My Dear General: Lafayette, Washington, and Slavery
My interest in the American Revolution began last summer, when our family was planning a trip to Virginia. Before our trip, I began researching the Battle of Yorktown. Although I was intrigued by the entire story of Yorktown, one man stood out to me above all the rest: The Marquis de Lafayette.
A few weeks later I was in Yorktown, standing on ground that had been trod by Lafayette. As if that wasn’t enough to captivate my heart, in a museum I viewed a cannon that Lafayette was reported to have embraced. It took every mite of fortitude that I possess to resist pushing through the guard ropes and wrapping my own arms around the cannon.
Later in the year I sat down with Mike Duncan’s biography of Lafayette, with the intention of using it to begin my research for a monologue about Lafayette’s involvement in the American and French Revolutions. I also listened to his podcasts about these revolutions. Once I was finished with the biography, I used its bibliography to find primary sources. I acquired volumes of Lafayette’s letters, which were certainly helpful, but what I found most interesting was reading Lafayette’s correspondence with General Washington on the website The Founders Online.
As I planned my monologue, I realized that making it about Lafayette’s involvement in both the American and French Revolutions was too broad. It was too much to cover in ten minutes.
I had already spent time reading Lafayette and Washington’s correspondence regarding the topic of slavery, because I found it fascinating. I decided to shift gears completely and change the topic of my monologue to “Lafayette, Washington, and Slavery.” I believe that this topic is an excellent way to show Lafayette’s personal growth and passionate beliefs.
Many people believe that military generals only exist to make important decisions during a time of war. They often forget that these generals are people with emotions and beliefs. The wars that they are involved with deeply affect them and shape who they are. Instead of discussing how Lafayette influenced the American Revolution, my monologue demonstrates how the American Revolution shaped Lafayette.
Lafayette crossed two personal frontiers as a result of the American Revolution. His first frontier was his decision to become an abolitionist, and his second frontier was his willingness to act on his abolitionist beliefs, despite Washington’s unwillingness to join him. These frontiers turned Lafayette into the kind of man who would want to write the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen.
Lafayette was able to disagree with Washington on the issue of slavery, while still loving and looking up to him. The way Lafayette viewed Washington is something that I believe modern Americains should try to emulate. We can appreciate Washington’s contributions to our country and recognize that not everything he did was right.
History is never black and white. It is so much more than names, dates, and battle formations. It is the story of many different people, including The Marquis de Lafayette.
Founders Online, National Archives. “The Adams Papers.” Accessed February 2023. https://founders.archives.gov/?q=Project%3A%22Adams%20Papers%22&s=1511211111&r=1
I read a few letters that Lafayette wrote to John Adams, in which he requested that Adams send him books on abolitionism. Lafayette also made some rather condemning statements against slave owners. Although I did not directly use the information contained in these letters, it helped provide me with a firm understanding of the strength of Lafayette’s abolitionist beliefs.
Founders Online, National Archives. “The Washington Papers.” Accessed February 2023. https://founders.archives.gov/?q=Project%3A%22Washington%20Papers%22&s=1511211111&r=1
This collection contains scores of letters written between Washington and Lafayette, which provided me with the quotes that I read in my monologue. Lafayette frequently addresses Washington as “My Dear General,” which was the inspiration for my title.
Idzerda, Stanley J., ed. 1977. Lafayette in the Age of the American Revolution: Selected Letters and Papers, 1776-1790. Vol 1. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
This set was a good place to find letters and papers that related mainly to Lafayette’s military adventures in America. These books have quite a bit of overlap with Memoirs, Correspondence and Manuscripts, but tend to focus more on military matters. For example, in Volume One I read the declaration of Congress that made Lafayette a major general.
Lafayette, Gilbert du Motier de. 1837. Memoirs, Correspondence and Manuscripts of General Lafayette. Vols. 1 and 2. London: Saunders and Otley.
I read a great deal of letters that Lafayette wrote to his wife while he was in America. These provide an intriguing glimpse into his thoughts and opinions about America. I also read from his short memoirs (which primarily helped inform me of his childhood), as well as the text of Lafayette’s first draft of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens.
Duncan, Mike. 2021. Hero of Two Worlds: The Marquis De Lafayette in the Age of Revolution. New York: PublicAffairs.
This biography of Lafayette was by far my most valuable secondary source. It provided a good knowledge of all of Lafayette’s life. The book also contains an extensive bibliography, which aided me in finding my primary sources.
Duncan, Mike. 2014. Revolutions. Produced by Mike Duncan. Podcast. https://thehistoryofrome.typepad.com/revolutions_podcast/
This series of podcasts provides a good overview of various political revolutions throughout history. I listened to episodes concerning the French and American Revolutions. Doing this helped provide me with a broader understanding of the greater context of the revolutions that shaped Lafayette.
Grove, Tim. 2022. The World Turned Upside Down: The Yorktown Victory that Won America’s Independence. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers.
This book recounts events relating to the battle of Yorktown, in which Lafayette played a major role. It is due to reading this book that I was first introduced to that illustrious Marquis.
Vowell, Sarah. 2015. Lafayette in the Somewhat United States. New York: Riverhead Books.
This book discusses Lafayette’s relationship with America. The section of this book that I read provided me with an in-depth knowledge of the circumstances under which Lafayette left France to come to Americ
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