By the time Franklin reached France in December of 1776 more than a score of French officers had already been enlisted by Silas Deane. Although some historians, notably Louis Gottschalk in his multi-volume biography, have suggested that a dissatisfied Lafayette came to America to seek military rank not proferred in his own country, the record also shows that the young and intrepid Frenchman was imbued with the symbol of America as idealized by the philosophes of Europe. And the story of Lafayette, made a major- general by the Continental Congress upon his arrival at age nineteen, shows that his vision of a free and virtuous America not only remained steadfast throughout his notable service to America's revolutionary cause, but sustained him through his trials and tribulations forever afterwards. Indeed, after the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown, the remainder of Lafayette's career might be seen as an attempt to work out the implications of what he had learned and experienced in America.
Washington, harassed by ambitious Europeans for title and fame, at first took the attitude: What, another Frenchman? But he apparently was quickly charmed, telling Lafayette that although he was too young for command, he would be happy to regard himself as "his father and friend." And throughout the war Washington kept a fatherly eye on the young warrior, and successfully prevented Lafayette from becoming another Pulaski -- dashing like Lafayette, but suicidually reckless.
Baron De Kalb, who had originally recommended Lafayette, accurately described the amazing popularity of Lafayette to his superiors in France by writing that "no one deserves more than he the esteem which he enjoys here. He is a prodigy for his age." Although Pulaski's Polish compatriot, Tadeus Kosciuszko, has been called on both sides of the Atlantic the "hero of two worlds," it was Lafayette who emerged as the most popular European figure during the revolutionary era. The following essay by Lloyd Kramer brilliantly describes the elements which combined to make Lafayette a lasting figure in American history -- remembered by generations of Americans, and who should not be overlooked in this era of the Bicentennial.