"While your affection and confidence ever made me happy, let me gratefully acknowledge, that, for the marks of our beloved General's approbation, I felt myself wholly obliged to the gallant troops I commanded. Could my conduct, in any degree justify your partiality, it will be the pride of my heart to think the American camp was my school, every one of you my brothers, and that I was adopted as a disciple and son, by our immortal Commander in Chief.
"In the interposition of my Sovereign and nation, I enjoyed more than I could express; every French citizen felt with a patriotic King in this happy alliance; and from those troops who shared in our dangers, you meet with a peculiar regard and attachment.
"During my absence, gentlemen, my heart has been constantly with you. As an army, we are separated. But forever, I hope, shall unite in a brotherly affection: and now that a glorious peace has terminated your labours, I rejoice to find your attachment to those principles for which you have conquered, ranks you among the most virtuous citizens of the Commonwealth.
At the public dinner given by the officers of the late army to this distinguished friend of American Independence, were also invited the Governor and Council, and many others of high rank and distinction. It may be gratifying to some who peruse this volume to know the sentiments offered as toasts on the joyful occasion. The following are selected:
The United States—His most Christian Majesty.
General Washington—The Cincinnati.
The asserters and supporters of the rights of mankind through the world.
May America never forget in prosperity those what were her fast friends in adversity.
May our country be as famed for justice and honor as she is for valour and success.
The Legislature of the State being in session, ordered, that the Marquis de Lafayette be invited by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives together with the Supreme Executive to meet the two Houses of Assembly in the Senate room "to congratulate him on his safe arrival in the United States, after the final establishment of peace, to which his friendly influence in Europe had largely contributed." The Marquis attended accordingly, when the Governor congratulated him in terms of the highest respect and affection; to which the Marquis made a polite and suitable reply. But Lafayette was too much beloved and his eminent services in our cause too highly appreciated by the people of the patriotic town of Boston, not to meet with a more general welcome. A dinner was given him at Faneuil-Hall by the citizens; at which were present the Governor and Council, President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Clergy and other distinguished gentlemen, and seventy five officers of the late continental army. When General Washington's name was given for a toast, the Marquis rose from his seat, and with a tear starting in his eye, began the act of applause, which was continued and repeated again and again by the whole company.
In other places, the Marquis also met a cordial and distinguished reception. His ardent attachment to America and his great services in her cause, were still fresh in the recollection of all. It was known, that be had advocated our independence in Europe, and exerted his influence with his generous Prince to aid in its support. It was remembered, "that in the moment of our greatest misfortunes, he espoused the cause of America," that his military talents and the ardour of his virtuous mind had been devoted to our interest: and "while gratitude should be accounted a virtue, the name of Lafayette," it was said, "would not cease to be dear to Americans."
When about to leave the United States and return to France, Dec. 1784, the Marquis de Lafayette addressed a note to Congress, and expressed a desire to take a respectful leave of that body, before his final departure. A committee was appointed on this request of the Marquis, of which the Hon. Mr. Jay was chairman, and whose report was as follows—"That the merit and services of General Lafayette render it proper that such opportunity of taking leave of Congress be afforded, as may strongly manifest their esteem and regard for him."—Whereupon it was resolved, "That a Committee to consist of a member from each states be appointed to receive the Marquis, and in the name of Congress to take leave of him—that they be instructed to assure him, that Congress continue to entertain the same high sense of his abilities and zeal to promote the welfare of America, both here and in Europe, which they have frequently expressed and manifested on former occasions, and which the recent marks of his attention to their commercial and other interests have perfectly confirmed. That as his uniform and unceasing attachment to this country has resembled that of a patriotic citizen, the United States regard him with particular affection, and will not cease to feel an interest in whatever may concern his honor and prosperity, and that their best and kindest wishes will always attend him."
It was also resolved by Congress, at the same time; "That a letter be written to his most Christian Majesty, and signed by the President of Congress, expressive of the high sense which the United States entertain of the real talents and meritorious services of the Marquis de Lafayette, and recommending him to the particular favor and patronage of his Majesty."
The committee received the Marquis in Congress Hall, and took leave of him in the name of that honorable body, agreeably to the instructions given there. They communicated to him the resolves before mentioned; to which he replied—
"While it pleases the Congress of the United States so kindly to receive me, I want words to express the feelings of a heart, which delights in their present situation and in the public marks of their esteem.
"Since I joined the standard of liberty to this wished for hour of my personal congratulations, I have seen such glorious deeds performed and virtues displayed, by the sons of America, that in the instant of my first concern for them, I had anticipated but a part of the love and regard which devote me to this rising empire.
"During our revolution, I obtained an unlimited, indulgent confidence, which I am equally proud and happy to acknowledge; it dates with the time, when an inexperienced youth, I could only claim my respected friend's paternal adoption. It has been most benevolently continued throughout every circumstance of the cabinet and the field; and in personal friendships I have often found a support against public difficulties. While on this solemn occasion, I mention my obligations to Congress, the States, and the people at large, permit me to remember my dear military companions, to whose services their country is so much indebted.
"Having felt both for the timely aid of my country, and for the part she, with a beloved king, acted in the cause of mankind, I enjoy an alliance so well riveted by mutual affection, by interest and even local situation. Recollection ensures it. Futurity does but enlarge the prospect: and the private intercourse will every day increase, which independent and advantageous trade cherishes, in proportion as it is justly understood.
"In unbounded wishes to America, I am happy to observe the prevailing disposition of the people to strengthen the confederation, preserve public faith, regulate trade; and, in a proper guard over continental magazines and frontier posts, in a general system of militia, in foreseeing attention to the navy, to ensure every kind of safety. May this immense temple of freedom ever stand a lesson to oppressors, an example to the oppressed, a sanctuary for the rights of mankind! And may these happy United States attain that complete splendor and prosperity, which will illustrate the blessings of their government, and for ages to come, rejoice the departed souls of its founders.
"However unwilling to trespass on your time, I must yet present you with my grateful thanks for the late favours of Congress; and never can they oblige me so much, as when they put it in my power, in every part of the world, and to the latest day of my life, to gratify the attachment, which will ever rank me among the most zealous and respectful servants of the United States."
On the return of the Marquis de Lafayette to his native country in 1785, he spent some time in the bosom of his amiable family. With an affectionate wife, of cultivated mind and accomplished manners, with a circle of literary friends, and enjoying a high reputation for his heroic services in America, he must have possessed all the ingredients of human happiness. He received the smiles of the King and Court; was caressed by the gay and chivalrous; and had the esteem and friendship of the first literary characters in France. He was fond of agricultural pursuits; and as his estates were extensive, he devoted a considerable portion of his time to the cultivation and improvement of his lands. During this time his hospitable attentions were shown to American travelers, who were always sure of his friendly reception.
The legislature of Virginia, in 1786, conferred upon Lafayette, an honorable tribute of regard, in recollection of his very important services in defence of American Independence; and particularly of his brave and successful efforts during the campaign of 1781, against Cornwallis. This was a resolution to place his bust in their capitol. Mr. Jefferson, then in France, was authorized to have the like work of honor fixed in Paris, with consent of the municipal authority of that city and accordingly, another bust of Lafayette; was placed, by approbation of the King and of the Provot of Paris, in one of the galleries of the city hall.
In 1786, he traveled through various parts of Germany, and visited the courts of Vienna and Berlin. He became acquainted with Frederick II. the greatest royal tactician of Europe; and probably availed of the opportunity of attending his reviews, to increase his knowledge of military discipline. Soon after his return to France, we find him uniting his influence and efforts with the celebrated philosopher, Malesherbes, who was zealously engaged in favour of the French protestants. At this time, also, he joined a society in Paris, whose object was the gradual emancipation of the unfortunate Africans: so generous and active are the principles of liberty, that they never cease to urge those, who yield to their influence, to deeds of benevolence and humanity. In 1787, he was chosen a deputy to the assembly of the States General, by the nobility of Auvergne, his native province; and at this time he shared largely in the popular favour. But, although subsequently found among the most zealous for a new constitution, by which the power of the monarch was greatly curtailed, he now voted with the other members of the order of nobles, and contended for their distinct authority.
At this meeting of the States General, however, he was active in procuring a favorable decree for the protestants, and was the first to raise his voice for the suppression of "lettres de cachet." This convocation of the States General, composed of separate chambers or orders, had not been long in session, when great difficulties arose in consequence of various plans, and the conflicting opinions of different factions, (for factions were now beginning to appear;) and it was proposed to call a "National Assembly." It does not appear, that this was a favorite measure of Lafayette; though, from his avowed sentiments respecting the equal rights of man, it cannot be doubted, that he approved of the plan. For in 1789, he became a member of this celebrated assembly, whose acts not only laid the foundation, for a radical change in the government of France, but tended directly to destroy the whole power of the monarch. Even here, indeed, he appeared as the friend and advocate of Louis; and however ardent he was for an amelioration of the condition of the people, by rendering the civil government more mild, than heretofore, he was sincere and active in providing for the personal safety of his Prince, and for the honor of his crown, conformably to his views of political liberty.
He had, in truth, a most difficult part to act. He was ardently attached to the cause of freedom, and wished the people should have the public enjoyment of their just and national principles. And he was equally desirous, that his royal master should still retain such a portion of authority, as would be requisite to the dignity of the first magistrate of a great nation.—But the accomplishment of such generous sentiments was utterly impossible. Neither Louis, nor his courtiers could consent to the limitations of the royal authority, proposed by the reformers, and which were necessary to a just exercise of power in the people, whose representatives should share in the administration of the government. And many of the leaders in the revolution, even in its incipient stage, on the other hand, had such ambitious views, or visionary projects, that nothing would satisfy them, but an entire relinquishment of power long claimed and exercised by the Kings of this ancient nation.
In 1789, the new constitution was proposed by the National Assembly, by which the distinct and independent power of the monarch was almost annihilated; and the whole legislative authority was given to the representatives of the people. That Lafayette, and some others who advocated this instrument, were actuated by a disinterested love of the people, and believed that sufficient power was reserved to the King to secure respect for him, as the political head of the nation, cannot be doubted. We have only to lament, that subsequent events afforded proofs of the unfitness of the French people, at that period, for the blessings of a more popular government. It must also be admitted, that many who professed republicanism, and boasted of their regard to the people's rights were unprincipled and ambitious men, whom power had intoxicated, or who entertained views of government utterly inconsistent with the just authority of the laws, and the safety of individuals. Lafayette offered the declaration of the rights of man, at this period, for the sanction of the assembly: And though he was accused by the anti-revolutionists, as the author of all the excesses and cruelties which followed, for this proposition, it may justly be said in his behalf, that it contained no other axioms, than are admitted, by all impartial writers, as essential in free governments. The King and his courtiers condemned them; and jacobins and demagogues afterwards abused them, in their wild notions of republicanism, or their selfish projects of personal aggrandizement.
Lafayette was charged with indiscretion and want of judgment, for the active and zealous part which he took in the revolution, not only by bigoted monarchists, but by some who were friendly to republican institutions. He is said to have declared, "that when oppression and tyranny were at their height, insurrection became a duty." This declaration, however, when candidly considered, implies no more, than was frequently expressed by the patriots of America, when opposing the arbitrary power of the British ministry, and advocating independence as the only remedy. The ardour and enthusiasm of Lafayette, probably, betrayed him into some practical errors, and led him to utter expressions, which were capable of being pressed into the service of jacobins and anarchists. We only contend, that he had no selfish views to accomplish—and that he was really friendly to the welfare and honor of his Prince, as well as to the liberty and happiness of the French people.
This is fully established by the fact, that, at this period and afterwards, when jacobin clubs were formed and acted as dictators to the National Assembly, he became obnoxious to them, for his firmness in adhering to constitutional principles; and, though generally censured by the royalists as an advocate for liberty and reform, was hated and opposed by the factions, with the pretence of his being still attached to the ancient regime. He retained his hold on the affections of the people for some time, and enjoyed also, more of the confidence and regard of the King, then any other who had favored the revolution. The court found him, at least, candid and sincere; and he often exposed himself to imminent danger in their defence. As proof of the former, he was chosen Vice President of the national assembly, in the absence of the aged President, July 1789; and appointed to the command of the citizens of Paris, to quell the riots, and to restore tranquility to the city, when an alarming tumult existed, in consequence of the want of bread among the lower classes. As evidence of the latter, the King often consulted him in cases of difficulties and danger; and entrusted his person and family to his custody, when threatened by a lawless mob, though he well knew the sentiments of Lafayette, on the great question of royal authority.
When he was appointed to the command of the Parisian militia, (afterwards denominated the national guard,) which had been promptly organized according to a plan of his suggesting, it was a time of great confusion and tumult. He accepted the appointment from the most patriotic motives. Drawing his sword before an immense concourse of citizens then assembled, "Lafayette made a vow to sacrifice his life, if necessary, to the preservation of that precious liberty which had been entrusted to him." It was then too, at the moment of his "brightest popularity," that he exhorted those who pressed around him, "to love the friends of the people; but, at the same time, to maintain an entire submission to the laws, and to cherish a zeal for liberty."
He manifested the highest respect for the civil power, even when he commanded the national guard and Parisian militia, though with this immense military force, and with his unbounded popularity, he might have safely followed his own wishes. The Parisians were eager to march to Versailles, where the King and court resided, to demand an immediate supply of bread. The mob proceeded thither in great numbers, and still greater tumult. He declined marching the military, until be had the express consent and order of the National Assembly. And on his arrival, he immediately joined with the king's body guard, in suppressing the riotous proceedings of the promiscuous multitude, who had previously reached the place, and were committing depredations even in the royal palace. This was a scene of great confusion and alarm; and violence and bloodshed ensued. The enemies of Lafayette pretended, that he might have prevented the mischief, by timely and decisive measures. But impartial witnesses testified, "that, from the first moment of the alarm, he had even exceeded his usual activity." He appeared in every quarter. "Gentlemen," said he to the Parisian soldiers, "I have pledged my word and honor to the King, that nothing belonging to him shall receive injury. If I break my word, I shall no longer be worthy of being your commander." The people insisted, that the King should go to Paris; and on consulting with the Marquis, who gave assurances of protection and respect, he proceeded to the city, accompanied by his family, and was received with great acclamations of vive Le Roi.
Lafayette still retained his great popularity and influence. The Court party had perfect confidence in his integrity and honor, though they did not approve of his revolutionary principles. And the friends of the constitution found in him one of their most zealous and able supporters. These, however, soon become divided into clubs and parties; some of whom were aiming at more power for the representatives of the people, and for divesting Louis of every thing but the name of King. To this description of politicians, Lafayette, and others who constituted the majority of the National Assembly at this time, were opposed. They considered the King as still the fountain of all executive authority, and were willing that he should also have a veto upon their legislative proceedings—His person, they declared, was inviolable, and his crown hereditary. Put the more violent revolutionists, who soon became known by the distinctive appellation of Jacobins, formed themselves into a club; where extravagant measures were proposed and then presented to the assembly; and frequently were adopted, through intrigue and threats, when a majority of the members were dissatisfied with them.
Attached to the constitution, a friend to justice and order, and an advocate for the dignity and authority of the monarch, as limited and defined by the constitution, Lafayette was among the most open and decided in counteracting the views of the Duc de Orleans, Mirabeau, Petion, Brissot, Robespeirre, and others of the jacobin faction, who aimed at further changes to fulfill their own selfish and ambitious designs. Orleans was an unprincipled and dangerous nobleman; of royal blood and cousin to Louis: But his object was to bring about an entire revolution, and place himself on the throne of France. He, therefore, hated and feared Lafayette; who, he knew, was too honest to further his plans, and too powerful to allow him to succeed: Orleans became obnoxious and was persuaded to leave the kingdom. But he soon returned; and promoted or approved the shocking excesses which were afterwards committed.
During the years 1790 and 1791 great agitations existed in Paris, on various occasions, through the changing opinions of political leaders, and the collisions of individuals, who were rivals for power. The grand confederation took place in July 1790, when the constitution received the sanction of all classes; and when Lafayette, at the head of the national guards, attracted as much notice and possessed as great influence as the king himself. His popularity seemed unbounded; nor did he commit any act of cruelty or injustice to injure his high reputation. He could not, in all instances, command the military or restrain the mob; but he had the merit of using his greatest efforts to preserve order, and to maintain the authority of the laws. When the King proposed to visit St. Cloud, he was opposed by the populace and the Jacobin clubs, under the pretence that he intended to leave the kingdom. Lafayette attempted to disperse them and to remove all obstructions to the intended visit of Louis. The troops were disobedient to his orders, and refused to favor the King's journey. Mortified by their insubordination, Lafayette resigned his command, but afterwards resumed it, through the solicitations of the National Assembly, and of the guards themselves, who regretted their disobedience of his orders.
On the attempt of the King, soon after, to depart from France, who had become disgusted with the conduct of the revolutionists, and was in fear of his personal safety, Lafayette was charged with being privy to the plan, and subjected himself to the popular displeasure on this suspicion. That he promoted the plan, was never proved, and is not probable. That he had intimations of it, is possible; but that he gave strict orders to the officers about the king's palace to guard against such an event is most certain. He discharged his duty as a public agent; and it is not improbable he might have supposed the king in immediate danger, and that by a temporary absence from the capital, the ferment would subside, and he might return in safety. No one, for a moment, believed that he wished, with the emigrants and other enemies of the revolution, to have Louis surrender himself to the hostile powers of the coalition, for the purpose of bringing a foreign army to enslave France. He was, indeed, anxious for the safety of his Prince; but he would never have compromitted the liberties of his country, even for such an object.
From this period, the Jacobin clubs became more popular, and had the chief direction of all political affairs. In their desire to lesson the authority of the King, and to secure power, they hesitated at no measures, however unjust; and the new constitution, even which they had sworn to support, was grossly violated in the prosecution of their selfish views. The influence of Lafayette was rapidly undermined by these artful demagogues. He was sincerely attached to the constitution; and was desirous of maintaining inviolate; the power of the, monarch which it guaranteed. He was the friend to law, and opposed all his influence to riots and excesses. He became an object of dread to the Jacobins, and they resolved to destroy him. But for a long time, the majority of the National Assembly supported him. In attempting to suppress a dangerous riot, by which many of the citizens were alarmed and threatened, when he commanded the military in 1791, he was shot at by one of the mob. The man was taken, and he forgave him—But the National Assembly decreed the death of the culprit, who had attempted the life of "the hero of the day." And the municipality of Paris, also had a gold medal struck off, in honor of Lafayette, and presented him with a bust of Washington in approbation of his conduct.
He was repeatedly denounced by individuals of the violent party, before they succeeded in rendering him obnoxious to popular displeasure. And this was finally effected, through misrepresentations and false reports.
Letter of Lafayette, Feb. 1791, to M. de Bonille, one of the court, but not then at Paris.
"Paris is divided by factions, and the kingdom oppressed by anarchy. The violent aristocrats dream of a counter revolution—the clergy concur with them. The impartial monarchists are looking for a part to play, without the means of doing it. Among the friends of the revolution, you have many honest men, some lose themselves in speculations—and some Jacobins, whose leaders spread trouble everywhere. As to the ministers, they are merged in the revolution; and have no rule, but to yield to the popular voice. The Queen is resigned to the revolution,—hoping that opinions will soon change. The King wishes the happiness of the people, and the general tranquility, to begin his own. As to myself, I am attacked by all the party leaders, who consider me an obstacle not to be overcome or intimidated. Add to this, the hatred of the aristocrats and of the Orleans party; of the Lameths, with whom I was formerly connected; of Mirabeau, who says I despise him; the money distributed, the libels, the dissatisfaction I give those whom I prevent from pillaging Paris-and you will have the sum of all which is going on against me. But except a few ardent heads who are mislead, the well meaning, from the highest to the lowest, are for me.
"I stand well with the National Assembly, except a few disreputable Jacobins. I have little connexion with the court, for I can derive no use from it to my country; and yet I am aware advantage is taken of my neglect to intrigue. Some friends are at work with me, upon a plan of conduct, by which the revolution will be consolidated, the good basis of the constitution established, and public order restored. The chief talents of the assembly, Mirabeau himself, cannot but support this plan. Here then are courts established, and juries are decreed; this is the moment to let our voice be heard with force, propriety and utility.
"You have accepted the coalition which my heart and my patriotism have offered you. You lately said to one of my friends, "If Lafayette and I understand each other well, we shall establish a constitution."
"My first wish is to finish the revolution speedily and well, to secure the constitution on solid foundations, to employ for that purpose, all I possess of national confidense and personal means; and then to be nothing more in France, than an active citizen. Adieu,
But after he was persecuted by the Petions and Robespieres of the day, because of his moderation, loyalty and attachment to the constitution, he was held in high esteem by the friends of rational freedom, and still enjoyed the confidence both of Louis and of the National Assembly. Toward the close of the year 1791, by request of the King, he was appointed to command the army of the centre, to oppose the foreign troops then invading France. When he accepted the appointment, he assured the National Assembly of his "determination to support the constitution." The President replied, "the French nation, who have sworn to conquer and to live free, will always, with confidence, present to their foes and to tyrants, the constitution and Lafayette."
As commander in chief of that department of the French army entreated to him, he was assiduous to maintain proper discipline and order; a matter of great difficulty, as a revolutionary spirit pervaded all ranks, and the soldiers were disposed to insubordination, especially under a leader not belonging to the popular party. He had several engagements with the enemy, in which he was successful. But his operations and those of the other generals, who commanded in other departments of the northern armies of France, were greatly impeded by the injudicious and variable plans of the assembly, then torn by factions, and disgraced by low intrigues. The evil spirit extended to the military; and each faction had its partizans among the soldiers. Lafayette saw and lamented this disastrous state of things; and he dared to oppose his single efforts to avert the impending ruin. It was at this time, that he wrote his celebrated letter to the National Assembly, of June 16, 1792, in which he exposed the violence and the cabals of the Jacobins, and conjured the moderates to cling to the constitution, as the only means of safety. This letter is so important, in developing the views and sentiments of Lafayette, and in detecting the causes of the excesses, which eventually disgraced the French revolution of that period, that it will be proper to record it in this connexion. He wrote to the King at the same time, expressing great anxiety for his safety, and declaring his wish to maintain the constitution.
Lafayette's letter to the Legislative body.
"At the entrenched camp of Maubeuge, 16th June, 1792.
"At the moment, perhaps too long deferred, in which I am about to call your attention to the highest public interests, and to point out among our dangers, the conduct of a ministry, whom I have for a long time censured in my correspondence, I learn that, unmasked in consequence of its own divisions, it has fallen a sacrifice to its own intrigues. [This was the Brissotin ministry.] It is not enough however, that this branch of the government has been delivered from its disastrous influence. The public welfare is in peril—The fate of France depends principally on its representatives—The nation expects from them its security. But in giving them a constitution, France has prescribed to them the only means by which she can be saved.
"Persuaded, gentlemen, that as the rights of man are the law of every constituent assembly, a constitution ought to be the law of the legislators, which that constitution shall have established. It is to you that I ought to denounce the too powerful efforts which are making, to induce you to depart from that course which you have promised to pursue.
"Nothing shall deter me from the exercise of this right of a free man, to fulfill this duty of a citizen; neither the momentary errors of opinion; for what are opinions when they depart from principles: nor my respect for the representatives of the people; for I respect still more the people, whose sovereign will it is to have a constitution: nor the benevolence and kindness which you have constantly evinced for myself; for I would preserve that as I obtained it, by an inflexible love of liberty.
"Your situation is difficult—France is menaced from without, and agitated within. Whilst foreign powers announce the intolerable (inadmissible) project of attacking our national sovereignty, and avow it as a principle! at the same time the enemies of France, its interior enemies, intoxicated with fanaticism and pride, entertain chimerical hopes, and annoy us with their insolent malevolence. You ought, gentlemen, to repress them; and you will have the power so to do, only when you shall become constitutional and just. You wish it, no doubt; but cast your eyes upon all that passes within your own body and around you. Can you dissemble even to yourselves, that a faction, (and to avoid all vague denunciations) the jacobin faction, have caused all these disorders? It is that which I boldly accuse—organized like a separate empire in the metropolis, and in its affiliated societies, blindly directed by some ambitious leaders, this sect forms a corporation entirely distinct in the midst of the French people, whose powers it usurps, by tyrannizing over its representatives and constituted authorities.
"It is in that body, in its public meaning, the love of the laws is denounced as aristocracy, and their breach as patriotism. There the assassins of Dessilles receive their triumphs, the crimes of Jourdan find panegyrists. There, the recital of the massacre which has stained the city of Metz, has also been received with infernal acclamations! Have they become sacred because the emperor Leopold has pronounced their name? And because it is our highest duty to combat the foreigners, who mingle in our domestic quarrels, are we at liberty to refrain from delivering our country from domestic tyranny?
"Of what importance is it, as to the fulfillment of this duty, that strangers have their projects; and their connivance and concert with our internal foes? It is I, who denounce to you this sect [the jacobins]; I, who, without speaking of my past life, can reply to those who suspect my motives—"Approach, in this moment of awful crisis, when the character of each man must be known, and see which of us, more inflexible in his principles, more obstinate in his resistance, will more courageously overcome, those obstacles, and those dangers, which traitors to their country conceal, and which true citizens know how to appreciate, and to brave for her."
"And how could I delay longer to fulfill this duty, whilst every successive day weakens still more the constituted authorities, substitutes the spirit of party for the will of the people; whilst the audacity of the agitators, [the disorganizers] imposes silence on peaceable citizens, throws into retirement useful men, and whilst devotion to the sect or party stands in the place of public and private virtues, which, in a free country, ought to be the austere [severe, or strict] and only means of attaining to public office.
"It is, after having opposed to all the obstacles, and to all the snares, which were laid for me, the courageous and persevering patriotism of an army, sacrificed perhaps to conspiracies against its commander, (Lafayette was the commander) that I now oppose to this faction the correspondence of a ministry, worthy representative of its club—a correspondence, the calculations of which are false, its promises vain and illusory—its information deceitful or frivolous—its advice perfidious or contradictory—correspondence, in which after pressing me to advance without precaution—to attack without means—they finally began to tell me that resistance was impossible, when I indignantly repelled the cowardly and base assertion. What a remarkable conformity of language, gentlemen, between the factions whom the aristocracy avow, and those who usurp the name of patriots! They both wish to overthrow our laws, rejoice in our disorders, array themselves against the constituted authorities, detest the national guards (the militia)—preach insubordination to the army—sow, at one moment, distrust, at another, discouragement.
"As to myself, gentlemen, who embraced the American cause at the moment when its ambassadors declared to me that it was perilous or desperate— who from that moment have devoted my life to a persevering defence of liberty and of the sovereignty of the people—who, on the 14th of July, 1789 after the taking of the Bastille, in presenting to my country a declaration of rights dared to say "that in order that a nation should be free, it is only necessary that it should will so to be." I come, this day, full of confidence in the justice of our cause—of contempt, for the cowards who desert it, and of indignation against the traitors who would sully or stain it with crimes; I am ready to declare that the French nation, if it is not the vilest in the universe, can and ought to resist the conspiracy of kings who have coalesced against it!
"It is not in the midst of my brave army that timid counsels should be permitted.—Patriotism, discipline, patience, mutual confidence, all the military and civil virtues I find here. Here the principles of liberty and equality are cherished, the laws respected, property held sacred. Here calumnies and factions are unknown. And when I reflect that France has many millions who can become such soldiers, I ask myself, to what a degree of debasement must such an immense people be reduced, stronger in its natural resources than in its artificial defences, opposing to a monstrous and discordant confederation, simple and united counsels and combinations, that the cowardly, degrading idea of sacrificing its soverignty, of permitting any discussion as to its liberties, of committing to negotiation its rights, could be considered among the possibilities of a rapidly advancing futurity!
"But, in order that we, soldiers of liberty, should combat for her with efficacy, or die for her with any fruit or advantage, it is necessary that the number of the defenders of the country should be promptly made in some degree proportionate to that of our opponents; that the supplies of all descriptions should be increased so as to facilitate our movements; that the comfort and conveniences of the troops, their clothes and arms, their pay, the accommodations for the sick, should no longer be subject to fatal delays, or to a miserable and misplaced economy, which defeats its very end.
"It is above all, necessary that the citizens rallied round their constitution, should be assured that the rights which that constitution guarantees shall be respected with a religious fidelity; which will of itself cause more despair to our enemies than any other measure.
"Do not repel this desire—this ardent wish. It is that of all the sincere friends of your legitimate authority; assured that no unjust consequence or effect can flow from a pure principle—that no tyrannical measure can save a cause, which owes its force, aye, and its glory, to the sacred principles of liberty and equality. Let criminal jurisprudence resume its constitutional power. Let civil equality—let religious freedom enjoy the application of their true principles. In fine, let the reign of the clubs be annihilated by you; let them give place to the laws—their usurpations to the firm and independent exercise of the powers of the constituted authorities—their disorganizing maxims to the true principles of liberty—their delirious fury to the calm and constant courage of a nation which knows its rights, and is ready to defend them—in fine, their sectarian combinations to the true interests of the country, of the nation, which in a moment of danger ought to unite all, except those, to whom its subjection and ruin are the objects of atrocious pleasure and infamous speculation.
"Camp of Maubeuge, June, 16, 1792.
"SIRE—I have the honor to send your Majesty the copy of a letter to the National Assembly, in which you will find expressed the sentiments which have animated me all my life. The King knows with what ardour and perseverance I have at all times been devoted to the cause of liberty and to the principles of humanity, equality and justice. He knows, that I have always been the adversary of faction, the enemy of licentiousness, and that no power which I thought illegal has ever been acknowledged by me. He is acquainted with my devotion to his constitutional authority, and with my attachment to his person. Such, Sire, were the grounds of my letter to the National Assembly; such shall be those of my conduct to the nation and your Majesty, amidst the storms raised around to by hostile or by factious combinations.
"It does not belong to me, Sire, to give greater importance to my opinions and actions, than what is due to the individual conduct of a simple citizen. But the expression of my thoughts was always a right, and on this occasion becomes a duty; and though I should have performed it sooner, if, instead of being in a camp, I had remained in that retirement from which I was forced by the dangers of my country: yet I do not think that any public employment or private consideration exempts me from exercising this duty of a citizen, this right of a freeman.
"Persist, Sire, supported by the authority delegated to you by the national will, in the noble resolution of defending constitutional principles against all their enemies. Let this resolution, maintained by all the actions of your private life, as well as by a firm and complete exercise of the royal power; become the pledge of the harmony, which, particularly, at this critical juncture, cannot fail to be established between the elected representatives of the people and their hereditary representative. It is in this resolution, Sire, that glory and safety will be found for the country and for yourself. With this you will find the friends of liberty, all good Frenchmen ranged around your throne, to defend it against the plots of rebels and the enterprizes of the factious; and I, Sire, who in their honorable hatred have found the reward of my persevering opposition; I will always deserve it, by my zeal in the cause to which my whole life has been devoted, and by my fidelity to the oath I have taken to the nation, to the law and to the King. Such, Sire, are the unalterable sentiments I present to your Majesty, with my respect.
Letter of Lafayette on leaving Paris to join his army, after having appeared at the bar of the National Assembly, and protested against their proceedings, the last of June.
"Gentlemen—In returning to the post where brave soldiers are ready to die for the constitution, but ought not and will not lavish their blood except for that, I go with great and deep regret in not being able to inform the army, that the National Assembly have yet deigned to come to any determination on my petition. [alluding to the request in his letter to the assembly a short time before, to suppress the Jacobin clubs.] The voice of all the good citizens of the kingdom, which some factious clamours strive to stifle, daily call to the elected representatives of the people, that while there exists near them a sect who fetter all the authorities, and menace their independence; and who, after provoking war, are endeavoring, by changing the nature of our cause, to make it impossible to defend it; that while there is cause to blush at the impunity of an act of treason against the nation, which has raised just and great alarms in the minds of all the French, and universal indignation; our liberty, laws and honor are in danger. Truths like these, free and generous souls are not afraid of speaking. Hostile to the factious of every kind, indignant at cowards that can sink so low as to look for foreign interposition, and impressed with the principle, which I glory in being the first to declare to France, that all illegal power is oppression, against which resistance becomes a duty, we are anxious to make known our fears to the legislative body. We hope that the prudence of the representatives of the people will relieve our minds of them. As for me, gentlemen, who will never alter my principles, sentiments or language, I thought that the National Assembly, considering the urgency and danger of circumstances, would permit me to add my regrets and wishes to my profound respect."
Noble and generous sentiments, worthy of the disciple of our great Washington—'worthy of the philanthropic hero and firm friend of civil liberty'—worthy of the adopted citizen of free and independent America! Such were the opinions and sentiments of Washington and his friends, in 1794, when our republic was assailed by foreign emissaries, and convulsed by secret associations at home, who through ignorance or design were advocates for measures which would have thrown our country into a state of anarchy and misrule.
There was still a small majority in the National Assembly who were the friends of constitutional liberty, and advocates of Lafayette. But the Jacobins were every day increasing; and they felt confident of the popular favor. Enraged at his bold and independent conduct, and suspecting, perhaps that he was a secret supporter of all the wishes of the King, they denounced Lafayette as a traitor and an enemy to the republic. In this state of extreme ferment, while he was openly threatened and every attempt was making to render him odious to the populace, he had the courage (some might say, the rashness) to proceed to Paris, and present himself to the bar of the National Assembly. Few men, in such a situation, would have thus hazarded their lives; but he was strong in conscious rectitude. He appeared before his enemies with dignity and firmness. "He entreated the assembly to come forward and save the country from ruin, by dissolving the factious clubs and inflicting exemplary punishment on the authors of the late disgraceful riots." His friends were numerous in the Assembly, and probably the greater number condemned the violent transactions, against which he raised his voice in the legislative hall of the nation. The national guards in Paris, also, manifested their attachment to Lafayette. They assembled before the hotel in which he lodged; and planting a tree of liberty before the door, which they decorated with ensigns and ribbons, they greeted him with enthusiastic applause. But he was destined to suffer a reverse of fortune, and to be the subject of the most unjust and cruel persecution. The violent party prevailed: Lafayette and constitutional liberty, were proscribed; and the spirit of anarchy and misrule dictated the violent proceedings which deluged France in blood.
Lafayette, finding all his attempts to restore order and to maintain the constitution in vain, speedily returned to the army on the frontiers. This must have been a moment of great anxiety and suspense. Some suppose that, attached as most of the military were to him and supported by his friends of the moderate party, if he had marched his troops to Paris he might have defended the King from indignity, and restored the reign of law. But this is doubtful. The probability is, that with his love of justice and his correct principles, he could not persuade himself "that the end would justify the means;" and that he chose rather to submit to a cruel destiny, than to violate the constitution he had sworn to support, by resorting to physical force for the accomplishment of honorable purposes, and to be the occasion even indirectly of increasing the misery, in which his unhappy country was involved. He was, indeed, accused by his enemies of a design to march to Paris with his troops and to force the assembly into a compliance with his views. But this was a most unfounded calumny. When the minister for the home department wrote to him on the subject, in the name of the Assembly he replied—"If I were questioned respecting my principles, I should say, that as a constant proclaimer and defender of the rights of man, and the sovereignty of the people, I have every where and always resisted authorities which liberty disavowed and which the national will had not delegated; and that I have every where and always obeyed those, of which a free constitution had fixed the forms and the limits. But I am questioned respecting a fact—Did I propose to Marshal Luckner to march to Paris with our armies? To which I answer in four words—It is not true."
Under the pretence that General Lafayette was meditating some plan hostile to the cause of liberty, or designed to aid the King in another attempt to escape from France, three commissioners were sent to counteract his movements. But he was notified of their appointment, and ordered their arrest before they reached his army. He knew they were deputed by a faction, and hoped the assembly would return to more moderate and just views. He addressed the following letter to the troops under his command. "It is no longer time to conceal from you what is going forward. The constitution you swore to maintain is no more; a troop of factious men besieged the palace of the Tuilleries; the national and Swiss guards made a brave resistance, but they were obliged to surrender, and were inhumanly murdered. The King, Queen and all the royal family escaped to the National Assembly; the factious ran thither, holding a sword in one hand and fire in the other, and forced the legislative body to supersede the King, which was done for the sake of saving his life. Citizens, you are no longer represented; the National Assembly are in a state of slavery; Petion reigns; the savage Danton and his satellites are masters. Thus it is for you to determine whether you will support the hereditary representative of the throne, or submit to the disgrace of having a Petion for your king."
The appeal was in vain. Though a momentary respond was given by the soldiers to the sentiments of their magnanimous commander, the baleful influence of faction had corrupted many of them; and finding himself robbed of the confidence of the army, as well as of the assembly, and thus deprived of all hope of being useful to his country, he quitted France, with an intention of retiring to America, where he had just reason to expect a grateful reception.
Thus terminated the revolutionary career of Lafayette; through the whole of which he appears to the impartial observer to have acted an honorable and disinterested part. If he committed faults, they were those of opinion or judgment; in sincerity and in zealous devotion to the liberty of his country, he was exceeded by none. He may justly be considered "an illustrious confessor of regulated liberty." His great object was to reform existing abuses, to lay the foundation of constitutional freedom: and with all his zeal for the recognition and the support of the rights of man, he was desirous of preserving a just measure of authority in the crowns and maintaining a sacred regard to law and justice. That he failed in his wishes of introducing into France a more mild and popular government, is matter of regret with the friends of civil liberty in America. But he cannot justly be censured by them for the failure of his object, or for the excesses which attended the revolution. The violent proceedings of the jacobins, which excited so much horror among the friends of regulated liberty in other countries, were opposed by him personally with singular firmness and constancy. He distinguished, with great accuracy, between the will of the people and the clamours of a faction; and between the deliberate acts of the legislature sanctioned by the constitution, and the hasty sentence or orders of a party, adopted without the usual forms of law, so necessary to the order and welfare of society.
Lafayette was arrested by an Austrian General, and delivered over to the King of Prussia, who ordered him to be confined in a prison at Wesel and at Magdeburg. Here he suffered some time, when he was removed to the fortress of Olmutz. In this place he was kept under the most rigorous confinement— enduring the privations and severity fit only to be inflicted on the greatest criminals.
After a close confinement of several weeks in the common prison at Wesel, he was removed to Magdeburg, and thence to Olmutz. At Magdeburg he was confined for a year, in a dark and solitary dungeon; during which he was offered his liberty, on condition of his joining with the enemies of France. He spurned the proposal with indignation; and preferred imprisonment and indignity, to treachery or hostility to his own country. When first taken into custody, he was treated with insult by the people of some places through which he was conducted; but afterwards, a deep interest was manifested in his behalf, and the warmest sympathy was expressed for his unfortunate condition.
The following is an extract from a letter of Lafayette in 1793, while confined at Magdeburg.
"Since my captivity, but one political paper has reached me, and that is yours for February. I appreciate, with deep sensibility, the justice you render my sentiments, and the approbation you bestow upon my conduct. Your commendations are greatly beyond my deserts; but your kind exaggerations contain, at this moment, something so generous, I cannot withhold from you my thanks, that you have enabled me to hear the voice of liberty honoring my tomb. My situation is peculiarly strange. I have sacrificed my republican partialities to the state and wishes of the nation: I obeyed the sovereign power where I found it vested, in the constitution. My popularity was as great as I could desire; for the legislative body defended me better on the 8th of August, than it defended itself on the 10th. But I became obnoxious to the Jacobins, because I reprobated their aristocracy, which aimed at usurping all legitimate authority.
"From Constantinople to Lisbon, from Kamschatka to Amsterdam, every bastille is ready to receive me. The Huron and Iroquois forests are peopled with my friends; the despots and the courts of Europe, they are the only savages I fear. I am aware that the laws of England would protect me, though the court of St. James is opposed to me: but I cannot seek protection in a country at war with my own. America, the country of my heart, would welcome me with joy. Yet my fears for the future destiny of France, induce me to give the preference to Switzerland, at least for the present."
After this, he was confined about four years in the prison of Olmutz, when Henry Bollman, a young German physician, and Francis Huger, an American, (son of Colonel Huger, of South Carolina, who had first received Lafayette when he arrived in the United States, in 1777,) made great personal sacrifices, and exposed themselves to imminent dangers to effect his escape. General Washington also, then President of the United States, repeatedly solicited his release, on the ground of his being an American citizen, as he really was by a legal adoption. But his requests were vain. It was not consistent with the policy of the "Legitimates" of Europe, to show any favor to such a friend of liberty as Lafayette, or to listen to the honorable application of the chief magistrate of the American republic.
We have already seen frequent proofs of the peculiar regard which Washington cherished for Lafayette. He did not forget him when immured in the prison at Olmutz. Such was the state of political affairs in Europe, such the suspicions both of the jacobins in France, and the advocates for monarchy in the surrounding nations, that a formal and public request for the release of Lafayette, would have been of no avail. It would probably have added to the severity of his treatment by his implacable enemies. The American ministers residing at foreign courts were instructed, however, to suggest on proper occasions, the wishes of the President of the United States, for his enlargement. A confidential person was sent to Berlin to solicit his discharge. But Lafayette had been placed in the custody of the Austrian cabinet, before the messenger arrived. The American envoy at the court of St. James, exerted himself in favour of the heroic friend of Washington, but without effect. As the last resource, the President wrote directly to the Emperor of Germany on the subject. Justice both to Washington and Lafayette requires the recital of the letter.
"It will readily occur to your majesty, that occasions may sometimes exist, on which official considerations would constrain the chief of a nation to be silent and passive in relation even to objects which affect his sensibility, and claim his interposition as a man. Finding myself precisely in this situation at present, I take the liberty of writing this private letter to your majesty, being persuaded that my motives will also be my apology for it.
"In common with the people of this country, I retain a strong and cordial sense of the services rendered to them by the Marquis de Lafayette; and my friendship for him has been constant and sincere. It is natural, therefore, that I should sympathize with him and his family in their misfortunes; and endeavour to mitigate the calamities they experience, among which his present confinement is not the least distressing.
"I forbear to enlarge on this delicate subject. Permit me only to submit to your majesty's consideration, whether his long imprisonment and the confiscation of his estate, and the indigence and dispersion of his family, and the painful anxieties incident to all these circumstances, do not form an assemblage of sufferings which recommend him to the mediation of humanity? Allow me, Sir, on this occasion to be its organ; and to entreat that he may be permitted to come to this country, on such conditions as your majesty may think it expedient to prescribe.
"As it is a maxim with me not to ask what, under similar circumstances, I would not grant, your majesty will do me the justice to believe that this request appears to me, to correspond with those great principles of magnanimity and wisdom, which form the basis of sound policy and durable glory."—But his imperial majesty was either destitute of the humanity and magnanimity, to which Washington appealed; or was prevented granting the request, through some promises to an "holy alliance," which even then existed among the princes of Europe.
Several members of the British Parliament made an effort, at this time, for the enlargement of Lafayette and his three friends from the dungeon of Olmutz. General Fitzpatrick moved for an address to his majesty, stating "that the detention of Lafayette and others by order of the King of Prussia and Emperor of Austria, was dishonorable to the cause of the allies, and praying him to interfere for their release." In support of his motion, he remarked, that although Lafayette was imprisoned by the allied powers on the continent, yet the government of Great Britain would be implicated in the cruel act, unless it should attempt his liberation, as it had now become a member of the coalition against the anarchical conduct of the French. He contended that justice and humanity required them to intercede in behalf of this oppressed and injured man. The generous Briton insisted, that Lafayette, though a friend to civil liberty, was a firm advocate for constitutional principles, and was in favor of the power of the King as in a limited monarchy: and made a powerful appeal to the generosity and honor of his countrymen, to unite in soliciting for the freedom of Lafayette. Colonel Tarlton, then a member of Parliament, who had been opposed to Lafayette in America, in the campaign of 1781, supported the motion of his military friend; and with great eloquence, urged the propriety and justice of his liberation. Mr. Fox also spoke in favor of an address to the King, for this humane purpose. But their arguments and their eloquence were vain. It did not consist with the existing policy of the British cabinet, to listen to the proposition. The motion was lost by a large majority.
Bollman proceeded to Olmutz, and thence to Vienna, where he was so fortunate as to meet with young Huger; and they cordially united in the humane and chivalrous project of rescuing the generous Lafayette, They both repaired immediately to Olmutz, and there became acquainted with two other gentlemen, who favoured their benevolent scheme. But the difficulty of effecting it can be easily imagined. A physician of Olmutz was engaged to make known the plan to Lafayette, when he visited him in prison, then in reality, or apparently in a debilitated state of health. He had, in fact, been attacked with fever at Magdeburg, which at one time was feared would terminate his valuable life, and from the effects of which he had not fully recovered. By him a note was communicated to Lafayette, which he answered with his blood. In a short time, the physician prevailed on the governor of the city to permit his prisoner to take an airing, occasionally, in a coach, attended by a guard. It was concerted, that in one of his short excursions with the governor, he should leave the carriage under some pretence, when he was to be joined by Bollman and Huger, and immediately conducted under cover of a dark night, to the confines of Silesia, beyond the territory of the Emperor of Austria. He alighted from the carriage, near a small wood, and his generous friends, who were ready to protect him, immediately attempted to convey him away on horseback; but the guard, which accompanied the carriage, suspecting some design, pushed forward into the wood, and attempted to seize the noble prisoner, and his brave friends. A desperate struggle ensued, in which the Marquis was wounded; but they succeeded in escaping from the guard. Huger was seen and followed by some of the peasantry; and after a long pursuit was overtaken and secured. The governor and his guard returned to Olmutz; alarm guns were immediately fired, and the whole population for several miles was soon engaged in search of Lafayette and Bollman. They were taken in the course of the evening, at the distance of about ten miles from Olmutz, and conveyed back to the prison, where a most rigorous confinement awaited them. Lafayette was put in irons, and suffered the most excruciating torture. He was in a feeble state, overcome by fatigue, and suffering greatly from the bruises and wounds received in his late attempt to escape. "His anxieties, his anguish (and despair we may almost say,) at finding himself again in the power of his unrelenting jailor, so affected his nerves, that his fever returned with increased and alarming violence. In this state he was allowed nothing but a little damp and mouldy straw; irons were put round his feet, and round his waist was a chain, fastened to the wall, which barely permitted him to turn from one side to the other. No light was admitted into his cell; and he was refused even the smallest allowance of linen.
"The winter of 1794-95 was very severe, but his inhuman jailors did not relax from the rigour of prescribed and systematic oppression. It seemed, indeed as if their object was to put an end to their victim's existence by this ingenious device of incessant cruelty. Worn down by disease and the rigour of the season, his hair fell from his head, and he was emaciated to the last degree. To these physical distresses were soon super added those mental anxieties, which perhaps, were still more difficult to endure. The only information he could obtain respecting the fate of his wife and children, for whom he felt the greatest solicitude, was, that they were confided in the prisons of Paris: and in reply to his enquiries concerning his most generous friends, Bollman and Huger, he was informed by his unfeeling tormentors that they were soon to perish by the hands of the hangman."
Bollman and Huger were kept in close confinement in the prison at Olmutz, for some time, for having attempted to rescue Lafayette from his cruel imprisonment. The keepers of the prison were unfeeling men; and instead of slowing any favour to their prisoners, who ought to have received their admiration, subjected them to unnecessary severity. They were subjected to strict examination, after a long confinement, and the sentence of their judges was in favour of their liberation, on paying a large amount to government. By the aid of some generous friends, they were furnished with the requisite sums, and discharged from the prison. But Lafayette was still detained in prison, and in the same suffering and shameful condition as before mentioned. It was several months before his irons and chains were removed; which was effected through the very benevolent individuals, who had secretly favoured his recent attempt to escape; but who, happily both for him and themselves, were not suspected of any agency in the plot: these were an opulent Jewish merchant, and the chief surgeon to the prisoners. They prevailed also with the civil authority to grant permission to the Marquis to walk an hour each day, in front of the prison, though in custody of a strong guard of soldiers, and no one was allowed to speak to him.
Unutterably painful and distressing must have been the situation of Madame Lafayette ever after the fatal day, when her beloved and affectionate husband felt it his duty to depart from France, and leave her and their three children unprotected, and subject to the insults and severities of an enraged and lawless mob. She and her two daughters, then about fifteen and twelve, were cast into prison in Paris. The family estates were confiscated, and most of his particular friends fell by the stroke of the guillotine. In this agonizing condition, she maintained the most wonderful fortitude and patience; without uncommon firmness and sincere trust in providence, she must have sunk under such deep and complicated distress. While she was in prison, she was often found in a retired spot, engaged in holy and humble supplication to heaven. When she was released from the prison, after about twenty months of degrading confinement, her constitution was greatly enfeebled, and her friends and physician advised her to seek repose at some retired place in the country. But she refused, and feeble and emaciated as she was, she resolved to proceed immediately to Olmutz, and to bury herself in prison with her husband, unless she could possibly procure his liberation. With this purpose in view, she went first to Vienna, to endeavour to concilitate the favor and influence of the Emperor. Through the friendly interposition of two noble females, acquainted at court, she was admitted to an audience with the Emperor.
He received her graciously, and professed a desire that her request might be fulfilled; but gave no positive orders for the liberation of Lafayette because his political engagements with other courts prevented it. He, however, consented that she might visit her husband. She accordingly repaired to Olmutz, to minister, as an angel of light, to his comfort, though not clothed with power to give him that liberty, which they ardently hoped. She and her daughters shared with him the confinement of a dreary prison, for nearly two years. It was not until 1797, that they were set at liberty: and this was immediately owing to the influence of General Bonaparte, on his victories over the Austrians in that year. Lafayette expressed his gratitude for this generous interference; but he made no sacrifice of principle, and was never his admirer or supporter.
While confined in the prison of Olmutz, with her husband, Madame Lafayette, whose health was much impaired by her sorrows and suffering, requested leave to visit Vienna for a week. She was informed her request would be granted on condition, that her daughters should be kept in a separate apartment from their father, and that she herself would never again enter the prison. She declined the offer, with indignation. Her letter on the subject, concludes thus-"Whatever may be the state of my own health and the inconvenience attending the stay of my daughters in this place we will most gratefully take advantage of the goodness his imperial majesty has expressed towards us, by the permission to share in the miseries of this captivity."
When the Emperor of Austria agreed to his liberation, he proposed certain conditions, to which Lafayette refused his assent. One was that he should immediately leave Europe and embark to America. "This", said the noble-minded Marquis, "has often been my desire and intention: but as my consent to this proposition, at the present moment, would be an acknowledgment of his right to impose such a condition, I cannot comply with the demand."—The other was, that as the principles which Lafayette professed were supposed to be incompatible with the safety of the Austrian government, the Emperor could not consent that he should again enter his territory without a special permission. To this Lafayette replied, "that there already existed antecedent obligations, of which he could not divest himself; partly towards America, but chiefly towards France; and that he could not engage to do any thing, which should interfere with the rights of his country to his personal services. With these exceptions, he assured the Emperor's ambassador, that it was his firm resolution not to set foot again on any part of his Majesty's dominions."
When he was set free from the long and severe incarceration at Olmutz, Lafayette proceeded to the neutral city of Hamburg, with his family; where he received the kindest and most respectful attentions from some American gentlemen, then in that place, and also from many of the distinguished citizens, who cherished the highest regard for his character, and his meritorious services in the cause of liberty. It was at this time, that his son, George Washington Lafayette, joined the family, on his return from the United States, where he had just then passed several years. After a short residence in Hamburg, Lafayette accepted the invitation of an Hanoverian nobleman, and passed some time at his elegant chateau in Holstein, where his eldest daughter was married to Latour Maubourg, a brother of one of the Marquis' staff officers, who retired with him from France, August 1792; and had shared with him the severities of the prison of Magdeburg and Olmutz. He then resided some time in the family of a French emigrant, living in that vicinity, and who was a distant relative of Madame Lafayette. In this situation he studied the agriculture of Holstein; and gave particular attention to the raising of merino sheep, an object in which he was also engaged after his return to La Grange, his country seat near Paris.
In 1800 a new revolution took place in the French government. The Directors were found to be incompetent to the support of order; cabals and factions still existed, and confusion prevailed through the nation. General Bonaparte, who had led the armies to victory in several campaigns, was ambitious of the sole direction of public affairs. The executive power, by the new constitution, was to be placed in three Consuls, of whom Napoleon was elected chief. A Conservative Senate, so called, was to constitute a part of the Legislature and to be joined with the Consuls also in providing for the public welfare in cases of particular emergency. By the constitutionalists and those opposed to the violent factions, by which France had been long agitated and disgraced, this change was considered as auspicious to the cause of rational liberty. They hoped that a more stable government would be now formed, and that their country would enjoy a season of repose. Lafayette seized this favorable moment to return to France, after an absence of nearly eight years. His patriotic feelings had not abated, though he had suffered so long and so intensely from the hatred of those who directed the destinies of his country. His love of liberty was not weakened, though many of his countrymen, with its sacred name on their lips, had committed excesses almost without a parallel in the most despotic governments. The First Consul incited Lafayette to take a seat in the Conservative Senate; but he declined; by which he gave new proofs of his disinterested and sincere attachment to the constitutional liberty and the rights of the people. After several conversations with Bonaparte, he was satisfied of the ambitious views of this military adventurer. He perceived that the constitution was to serve as an apology for the exercise of unlimited power in the First Consul; and that representatives and senators were to be the humble ministers of his will. He saw that the constitution did not emanate from the will of the people; and was not calculated to secure and promote their welfare. Bonaparte also had discernment to learn, that Lafayette was too sincere a friend to civil liberty and to the interests of the people, to support his purposes, or to submit to his plans of personal aggrandizement.
We shall have a more just estimation of the noble sentiments with which Lafayette was animated, in declining the generous offers of the First Consul, when it is considered, that, in addition to his self-banishment to private life, he also refused an honorable salary of 7000 dollars, when the estates which remained in his possession yielded only 2000 dollars. He had a grant of land from the American Congress, in consideration of his important services in the revolution, estimated to be worth 100,000 dollars. Before the revolution, his income was 50,000 dollars: but the most valuable of his patrimonial property, as well as that which accrued to him in consequence of his marriage, had been seized by the lawless robbers of the revolution.
It was in conformity to the principles, which he had long professed and by which he was constantly guided, that he soon after opposed the election of Bonaparte as Consul for life. He would have consented, perhaps, to the claims of the aspiring Napoleon to be the First Magistrate of France, under a constitution, which expressly defined and restricted his power, and at the same time provided a sufficient guaranty of the liberties of the people.
On this occasion he wrote thus to the First Consul—"When a man, who is deeply impressed with a sense of the gratitude he owes you, and who is too ardent a lover of glory to be indifferent to yours, connects his suffrage with conditional restrictions, those restrictions not only secure him from suspicion, but prove amply, that no one will more gladly than himself behold in you the chief magistrate for life, of a free and independent republic.
"The eighteenth Brumaire saved France from destruction and I felt myself reassured and recalled by the liberal declarations to which you have connected the sanction of your honor. In your consular authority there was afterwards discerned that salutary dictatorial prerogative, which under the auspices of a genius like yours, accomplished such glorious purposes—yet less glorious, let me add, than the restoration of liberty would prove.
"It is not possible, general, that you, the first among that order of mankind, which surveys every age and every country, can desire that a revolution, marked by an unexampled series of stupendous victories and unheard of sufferings, shall give nothing to the world but a renovated system of arbitrary government. The people of this country have been acquainted with their rights too long, to forget them forever: but perhaps they may recover and enjoy them better now than during the period of revolutionary effervescence. And you, by the strength of your character and the influence of public confidence, by the superiority of your talents, your power, and your fortunes, in re-establishing the liberties of France, can allay all agitations, calm all anxieties and subdue all dangers.
"When I wish, then, to see the career of your glory crowned by the honors of perpetual magistracy, I but act in correspondence with my own private sentiments, and am influenced exclusively by patriotic considerations. But all my political and moral obligations, the principles which have governed every action of my life, call on me to pause before I bestow on you my suffrage, until I feel assured that your authority shall be erected on a basis worthy of the nation and yourself.
"I confidently trust, general, that you will recognize here, as you have done on all other occasions, a steady continuance of my political opinions, combined with the sincerest prayers for your welfare, and the deepest sense of all my obligations towards you."
Here closed all connexion between Lafayette and Bonaparte. The First Consul not only avoided all intercourse with one so sincerely devoted to the cause of liberty; but he treated him with that studied neglect, which was little short of persecution. There was indeed nothing congenial either in the character or principles of these two distinguished men. The one was aiming at power by any means, without regard to the rights or happiness of his fellow men; the other was anxious for the permanent establishment of a mild government in his native country, for the true welfare and liberty of the people; and was willing to make every sacrifice for the attainment of such great objects.
The unfriendly feelings of Bonaparte were extended even to the younger Lafayette. This patriotic youth, with much of the public spirit of his noble father, engaged in the service of his country soon after his return from America. He was an aid of the brave Grouchy, general of division; an active, intelligent, meritorious officer, and distinguished on various occasions. But he received neither advancement nor distinction from the Emperor. It was, on the contrary, the wish of Napoleon, that young Lafayette would send in his resignation, and retire from the army. When this was made known to him, he observed, "that as long as his country was involved in war, he should not disgrace himself by a resignation; and that he should be ashamed to think of it, while his companions were daily exposing themselves to danger. It was true, he was an American citizen, but he was first of all a Frenchman and a loyal Frenchman."
G. W. Lafayette was much esteemed by the officers who knew him, of all ranks; and they frequently solicited his promotion; but the Emperor disregarded alike the merits of the youthful hero and the entreaties of his military friends. He continued in the army until the treaty of Tilsit.
To a man of his great sensibility and warmth of affection, the severest affliction which Lafayette has been called to endure, great and various as have been his sufferings, now awaited him. His amiable, his attached and devoted wife was torn from him, in his retreat, within a few years after his return to France; when he more than ever, perhaps, needed her company and solace, to fortify his mind under the multiplied disappointments from the world.
She had never enjoyed perfect health after her imprisonment at Olmutz. But possessed of uncommon fortitude and imbued with religious sentiments, she was still instrumental in promoting the happiness of her husband and family. Her patience, her equanimity, her sweetness of temper never forsook her. But her constitution was broken, and a sudden paralysis deprived her of her physical strength and almost of speech. At the urgent request of her husband, though with reluctance, she was conveyed to Paris for medical assistance; but it proved in vain. She died in December 1807.
While Madame de Lafayette was in the prison in Paris, though treated with the greatest severity by Robespierre and his party, she had the consolation of sharing in the sympathetic kindness and assistance of many individuals, who were willing to expose themselves to the hatred of her cruel persecutors for her relief. A gentleman from Boston, Joseph Russel, Esq. then a resident in Paris, made great efforts for her liberation; although by this generous interference he hazarded his own life. It was through his friendly assistance, that her son G. W. Lafayette, then about fourteen years of age, was conveyed to the United States, where he remained till the discharge of his parents from the dungeons of Olmutz.
About this period, and soon after the death of his amiable wife, General Lafayette received a severe fracture in one of his legs, by a fall, which occasioned his confinement for nearly twelve months, and was the cause of his present lameness. He had been transacting business with the minister of the marine; and in going from the office to his carriage, a distance of two hundred paces, late in the evening, after a heavy rain and sleet, which had rendered it dangerous walking, he fell suddenly and broke a bone.
For six or seven years, till 1814, when Louis XVIII. returned to France to mount the throne of the Bourbons, Lafayette resided at his chateau of La Grange, an inactive spectator of the political changes which took place. No doubt he had a sufficient apology for this inaction and voluntary retreat from public affairs. He was too honest and too candid, too much an enemy to the anarchy of the jacobin factions, and to the despotism of the Emperor, to support either, or to be received into their confidence. He would probably have been satisfied with the restoration of a Bourbon to the throne, if the throne could be founded in a constitution, admitting the representatives of the people to a share in legislation, and defining the extent and the measure of the executive authority. He was animated by the same principles and sentiments which governed him in the part he acted in 1789 and 1792: and although he might acquiesce in a different government, either under the First Consul, or under Louis XVIII. he could not, consistently, and therefore he chose not to forward their views by his own personal influence and support. He was still calumniated by some agents of the Bourbons, yet he declared, on the return of Bonaparte from Elba, to gain the throne of France, "that in all measures, which should promote or be consistent with the liberties of the people, he would aid the cause of the legitimate heir of the crown." The views of Louis' friends and allies were too arbitrary to lead them to expect his approbation and aid.
Louis XVIII. had not been long in France, before great discontent was manifested among the citizens at the prospect of his being placed on the throne of his brother. Napoleon and his friends took advantage of this state of things: he left his retreat in the Island of Elba, and returned to Paris. Louis was obliged to retire. Bonaparte, through his brother Joseph, the ex-king of Spain, solicited of Lafayette to accept of a peerage. But he promptly declined; but observed, "that if there should be a convocation of a chamber of representatives," which he strenuously urged, "he would consent to take a part in public affairs, should he be elected." His independence and his want of faith in Napoleon, were preserved, notwithstanding the urgent advances of the latter; and he resolutely refused to go near him till after his final abdication. Yet even at this time, Lafayette thought he might rely on "his cordial opposition to all foreign invasion and influence, and to any family or party which should avail itself of such assistance in order to attack the independence and the liberties of France." Much as he distrusted the views of Bonaparte, and desirous as he was of some explicit guaranty, from him and his supporters, for the liberty of the French people, he would not unite with the Bourbons, who were resolved to place Louis XVIII. firmly on the throne of his ancestors, by any means in their power, and who had collected an army of one million two hundred thousand foreigners to accomplish their object, at the risque of a civil war, and a general slaughter, similar to that with which the unprincipled, revolutionary Jacobins had before afflicted the nation.
Lafayette was now elected a member of the chamber of deputies from his own department, though he had protested against the articles of the constitution of the empire, and of the additional act which conspired against the sovereignty of the people, and the rights of the citizens. This was a strong proof of the sense the people had of his integrity and his patriotism. After the battle of Waterloo, Napoleon returned to Paris, in consternation, and undecided as to the course he would pursue on this signal reverse of fortune. Some of his friends advised him again to abdicate the office of Emperor, which he held by so precarious a tenure; others suggested decisive and bold measures, with a view to fortify himself in power, even in apposition to the will and wishes of the deputies. He attempted to prorogue the chamber of representatives, and have himself proclaimed perpetual dictator. Lafayette was then present in the chamber; and with his usual independence and energy, made the following observations.
"When, for the first time for many years, I raise my voice; which the old friends of liberty will recognise again, I feel constrained to address you, gentlemen, on the imminent danger of the country, which you alone are able to prevent.
"Disastrous reports have been circulated and are now unhappily confirmed. Now is the time to rally round the old tri-coloured standard of 1789, of liberty, of equality, and of public order. It is this alone which we are bound to defend against foreign pretensions and domestic factions. Allow a veteran in this holy cause, who has always been an enemy to the baneful spirit of dissension, to submit the following preliminary resolutions" of which I hope you will admit the necessity.
"First. The Chamber of Representatives declare that the independence of the nation is endangered.
"Second. The Chamber declare themselves in continued session—That every attempt to prorogue the Chamber shall be considered high treason—That any one guilty of such an attempt shall be deemed a traitor to his country, and be instantly proceeded against as such.
"Third. The army of the line and the national guards, who have fought and are still fighting for the independence of France, deserve the gratitude of their Country.
"Fourth. The minister of the interior is directed to assemble the general staff, the commandants and majors of the legion of the national guard of Paris, to consult on the means of supplying them with arms, and to render complete this citizen-guard; whose zeal and patriotism having been proved for twenty-six years, offer a sure guaranty of the liberty, the property and the tranquility of the capital, and of the inviolability of the representatives of the nation.
"Fifth. The ministers of war, of foreign relations, of the interior and of the police, are invited to attend the assembly immediately."
When the Emperor was informed that Lafayette was in the tribune, and engaged in the discussions on the proposition of constituting him dictator for life, he expressed great alarm and anxiety. He knew the sentiments of Lafayette too well, not to feel assured of his opposition to such a measure. For this consistent and zealous advocate for the rights of the people had always been hostile to a chief magistrate, under any title, who should possess absolute power; and contended for a constitution to limit and define the executive authority. It was then that. Bonaparte exclaimed, "Lafayette in the tribune!" and his great agitation betrayed the belief, that his power was at an end. In this situation, his armies defeated, and the representatives of the people opposed to his wishes of a perpetual dictatorship, he gave formal notice of his purpose to abdicate the imperial authority. Lafayette was at the head of the deputation appointed by the chamber of representatives, to wait on the Emperor, to accept and thank him for his abdication, A few days before this, when the deputies were accused of being capricious and ungrateful, by a friend of Napoleon, Lafayette observed, in reply, "go tell him that we can trust him no longer; we ourselves will undertake the salvation of our country."
Although he opposed the ambitious views of Bonaparte, and boldly and decidedly remonstrated against his intention of again assuming absolute power, yet he moved in the chamber of Representatives, at this time, that the liberty and person of the late Emperor Napoleon should be placed under the protection of the French nation; expecting, probably, that the allied princes of Europe, already in the vicinity of Paris with powerful armies, would take his life, or cause him to be imprisoned.
Lafayette was one of the Commissioners appointed by the Chamber of Deputies to propose to the allied powers a suspension of hostilities. His object was to provide for the liberty of the people and to exact a promise of some limitations and restrictions to the royal authority. But the friends and supporters of the Bourbon dynasty, the hereditary princes of Europe, had a powerful army in the suburbs of Paris, and they refused to make any terms with the most moderate and honorable advocates of popular rights. Though one tyrant was overthrown; another was to be forced upon them: not precisely an usurper indeed; but who, without a constitution for his guide, and surrounded by men of arbitrary principles might be instrumental in their oppression and degradation. When he returned to Paris, he found the invading armies in possession of the city. Napoleon escaped, and nominal tranquility was restored to the capital of France. But it was a tranquility produced by a military force; and not that which is the effect of a wise and energetic government founded in the will of the people. The doors of the assembly were closed against the representatives of the people, by the gens d'armes, the agents who restored the Bourbon dynasty. Many of the deputies then assembled at the house of Lafayette; at whose instance they repaired to the President's to record their testimony to this forced and unjust exclusion, and to sign the proces verbal.
As he alike disapproved of Louis or Napoleon assuming the power of King or Emperor, without a bill of rights securing the privileges of the people, and a constitution as the rule and measure of executive acts, it was no longer in his power to render service to his country is a public station: nor did the favorites of Louis XVIII. invite him to take part in the administration of government, which they proposed to establish. It may appear surprising, on the first view of the subject, that the friends of a monarch of the reputed mild character of Louis, who must wish the greatest happiness of his subjects, should refuse to such men as Lafayette, all share in the government; and at the same time, take into their employment and confidence, many of the creatures of Bonaparte, who were destitute alike of principle and patriotism. But it is often found to be the fact, that the sincere and honest, who will not flatter, and do not approve all the projects of an ambitious aspirant, or an arbitrary Prince, are less courted, than those who have no settled principles, or one ever ready to support the successful candidate for power.
Except the short and occasional engagements in political concerns, just above related, Lafayette, after his return to France in the year 1800, generally remained at his estate, about thirty miles from Paris. But though retired from the more active scenes of public life, he enjoyed the friendship of several eminent characters in his own country; and was visited by all distinguished Americans, and many British statesmen and scholars, whose business or amusement led them to travel through France. He was always particularly desirous to learn the affairs of America, his adopted country; and was careful to procure all the publications from the United States. Besides literary pursuits, he was occasionally occupied in attending to the cultivation and improvement of his family estate. Such has frequently been the employment and solace of eminent men, when they have retired from high public stations, in which their services and exactions have met the mistaken censure or the neglect of the world. During several of the first years of this retirement, he was blessed with the society of an amiable and affectionate wife. And after her much lamented death, which has been before noticed, he still enjoyed the pleasure of being surrounded by his children and grand children, in whose education and improvement he always took a truly paternal interest.
At the time the federal constitution was in discussion by conventions in the several states, and when it first went into operation, Alexander Hamilton, who was its zealous advocate, corresponded with Lafayette on the subject. The letters have not been published; but it is probable they would be highly interesting to the politician and statesman, and serve fully to develop the views of both these eminent men on the science of civil government. This was about the period of the commencement of the French revolution. The particular extent of the change in the monarchical government of France, contemplated by Lafayette, may appear by this epistolary discussion. If not wholly confidential, it may be expected, that the letters will be given to the American public.
His second daughter, Virginia, married Monsieur de Lasteyrie, a young gentleman of eminent literary attainments; and who distinguished himself, also, as an officer in the French army, during the reign of Napoleon; particularly in the campaign of Jena, Eylau, Friedland, &c. But this brave and meritorious officer shared, with his brother-in-law, G. W. Fayette, the constant neglect and hatred of Bonaparte. G. W. Fayette was married to a daughter of Count de Tracy, one of the party of moderates, or liberals, as often denominated, and sometime a member of the conservative senate. The son and sons-in-law of General Lafayette, reside at the same chateau with their father; which is sufficiently spacious, not only for the respectable accommodation of the four united families, the father, son and two sons-in-law; but for the reception and occasional residence of family or other particular friends, who often pass much time in this hospitable mansion. Monsieur de Maubourg, an old and intimate friend of General Lafayette, with his lady, usually spend the greater part of the year at the chateau of La Grange. The son, and eldest daughter, who married Charles Latour Maubourg, have each several children, who are peculiar objects of affection and interest with their respected grandsire:
The following remarks of Madame de Stael, who personally knew much of General Lafayette, [Footnote: She was also an intimate friend of Madame de Lafayette. They were accused, in the days of suspicion and terror, of being too much engaged in political affairs.] and who was well acquainted with characters and events connected with the French revolution, are deemed worthy of being presented to the reader of these hasty memoirs.
"M. de Lafayette, having fought from his early youth for the cause of America, had early become imbued with the principles of liberty, which form the basis of that government. If he made mistakes with regard to the French revolution, we are to ascribe them all to his admiration of the American institutions, and of Washington, the hero citizen, who guided the first steps of that nation in the career of Independence. Lafayette, young, affluent, of noble family, and beloved at home, relinquished all these advantages at the age of nineteen, to serve beyond the ocean in the cause of that liberty, the love of which has decided every action of his life. Had he had the happiness to be a native of the United States, his conduct would have been that of Washington: the same disinterestedness, the same enthusiasm, the same perseverance in their opinions, distinguished each of these generous friends of humanity. Had General Washington been, like the Marquis de Lafayette, commander of the national guard of Paris, he also might have found it impossible to control the course of circumstances; he also might have seen his efforts baffled by the difficulty of being at once faithful to his engagements to the king, and of establishing at the same time, the liberty of his country.
"M. de Lafayette, I must say, has a right to be considered a true republican: none of the vanities of his rank, ever entered his head: power, the effect of which is so great in France, had no ascendancy over him: the desire of pleasing in a drawing room conversation, did not with him influence a single phrase: he sacrificed all his fortune to his opinions, with the most generous indifference. When in the prisons of Olmutz, as when at the height of his influence, he was equally firm in his attachment to his principles. His manner of seeing and acting, is open and direct. Whoever has marked his conduct, may foretell with certainty what he will do on any particular occasion. His political feeling is that of a citizen of the United States; and even his person is more English than French. The hatred, of which M. de Lafayette is the object, has never embittered his temper; and his gentleness of soul is complete: at the same time nothing has ever modified his opinions; and his confidence in the triumph of liberty, is the same as that of a pious man in a future life. These sentiments, so contrary to the selfish calculations of most of the men who have acted a part in France, may appear pitiable in the eyes of some persons—"it is so silly" they think, "to prefer one's country to one's self; not to change one's party when that party is worsted; in short, to consider mankind, not as cards with which to play a winning game, but as the sacred objects of unlimited sacrifices." If this is to form the charge of silliness, would that it were but once merited by our men of talents!