Samuel G. (Samuel Griswold) Goodrich.

Lives of benefactors; online

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abuses of the government. The Count d'Artois,
since Charles X., the brother of the king, attempted
to call him to order, as acting on a subject not before
the assembly. " We are summoned," said La Fayette,
" to make the truth known to his majesty; I must dis-
charge my duty."

Accordingly, after an animated harangue on the
abuses of the government, he proposed the abolition
of private arrests, and of the state prisons, in which
any one might be confined on the warrant of the
minister ; the restoration of protestants to the equal
privileges of citizenship, and the convocation of the
States General, or representatives of the people.
"What," said the Count d'Artois, "do you demand
the States General?" "Yes," replied La Fayette,
" and something better than that!"

The assembly of notables was convoked a second
time, in 178S, and La Fayette was again found in his
place pleading for the representation of tljp people.
As a member of the provincial assemblies of Auvergne
and Brittany, he also took the lead in all the measures


of reform that were proposed by those patriotic

But palliatives were vain ; it became impossible to
resist the impulse of public opinion, and the States
General Avere convened. This body assembled at
Versailles on the third of May, 17S9. Its initiatory
movements were concerted by La Fayette and a small
circle of friends, at the hotel of Mr. Jefferson, who
calls La Fayette, at this momentous period of its pro-
gress, the Atlas of the revolution. He proposed, and
carried through the assembly, of which he was vice-
president, a declaration of rights, analogous to those
contained in the American constitutions. He repeated
the demand which he had made in the assembly of
notables, for the suppression of lettres de cachet, and
the admission of protestants to all the privileges of
citizens. For the three years that he sustained the
command of the National Guard, he kept the peace
of the capital, rent as it was by the intrigues of parties,
the fury of a debased populace, and the agitations set
on foot by foreign powers ; and so long as he remained
at the head of the revolution, with much to condemn,
and more to lament, and which no one resisted more
strenuously than La Fayette, it was a work of just
reform, after ages of frightful corruption and abuse.

When matters had arrived at a critical point. La
Fayette proposed the organization of the National
Guard of France. The ancient colors of the city of
Paris were blue and red : to indicate the union which
he wished to promote between a king governing by a
constitution, and a people protected by the laws, he
proposed to add the white, the royal color of France;


and to form of the three, the new ensign of the natum
"I bring you, gentlemen," said he, "a badge, which
will go round the world, an institution at once civil
and military, which will change the system of
European tactics, and reduce the absolute govern-
ments to the alternative of being conquered if they do
not imitate them, and overturned if they do!" The
example of Paris was followed in the provinces, and
the National Guard, three millions seven hundred
thousand strong, was organized throughout France,
with La Fayette at its head.

On the 5th of November, 17S9, occurred a scene of
the most fearful character. It was rumored at Paris
that the king and his family, at Versailles, had
denounced the revolution. At this moment, the
populace were suffering from famine, and being told
that the scarcity was caused by the monarch, the cry
arose, " To Versailles for bread ! " Like a flood of
boiling lava, the tide of people rolled toward Versailles
The king and the royal family had been sacrificed to
the fury of the mob, but for the aid of La Fayette.
Placing himself at the head of a detachment of troops,
he rushed to the scene of action, and conducted them
in safety to Paris.

From the commencement of the revolution, La
Fayette refused all pecuniary compensation and every
unusual appointment or trust. Not a dignity known
to the ancient monarchy, or suggested by the disorder
of the times, but was tendered to him and refused.
More than once it was proposed to create him Field
Marshal, Grand Constable, Lieulenant-General of the
Vinjrdom. The titles of dictator and commander-in-


chief of the armies of France were successively pro-
posed to him, but in vain. Knowing that the repre-
sentatives of the great federation of the National
Guards, who repaired to Paris in 1790, designed to
invest him with the formal command of this immense
military force, he hastened a passage of the decree of
the Assembly, forbidding any person to exercise the
right of more than one district ; and having, at the close
of a review, been conducted to the national assembly
by an immense and enthusiastic throng, he took that
occasion to mount the tribune and announce the
intention of returning to private life as soon as the
preparation of the constitution should be completed.

On the recurrence of the anniversary of the destruc-
tion of the Bastile, on the 14ih of July, 1790, the
labors of the assembly, in the formation of the consti-
tution, were so far advanced, that it was deemed
expedient, by a grand act of popular ratification, to
give the sanction of France to the principles on which
it was founded. The place assigned for the ceremony
Avas the Champs de Mars, and the act itself was
regarded as a grand act of federation, by which the
entire population of France, through the medium of
an immense representation, engaged themselves to
each other, by solemn oaths and imposing rites, to
preserve the constitution, the monarchy, and the law.
In front of the military school at Paris, and near the
river Seine, a vast plain was marked out for the
imposing pageant. Innumerable laborers were em-
ployed, and still greater multitudes of volunteers
cooperated with them, in preparing a vast embank-
ment, disposed on terraces, and covered with turf.


LA FAYETTr,, 179

The entire population of the capital and its environs,
from the highest to the lowest condition of life, of both
sexes, and of every profession, was engaged, from day
to day, and from week to week, in carrying on the
excavation. The academies and schools, the official
bodies of every description, the trades and the profes-
sions, and every class and division of the people,
repaired, from morning to night, to take part in the
work, cheered by the instruments of a hundred full
orchestras, and animated Avith every sport and game
in which an excited and cheerful populace gives vent
to its delight.

It was the perfect saturnalia of liberty ; the meri-
dian of the revolution, when its great and unquestioned
benefits seemed established on a secure basis, with as
little violence and bloodshed as could be reasonably
expected in the tumultuous action of a needy, exas-
perated and triumphant populace. The work was at
length completed, the terraces were raised, and 300,000
spectators were seated in the vast amphitheatre. A
gallery was elevated in front of the military school,
and in its centre was a pavilion above the throne. In
the rear of the pavilion was prepared a stage, on which
the queen, the dauphin, and the royal family were
seated. The deputed members of the federation,
eleven thousand for the army and navy, and eighteen
thousand for the national guard of France, were
arranged in front, within a circle formed by eighty-
three lances planted in the earth, adorned with the
standards of the eighty-three departments. In the
midst of the Champs de Mars, the centre of all eyes,
with nothing above it but the canopy of heaven, arose


a magnificent altar — the loftiest ever raised on earth.
Two hundred priests, in Avhite surplices, with the tri-
color as a girdle, were disposed on the steps of the
altar, on whose spacious summit, mass Avas performed
by the bishop of Autun. On the conclusion of the
religious ceremony, the members of the federation
and the deputies of the assembly advanced to the
altar, and took the oath of fidelity to the nation, the
constitution, and the king. The king himself assumed
the name and rank of chief of the federation, and
bestowed the title of its major-general on La Fayette.
The king took the oath on his throne, but La Fayette,
as the first citizen of France, advancing to the altar,
at the head of 30,000 deputies, and in the name of the
mighty mass of the national guard, amidst the plau-
dits of nearly half a million of his fellow-citizens, in
the presence of all that was most illustrious and excel-
lent in the kingdom, whose organized military power
he represented as their chief, took the oath of fidelity
to the nation, the constitution, and the king. Of all
the oaths that day taken by the master-spirits of the
time, his was, perhaps, the only one kept inviolate.

The powers of Europe at length roused themselves
to action, and began to draw their threatening armies
around France. Armies were raised by the latter
country to meet them. La Fayette was charged v/ilh
the command of one of them. At his head quarters
at Sedan, he heard of the bloody tragedy of the 10th
August, and the imprisonment of the royal family.
Agents were sent to the departments ; the bloody
scenes of Paris were enacted there. The reign of
terror was now established, and commissioners were


sent to the army to arrest the generals, and La Fayotte
among the rest. He had no choice but to deluge the
country with blood by resistance, or to save himself by
flight. He adopted the latter course, but was taken
by a military force at Liege, and being dragged from
fortress to fortress, was at last lodged in the dungeons
of Magdeburg. From this place, he was transferred
to the emperor of Germany, and immured in the
gloomy castle of Olmutz, in Moravia.

Cut off from all the world, and closely confined, the
health of the noble captain gave way, and it was not
till several unsuccessful efforts had been made, that a
mitigation of his sufferings was allowed. He was
now permitted to take the air, and this afforded an
opportunity to effect his liberation. Dr. Eric Bollman,
a young German physician, and Mr. Huger, of South
Carolina, engaged in this chivalrous enterprise ; and,
through their exertions, he made his escape. But a
series of unfortunate accidents occurred, and he was
retaken and carried back to Olmutz. Bollman and
Huger were also taken, and confined in close prisons
for six months, when they were set at liberty. La
Fayette was now treated with double severity ; he
was stripped of every comfort; denied decent clothing;
kept in a dark room ; fed on bread and water ; and
told that he was soon to be executed on the scaffold.

Nor were these personal sufferings his only source
of anxiety. No tidings were permitted to reach him
from his wife and children ; and the last intelligence
he had received from her was, that she was confined
in prison at Paris. There she had been thrown
during the reign of terror. Her grandmother, the
VI.— 16


Dutchess de Noailles, her mother, the Dutchess de
Argen, and her sister, the Countess de Noailles, had
perished in one ('ay on the scaffold. She was her-
self reserved for the like fate ; but the downfall of
Robespierre preserved her. During her imprison-
ment, her great anxiety was for her son, George
Washington La Fayette, then just attaining the age
at which he was liable to be forced by the conscription
into the ranks of the army. The friendly assistance
of two Americans saved him.

Relieved from anxiety on account of her son, the
wife of La Fayette was resolved, with her daughters,
if possible, to share his captivity. Just escaped from
the dungeons of Robespierre, she hastened to plunge
into those of the German emperor. This admirable
lady, who, in the morning of life, had sent her youth-
ful hero from her side, to fight the battles of constitu-
tional freedom, beneath the guidance of Washington,
now went to immure herself with him in the gloomy
cells of Olmutz. Born, brought up, accustomed to all
that was refined, luxurious and elegant, she went to
shut herself up in the poisonous wards of his dungeon ;
to partake his wretched fare ; to share his daily
repeated insults ; to breathe an atmosphere so noxious
and intolerable, that the gaolers, who brought them
their daily food, were compelled to cover their faces
as they entered their cells.

Landing at Altona, on the 9th September, 1795,
she proceeded, with an American passport, under the
family name of her husband, (Metier,) to Vienna.
Having arrived in that city, she obtained, through the
compassionate offices of Count Rosernberg, an inter-


view with the emperor. Francis II. was not a cruel
man. At the age of twenty-five, he had not been
hardened by long training in the school of state policy.
He was a husband and a father. The heroic wife of
La Fayette, with her daughters, was admitted to his
presence. She demanded only to share her husband's
prison, but she implored the emperor to restore to
liberty the father of her children. " He was, indeed,
sire, a general in the armies of republican America ;
but it was at a time when the daughter of Maria
Theresa was foremost in his praise. He was, indeed,
a leader of the French revolution, but not in its ex-
cesses, not in its crimes ; and it is owing to him alone
that, on the dreadful 5th October, Maria Antoinette
and her son had not been torn in pieces by the blood-
thirsty populace of Paris. He is not the prisoner of
your justice, nor your arms, but was thrown by mis-
fortune into your power, when he fled before the same
monsters of bloody crime who brought the king and
queen to the scaffold. Three of my family have per-
ished on the same scafTold, my aged grandparent, my
mother, and my sister. Will the emperor of Germany
close the dark catalogue, and doom my husband to a
dungeon worse than death ? Restore him, sire — not
to his army, to his power, to his influence — but restore
his shattered health, his ruined fortunes — to the afTec-
tions of his fellow-citizens in America, where he is
content to live and close his career — to his wife and

The emperor was a humane man. He heard, rea-
soned, hesitated; told her "his hands were tied" by
reasons of state, and permitted her to shut herself up


with lier daughters in the cells of Ohnutz ! There
her health failed ; she asked to be permitted to pass a
month at Vienna, to recruit it, and was answered that
she might leave the prison whenever she pleased, but
that if she left it, she could never return there. On
this condition, she rejects the indulgence with disdain;
and prepares to sink, under the slow poison of an
infected atmosphere, by her husband's side. But her
brave heart — fit partner for a hero's — bore her through
the trial, though the hand of death Avas upon her.
She prolonged a feeble existence for ten years after
their release from captivity, but never recovered the
effects of this merciless imprisonment.

The interposition of the friends of La Fayette, in
Europe and America, to obtain his release, was unsuc-
cessful. On the floor of the house of commons,
General Fitzpatrick, on the 16th December, 1796,
made a motion in his behalf. It was supported by
Colonel Tarleton, who had fought against La Fayette
in America, by Wilberforce and Fox. The speech
of the latter is one of the most admirable specimens
of eloquence ever heard in a deliberative assembly.
But justice remonstated, humanity pleaded in vain.
General Washington, then president of the United
States, wrote a letter to the emperor of Germany.
What would not the emperor afterwards have given to
have had the wisdom to grant the liberty of La Fayette
to the entreaty of Washington ? But an advocate
was at hand who would not be refused. The " Man
of Destiny " was in the field. The Archduke Charles
was matched against him during the campaign of


The eagles of Bonaparte flew from victory to vic-
tory. The archduke displayed against him all the
resources of the old school. But the days of strategy
were over. Bonaparte stormed upon his front, threw
his army across deep rivers, burst upon his rear, and
annihilated the astonished duke in the midst of his
manosuvres. He fought ten pitched battles in twenty
days, drove the Austrians across the Julian Alps,
approached within eleven days' march of Vienna, and
then granted the emperor, just preparing for flight
into the recesses of Germany, the treaty of Campio
Formio, having demanded, in the preliminary confer-
ences of Leoben, the release of La Fayette. Napoleon
was often afterwards heard to say, that, in all his
negotiations with foreign powers, he had never expe-
rienced so pertinacious a resistance as that which was
made to this demand. The Austrian envoys at the
French head quarters, asserted that he was in confine-
ment in the imperial territories. But Bonaparte
distrusted this assertion, and sent a former aid-de-
camp of La Fayette, to communicate directly with the
Austrian minister on the subject. He was finally
released, on the 23d September, 1797. But while his
liberation was effected by the interference of the army
of the republic abroad, the confiscation and sale of the
residue of his property went on at home.

Included in the general decree of outlaAvry, as an
emigrant. La Fayette did not go back to France till
the directory was overturned. On the establishment
of the consular government, being restored to his civil
rights, though with the loss of nearly all his estates,
he returned to his native country, and sought the


retirement of Lagrange. He was indebted to Napo-
leon for release from captivity, probably for the lives
of himself and family. He could not but see that all
hope of restoring the constitution of 1791, to which
he had pledged his faith, was over, and he had every
reason of interest and gratitude to compound with the
state of things as it existed. But he never wavered
for a moment. Bonaparte endeavored, in a personal
interview, to persuade him to enter the senate ; but in

From the tranquillity of private life, nothing could
now draw him. Mr. Jefi'erson oflcred him the place
of governor of Louisiana, then just become a territory
of the United States ; but he was unwilling, by leav-
ing France, to take a step that would look like a final
abandonment of the cause of constitutional liberty on
the continent of Europe. Napoleon ceased to impor-
tune him, and he lived at Lagrange, retired and unmo-
lested, the only man who had gone through the terrible
revolution with a character free from every just
impeachment. He entered it with a princely fortune ;
in the various high offices he had filled, he had
declined all compensation ; and he came out poor.
He entered it in the meridian of early manhood, with
a frame of iron. He came out of it, fifty years of age,
his strength impaired by the cruelties of his long im-

But the time at length arrived, which was to call
La Fayette from his retirement, and place him again —
the veteran pilot — at the helm. The colossal edifice
of the empire, which had been reared by Napoleon,
crumbled by its own weight. The pride, the interests,


the vanity, the patriotism of the nations were too
deeply insulted and wounded by his domination.

The armies of Europe poured down like an inun-
dation on France ; twice the conqueror is conquered ;
the dynasty of the Bourbons is restored; and La Fayette
is now found at the tribune. Tranquillity being estab-
lished in France, and being invited to visit the United
States by a vote of congress, he comes to our shores
on the 25th August, 1824, and is received with the
most enthusiastic welcome. His tour through the
country will never be forgotten. Every^vhere he was
met by crowds of people, anxious to see the benefactoi
of their country, and to testify their heartfelt homage
and gratitude. There is perhaps nothing in La
Fayette's life more remarkable than the admirable
tact, sense and propriety displayed in his answers to
the various addresses made as he passed 'through the

Having spent several months in the United States,
he returns to France, and we soon see him at the
head of a new revolution. In July, 1S30, Charles
X. and his family are seen flying from Paris, and La
Fayette is commander of the National Guards in the
Hotel de Ville. The dynasty is changed. Louis
Philippe is established upon the basis of a constitu-
tional monarchy, and La Fayette once more resigns
his commission. Insensible to the love of power, of
money, and of place, he is again a private citizen,
exercising only the office of a representative in the
chamber of deputies. Thus he continued till May,
1834. In attending the funeral of a colleague he con-
tracted a cold, which settled on his lungs. After a


Struggle with the remains of a once powerful consti-
tution, the disease triumphed, and, on the 20th of the
mouth the patriot of liberty expired at Paris, aged
seventy-seven. He Avas buried, by his own direction,
not within the walls of the Pantheon — not among the
great and illustrious, that people the silent alleys of
Pere la Chaise — but in a rural cemetery near Paris,
by the side of her who had shared his pure love of
liberty, his triumphs, his dungeon, and his undying
renown. In a secluded garden, in this humble retreat,
beneath the shade of a row of linden trees, by the side
of his wife and his daughter, the friend of Washing-
ton and America lies in his last repose.

In whatever aspect we may regard the life of La
Fayette, it must strike us as one of the most wonder-
ful in history. It is crowded with events of an extra-
ordinary character, and displays an union of qualities,
rarely found in one individual. In early life he is
superior to the seductions of wealth and flattery ; he is
not enervated by luxury, nor corrupted by vice.
While all around him is bent inhom^age to royalty,
his lofty spirit sympathizes with a remote people,
struggling for liberty, and with an elevation of soul
rarely paralleled, he crosses the Atlantic, expends his
fortune, and risks his life in the cause of freedom.

In his own country, he becomes the leader of
mighty movements in behalf of oppressed humanity.
He acquires an ascendancy over millions, and is at
the head of the mightiest army of citizen soldiers that
was ever organized. He became the shield of royalty
and the Atlas of the revolution. The scene changes ;
*he reign of terror is established, and he is obliged to


fly before the tempest. He is firs/ m exile — tlien a
captive — and, finally, a prisoner, cut off from light and
air, and the knowledge of mankind. He lingers in
dungeons for years ; he escapes, is recaptured, and
immured in still deeper dungeons. Again he is at
liberty — he returns to private life, and here he remains,
a witness of the most stupendous events, till a new
convulsion shakes the earth, and he is summoned
from his retirement. The storm is tranquillized, and,
after an absence of forty years, he revisits the far
land whose freedom he had helped to achieve. Here
he finds a nation of three millions increased to twelve,
and a generation born since his departure, now ready
to welcome him, and shower honors and blessings on
his name. He returns to Europe, and still another
revolution is at han^. In the midst of the tempest,
he seizes upon the helm, and while the Bourbon
monarch flies, he holds the reigns of power in the
capital. A new dynasty is founded, and a new king
is set upon the throne ; order is restored, and the
patriot, laying down his mighty power, retires again to
the tranquil pursuits of country life.

What a chequered history is here ! What vicissi-
tudes of fortune, yet what consistency of action!
There is an equanimity, a dignity, a steadfastness
about the character of La Fayette, which elevates
him as far above the common heroes of history, as the
top of the mountain, catching the very hues of heaven,
is above the; vulgar mounds and knolls that lie scat-
tered at its base ; and the secret of this elevation lies
in the motive Avhich inspired his actions. He was a
patriot — a philanthropist. He lived for his country—


for mankind. He was indeed a man of rare faculties
— he possessed a skill of adaptation, and a quickness
of perception, amounting to genius ; yet his fame, his

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Online LibrarySamuel G. (Samuel Griswold) GoodrichLives of benefactors; → online text (page 12 of 21)