Lafayette

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Lafayette

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Historian Olivier Bernier draws an indelible portrait of the man who represented, more than anyone else, the idea of French nobility to all Americans of the early Republic and who represented to the French the idea of freedom and its American expression. Lafayette was, indeed, the hero of two worlds.

Bernier's Lafayette - much of it based on previously inaccessible documents - is a man who lived the liberal ideal as few others have. In the war for American independence, this twenty-year-old was a stubborn, tenacious, and ultimately victorious commander, the favorite of George Washington with whom he developed a unique father-son relationship.

Returning to Paris with yearnings for a liberalized government, he was soon caught up in the 1789 revolution, first as its champion, then as the guardian of the king, finally as the only man capable of maintaining order in 1790 and 1791.

Once the king fled the capital, however, Lafayette's position became untenable, and he was forced to escape to Belgium. But there, the right-wing emigres considered him a traitor, and he was arrested and sent to Austria, where he languished in prison for years.

Finally, the diplomatic efforts of George Washington and other Americans led to his release and return to France.

Now, Napoleon feared him as a potential rival, a fear heightened when Lafayette went into self-imposed exile to protest Napoleon's abuse of power. During the revolution that followed Napoleon's downfall, Lafayette maintained his liberal principles as few others bothered to, and his position was vindicated by the uprising that installed the July monarchy and France's first middle-class constitution.

Enriching this chronicle of a man and his age are the stories of young "Gilbert's" many loves, as well as the steadfast relationship with his adoring wife. And never far from the marquis's heart was his love for his adopted home. He maintained it through a forty-year correspondence with the Founding Fathers and an unrelenting, if often quixotic, defense of liberal ideals. For its part, the young American republic knew no grander celebrations than those thrown in honor of his return in 1824.