Lafayette Comes to America

Lafayette Comes to America

Lafayette Comes to America

Lafayette Comes to America

Excerpt

He centennial of Lafayette's death fell in the year 1934. The occasion was celebrated on three continents. Countries as far separated as Poland and Argentina held commemorative exercises. Exhibitions of Lafayette mementos took place in Warsaw, Paris, New York, and Chicago. Books, catalogues, articles, and speeches, in several languages, poured forth by the score. In Washington, on the hundredth anniversary of the general's demise (May 20, 1934), the Congress of the United States, assisted by the president's cabinet, the Supreme Court, and the leading dignitaries of the army, the navy, and the foremost patriotic societies, met in joint session to hear the greetings of France's president and to listen to the president of the United States deliver a memorial address.

Much of what was said on these occasions was sincere, truthful, and scholarly. But it is the fate of every character important enough to be remembered one hundred years after his death that he has become a symbol of something or other, and that those who remember him associate his name with this symbol rather than with the actual historical figure he once was. This is particularly true of Lafayette, who was a twofold emblem even during his lifetime--the embodiment of Franco- American co-operation and the personification of liberalism in an absolutist world.

In fact, Lafayette became somewhat of a symbolical, mythological figure at the very moment that he emerged from relative obscurity into renown. This happened when, in apparent defiance of his king's prohibition, he embarked upon perilous seas to bring aid to the failing American colonies. Search the contemporary records--periodicals, nouvelles ὰ la main, the correspondence of celebrities, the dictionaries of the nobility, the war department's service reports--and you will find him mentioned, previous to that event, but rarely, and then only in con-

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