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Presidents and Celebrities: James Monroe and the Marquis de Lafayette

In order to commemorate the approach of the 50th birthday of the United States in 1826, President James Monroe issued an invitation to an old friend of the nation, Gilbert du Motier, better known as the Marquis de Lafayette. The French nobleman had been commissioned as a Major General by Congress in 1777 at the age of 20, but when Monroe invited him to return to the United States, the Marquis was now in his late 60s. The visit was arranged to take place from August 1824 to September 1825. Lafayette graciously accepted the offer and during the visit he travelled to all 24 American states. He traveled more than 6,000 miles (9,656 km) in total.



After the Revolution ended, Lafayette had returned to France where he was was appointed to the Assembly of Notables in 1787, a group convened in response to the fiscal crisis occurring in that nation. He was elected a member of the Estates General of 1789, where representatives met from the three traditional orders of French society: the clergy, the nobility, and the commoners. After forming the National Constituent Assembly, he helped to write the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen with Thomas Jefferson's assistance. This document was inspired by the United States Declaration of Independence and invoked natural law to establish basic principles of the democratic nation-state. He also advocated the end of slavery, in keeping with the philosophy of natural rights. After the storming of the Bastille, he was appointed commander-in-chief of France's National Guard and tried to steer a middle course during the years of revolution. But in August 1792, radical factions ordered his arrest, and he fled into the Austrian Netherlands, where he was captured by Austrian troops. There he spent more than five years in prison.

His release came about with help from Monroe, who was then the American Minister to France. Lafayette returned to France in 1797. He refused to participate in Napoleon's government. After the Bourbon Restoration of 1814, he became a liberal member of the Chamber of Deputies, a position which he held for most of the remainder of his life.

Lafayette arrived from France at Staten Island in New York, on August 15, 1824. He was greeted to an artillery salute. Among the towns and cities he visited, included Fayetteville, North Carolina, the first city named in his honor. The local citizenry gave him an enthusiastic welcome when he visited there in March of 1825. During this tour he embraced James Armistead Lafayette, a free slave who took his last name to honor him, while in Yorktown, Virginia. The story of the event was reported by the Richmond Enquirer. On October 17 1824, Lafayette visited Mount Vernon and George Washington's tomb. On November 4, 1824, he visited Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, and four days later he attended a public banquet at the University of Virginia. He accepted an invitation for honorary membership to the University's Jefferson Literary and Debating Society. In late August 1825, he returned to Mount Vernon. Lafayette visited New York before returning to France on the frigate USS Brandywine. Late in the trip, he again received honorary citizenship of Maryland. He was voted, by the U.S. Congress, the sum of $200,000 and a township of land located in Tallahassee, Florida to be known as the Lafayette Land Grant.

Throughout the trip Lafayette was accompanied by his son Georges Washington de La Fayette. The visit overlapped the end of James Monroe's term in office, the election of 1824 and the subsequent controversy that led to the election of John Quincy Adams. President Adams decided to have an American warship carry Lafayette back to Europe. Adams chose a recently built 44-gun frigate (originally named Susquehanna) for this honor, and accordingly, as a gesture of the nation’s affection for Lafayette, the frigate was renamed Brandywine to commemorate the battle in which the Frenchman had shed his blood for American freedom. Launched on June 16, 1825, Brandywine was commissioned on August 25, 1825, Capt. Charles Morris in command.



Lafayette enjoyed a last state dinner to celebrate his 68th birthday on the evening of September 6, 1825. He then embarked in the steamboat Mount Vernon on the 7th for the trip downriver to join Brandywine. On the 8th, the frigate sailed down Chesapeake Bay toward the open ocean. After a stormy three weeks at sea, the warship arrived off Le Havre, France, early in October.

I was able to locate a copy of Lafayette's itinerary on his tour, which is reproduced below.

1824

July 13 — Left France
August 15 — Lafayette arrived at Staten Island, New York
August 20 — Left New York
August 20 — New Rochelle, NY
Traveled through and made stops in New Haven, CT, Providence, RI, and Boston, MA
August 25 — Cambridge, MA
August 31 — Left Boston, traveled through and made stops at Lexington, Concord, Salem, Marblehead, and Newburyport, MA
September 1 — Portsmouth, NH
September 2 — Boston, MA, Lexington, MA
September 3 — Worcester, MA, Tolland, CT
September 4 — Hartford, CT, Middletown, CT
September 5 — New York, NY
September 11 — New York, NY, celebrated the 47th anniversary of the Battle of Brandywine with French residents
October 6 — Lafayette escorted to Wilmington, Delaware by the Grand Lodge of Delaware Masons.
October 12 — The Marquis de Lafayette arrived in the District of Columbia.
October 15 — The Marquis de Lafayette spent the entire evening at Arlington House, although he returned to his hotel in Washington at night.
October 17 — Lafayette visited Mount Vernon and George Washington's tomb (in Virginia)
October 18-19 --Lafayette arrives by steamer Petersburg for visit to Yorktown for festivities marking the 43 anniversary of the battle
October 19-22 -- Lafayette visits Williamsburg and the College of William and Mary
October 22 — Lafayette arrives in Norfolk, Virginia via steamer Petersburg and spends four days there and in Portsmouth
October — Arrives in Richmond on a steamer from Norfolk. Edgar Allen Poe was in the youth honor guard in Richmond, who welcomed him when he arrived.
November 4 — Lafayette visited Jefferson at Monticello
November 8 — Lafayette attended a public banquet at the University of Virginia in nearby Charlottesville
Early December — Washington, D.C. visiting the White House, George Washington's relatives, the Navy Yard, Columbian College (now Gallaudet University). On Dec. 8 and 9 he made official visits to the Senate and then the House of Representatives.
December 15 — Lafayette was feted at the first commencement ceremony of George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

1825

March 2–3 — Raleigh, North Carolina: Lafayette was reunited with Colonel William Polk who had fought beside him at the Battle of Brandywine where both had been wounded.
March 19 — Savannah, Georgia
May 4 — Nashville, Tennessee
May 11–13 — Louisville, Kentucky
May 14 — Attended dinner and a ball Frankfort, Kentucky
May 15 — Spent the night at the home of Major John Keene, five miles from Lexington, Kentucky
May 16–17 — Attended a military parade and speeches at Transylvania University and the Lexington Female Academy in Lexington, Kentucky
May 18 — Georgetown, Kentucky
May 19–20 — Cincinnati, Ohio
May 21 — Maysville, Kentucky
June 4 — Lafayette gives speech at Eagle Tavern, Lafayette Square, Buffalo
June 7 — Lafayette receives local Revolutionary War veterans at Silvius Hoard's Tavern, Rochester, NY
June 20 — Lafayette visits Germantown and Chestnut Hill, near Philadelphia.
June 26 — departed Chester, Pennsylvania for the Brandywine Battlefield ending the day in West Chester.
June 27 — departed West Chester, Pennsylvania for Lancaster.
Late June — departed Lancaster for Baltimore, Maryland, via Port Deposit, Pennsylvania and Harve de Grace, Maryland. Spends 2 days in Baltimore
July 25 — Lafayette again in Wilmington, Delaware
Late August — Lafayette returned to Mount Vernon.
September 6 — Washington, D.C. addressed a joint session of Congress and celebrated his birthday at a White House banquet
September 7 — Return to France on the frigate USS Brandywine.

For an entertaining but fact-faithful account of Lafayette's tour, may I recommend Sarah Vowell's wonderful 2015 book Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, reviewed here in this community.
Tags: george washington, james monroe, john quincy adams, thomas jefferson
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