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Marie-Joseph de La Fayette 1757-1834

Published on July 25, 2012
Born in 1757 in Chavaniac, in the province of Auvergne Marie-Joseph Paul Motier, Marquis de La Fayette, joined the King’s army at the age of fifteen. After only a year he received an officer commision. Married to the daughter of the Duke of Ayen, a member of the powerful de Noailles family, La Fayette had many important connections. He met Benjamin Franklin who soon rallied him to the American cause. In April 1777, disobeying the King’s orders, the young Marquis left for North America, where he commited himself to the service of the Continental Congress declaring, "It is in the hour of danger that I wish to share your fortune.’ Without any real military experience, and despite his letters of recommendation, he was rejected several times before being accepted as a Major in the Revolutionary Army. Soon after he had been injured at the battle of Brandywine, in September 1777, La Fayette was given command of a division. In 1778 he made a trip to Europe which lasted several months. When he returned to the revolutionary fray he had obtained a promise from Louis XVI for a French expeditionary force to help the Americans. After the siege of Yorktown and Cornwallis’ surrender, La Fayette returned to France, and in 1782 was made full Marshal. A leader among the liberal aristocrats, a deputy of the Auvergne, an abolitionist and a Freemason, he considered himself the "hero of liberty in two worlds," a French Washington. At first in favor of the French Revolution, he was named commander of the National Guard in July 1789, and later commander of the Northern armies. As an advocate of an enlightened monarchy, La Fayette deserted the French Revolutionary cause in 1792, following the arrest of the Royal Family.
Interned by the Austrians, he was set free in 1797 and returned to France where he stayed out of public life during the Consulate and Empire periods. A deputy under the Restoration, he returned to the United States in 1824 with his son, George Washington de La Fayette. Throughout his stay, which lasted more than a year, he was greeted as a returning hero. La Fayette visited more than 182 towns and left the country rich in memories, gift (23,000 acres of land in Florida) and silver. These were just rewards for a man who had freely given good part of his fortune and his life to support the noble cause of American independence. La Fayette died in Paris in 1834.
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