Lafayette: The Man Who Helped Win Both The American And French Revolutions

By | September 3, 2019

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Marquis de Lafayette. Source: (

You’ve probably noticed a street or park or building named Lafayette in your town, but have you ever stopped to wonder just why this rare French name seems to be plastered across American cities with the same frequency as names like Washington and Jefferson? It’s because Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, better known as simply the Marquis de Lafayette, was one of the greatest Revolutionaries in Western history. It sounds hyperbolic, but rest assured it is not. This guy not only helped George Washington win the American Revolution (at only 19 years old might I add) but later went on the lead the cause for the French Revolution, both of which caused a cultural and political seachange on a global scale. 

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Joseph-Désiré Court - Réunion des musées nationaux. Source: (

So who is this kid? Born in 1757 to French nobility, Lafayette was soon orphaned after his father died in the Seven Years War and his mother not long after of disease. He inherited a great sum of money from both sides of his well to do family, making him one of the wealthiest citizens in France by only age 13. He could have lived a life of extreme luxury, coming of age in the height of Versaille under the rule Marie Antionette, but despite his enormous privilege Lafayette couldn’t turn a blind eye to the struggles of the impoverished Third Estate. While the Nobility, Clergy, and Military were free to enjoy great wealth, they lived off the labor of the working class who were incidentally the only ones required to pay taxes despite their low wages. Was partying with the Royal Court really worth his countrymen starving to death? Our boy Lafayette didn’t think so.

At only 19 years old, Lafayette abandoned his position in the Musketeers and bought a ship to sail to America and join the Revolutionaries against the British Monarchy. He became enamored with the ideals of Democracy and believed that if it could be proven that the people could rule themselves in America, he could bring that message back to France and liberate his own.

“When I first learned the subject of the quarrel, my heart espoused warmly the cause of liberty, and I thought of nothing but of adding also the aid of my banner” --Lafayette

Easier said than done, as it would turn out. For one thing, Lafayette sort of skipped out on obtaining permission from his family or boss (ya know, the King of France) being the idealistic teenager that he was. Needless to say, Louis XVI wasn’t all that pleased with the idea of a French Nobleman raising arms against the British Monarchy. Remember the whole -- Lafayette’s father died in the Seven Years War thing? Yeah, the French are still recovering from losing the war and aren’t exactly looking to pick another fight with their ancestral foe any time soon.