Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de La Fayette, known as Marquis de La Fayette, was born September 6, 1757, in Chavaniac, in the province of Auvergne in south central France. He was a French aristocrat and a military officer. He came to America during the American Revolutionary War and served as a general under General George Washington. He was also a leader of the Garde nationale during the French Revolution.
Lafayette was a major-general in the Continental Army while a young man in his twenties. Even though wounded during the Battle of Brandywine, he organized a successful retreat. He also served in the Battle of Rhode Island. He returned to France in the middle of the war in order to negotiate an increase in French support. After returning to America, he blocked Cornwallis and his British troops at Yorktown; his actions kept the British army pinned down while General George Washington, General de Rochambeau, Admiral de Grasse, and Admiral de Latouche Treville and their men prepared for battle.
General Lafayette served as “the most important link between the American and the French Revolutions. As an ardent supporter of the United States’ constitutional principles he called on all nations to follow the American example.”
Lafayette was back in France in 1788 during his nation’s fiscal crisis and was part of the Assembly of Notables. He was appointed commander-in-chief of the Garde nationale in response to violence. He attempted to maintain order during the French Revolution and even ordered his men to fire on demonstrators at the Champ de Mars in July 1791. He was later persecuted by the Jacobins for this action. As the radical factions in the Revolution grew in power, Lafayette tried to flee to the United States in August 1792 through the Dutch Republic but was captured by Austrians.
Lafayette’s wife and daughters voluntarily joined him in prison in 1795 until Napoleon Bonaparte secured his release in 1797. He refused to serve in the government of Napoleon but was elected to the Chamber of Deputies. After the Bourbon Restoration, he became a liberal member of the Chamber of Deputies in 1815 and held that position until his death.
President James Monroe invited Lafayette to be the “nation’s guest” in 1824. While in the United States, Lafayette visited all twenty-four states that were in the union at that time. Americans recognized Lafayette’s contributions in the War of Independence by naming many cities and monuments after him. He received honorary United States citizenship in 2002.
Lafayette declined an offer to become the French dictator during France’s July Revolution of 1830 and supported Louis-Philippe’s bid as a constitutional monarch. He died on May 20, 1834, and is buried in Picpus Cemetery in Paris, under soil from Bunker Hill. He was survived by a son named George Washington and two daughters, Anatasie and Virginie. He is known as “the Hero of the Two Worlds” for his accomplishments in service to both France and the United States.