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: 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…”

How Much Are You Willing to Pay to Have Free Speech?

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James McHenry was born in Ireland in 1753. His Scots-Irish family send him to America in 1771 after he became sick from studying too hard. He may also have been sent to check out the colonies in anticipation of the entire family’s eventual immigration. In fact, a year later, the McHenry clan settled in what were then (for only a few years more) the British Colonies.

McHenry finished his studies in Philadelphia before serving as an apprentice under Benjamin Rush. You may remember Rush as the doctor/patriot who signed the Declaration of Independence, the founder of Dickinson College and the mentor/teacher of both Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis & Clark fame) and future president William Henry Harrison.

Perhaps influenced by Rush, or maybe the whole Philadelphia experience, McHenry joined the cause of the patriots. After the British captured and then released him, McHenry served on the staffs of both George Washington and General Lafayette.

Two things about McHenry stand out in his long and illustrious career as a Founding Father. It’s likely you don’t know his connection to either.Continue Reading “How Much Are You Willing to Pay to Have Free Speech?”

The Day Lafayette Touched Mendon

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His full name was Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de La Fayette. For short, he’s called the Marquis de La Fayette. If that doesn’t speak “wealth,” then what doesn’t? At least in his native France.

In traditionally egalitarian America, we know him simply as “Lafayette.” Coming from a family with a strong military tradition, he came to the New World in 1777 at the age of 19. Seeing the American Revolution as a noble cause, he joined the patriots and was immediately commissioned as a major general.

The title reflected more a sign of respect than of actual duty, for he was given no troops to command. Lafayette understood in America, one isn’t born to status, one must earn it.

And earn it, he did. He received his red badge of courage at the Battle of Brandywine. There, though wounded, he led an orderly retreat. His brave actions in the Battle of Rhode Island Continue Reading “The Day Lafayette Touched Mendon”

Low Bridge, Everybody Down

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By the time Thomas S. Allen wrote The Erie Canal Song (as the song is most commonly referred to) in 1905,1 the famous canal had already been in operation for 80 years. Allen chose the title Low Bridge, Everybody Down because the canal had just ditched the mules for steam power and he wanted to pay homage to the animal so critical to canal operations.2 That Allen celebrates the mule Sal tells us he’s commemorating a then not-too-distant past. Incidentally, the title wasn’t the only thing about the song that changed over the years, including, ironically, the word “years.” The original lyrics were “fifteen years on the Erie Canal” and  refers to the length of the partnership between Sal and his owner, while the new lyrics are “fifteen miles on the Erie Canal,” referring to how Continue Reading ““Low Bridge, Everybody Down””

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