Upon the death of a certain person, the President of the United States at the time ordered that the entire Capitol be draped in black for 30 days. Additionally, every member of the government was required to wear an emblem to give tribute as well. The Vice President of the United States gave a eulogy that lasted for over 3 hours, and that was just the speech. Only on rare occasion has this ever happened to this magnitude. Who was this person?
A French Citizen named Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier. Also known as the Marquis de La Fayette. In the U.S. we know him just as Lafayette. He was probably one of the most fascinating figures in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Just a quick lesson. At age 19, he stands up amongst the French nobility and declares full support for the cause of Freedom in America. He goes and fights for General Washington in the American Revolution. Toward the end of that battle for Independence, he was instrumental in breaking through the naval siege that General Cornwallis had in place at the mouth of the Chesapeake. Many historians tribute the final victory to Lafayette’s ability to rally French support. He did this at great cost to himself, to his family, and potentially to his future.
However, he was not done there. He takes on reformation of the French Government. In a dramatic play, he figures out a way to shift the voting to give more power to the commons and thus forces consideration of what he considered natural laws. He write’s his own Declaration – which is an amazing document. English translation found here. He is involved in many French battles, fights hard for abolishment of slavery. He is involved when Napoleon comes to power, and is involved in many more attempts of the nobility to gain power. He serves time in prison, get released through his ties to the United States and help from Napoleon. His biography is incredible. Many people did not like him, he has been called every name you can think of. However, there is one thing that no one can deny – he was absolutely convicted upon the principle of the rights of people to live free.
I accidently fell upon a biography of him, where the author focuses on the failures of his later life. He dies of pneumonia at age 76, but even then he is acting as a mayor and holding outspoken protests in Chambers against the King of France. Despite his faults, the author could not conceal the very clear vision this man had for the rights of individuals to do what they want and to be free from government interference.
I was impressed with the idea that a person could have so much influence over two large nations. He was buried a hero by both countries. The King of France banned the common folk from being able to attend his funeral procession for fear of riots. In the U.S. he was given greater honors than even our most famous statesmen. This is the impact that a person can have on the world for standing for a just cause and dedicating their life to it.
So what should we fight for in our lives? It is humbling to think that I cannot really clarify that very easily. Lafayette knew what cause to support at age 19, a son of rich nobility. I admire the passion, the conviction, and only could hope to find a cause to support with that much tenacity within my own soul.