~Contributed by Jeff, Internet Archive
As we are in the midst of digitizing a collection of French pamphlets from the French Revolution for the Newberry Library in Chicago, and not being able to read or speak French, I realized I knew little about it and found a new book here at ACPL called The Marquis, A life Revisited, by Laura Auricchio.
It’s easy to forget in the post-“Freedom Fries” era of France bashing, that if France hadn’t assisted in the American Revolution, the United States might not exist as we know it, and that the Marquise de Lafayette played a significant role in that assistance. It’s also easy to forget that Americans of that time and well beyond did understand the role France, and Lafayette in particular, played in assisting the young United States, as evidenced by the many cities, towns and counties named after him as the young nation expanded westward. His two victory lap tours of the young country were huge celebrations and remembrances of the American Revolution at a time when the founders were vanishing fast.
But the book doesn’t just detail Lafayette’s Revolution experiences and his love for the United States and everything American. (In his later years during his somewhat forced retirement he styled himself as a French Cincinnatus using his father figure hero George Washington as his role model.) Much of it is about his life after and how his participation in the American Revolution shaped his life and pushed him into his role in the French Revolution.
Did Marie Antoinette really say “Let them eat cake”? Probably not. Were she and Lafayette lovers as was depicted in many lurid politically motivated pamphlets? Most likely not, according to Laura Auricchio. I believe her, because that highlights the dilemma Lafayette found himself in during this great storm that was the French Revolution. He tried to get established a British-style monarchy that would coexist with an elected government, but found himself hated by both extremes. Which is why, she points out, that you won’t find statues or monuments to Lafayette in France. France has never quite reconciled itself with Lafayette’s role in its history of that time.
Incidentally, pamphlets were the social media of the French Revolution, and every faction seemed to use them. She mentions that to Lafayette’s detriment he only got into the pamphlet business late in the game, when it was pretty much too late.
Shortly after I finished this book, I was walking across the street from the Allen County Courthouse on Calhoun Street, when I looked up and, carved in stone, opposite each other, in a centrally prominent position of importance were two Revolutionary War heroes; George Washington, and you guessed it, the Marquis de Lafayette.
So get the book here at ACPL, go across the street to Rally’s and get some of their seasoned Freedom Fries, and enjoy this excellent historical biography.