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

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

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

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


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.


D uring the Bourbon Restoration period in France, Lafayette personified liberalism for many of his contemporaries, yet modern historical literature has completely ignored his later life and has not bothered to ask what the symbol of liberalism actually stood for. Chantal de Tourtier-Bonazzi, conservator at the Archives Nationales and author of a guide to Lafayette documents in France, states that only two works on Lafayette can be trusted: Etienne Charavay's one-volume biography written in 1898 and Louis Gottschalk's six-volume work, which deals with Lafayette's early years. For a knowledge of Lafayette's later years, then, one must turn to Charavay, who devotes only nineteen pages to the period from 1815 to 1824.

These eventful years cannot be adequately covered in such a short space. Lafayette was twice elected to the Chamber of Deputies, sought election unsuccessfully twice, and actively promoted other liberal candidates. He helped journalists and authors in France to publish books, newspapers, and pamphlets that articulated an opposition political philosophy. He maintained friendships with foreign authors, such as Jeremy Bentham and Frances Wright, and saw to translations of works he admired. He encouraged revolts in Spain, Italy, and Greece; promoted the cause of the new South American republics; and carried on an influential correspondence with politicians in the United States, including Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe. As a leader of the Carbonarist conspiracies in France, his activities were constantly monitored by the French police and taken seriously by foreign governments fearful of international revolution. Admired and venerated by supporters of liberalism, young and old, as an incorruptible, tireless, and responsible fighter for their cause, he was vilified by royalists and reactionaries as the embodiment of the dangerous and subversive forces let loose by the French Revolution.

Modern one-volume biographies of Lafayette are inadequate for assessing his activities and are marred by numerous . . .

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