Lafayette: Hero Of The American Revolution, by Gonague Saint Bris
One has to wonder, the more one knows about the life of Lafayette, if he was well-served by his times and by his associates. A wealthy orphan with a taste for glory, Lafayette found the adoration and respect of those Americans whose interests in freedom he served but was completely unable to assist in providing the French with good government over the next few decades. Indeed, if Lafayette was a hero of two continents, the difference in treatment between the respect and approval he received from Americans and the varied and hostile response he received from radical and reactionary Europeans demonstrates the gulf between the political cultures of the two areas, and why it is that the United States should be unwilling to blindly follow European political trends. Lafayette makes for a good test case in the question of how much wisdom one needs to be a hero. He was certainly brave, but not as moral as one would hope and certainly not wise and discerning enough to be able to navigate between the classic false dilemma between radical leftist and reactionary divine right monarchism. Lafayette, on the other hand, was quite able to get along in the United States, and get along with Americans, which says a lot about the ability of even unwise liberals to prefer America to Europe.
This book is about 350 pages and it begins with the death of King Louis XV and the missed opportunity that France had to regain solvency that was wrecked by their involvement in the American Revolution. After that the author explores Lafayette’s life in a chronological fashion, beginning with his youth and the early death of his parents and his inheritance of a great deal of money from his uncle and then grandfather. An early marriage then led to a career as an officer and a choice to come to the United States for glory. Lafayette’s generosity and desire for glory and general friendliness towards the Americans wins him a lot of friends and he ends up returning to France after the alliance is made between the two nations to help out with the relationship between the two nations. It is after the American Revolution when Lafayette’s reputation becomes more troubled as money problems in his personal life as well as among France, and Lafayette’s desire to encourage reforms in the French monarchy helped push France towards revolution, in which Lafayette was nearly killed by the Revolutionaries and was then imprisoned for years in Austria and Prussia before being freed to live in exile. For all of Lafayette’s bravery, he was simply unable to help his nation achieve glory and stability.
This book gives a lot of detailed information about Lafayette’s life and helps us to understand some of the interesting aspects of his career. Given its size and its seriousness, this book can help serve as a test as to whether a given other book about Lafayette is discussing enough of his life in enough context. You can look at the highlights–does it mention the beast of his home region, does it talk about the influence of French spies on Lafayette’s political development, does it talk about Lafayette as an important diplomat with the Oneidas as well as between the Americans and French, does it talk about Lafayette’s trip to Prussia or his experiences in prison or his relationship with Bonaparte and other French leaders after the Revolution? If Lafayette comes off as not being entirely wise and sensible, his type as a well-meaning if somewhat bungling reforming liberal is a political type that we can recognize easily. Just because someone is a hero like Lafayette was does not mean that they were wise or necessarily even good people, and this book gives us a lot of evidence as to the foibles that Lafayette had throughout his life and career.