Biography of Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert. Marqués de la Fayette Mottier (1757-1834)

Military and French politician, born in the castle of Chavaniac (currently Chavaniac-Lafayette, Auvergne) September 6, 1757, and died in Paris on May 20, 1834. As a leading member of the staff of the Commander George Washington and, on his return to France, he/she joined the French Revolution, managing the Parisian militia, and leading the liberal faction of the nobility during the first two years of the new regime, he/she took part in the Guerra of the independence of United States.

He was born in a noble family of ancient lineage in the auverniense countryside. Knowledge of the social reality of the French peasantry led him, from his earliest youth, to adopt the liberal ideals of the enlightenment. He/She studied at the College Louis-le-Grand in Paris and at the age of fifteen undertook the military career; It reached the graduation of Lieutenant in 1776. He/She inherited a huge fortune, and at the age of seventeen, married a daughter of the powerful Duke of Ayen, marriage that joined in the Court of Luis XVIgalantes circles.

The struggle for American independence

However, his solid military vocation and its ardent liberal ideals led him to embark in 1777, together eleven fellow, heading to North America, where more than two years earlier had exploded the independence revolution. In July of that year he/she arrived at the port of Philadelphia and was presented to the colonial Congress to put at the disposal of the rebel forces. Although, in principle, Congress showed great reluctance against these European "adventurers", the La Fayette bravery in combat and his undoubted military skills soon became le linchpin of the system military rebel colonies. Shortly after his arrival was appointed general of the Continental Army by a special resolution of the Congress. September 11, 1777 he/she distinguished himself at the battle of Brandywine Creek (Pennsylvania), where he/she was wounded, and, on 28 May of the following year, masterfully directed the withdrawal of his division during the battle of Monmouth (N.j.).

Following the victory of the rebels at Saratoga (1778), Luis XVI agreed to an alliance with the American colonies in their fight against Great Britain. La Fayette became then the mediator par excellence between France and the US command. At the beginning of 1779, he/she traveled to France to collect financial and military aid of the French monarchy. In April 1780, he/she returned to America to return to the fight. His youth not prevented him from becoming one of the most valuable partners of George Washington, Commander of the rebel forces, who locked a solid friendship. In 1781 he/she was appointed commander of the army of Virginia, in front of which revealed their gifted strategist. He/She forced the British commander lord Charles Mann Cornwallis to retreat its troops through Virginia, and finally cornered him at Yorktown in late July, putting site to the city with the support of a French fleet. On 19 October, Cornwallis surrendered. Thus began to see the ultimate American victory over the British army.

For his performance in the defense of Virginia, La Fayette received public recognition from Washington, who called him "hero of two worlds". He/She continued fighting until the end of the war, and in 1782 he/she finally returned to France, where he/she was appointed field marshal by Luis XVI. He/She would return twice to United States: during the first, in 1784, was named an honorary citizen of the several States of the Union; during the second (1824-1825) received the official homage of Congress granted him a pension of two hundred thousand dollars and a huge piece of U.S. soil.

La Fayette and the French Revolution

His years in America strengthened its Republican and liberal convictions and served as a springboard to launch a political career in France that was predicted promising. He/She joined the Assembly of Notables which called for the reform of the absolute monarchy in 1787. He/She soon became the chief spokesman of the Liberal nobility, at the time he/she advocated religious tolerance and the abolition of the slave trade. In may 1789 he/she participated in the States-General as a representative of the nobility arm.

During the early revolutionary days supported the requests of the third estate, and spearheaded the minority faction of the nobility who joined this June 25, 1789, giving rise to the formation of the National Assembly. July 11 a draft declaration of the rights of man and of the citizen, based on the American constitutional declaration presented to this House. After numerous amendments, the Declaration was adopted on 27 August 1789.

On July 15, a day after the storming of the Bastille, La Fayette was elected commander of the National Guard, formed from the revolutionary militias. In an attempt to keep away from the bodies of power to the radical lynchings, that he/she distrusted much or more than the royalists, La Fayette is only admitted in the ranks of the guard elements of the bourgeoisie owns. This made it possible that the National Guard be used against the radical sans-Culottes when they threatened to escape the control of the bourgeoisie and the nobility revolutionary. In the Assembly, La Fayette joined the faction feuillant, formed by moderate members supporters of the establishment of a constitutional monarchy. On 6 October 1789 his troops protected the Kings of the enraged crowd that assaulted the Palacio of Versailles.

In 1790, La Fayette reached the apex of his political influence. It supported the measures which transferred the power of the nobility to the rich bourgeoisie. However, he/she feared that democratizing radicalization to jeopardize the right of ownership of the economically privileged. On July 17, 1791 he/she ordered the National Guard open fire on a crowd that gathered in the Champ de Mars, he/she demanded the abdication of Luis XVI. They were killed or injured around fifty people. This fact not only ended his old popularity, but it also made him declared enemy of the radical Jacobin and sans-Culottes. In October, the pressure on the Assembly forced him to submit his resignation as Commander of the National Guard.

At the beginning of the war against Austria returned to the foreground of the revolutionary events. In December 1791, he/she was appointed commander of the army of Metz. It hoped to use its new responsibility to counter the growing influence of the radical Jacobins. But when the war broke out in April 1792, his situation was already very precarious, due to the open opposition of the Jacobin leader Robespierre, which accused him of preparing a coup d'etat against the Assembly. It was dismissed, replaced by the general Dumouriez and accused of treason by the Jacobins. He/She fled to Flanders, where was captured by the Austrian army on August 19, nine days after the fall of the constitutional monarchy.

During the following five years he/she remained imprisoned in different jails of Austria and Prussia. In 1799, after the advent of Napoleón Bonaparte, he/she was released through the mediation of his wife work. Back in France, he/she retired from public life because of his opposition to the absolutist regime of Napoleon. He/She lived comfortably in their rural properties until the fall of Bonaparte and the monarchical restoration of 1815 opened again the doors of politics. During the reign of Luis XVIII (1814-1824) held a seat in the National Assembly as a representative of Meaux. His Republican ideals led him to be involved indirectly in the carbonari plots of the time. Although he/she stood out for his strong defence of political liberalism, he/she never managed to regain its former influence.

In 1830 he/she joined the revolutionary movement that toppled Carlos X and installed on the throne to Luis Felipe. He/She was again appointed commander of the National Guard, but after six months, was overwhelmed by events and resigned, although he/she kept his seat until his death. He/She died in Paris at the age of 76. His Mémoires, Correspondances et Manuscrits were published posthumously.

Social moderate, reformist liberal imbued with aristocratic paternalism, iron defender of property and public order, La Fayette was the subject of attacks by members of their own kind, who accused him of treason, and the hatred of the radical Jacobins, who were suspicious of his moderate liberalism. However, throughout his life he/she was a strong supporter of the fundamental freedoms of the individual and of the constitutional regime, despite their fears regarding the popular democracy and its lack of political vision for the evolution of the revolutionary events.


BISHOP, C.: Lafayette: French-American Hero. Champaign (Illinois): Garrad, 1960.

MAUROIS, a.: Lafayette in America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1960.

RIBADEAUS-DUMAS, f.: The Destinée secrète de La Fayette. Paris: 1972.