A Young Folks' Life of General Lafayette, Henry C. Watson
A Young Folks' Life of General Lafayette
Henry C. Watson
4:48 h History Lvl 6.58
Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette, known in the United States as Lafayette, was a French aristocrat and military officer who fought in the American Revolutionary War, commanding American troops in several battles, including the siege of Yorktown. The Friend of Washington: A Young Folks' Life of General Lafayette by Henry C. Watson was published in 1893.

The Friend of Washington:

A Young Folks'
Life of General Lafayette

Henry C. Watson

Lafayette as the Commander of the National Guards


The character and career of Lafayette are among the wonders of the modern era. Never, until he exhibited it, had Europe seen an actual instance of disinterested patriotism, and of love of liberty for itself, and for the happiness and progress of the race. Adventurers there has never been a lack of — but they have usually been reckless, indifferent to the rights of others, covetous of praise, and greedy of power and lucre. But Lafayette seemed the realized vision of the early poets, challenging at once the admiration of the world for his courage, and its respect for his moderation. He astonished cold calculators by his pursuit of what seemed to them a phantom; and he balked the dreamers who sympathized with him at the outset, by his calm and cool application of practical and common sense standards to all questions and enterprises.

From the day that the Jacobins obtained the ascendancy in France, Lafayette was a disappointed man — disappointed, not in regard to himself, for he was unambitious, but in his estimate of human character. He looked abroad for kindred spirits with himself, to make a revolution, and found that of such there were not enough to restrain ignorant and undiscriminating popular fury — far less were there enough to establish the model government at which he aimed.

From the time that this conviction was forced upon him, he became at once one of the movement party, and one of the conservative. Each was aware that he would fully go with neither, and each was fain to call upon him in extremity. Such calls he never left to pass unheeded; but came forward, at certain present loss, to work out a happy future for his country, and a good man’s fame for himself. He never was brilliant in his European career, simply because he never would assert his own individuality. He made no move for Lafayette — his measures were always taken for France.

Such was his character at home. Of his deeds and services in this country, we need not speak to Americans. Europe is not yet prepared to do him justice; but every day strengthen his memory in the people’s hearts, every generation farther removed from the prejudices of the past, is more ready than its predecessor to understand him; and the name of the Prisoner of Olmutz will be a household word when his enemies are forgotten.

Chapter I

Introductory — Franklin’s Letter to Congress — Circumstances which surrounded Lafayette — Disastrous events of the campaign of 1776 in America — Hesitation of Foreign Powers — Poverty of the United State’s Commissioners — Resolution of Lafayette — Character of his Enterprise — Resolutions of Congress — Friendship of Washington — True Value of Rank.

In the year 1777, a letter was received by the Congress of the United States from their Commissioners in France, Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane, from which the following is an extract: “The Marquis de Lafayette, a young nobleman of great connection here, and great wealth, is gone to America in a ship of his own, accompanied by some officers of distinction, in order to serve in our armies. He is exceedingly beloved, and everybody’s good wishes attend him. We cannot but hope he may meet with such a reception as will make the country and his expedition agreeable to him. Those who censure it as imprudent in him, do, nevertheless, applaud his spirit; and we are satisfied that the civilities and respect that may be shown him will be service able to our affairs here, as pleasing, not only to his powerful relations and to the Court, but to the whole French nation. He has left a beautiful young wife, and for her sake, particularly, we hope that his bravery and ardent desire to distinguish himself will be a little restrained by the general’s prudence, so as not to permit his being hazarded much, except on some important occasion.”

Such were the circumstances of comfort, affluence and happiness, from which the enthusiastic young Frenchman turned away, to seek distinction, and to earn a name and fame which should give him a title to the possession of such advantages. He was not content to enjoy ingloriously what was his by inheritance, but desired to win a right to the favours with which he found himself surrounded. No readier opening presented itself than the struggle for independence in America. In this there was everything to tempt a chivalrous and generous mind, and everything to discourage a mere covetous adventurer. The campaign of 1776 had been most disastrous for the American cause. A series of misfortunes, bad enough in themselves, were by interested narrators made to seem even worse than they really were. The American troops which had counted on the assistance of Canada, had been compelled to abandon that country, failing there of support or sympathy. Then came the defeat on Long Island, the evacuation of New York by the Americans, the loss of Fort Washington, the flight of Congress from Philadelphia to Baltimore, and many other discouraging particulars in the state of the American army. All these things were busily enlarged upon by the enemies of America; and to discourage the idea of countenance by any European power, the worst phase of the case was industriously circulated. It was represented abroad that our army, reduced to a mere rabble, was flying before an army of thirty thousand regulars; “nor,” remarks a writer who was cognizant of the state of the army during the whole war, Dr. James Thatcher, “was this statement wide of the reality.” The sagacious politicians of France, whose policy was governed by prudence, and who, notwithstanding their enmity to England, feared to embark in a losing crusade against her, hesitated to encourage the rebellious colonies. Indeed, had the revolutionary war terminated otherwise than as it did, the consequences would have been hardly less serious to France than to the United States.

It is said in the letter with which this chapter commences, that Lafayette sailed in his own vessel. At so low an ebb were the credit and resources of our commissioners, and so desperate was the condition of the cause of America, that her representatives abroad could not procure a vessel in which to forward their despatches, and give the young hero a passage. Nor could they, in the face of such circumstances, encourage his adventurous purpose. The very phraseology of their letter, particularly the closing part, indicates that their duty as honest men was at war with their patriotism. In view of the youth, interesting appearance, and history of the noble volunteer, we may suspect, with much show of reason, that they accepted his services and recommended him to their countrymen with a trembling admiration, which would almost have felt a pleasant relief, if the ardent youth had permitted himself to be deterred from his enterprise by the difficulties which appalled elder men, who, with a desire as earnest as his for the freedom of America, declined to risk anything of consequence upon a cause so hopeless.

Lafayette offering his services to Franklin.

But these discouragements only fired the zeal of Lafayette. As the commissioners could not provide him with a passage, he commenced his liberal expenditures in the cause with the outfitting of his own vessel, encountering difficulties and dangers, of which we shall speak fully in the proper place. The principal purpose of this introductory chapter is, to show the young reader that Lafayette was not like the mere rapacious adventurer — the lover of war for its own sake and the plunder which if offers — the reckless soldier of fortune. Higher impulses moved him; and his is a higher reward, in the gratitude and respect of a great and free people, than any successful exhibition of mere physical courage could have won for him.

On his arrival in this country he was cordially received by Congress, and by the Commander-in-Chief, into whose military family he was at once adopted, and whose friendship for him was so marked, that he has often been called “the adopted son of Washington.” On the 31st of July, 1777, Congress passed the following resolution:

Whereas, The Marquis de la Fayette, out of his great zeal for the cause of liberty, in which the United States, without pension or particular allowance, and is anxious to risk his life in our cause:

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