About Lafayette


Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette led an exemplary life.

In this section, we will not provide a summary of Lafayette’s life because this has been done countless times already.  You can learn about the main historical facts of Lafayette’s life by reading any other well-resourced web page.  This About Lafayette section will do what many others do not do.  It will make a commentary about why learning about Lafayette matters.  It makes the case for why you would want to learn more in the first place.  

Why do people become such quick fans of the Marquis de Lafayette?  It is because the Marquis de Lafayette represents an ideal – an ideal of the Enlightenment and an ideal of America.  The values he lived his life by represent the best of America.  Through Lafayette, we see the best of what we can be.   

Enjoy the read and enjoy learning more about Lafayette!


Lafayette in Richmond


Great stories of human triumph, the kind many Americans love, are usually about people who defy the circumstances of their birth or overcome tremendous obstacles put in their way.  When someone overcomes what was taught to them in youth, when they forge a different, genuine, or more-enlightened path of their own, when we see a transformation, we view these people as triumphant, as heroic, as worthy of the best labels humanity has to offer – honorable, noble, selfless.  We see in these stories the triumph of the human spirit, and we are inspired by them.  

Typically, these inspirational stories are about the downtrodden who rise up, the oppressed who break free, the underdogs who win, or the underappreciated who earn a place of favor.  

Then, along comes a story that surprises us.  The story of the Marquis de Lafayette’s life is one such story.  Although he defied the circumstances of his birth and broke out of many of the social constructs of his time, he extraordinarily did so in reverse of how we usually think of it.  This is what makes him so extraordinary.  



Rather than the downtrodden rising up, in Lafayette’s story we see a high-ranked aristocrat at the top of French society give up the comforts of his life to fight for a cause.  He chooses to live in hard conditions fighting in a foreign war.  He rejects the snobbery of class divisions so well-known in France to befriend diverse groups of people in America.  He even eventually relinquishes his aristocratic title and refuses to use his status to levy power.  At a young age, he chooses to forgo privilege to remain true to his values of promoting liberty and democracy.  This is not what we typically expect in a triumph story.  There is no “rising up”.  But there is a gracious giving up of privilege and it is truly unique and inspiring.  

Rather than the oppressed breaking out, in Lafayette’s story we see a free and privileged young Frenchman place voluntary constraints on himself.  He offers his services to the Continental Army at his own expense.  He burdens himself with the horrors of war and with separation from his family.  Later, back in Europe, he is imprisoned due to his democratic ideas.  He could have abandoned these ideas to make things easier and safer for him and his family, but he chose the shackles of the responsibility of sticking to his values.  He places responsibilities and hardships on himself to uphold and fight for what he believes in.  This is the opposite of a “break free” story.  It is instead a story of consciousness and responsibility towards humanity.  This is noble and exemplary.  

Rather than the underdog who wins, in Lafayette’s story we see an officer and statesman of the highest levels of the French military and government fail time and time again – he is told no, he gets shot, he attempts to sway the French and it does not immediately work, his life is endangered, he is exiled, his assets are seized, he escapes from prison only to be recaptured, he is forced not to run for office, etc.  Rather than give up, Lafayette keeps supporting and arguing for the importance of liberty, democratic values and representative government.  Through it all, he refuses to waiver from his commitment to liberty for all.  In the very long run, Lafayette’s ideals prevailed.  This is certainly a win at the end of his life, but in the short run of his lifetime, he was not propelled by a lot of wins.  His steadfast commitment to an ideal is incredible.  His story teaches character and perseverance.  

Rather than the underappreciated earning favor, in Lafayette’s story we meet an influential man willing to see women as equals, willing to fight against slavery, and willing to refuse to occupy positions of power rather than bask in the comfort of his own privilege – again all of this, in order to remain steadfast to his ideals.  Lafayette is less interested in earning favor for himself.  He sets himself to work that would provide “favor” and opportunity for others.  This is very forward thinking and less paradoxical than many other 18th century thinkers.  His story shows us a humility of the individual.  It also shows us how humanity can triumph when individuals work for the greater good instead of working for their own power or glory.  This is inspiring to say the least.

About Lafayette


Throughout his life, Lafayette gives up wealth, social status, safety, freedom, and comfort in the name of fighting for the democratic ideal of liberty for all humankind.  In a way, he lives out the American ideal that the Revolution was fought for.  He was a man ahead of his time.  He fully embraced the humanistic ideals of the revolution and wanted to see them come to full fruition around the world.  His incredible story is made even more amazing by how unique he was during the time he lived.  In many ways, Lafayette lives in our cultural ideal as the last noble great knight in shining armor on the white horse coming to save us – he represents youth, bravery, the noble cause, and self-sacrifice.  The deepest lesson of his life is the hardest one for us to recognize:  Humanity makes progress when unearned status or privilege is given up for the good of humankind.  

This is why Lafayette still matters for us today.  Through Lafayette, we see the American ideal to which he clung so dearly.  If he believed in it that deeply and fought for it so hard, we can too.  

By: Lisa - Owner and Founder of The Lafayette Shoppe, LLC