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Lafayette and the Liberal Ideal, 1814-1824: Politics and Conspiracy in An Age of Reaction

Synopsis

Sylvia Neely provides both the first scholarly study of Lafayette's life after the French Revolution and a detailed analysis of French politics during the early Restoration.

Lafayette, advocating a liberalism based on the American example, used both legal and illegal means to overturn a conservative government. The personification of liberalism for many of his contemporaries, he and his friends Benjamin Constant, Voyer d'Argenson, and Charles Goyet saw themselves as fighters in an international struggle that set liberalism against the forces of reaction and obscurantism. Although he ultimately failed, Lafayette was convinced that the liberal ideals derived from the Enlightenment and from his personal mentor, George Washington, would prevail.

Neely makes Lafayette's actions clear by considering seriously the principles that guided his life and by describing the political climate of the early nineteenth century. She discloses previously overlooked features of the revolutions of the 1820s which account for the divisions among the revolutionary groups. She also examines relationships between Lafayette and the prominent writers and thinkers of the period, among them Augustin Thierry, Jeremy Bentham, Lady Morgan, and Frances Wright.