National Geographic : 1917 Jun
MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE His passion for liberty enkindled by the heroic struggle of the American colonies, Marie Jean Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier Lafayette, a youth of 19, determined to cast his fortunes with the followers of Washington. Arrested by order of his sovereign when he attempted to sail from Bordeaux, the dauntless boy escaped from France in disguise and embarked with eleven companions from a port in Spain. Landing in America in April, 1779, he went at once to. Philadelphia, where Congress hesitated to give him a commission as major general, which had been promised by the American agent in Paris. Immediately Lafayette waived all claim to military rank and asked to be allowed to serve in the Continental Army "as a volunteer and without pay." Happily, Congress proved no less magnanimous; his commission was issued at once. The day following he met Washing ton, and there began a lifelong friendship between the two great patriots and lovers of liberty, epitomizing the mutual devotion and admiration which the people of France and of the United States were henceforth to entertain toward each other for all time. It was largely through Lafayette's influence that Rochambeau came to America with a division of French soldiers which turned the tide of defeat into victory for the colonies. Returning to his native France, Lafayette played a distinguished role in the events of the French Revolution, his devotion to the cause of liberty ever remaining unsullied by wanton deeds of bloodshed or vainglorious striving for power. Having been made com rrander-in-chief of the National Guard of Paris on the day following the storming of the Bastille, he sent the key of that grim stronghold to General Washington as a symbol of the overthrow of despotism and the triumph of free government in France. That symbol is today one of America's most treasured mementos, carefully guarded in the nation's shrine Mt. Vernon.