Samuel G. (Samuel Griswold) Goodrich.

Lives of benefactors; online

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practical good sense, and of great shrewdness with the
strictest integrity of principle. The greatest worldly
honors — and few have attained higher — could not for
a moment make him forget or deviate from the prin-
ciples with which he started in life.

We must not deny that a careful examination of
Franklin's history will display some unworthy acts,
and certain defects of character ; yet his life, on the
whole, has proved to be one of the most useful and
effective among the annals of our race. His scien-
tific discoveries, his useful inventions, his political
services — vakiable as they were — we do not reckon
as his highest benefactions to his country or man-
kind. He has contributed more than any other
individual in modern times, to teach the working
classes to feel their power, and to assert their rights.
He has taught them, as well by precept as example,
the certain steps by which they can ascend in the
scale of society ; and hundreds of thousands have
been thus led from stations of poverty and ignorance,
to the most elevated positions in society. He has
done much to level down the distinctions in society;
to remove the artificial barriers which pride and
vanity set up to provoke envy and strife. He has
made the humble to feel their strength, and taught the
mighty to respect the rights which that strength can
vindicate. His spirit has breathed over the civilized
world, everywhere tending to inculcate the principle
of equal rights. Nor is this all. He has put in cir-
culation a thousand homespun truths — stamped and
~eady for change at the turnpike gates of life's every-



day journey — all teaching economy, and industry,
and thrift. If the wealth, comfort, happiness, and
prosperity, created by Franklin's maxims and Frank-
lin's example, — not in these states only, but in Euro-
pean countries, — could be told, it would furnish a
splendid monument to attest his benefactions to his
country and his kind.


Gilbert Mottier de La Fayette was born at
the castle of Chavaniac, in Auvergne, on the Gth of
September, 1757. His family was one of the most
ancient in the country, and of the highest rank in the
French nobility. As far back as the fifteenth cen-
tury, one of his ancestors, a marshal of France, was

*"\Ve have taken the. greater part of this article from the
splendid Eulogy of La Fayette, delivered by Edward Everett,
at Fnneuil Hall, at the request of the young men of Boston,
September 6, 1831 To the original we refer the reader for the
best sketch of the life and character of La Fayette that has ever


distinguished for his military achievements ; his uncle
fell in the wars of Italy, in the middle of the last cen-
tury ; and his father lost his life in the seven years'
war at the battle of Minden.

His mother died soon after, and he was thus left
an orphan at an early age, the heir of an immense
estate, and exposed to all the dangers incident to youth,
rank, and fortune, in the gayest and most luxurious
city in the world, at the period of its greatest cor-
ruption. Yet he escaped unhurt. Having completed
the usual academical course at the college of Du Pies-
sis, in Paris, he married, at the age of sixteen, the
daughter of the Duke D'A^en, of the family of Noail-
les, somewhat younger than himself, and at all times
the noble encourager of his virtues, the heroic partner
of his sufferings, the worthy sharer of his great name
and of his honorable grave.

The family to which he thus became allied was
then, and for fifty years had been, in the highest favor
at the French court. Himself the youthful heir of
one of the oldest and richest houses in France, the
path of advancement was open before him. He was
offered a brilliant place in the royal household. At
an age and in a situation most likely to be caught by
the attraction, he declined the proffered distinction,
impatient of the attendance at court which it required.
He felt, from his earliest years, that he was not born
to loiter in an ante-chamber. The sentiment of lib-
erty was already awakened in his bosom. Having,
while yet at college, been required, as an exercise in
composition, to describe the well-trained charger,
obedient even to the shadow of the whip — he repre-
K 14*


sented the noble animal, on the contrary, as rearing at
the sight of it, and throwing his rider. With this
feeling, the profession of arms was, of course, the
most congenial to him ; and was, in fact, Avith the
exception of that of courtier, the only one open to a
young French nobleman before the revolution.

In the summer of 1776, and just after the Ameri-
can declaration of independence, La Fayette, not then
nineteen years old, was stationed at Metz, a garri-
soned town on the road from Paris to the German
frontier, with the regiment to which he was attached,
as a captain of dragoons. The Duke of Gloucester,
the brother of the king of England, happened to be on
a visit to Metz, and a dinner was given to him by the
commandant of the garrison. La Fayette was invited,
with other officers, to the entertainment. Despatches
had just been received by the duke, from England,
relating to American affairs — the resistance of the
colonists, and the strong measures adopted by the
ministers to crush the rebellion. Among the details
stated by the Duke of Gloucester, was the extraordi-
nary fact, that these remote, scattered, and unpro-
tected settlers of the wilderness had solemnly declared
themselves an Independent People. These words
decided the fortunes of the enthusiastic listener ; and
not more distinctly was the great declaration a char-
ter of political liberty to the rising states, than it was
a commission to their youthful champion to devote
his life to the sacred cause.

The details which he heard were new to him.
The American contest was knoAvn to him before, but
only as a rebellion in a remote transatlantic colony.


He now, with a promptness of perception, which, oven
at this distance of time, strikes us as very remarkable,
addressed a muUitude of inquiries to the Duke of
Gloucester, on the subject of the contest. His imagi-
nation was kindled at the idea of an oppressed people
struggling for political liberty. His heart was warmed
with the possibility of drawing his sword in a good
cause. Before he left the table, his course was men-
tally resolved upon ; and the brother of the king of
England, unconsciously no doubt, had the singular
fortune to enlist, from the French court and the
French army, this gallant and fortunate champion in
the then unpromising cause of the colonial congress.

He immediately repaired to Paris to make further
inquiries and arrangements, towards the execution of
his great plan. He confided it to two young friends —
officers like himself — the Count Segur and Viscount
Noailles, and proposed to them to join him. They
shared his enthusiasm, and determined to accompany
him, but, on consulting their families, they were
refused permission. But they faithfully kept La
Fayette's secret. Happily for his purpose, he was
an orphan, independent of control, and was master of
his o^vn fortune, amounting to nearly forty thousand
dollars per annum.

He next opened his heart to the Count de Broglie,
a marshal in the French army. To the experienced
warrior, accustomed to the regular campaigns of Euro-
pean service, the project seemed rash and quixotic,
and one that he could not countenance. La Fayette
begged the count at least not to betray him, as he
was resolved, notwithstanding his disapproval, to go to


America. This the count promised, adding, " I saw
your uncle fall in Italy; Avitnessed your father's death
at the battle of Minden ; and I will not be accessory
to the ruin of the only remaining branch of the fam-
ily." He then used all the powers of argument which
his age and experience suggested to dissuade La Fay-
ette from the enterprise ; but in vain. Finding his
determination unalterable, he made him acquainted
with the Baron de Kalb, who, the count knew, was
about to embark for America, — an officer of experi-
ence and merit, who, as is well known, fell at the
battle of Camden.

The Baron de Kalb introduced La Fayette to Silas
Deane, then agent of the United States in France,
Avho explained to him the state of affairs in America,
and encouraged him in his project. Deane was but
imperfectly acquainted with the French language,
and was of manners rather repulsive. A less enthusi-
astic temper than that of La Fayette might have been
somewhat chilled by the style of his intercourse.
Deane had not, as yet, been acknowledged in any pub-
lic capacity, and was beset by the spies of the British
ambassador. For these reasons, it was judged expe-
dient that the visits of La Fayette should not be
repeated, and their further negotiations were con-
ducted through the intervention of Mr. Carmichael,
an American gentleman, at that time in Paris. The
arrangement was at length concluded, in virtue of
which Deane took upon himself, without authority,
but by a happy exercise of discretion, to engage La
Fayette to enter the American service, with the rank
of major-general. A vessel was about to be de-



spatclied with arms and other supplies for the Ameri-
can ariTiy, and in this vessel it was settled that he
should take passage.

At this juncture, the news reached France of the
evacuation of New York, the loss of Fort "Washing-
ton, the calamitous retreat through New Jersey, and
the other disasters of the campaign of 1776. The
friends of America, in France, were in despair. The
tidings, bad in themselves, were greatly exaggerated
in the British gazettes. The plan of sending an
armed vessel with munitions was abandoned. The
cause, always doubtful, was now pronounced despe-
rate ; and La Fayette was urged by all who were
privy to his project, to give up an enterprise so wild
and hopeless. Even our commissioners, — Deane,
Franklin, and Arthur Lee, — told him they could not
in conscience urge him to proceed. His answer was,
" My zeal and love of liberty have perhaps hitherto
been the prevailing motive with me, but I now see a
chance of usefulness which I had not anticipated.
These supplies, I know, are greatly wanted by con-
gress. I have money ; I will purchase a vessel to
convey them to America, and in this vessel my com-
panions and myself will take passage."

In pursuance of the generous purpose thus con-
ceived, the secretary of the Count de Broglie was
employed by La Fayette to purchase and fit out a
vessel at Bordeaux ; and while these preparations
were in train, with a view of diverting suspicion from
his movements, and passing the tedious interval of
delay, he made a visit, with a relative, to his kinsman,
the Marquis of Noailles, then the French ambassador


ill London. During their stay in Great Britain
they were treated with kindness by the king- and per-
sons of rank ; but having, after a lapse of three weeks,
learned that his vessel was ready at Bordeaux, La
Fayette suddenly returned to France. His visit was
of service to the youthful adventurer, in furnishing
him an opportunity to improve himself in the English
language ; but, beyond this, a nice sense of honor for-
bade him from making use of the opportunity which
it afforded, for obtaining military information that
could be of utility to the American army. So far did
he carry this scruple, that he declined visiting the
naval establishments at Portsmouth.

On his return to France, he did not even visit
Paris ; but after three days spent at Passy, the resi-
dence of Dr. Franklin, he hastened to Bordeaux.
Arriving at this place, he found that his vessel was
not yet ready ; and had the still greater mortification
to learn that the spies of the British ambassador had
penetrated his designs, and made them known to the
family of La Fayette, and to the king, from whom an
order for his arrest was daily expected. Unprepared
as his ship was, he instantly sailed in her to Passage,
the nearest port in Spain, where he proposed to wait
for the vessel's papers. Scarcely had he arrived in
that harbor, when he was encourjtered by two officers,
with letters from his family, and from the ministry,
and a royal order, directing him to join his father-in-
law at Marseilles. The letter from the ministers
reprimanded him for violating his oath of allegiance,
and failing in his duty to his king. La Fayette, in
some of his letters to his friends about court, replied


to this remark that the ministry might chide him with
failing in his duty to the king when they learned to
discharge theirs to the people. His family censured
him for his desertion of his domestic duties ; but his
heroic wife, instead of joining in the reproach, shared
his enthusiasm and encouraged his enterprise.

He was obliged to return with the officers to Bor-
deaux, and report himself to the commandant. While
there, and engaged in communication with his family
and the court, in explanation and defence of his con-
duct, he learned from a friend at Paris that a positive
prohibition of his departure might be expected from the
king. No farther time was to be lost, and no middle
course pursued. He feigned a willingness to yield to
the wishes of his family, and started as for Marseilles,
with one of the officers who was to accompany him to
America. Scarcely had they left the city of Bor-
deaux, when he assumed the dress of a courier,
mounted a horse and rode forward to procure relays.
They soon quitted the road to Marseilles, and struck
into that which leads to Spain. On reaching Ba-
yonne, they were detained two or three hours.
While the companion of La Fayette was employed
in some important commission in the city, he himself
lay on the straw in the stable. At St. Jean de Luz,
he was recognised by the daughter of the person who
kept the post house ; she had observed him a few
days before, as he passed from Spain to Bordeaux.
Perceiving that he was discovered, and not daring to
speak to her, he made her a signal to keep silence.
She complied with the intimation ; and when, shortly
after he had passed on, his pursuers came up, she


gave thorn an answer -which baffled their penetration,
and enabled La Fayette to escape into Spain. He
was instantly on board his ship and at sea, with
eleven officers in his train, and accompanied also by
the Baron De Kalb.

We cannot here detail the various casualties and
exposures of his passage, which lasted sixty days.
His vessel had cleared out for the West Indies, but
La Fayette directed the captain to steer for the United
States. As the latter had a large pecuniary adven-
ture of his own on board, he declined complying with
this direction. By threats to remove him from his
command, and promises to indemnify him for the loss
of his property, should they be captured, La Fayette
prevailed upon the captain to steer his course for the
American coast, where at last they happily arrived,
having narrowly escaped two vessels of war, which
were cruising in that quarter. They made the coast
near Georgetown, South Carolina. It was late in
the day before they could approach so near land as to
leave the vessel.

Anxious to tread the American soil. La Fayette,
with some of his fellow-officers, entered the ship's
boat and was rowed at night-fall to shore. A distant
light guided them in their landing and advance into
the country. Arriving near the house from which
the light proceeded, an alarm was given by the watch-
dogs, and they were mistaken by those within for a
marauding party from the enemy's vessels, hovering
on the coast. The Baron De Kalb, however, had
a good knowledge of the English language, acquired
on a previous visit to America, and was soon able to


make known who they were, and what was their
errand. They were of course readily admitted, and
cordially welcomed. The house in which they found
themselves, was that of Major Hugcr, a citizen of
worth, hospitality and patriotism, by whom every
good office was performed to the adventurous stran-
gers. He provided the next day the means of convey-
ing La Fayette and his companions to Charleston,
where they were received with enthusiasm by the
magistrates and people.

As soon as possible, they proceeded by land to
Philadelphia, On his arrival there, with the eager-
ness of a youth anxious to be employed upon his
errand, he sent his letters to Mr. Lowell, who was
then chairman of the committee of foreign relations.
He called the next day at the hall of congress ; the
letters made known his high connections and his
large means of usefulness, and, without an hour's
delay, he received from them a commission of major-
general in the American army, a month before he was
twenty years of age. Thus, at this early and inex-
perienced age, he was thought worthy, by that august
body, the revolutionary congress, to be placed in
the highest rank of those to whom the conduct of
their army was entrusted in this hour of extremest
peril !

Washington Avas at head quarters when La Fayette
reached Philadelphia, but he was daily expected in
the city. The introduction of the youthful stranger
to the man on whom his career depended, was there-
fore delayed a few days. It took place, in a manner
peculiarly marked with the circumspection of Wash-

VL— 15


ington, at a dinner party, where La Fayette wa^ among
several guests of consideration. Washington was not
uninformed of^the circumstances connected with his
arrival in the country. He knew what benefits it
promised the cause, if his character and talents were
adapted to the course he had so boldly struck out;
and he knew also how much it was to be feared that
the very qualities which had prompted him to embark
in it, woiild make him a useless and even a danger-
ous auxiliary. We may Avell suppose that the pierc-
mg eye of the father of his country was not idle
during the repast. But that searching glance, before
which pretence or fraud never stood undetected, was
completely satisfied. When they were about to
separate, Washington took La Fayette aside — :Spoke to
him with kindness — paid a just tribute to the noble
spirit which he had shown, and the sacrifices he had
made in the American cause; invited him to make
the head quarters of the army his home, and to regard
himself, at all times, as one of the family of the com-

It was on the 31st July, 1777, that La Fayette
received, by a resolution of congress, his commission
as a major-general in the American army. Not hav-
ing at first a separate command, he attached himself
to the army of the commander-in-chief, as a volunteer.
On the 11th of the following September, he was pres-
ent at the unfortunate battle of the Brandywine. He
there plunged, Avith a rashness pardonable in a very
youthful commander, into the hottest of the battle,
exposed himself to all its dangers, and exhibited a
conspicuous example of coolness and courage. When


the troops began to retreat in disorder, he threw him-
self from his horse, entered the ranks, and endeavored
to rally them. While thus employed, he was shot by
a musket ball through the leg. The wound was not
perceived by himself till he was told by his aid that
the blood was running from his boot. He fell in with
a surgeon, who placed a slight bandage on his limb,
with which he rode to Chester. Regardless of his situ-
ation, he thought only of rallying the troops, who were
retreating in disorder through the village ; and it was
not till this duty Avas performed, that the wound was
dressed. It was two months before it was sufficiently
healed to enable him to rejoin the army. This was
the first battle in which he was ever engaged, and
such was his entrance into the active service of

It is impossible in this sketch to do more than
glance at the military services of La Fayette, in our
revolution. He was in the battle of Monmouth, where
he displayed the utmost courage and skill. On the
arrival of the French, under D'Estaing, at Rhode
Island, he was detached to join them with the army
under General Sullivan. He was here exceedingly
useful in securing harmony between the French and
American forces. In 1779, he embarked for France,
that country being now in a state of declared war
with England. He was received in his own country
with enthusiasm by the people, and with favor by the
court. He turned to the advantage of America the
influence he had acquired. It is not easy to over-
estimate the service he thus performed in our behalf ,


for it was chiefly through liis influsnce tliat the effec-
tive aid of France was secured.

He returned to America in 1780, and was at Wesi
Point when the treachery of Arnold was discovered.
The following winter he was at the head of his
division in Virginia. During the summer of 1781,
he conducted the campaign in that state Avith a vigor
and success which showed that he possessed the
highest qualities of a general. In the confidence
inspired by his powerful army, his great experience,
•and superior abilities. Lord Cornwallis declared that
"the boy should not escape." He did escape, how-
ever; and it w^as in a great degree owing to the
admirable conduct of the youthful general, that the
British commander was soon after obliged to lay
down his arms, and surrender his whole force of seven
thousand men to the combined armies. In the memo-
rable siege of Yorktown, which resulted so gloriously,
La Fayette took an active and efficient part, and
obtained a due share of renown.

Spain had now shaken off her indifference, and
concluded to join with France in the attempt to hum-
ble Great Britain. A powerful fleet was assembled
at Cadiz, which, with twenty-four thousand troops,
was to proceed to made a descent on the island of
Jamaica, and then strike upon the British army at
New York. La Fayette proceeded to Europe to aid
the expedition, and, at the head of eight thousand
men, went from Brest to Cadiz. But these mighty
preparations were seen by Great Britain, and, guided
by a wise prudence, she consented to peace.

The following year, 1784, La Fayette made a visit


to America, where he was received with every
demonstration of joy. After his return to France, he
visited Germany, whither his fame had preceded him.
He was entertained with distinction hy the emperor
of Austria, and Frederick the Great of Prussia. Orx
his return to Paris, he united Avith M. de Malsherbes,
in endeavoring to ameliorate the political condition of
the protestants. In concert with the minister of the
marine, the Marshal de Castries, he expended a large'
sum, from his private fortune, in an experiment
towards the education and eventual emancipation of
slaves. To this end, he purchased a plantation in
Cayenne, intending to give freedom to the laborers as
soon as they should be in a condition to enjoy it with-
out abuse. In the progress of the revolution, this
plantation, with the other estates of La Fayette, was
confiscated, and the slaves sold back to perpetuax
bondage, by the faction which was drenching France
in blood, under the motto of liberty and equality.

At length, a mighty crisis was at hand ; the French
revolution began. The first step in this fearfu'
drama was the assembly of notables, February 22,
1787. Its last convocation had been in 1626, under
the cardinal, Richelieu. It was now convoked by the
minister, Colonne, the comptroller-general of the
finances, on account of the utter impossibility, with-
out some unusual resources, of providing for the
deficit in the finances, Avhich had for the preceding
year amounted to thirty-six millions of dollars, and
was estimnted at the annual average of twenty-eight
millions of dollars. This assembly consisted of one
hundred and thirty-seven persons, of whom scarcely


ten were in any sense the representatives of the
people. La Fayette was of course a distinguished
member, then just completing his thirtieth year. In
an assembly, called by direction of the king, and con-
sisting almost exclusively of the high aristocracy, he
stepped forth at once, the champion of the people. It
was the intention of the government to confine the
action of the assembly to the discussion of the state
of the finances, and the contrivance of means to repair
their disorder. It was not so that La Fayette under-
stood his commission. He rose to denounce the

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Online LibrarySamuel G. (Samuel Griswold) GoodrichLives of benefactors; → online text (page 11 of 21)