In 1824, President James Monroe invited the Marquis de Lafayette to tour the original 13 states. The year was a presidential election year. The era of good feelings was over. It had been replaced by bitter sectionalism. No one American was popular throughout the country to complete such a tour. Individual presidential candidates had regional strongholds.
Lafayette represented a living link to the American Revolution. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson did too. Both had had their shot at unity as Presidents and both were in the waning years of their lives. Plus Lafayette was a “defacto” son of George Washington who had not yet become just another dead white man or name people mentioned without having any direct connection to him.
His tour was widely successful (imagine Taylor Swift making stops at localities throughout the country). It was so successful that the new 11 states since the Revolution asked that he visit them as well. Lafayette ended touring all 24 states.
As a living testament to his appeal, all manner of places were named after him. For example, there is a Lafayette Drive where I live. Besides streets there were villages, towns, and cities named after him or his home, La Grange, in France. Statutes were erected to him. However the now-closed Lafayette High School in Brooklyn may be better known for being the school of Sandy Koufax than for its namesake.
AMERICAN FRIENDS OF LAFAYETTE (AFL)
The American Friends of Lafayette is dedicated to celebrating the bicentennial of Lafayette’s visit. It has issued the following:
Lafayette’s Farewell Tour saw the French 67-year-old last surviving major general of the American Revolution triumphantly return to the country he loved. He was invited with the hope that he might bring a renewed unity and patriotic fervor back to American citizens being torn apart by the divisive Presidential campaign of 1824. Lafayette accepted this invitation desiring to both revisit old friends and to bring the story of the fruits of democracy back to a France, then being ruled by an undemocratic monarchy. From August 15, 1824, to September 9, 1825, Lafayette covered over 6000 miles by carriage, stagecoach, canal boat, and steamboat, traveling to all 24 then-existing states and “Washington City.” As a youth, Lafayette was instrumental in securing American independence both through his direct military leadership in the Revolutionary War, as well as his constant petitioning of King Louis XVI and France for their alliance and support. Therefore, it was with heartfelt gratitude and joy that Americans welcomed him as “The Nation’s Guest” during his Farewell Tour in 1824-1825.
During our celebration of the Bicentennial of Lafayette’s Farewell Tour, the AFL will hold events in cities and towns in all of the 24 states Lafayette visited, and we will follow Lafayette’s 1824-1825 itinerary. With over 400 “boots-on-the-ground” volunteers, the planned activities will be unique to their individual locations.
The goal of this commemorative odyssey is to “Celebrate, Commemorate, and Educate!” Our three-fold emphasis will be:
Human Rights: Lafayette was an abolitionist, supported the rights of women and Native Americans, and championed religious freedom.
The Franco-American Alliance: This friendship of two nations which began during the American Revolution, in a large part through the efforts of Lafayette, has weathered multiple adversities and remains strong to today…nearly 250 years later!
The importance of linking the past to the present: President James Monroe invited Lafayette to America hoping that he could bring unity and revive patriotism in America. Lafayette’s presence had an ameliorative effect on a country torn apart by the contentious Presidential election of 1824, which was decided by the House of Representatives. The AFL will explore what we can learn from Lafayette that is relevant to today’s fraught political environment.
Please visit www.lafayette200.org for more information.
Lafayette arrived at Staten Island on August 15, 1824, 199 years ago. He crossed the harbor the next day to Castle Garden which would become the arrival point so many Irish in the 19th century. Depending on the status of the post-Sandy Resiliency project, a Lafayette re-enactor will follow that route with a parade up Broadway to City Hall. I am working with the AFL on this portion of his visit.
After a few days in lower Manhattan, he then headed north eventually on the Boston Post Road to Cambridge. He intended to visit John Adams there. I am responsible for the Westchester portion of the trip which at that time included potions of the Bronx. All told, Lafayette made nine stops on August 20, 1824, before arriving in Connecticut and making a few more stops. Quite a lengthy day for someone traveling by horse and carriage. It’s a little like taking the Stamford local from Grand Central and making every single stop. At each stop, he would be greeted by some combination of music, muskets, and people on horseback including veterans from the American Revolution.
Since August 20, 2024, is a Tuesday, County Executive George Latimer has exercised his powers in history to shift the celebration to Sunday, August 18, 2024.
Last week I spoke to the trustees of the Town of Rye who passed a proclamation recognizing the day to be set aside as the day honoring Lafayette. All the people from Lafayette Drive will be invited to the ceremony. According to newspaper accounts, he had a glass of wine there.
LAFAYETTE 1824 AND 2024
Future historians will have the opportunity to compare and contrast the two visits by Lafayette – the one by the real Lafayette and the other by the re-enactor. You can see the latter on this short video which has been produced by the American Friends of Lafayette. Click here.
This time around, he will be arriving approximately one month after the Republic presidential convention and he will be in New York when the Democratic presidential convention begins. Since he stayed at the home of the Vice President on Staten Island on August 15, 2024, there will just be sufficient time for the current Vice President to welcome him there before departing for the convention. The larger question is will the visit of Lafayette be weaponized as a prelude to the American Revolution 250th.
Lafayette, the re-enactor, will have the opportunity to touch upon issues that continue to this very day. While he would applaud the end of slavery, that does not mean he would support how slavery is taught especially in the Confederate states. Lafayette was very closely associated with Oneida from Valley Forge. Already in 1824, he was extremely disappointed as to how America’s allies had been treated in the time since the war. In other words, there will be topics to discuss through Lafayette that are still relevant.
Lafayette in 2024 is not likely to be the unifying figure in 2024 that he was in 1824. However his visit has the potential to spark conversations about he thought then and what it means now. The challenge for the American Friends of Lafayette is to provide venues for discussion for topics that will carryover through the presidential election and into the 250th. If he can be the spark for such discussions then the bicentennial of visit may have even more impact than his actual visit two centuries ago.