The statue located down by the shoreline in Havre de Grace makes an instantaneous impression due to the military bearing of the distinguished character. “C’est Le Havre” is the exclamation attributed to the Marquis de Lafayette when he viewed the sighting of land nearby confluence of the Chesapeake Bay and the Susquehanna River. He said that that harbor reminded him of a port city in France known as Havre de Grace which interpreted means harbor of mercy.
Why Lafayette did not choose to relocate in the newly formed harbor of the United States of America has to do with an orphan whose father died in battle fighting for France, a husband of a beautiful member of France’s ruling family the House of Bourbon, the adopted son of General George Washington, and the military commander who outwitted British General Cornwallis to win the American Revolutionary War.
Lafayette was sailing along the shores of the Chesapeake on this occasion of having named the town of Havre de Grace because he had come to seek counsel from his former commander and adopted father George Washington. In a post-war visit, Washington and Lafayette discussed the future of democracy as a form of government, releasing negro slaves which Washington eventually did, and the possibility of revolution throughout the world for the sake of the rights of man. The Marquis de Lafayette then returned to France.
The “fair haired boy” that we see on horseback in historical Mount Vernon and downtown Baltimore is not the strained shell of a man connoted by his military bearing near the shoreline of Havre de Grace. He gained the tarnished name of “fair haired boy” in Paris when the husband of a woman devoted to the Marquis de Lafayette committed suicide. The same sort of sarcasm forthcoming from Queen Marie Antoinette scoffed at Lafayette publicly when he offered to deliver the King Louis XVI and his wife from revolutionary forces.
Like Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours – father of Eleuthere Irenee du Pont – Lafayette preferred a constitutional monarchy as the solution and hopeful outcome of the French Revolution.
Lafayette wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen to spearhead legal solutions in the changing capital of France, Paris. He participated in an attempt at military control of the destructive mob and the control of the hateful Jacobins.
Eventually, Lafayette was tricked into crossing the border and entering the former country of Queen Marie Antoinette where he was imprisoned for five years.
As a noble person, Lafayette’s wife was imprisoned in Paris by revolutionary forces, but George Washington was able to see to her release. She in turn fled to Austria and joined her husband in prison while seeking world-wide sympathy for the sake of his release. She gave up her name of noble birth and came to be known as Madame du Motier of Harford, Connecticut. The name Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier had been shortened by family and friends to simply the Marquis de Lafayette. Americans always called him General Lafayette.
Gilbert Lafayette – no longer a Marquis – later supported Louis Phillipe’s bid to become a Constitutional Monarch in 1830. Many feel that it was a tragic and wasteful ending to his life. Given the adoration of his wife who lost her health while enslaved in Austrian prison, is it any wonder that Lafayette would support a Bourbon restoration to the throne of France not to mention the fact that Louis Phillipe was the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. It was Napoleon Bonaparte who freed the “Motier” family from imprisonment in Austria.
Lafayette was buried near to his wife in a Paris cemetery, but as he had requested there was American soil placed over top of his grave.
As a lesson from Lafayette perhaps Americans should consider the value he placed in a constitutional form of government.