18 games?

Well, if you were me, you excitedly anticipated the realization of what you spent years waiting for: the first airing of a new Star Trek episode.

Of course, this would be an animated episode, but at least it would feature the voices of the original crew (except for Chekhov, that is).

Diligently watching the series also presented one of my first moral dilemmas. There was only one thing I liked better than Star Trek (and astronomy and the space program). It was Continue Reading “50 Years Ago—A Reflection On Star Trek: The Animated Series”

The Role Of The Historian

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It’s early Saturday morning and I’m driving through history on my way to history. Like the hills I’m traveling through, the rain ebbs and flows in calm undulating waves.

“Calm” and “undulating” might not go together at first glance but think of sinusoidal waves. They move up and down with precise regularity. That regularity equates to calmness. The “up and down” represents “undulation” defined.

Such is the role of the historian, who commands the log of the human ship through waves of foible fads, ever trying to keep it calm and undamaged, despite its erratic and often misguided crew.

“Memory, thy name be frailty.” The metaphor of this butchered Shakespearian quote suggests the theme of this essay. It also represents the burden of the historian.Continue Reading “The Role Of The Historian”

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