Apart from the aid surreptitiously given by the French government, and the supplies sent over by Beaumarchais and other friends and speculators, there were numerous offers from a class who made arms their profession and who wished to enter the American army. Many of these, it is to be feared, were actuated by the hope of personal gain rather than by any zeal for the cause of American liberty. They were well-bred adventurers who had little to furnish except valor, and for this they demanded a high price. When their own country was at peace, they were ready to bear arms in America, and they would have been equally ready to enlist under the flag of the Great Turk if he had been in need of troops. The field in America seemed to present special attractions. Among a new and little-known people they could entertain hopes of gaining wealth and promotion that would have seemed absurd in Europe. In most continental wars the countries involved possessed a sufficient number of trained officers, and were not eager for foreign volunteers. Frederick declined the services of the young English noblemen who wished to serve under his flag during the Seven Years' War, because he thought they would be an embarrassment rather than an assistance.
But the American colonists, it was felt, must be ignorant of anything deserving to be called the art of war; they had no body of trained officers; they had little experience in fighting except with Indians, and the conflicts in which they had taken part bore no resemblance to scientific warfare. The selectman of the town, or the keeper of the country store, must, it was argued, be unfit to act as a captain or a colonel; and yet from them, and those like them, the officers in the new army were selected. That men with some knowledge of wilderness life, who had hunted wild animals and been hunted by wild Indians in the primeval forests, were better fitted for conditions in America than an officer who could manoeuvre a regiment with the utmost precision on the plains of Germany or France, was not understood in the military circles of Europe.
But it was not the love of adventure and the hope of reward alone, that led so great a body of young Frenchmen to seek out Deane and Franklin and tender their services. The American cause was truly popular, and young nobles who sighed for the excitement of war felt also a sincere sympathy for the principles for which the American colonists had taken up arms. Inspired by philosophers who predicted a new era of felicity, by politicians who declared the time was ripe for new forms of government, by nobles who discovered a new interest in the welfare of the people, many a young soldier, with a genuine enthusiasm for the cause, wished to help the American patriots in their efforts to throw off kingly misrule.
Whatever their motives, the number and the urgency of those who sought positions in the American army soon became embarrassing. Deane wrote in November, 1776: "The rage, as I may say, for entering into the American service increases and the consequence is that I am crowded with offers and proposals, many of them from persons in the first rank and eminence." (Deane to Committee, Nov. 6, 1776; Deane Papers, i, 342.) He writes a little later: "I am well-nigh harassed to death with applications of officers to go out for America"; and he added, with a confidence that unfortunately was not well founded, "Those I have engaged are, I trust, in general of the best character." (Same to Same, Nov. 28, 1776; lbid., 375.)
In the following March the commissioners wrote: "The desire that military officers here of all ranks have of going into the service of the United States is so general and so strong as to be quite amazing. We are hourly fatigued with their applications and offers, which we are obliged to refuse, and with hundreds of letters which we cannot possibly answer to their satisfaction." (Commissioners to Committee, March 12, 1777; Diplomatic Correspondence, Sparks's ed., i, 202.)
When Franklin arrived, the pressure to enter the American service was no less, but he was more cautious than Deane in giving employment. He wrote that many had been previously engaged by Deane, who could not resist the applications made him, but that he gave all the discouragement in his power, and he adds: "You can have no conception of the arts and interest made use of to recommend, and engage us to recommend very indifferent persons. The importunity is boundless. The numbers we refuse incredible." (Franklin to Lovell, Oct. 7, 1777; Writings of Franklin, Albert H. Smyth, editor, vii, 66.) All these officers, so Franklin wrote, were reported to be full of courage and zeal, in short, "were Caesars.'' Some offered aid more valuable than carrying a musket, and he notes an offer from a priest who wrote that if Franklin would pay his gaming debts, he would pray for the success of the American cause (Hale, Franklin in France, i, 79.)
Notwithstanding Deane's confidence that he had selected only those of the best character, he was induced to send many who would have been of little value to any cause, and in addition to this, he sent over many more than were needed, even if they had been officers of the highest merit. He dealt with this matter with his usual indiscretion, and enrolled many volunteers, under liberal promises of rank and pay which Congress was unwilling to fulfil. It was not possible, so the committee of Congress reported, to provide for these gentlemen in the manner they wished, and many at once returned to France. "We have done all in our power to prevent discontent," they said; but these efforts in many cases were unsuccessful. Congress had asked only for four engineers; it received a host of volunteers, of whom there was no need, and for whom there was no place. American officers naturally were not willing to step aside for some foreigner who could not even give orders in a language which the men could understand, and the most of those whom Deane sent over were unfit for such service as was required in America. To command a company of French soldiers in a campaign in the Low Countries was a very different thing from having charge of a body of Americans, fresh from the plough or the shop, amid the privations that awaited them in New Jersey or Virginia.
One of the most troublesome of those chosen by Deane was du Coudray, who had so disturbed Beaumarchais by ordering back the ship on which he embarked. Du Coudray was one of the first of the foreign officers who arrived in America, and he did much to insure a cold reception for those who followed him. Deane had written Congress that the character and extraordinary exertions of du Coudray entitled him to much, and he hoped that the sum stipulated for him would not be considered extravagant. Relying on Deane's agreement, du Coudray at once asked for a commission as major-general, and to be put in command of the artillery and engineer corps. He was a soldier of some experience, and the American officers were probably less versed in the art of engineering or the use of artillery, but they had no thought of yielding the chief command to an unknown foreigner.
General Knox was in command of the artillery at this time; if we can believe Steuben, he had no idea of the use of cannon either in attack or retreat, but he had no desire to be superseded or taught by a foreigner. It was reported that du Coudray's demand had been acceded to, and thereupon Generals Knox, Greene, and Sullivan sent their resignations to Congress. For this act they were properly reprimanded, but Congress declined to recognize Deane's agreement, and created for du Coudray the position of inspector of artillery with the rank of major-general.
Du Coudray had a high sense of his own importance and a strong desire for his own advancement; he insisted that he would have everything or nothing and would suffer no abatement in his demands. He sent memoirs to Congress, magnifying his own services and belittling anything done by Beaumarchais or others; he refused the commission offered him and said that he would enter the army merely as a volunteer, with the rank of captain. This act of magnanimosity was only to prepare for further intrigues; but fortunately, on September 16, 1777, when crossing the Schuylkill, he was drowned, and his career came to an end. Even the charitable La Fayette writes that du Coudray's death was perhaps a happy accident. After his death, most of those who came over with him returned to France, having found neither gain nor glory in their American expedition.
Yet among these volunteers were some whose services exceeded any promise of reward they received from Deane. La Fayette, Kalb, Steuben, and Pulaski were among these early recruits, and when France became our ally they were followed by many others who did good service in the cause of American liberty.
The name of La Fayette is more familiar to the American people than that of any other actor in the Revolution, with the exception of Washington. When very young he gained an extended fame which has not waned with the progress of time. He was not a man of unusual intellectual powers, nor of uncommon ability as a soldier, but be possessed courage, enthusiasm, and an amiable character, be threw himself with zeal into a great cause, and he attained the fame which he so eagerly desired.
The Marquis de La Fayette belonged to an ancient and illustrious house. They traced their lineage back beyond the year 1000, and had no need of the ingenuity of genealogists to prove the antiquity of their race. Members of the family served in the Crusades, one of them fell at the battle of Poitiers, another was marshal of France in the days of Charles VII and many won distinction in their country's wars during the centuries that followed. If the men were renowned for their bravery, some of the women were equally noted for their charms. The beautiful Mademoiselle de La Fayette, who excited the chaste affection of Louis XIII, and Madame de La Fayette, the author of several novels and tales, of which the "Princesse de Cleves," the most famous, has still many readers, - these were among the celebrated members of the La Fayette family.
The grandmother of our hero was a Chavagniac, and was married at the early age of twelve. She was a woman of good judgment and strong character. Her grandson writes that she was respected in all the province, and persons came from twenty leagues around to consult her on questions of importance. His mother was a daughter of the Marquis de la Riviere; she possessed virtue, piety, and illustrious pedigree and very little money. The father of La Fayette, like almost all of his ancestors, served in the army, and in July, 1757, he was killed at the battle of Hastenbeck. It was a tradition that the La Fayettes fell on the field of battle, and that they met their fate when young; the father was killed at twenty-five, his only brother had already fallen in Italy, a young man of twenty-three.
On the 6th of September, 1757, the famous Marquis de La Fayette was born, a posthumous child. He lived for some years with his mother and grandmother in the Chateau Chavagniac, in what is now the department of the Haute-Loire. It was an ancient and massive building, erected in the fourteenth century for purposes of defence, strongly fortified and flanked by towers, and from it one had an extended though somewhat austere view. It still stands with its heavy and severe lines, little changed in appearance since the days when La Fayette was a child.
In his early years the family was poor. His father and uncle left small estates; the lands about Chavagniac were not fertile, the climate was cold, and the revenues were small. The lad led an active and hardy life, taking much exercise and growing up stout in body and courageous in mind. The wolf of Gevaudan, whose real or imaginary misdeeds made it famous all over France, committed its ravages in this part of the country, and La Fayette tells us that when only eight his walks were animated by the hope that he might encounter this extraordinary beast and become famous by killing it (Memoires, Correspondance et Manuscrits du General Lafayette, publies par sa famille, i, 20.) He never met the wolf, and he owed his fame to other exploits.
When still a youth La Fayette inherited from an uncle of his mother a great estate. He was taken to Paris and received into the ranks of the highest nobility. Though not brilliant, he was pleasing, amiable, rich, and young, and he was everywhere made welcome. Early marriages were the custom of the time in the circle to which La Fayette belonged. When only fourteen he was proposed as a husband for one of the five daughters of the Duc d'Ayen, who was afterwards Duc de Noailles. It seems to have been a matter of indifference which of the five should be agreed upon, and the father selected the second. But the mother hesitated about consenting to the match.
We are apt to regard French society at this period as frivolous and corrupt. Of corruption and frivolity there was certainly enough, but there were in the highest classes, as well as among the bourgeoisie, many families in which piety ruled and every virtue was found. The women of the Noailles and La Fayette families were examples of purity of life and elevation of character; we hear less of such than of the Montespans and the Pompadours, but they were always numerous, and without them French society would have ceased to exist. The Duchesse d'Ayen was one of these women. She was educated in a convent, filled with a sincere piety, entirely devoted to her husband and her children, and she trained the latter to follow the same paths she had herself pursued. Like other women of her class, she was scrupulous, we may think over scrupulous, in the performance of religious duties. Though fond of chess, she would not play on Saturdays because she found that recollections of the game sometimes distracted her thoughts at mass on the following morning. Such things savor of a narrow devotion; but narrowness should not be charged against a woman who trained five children to lead pure lives, and who herself met death on the scaffold during the Terror with the courage of a soldier and the tranquillity of a saint.
Such a mother was not ready to consent to the proposed marriage of her daughter to La Fayette merely because he had wealth and rank. The future bride writes that the extreme youth of the proposed husband, the loneliness of his situation, having lost all his near relatives, and his great fortune, which her mother regarded as a danger rather than an advantage, decided her to refuse her consent (Mme. Adrienne de La Fayette, Notice sur Madame la Duchesse d'Ayen.) In this she persisted for several months; but the father manifested still greater pertinacity, the alliance was finally agreed upon, and in 1774, when La Fayette was sixteen and his bride not yet fifteen, the marriage was celebrated.
Though married, the parties were little more than children and they were treated accordingly. The marquis continued his military education at the Academy of Versailles and seems to have been regarded by the family of which be was now a member as an amiable child.
His own rank and the position of his wife's family secured him admission everywhere, but the youth seems to have had by nature little taste for courts. He was, so he tells us, awkward in his manners, a small and by no means a brilliant talker, and little fitted to shine in society. His father-in-law wished to secure him a position at court; but La Fayette, from chance or design, advanced some views that were distasteful to the future Louis XVIII, and the place was refused. The young nobility of this period found court life less attractive than had their sires. His companion, the Comte de Segur, rejected a similar position, and speaks of it as a gilded slavery.
La Fayette, so Segur tells us, was cold and even dull in appearance, but he concealed a firm character and an ardent spirit. In 1775 the marquis, then eighteen years of age, was performing duty at Metz. It was there, according to his statement, that his interest was first excited in the affairs of the American colonists. At a dinner given by the Comte de Broglie, the Duke of Gloucester, a brother of George III, was present. The brothers and sons of the House of Hanover were usually at loggerheads, and the duke was quite ready to criticize his brother's policy; he told of the treatment the American colonists had received, and spoke warmly of these patriots struggling for their liberties. Every word met with a ready response from La Fayette, who was young and ardent, and filled with that vague enthusiasm for popular rights which had begun to show itself in the highest circles of the French aristocracy. He tells us that he then decided to enlist in the cause of American freedom, and there is no reason to question his word. Doubtless he was influenced by the taste for military life, and by the desire for military glory that was common among young French nobles. But in addition to this, he was actuated by a strong and genuine interest in those whom he believed to be oppressed, and he was eager to have a hand in the establishment of a free government on the other side of the water.
La Fayette's youthful enthusiasm was accompanied by a pertinacity and steadfastness of purpose unusual in men of any age. It was an easy thing to sympathize with the American patriots, but for a youth like La Fayette to leave his country and enter the insurgent army was a difficult enterprise. He was young, rich, highly placed, newly married. Naturally all of his family were aghast at the suggestion that he should desert his home and take part in a war waged in a land which seemed more remote from France than Abyssinia now seems from New York.
The very prominence of his position made it more difficult for him to go. An obscure young man could have taken ship to Boston and joined the army under Washington, and the French government would have disquieted itself very little. But the Marquis de La Fayette could not lightly be allowed to take such a step. The English might insist that such a man would not have enlisted in the American cause except with the tacit approval of his own government. The American insurgents would believe the same thing, and expect that the adhesion of La Fayette would be the first step toward an alliance with the French King.
Two other young nobles, hardly inferior to La Fayette in position, the Vicomte de Noailles, his brother-in-law, and the Comte de Segur, who afterwards married another kinswoman, endeavored to embark with him in the American cause. All three applied to Deane, and he naturally was anxious to secure the support of such notable recruits. French opinion was already favorable to the Americans, and it would surely assist in obtaining the open support of the French government if representatives of the great French families were fighting for the patriot cause. But the prominence of the new recruits stood in the way of the accomplishment of their plan. Such a step was distasteful to the government and it was promptly forbidden.
Noailles and Segur sighed and obeyed, but La Fayette was made of more stubborn material. His family were incensed at his project and were equally surprised. La Fayette's reserved character and his slowness of speech were in marked contrast with the brilliant youths of his own class, and had created the impression that, if worthy, he was also dull. His father-in-law desired the Comte de Segur to breathe some of his own fire into La Fayette's sluggish temperament, and he was amazed when this silent youth of nineteen announced his decision to sail across the Atlantic and hazard his life in a land and for a people of which even educated Frenchmen had the vaguest notions. Surprise at this action was accompanied by prompt resolve that it should be prevented. Even if the officers of the government had been willing to connive at La Fayette's escape, his father-in-law was persistent in demanding that, if necessary, the youth should be put under arrest to keep him from deserting his country and his family on a fool's errand.
With the stubbornness which was a marked feature in his character, La Fayette persisted in his purpose, in defiance of the wishes of his family and the orders of his government. He applied for assistance to the Comte de Broglie, who, like any sensible man, advised him to abandon the project. "I saw your uncle die in the war in Italy," he said, "I was present at the death of your father at the battle of Minden (The count was mistaken in his recollection; La Fayette's father was killed at Hastenbeck. Tower, The Marquis de Lafayette, etc., i, 21.) I do not wish to contribute to the ruin of the sole remaining branch of the family." But the count at last was overcome by La Fayette's persistence, and agreed to assist him so far as he could.
Baron Kalb had already decided to volunteer for the American service, and was Broglie's representative in the scheme to make the count commander-in-chief of the American forces. By Kalb, La Fayette was, in 1776, presented to Deane, who had to deal with the numerous recruits who were eager to enlist in the American cause. Most of these volunteers set a value on their services that was justified neither by their past nor by their future performances. It was different with La Fayette - he had much to give and asked little in return. He had indeed no military record behind him, but he had a great name and large wealth; he only asked the opportunity to serve, and wished no pay for his service. How valuable this service was to be, no one could foresee, and La Fayette tells us that "in presenting my nineteen-year-old face to M. Deane, I spoke more of my zeal than of my experience, but I made him realize the little eclat that would result from my departure, and he signed the contract."
A paper was drawn promising to La Fayette the rank of major-general in the American army, and positions for the various subordinates by whom he was to be attended. The rank of major-general was a high one for a young man of nineteen who had seen no service in war, but Deane justly thought it was not too high for a recruit who bore the name of La Fayette. "I have thought that I could not better serve my country ... Deane wrote, "than by granting to him, in the name of the very honorable Congress, the rank of major-general, which I beg the States to confirm to him . . . His high birth, his alliances, the great dignities which his family hold at this Court, his considerable estates in this realm, his personal merit, his reputation, his disinterestedness, and, above all, his zeal for the liberty of our provinces, are such as to induce me to promise him the rank of major-general in the name of the United States." (Tower, The Marquis de Lafayette, etc., i, 35.)
Deane made some foolish contracts for the employment of foreign officers in the American service, but the wisdom of this engagement should atone for many mistakes. The manner in which La Fayette accepted the offer shows how far he was removed from the greedy adventurers who were pressing for high rank and high pay in the American cause. "I offer myself," he wrote, " . . . to serve the United States with all possible zeal, without any pension or allowance." And he added the unnecessary clause that he reserved for himself the liberty of returning to Europe whenever his family or his King should recall him. Neither his King nor his family wished him to go, but he persisted in his purpose, and had no thought of abandoning the American cause at the bidding of any one. The news from the other side was unfavorable, and even the American commissioners advised La Fayette to postpone his undertaking, but he paid as little attention to their advice as to the orders of his own government. "We must show our confidence," he said to Deane; "it is in time of trouble that I wish to share your fortune." (Lafayette, "Memoires de ma Main," in Memoires, Correspondance et Manuscrits du General Lafayette (ed. 1837), i, 12.)
The plans for furnishing him transportation failed, and thereupon he resolved to buy a ship for himself. In order to get the ship he was obliged to purchase the cargo, and he bought from some merchants in Bordeaux, for 112,000 francs, a vessel that was to sail in March, 1777. In the meantime, perhaps in order to avert suspicion, he amused himself by a trip to England, where he was presented to George III.
Though La Fayette was resolved to go to America, he was anxious to obtain the consent of his government, expressed or implied; as an officer of the King he did not wish to desert his colors, and embark in a foreign service, without the permission of his superiors. From London he sent a letter to his father-in-law, stating that he was now a general officer in the army of the United States, and was about to start for that country. "I am filled with joy," he writes, "at having found so good an opportunity to increase my experience and to do something in the world . . . This voyage is not a long one; people go farther every day for the sole purpose of travelling, and, besides, I hope I shall return from it better deserving the esteem of everybody who is kind enough to miss me . . . Good-bye, my dear father, I hope to see you soon again. Do not withdraw your affections from me." (Letter of March 19, 1777; Tower, The Marquis de Lafayette, etc., i, 37.)
This letter carried consternation to La Fayette's family; his wife was plunged in tears, and his father-in-law was plunged in rage. The expressions of affection with which the epistle was filled did not soften the duke's heart; he went at once to the ministers and demanded of them to arrest the youth and compel him to return to his duties. It is doubtful if this demand was altogether agreeable: the ministers were quite content that La Fayette should try his fortunes in the New World, if only the English could be made to believe that he had gone without the knowledge or authority of his own government.
In the meantime La Fayette left London and made his way to Paris. He did not wish his arrival to be known, and for three days be remained concealed in the residence of Baron Kalb at Chaillot. On March 16, in company with the baron, he set out for Bordeaux. There they arrived on the 19th, and on the 25th of March, 1777, they sailed from that port on the ship Victory, which La Fayette had purchased (Kalb's letters of March 24 and April 1; Kapp, Life of Kalb, 104.) The forms of secrecy were still preserved. In the registry of passengers La Fayette inscribed himself as the Sieur Gilbert du Mottie, Chevalier de Chavaillac, aged twenty years, height tall, hair blond, about to sail to the Cape, on matters of business (Doniol, ii, 384.)
"We are weighing anchor in the most glorious weather," Kalb wrote his wife. "I shall write you once more before my arrival in America, because we shall touch at a European port."
There was no reason why, once having set sail, the Victory should not have proceeded directly to America. But La Fayette was anxious to receive the consent of his government, and still indulged the hope that his letters would soften the hearts both of his father-in-law and of the minister of foreign affairs. Accordingly he sent a courier to Paris to obtain the desired permission. This was exactly what the minister was loath to give, and what the Duc d'Ayen was resolved should not be given. The Victory stopped at Los Pasajes, a small Spanish harbor on the Bay of Biscay, a few miles from the French frontier, and there the marquis received some correspondence that was little to his taste. A lettre de cachet, forbidding his departure, had been sent to Bordeaux, and followed him to Los Pasajes. Accompanying this were letters from his family, which he informs us were terrible. He was directed to abandon his enterprise, to meet his family at Marseilles, and to accompany them on a long trip to Italy.
La Fayette's matters had now become generally known, and excited the interest of every salon and every cafe in Paris. The sympathy of the public was with the young adventurer. His youth, his zeal, his willingness to leave wealth and station in order to share the fortunes of the American insurgents, aroused universal enthusiasm. Public feeling was already friendly to the Americans, and this was strengthened by La Fayette's resolution to join their cause. On the other hand, the conduct of his father-in-law and of the government excited much animadversion. The duke, said one enthusiastic lady, if he treated an estimable son-in-law like La Fayette in this manner, could not expect any one to marry his other daughters.
La Fayette, however, was loath to continue his journey in defiance of the express orders he had received, and accordingly he returned to Bordeaux. His companion, Kalb, viewed this performance with great disfavor. He was anxious to sail for America as soon as possible, and he now regarded La Fayette's expedition as practically abandoned. "I do not believe he will rejoin me," Kalb wrote his wife, "and have advised him to settle with the owner of the ship at a sacrifice of twenty or twenty-five thousand francs." (Letter of April 1, 1777; Kapp, Life of Kalb, 105.)
Kalb's letters to his wife disclose other anxieties which beset these volunteers in the cause of American liberty. The baron thought that La Fayette would return to Paris, and he intrusted to his wife the adjustment of some pecuniary matters with the marquis. Evidently the young hero had spent money with a free hand on his trip to Bordeaux, and had failed to settle accounts with his older companion. If the marquis received back some part of the money which he had advanced for the ship, so Kalb wrote his wife, she might choose that moment to speak of a note La Fayette had given for 13,500 livres, not indeed to ask payment before it was due, but to suggest that he leave orders for its payment on the 20th of May; and then the baron adds, "perhaps he will pay you at once." There was, moreover, a further account between the associates. Kalb had bought the horses at Paris, La Fayette had paid the expenses of the journey to Bordeaux, and the fear that the marquis expected him to pay part of these disturbed the baron. La Fayette had expended at the inn at Bordeaux 408 livres from Wednesday evening to Friday, because he gave many dinners and suppers which did not concern Kalb. "I think, therefore," he added, "you should delay to say anything of the expenses at Bordeaux, but say simply, 'Here, monsieur le marquis, is the account my husband has sent me of what be advanced for you, and he says he owes you two-fifths of the expenses to Bordeaux,' and see what be answers. I flatter myself it is his intention to repay part of my advances and perhaps all." (Doniol, iii, 208.)
In another letter, Kalb says, "It is certain that his foolish enterprise will cost him dear. I call the enterprise foolish, from the moment that he dared not execute his project, and bid defiance to threats." But Kalb did not fully understand the stubborn resolution of his companion in arms. La Fayette returned to Bordeaux and there despatched letters to the ministers defending his conduct, and asking that he be allowed to continue his enterprise.
The reports which he received from Paris held out little hope that either his family or his government would consent to his departure, and thereupon he resolved to go without their consent. He notified the commanding officer at Bordeaux that he was about to start for Marseilles, in conformity with the royal order. Having done this, he took a carriage and set out in company with his friend, Vicomte Mauroy. As soon as they were fairly out of the city limits, they left the Marseilles road and turned their faces towards the Spanish frontier. Mauroy rode in the chaise, while La Fayette went along on horseback disguised as a postboy.
At Bayonne, while Mauroy attended to some necessary business, La Fayette remained concealed in a stable. At St.-Jean-de-Luz, La Fayette had to ask for fresh horses, and he was recognized by the innkeeper's daughter as the gentleman who had been there a few days before on the road to Bordeaux. But she did not betray his incognito, and when some officials turned up in pursuit she sent them off on the wrong road.
Thus befriended, on the 17th of April, La Fayette again reached Los Pasajes, and he was hindered no further by his government. Only the zeal of the Duc d'Ayen had incited measures so active as those that were taken. The young marquis was now again safely in Spain, popular sympathy was on his side, the fashionable world in Paris praised his bravery and condemned the conduct of those who sought to keep him from winning name and fame. The ministers were secretly willing that he should start on his expedition, and they gave him no more trouble.
La Fayette's efforts to enlist as a defender of American liberty blew into flame the interest in that cause already kindled in France. "All Europe is for us," wrote Silas Deane exultantly on March 12; " . . . the prospect of an asylum in America for those who love liberty gives general joy, and our cause is esteemed the cause of all mankind." (Wharton, ii, 287.) "La Fayette," wrote Deane and Franklin a little later, "is exceedingly beloved and everybody's good wishes attend him. Those who censure it [his expedition] as imprudent in him, do, nevertheless, applaud his spirit." (Letter of May 25, 1777; Tower, The Marquis de Lafayette, etc., i, 59.)
On Sunday, the 20th of April, 1777, La Fayette rejoined his ship, and, accompanied by Baron Kalb and twelve French officers whom he took as his staff, he at last set sail for the coast of America.
La Fayette always insisted that he had the consent of the government for his departure. A formal consent certainly he did not have, but it is quite possible that intimations reached him that, though he could expect no authorization of his enterprise, yet his future fortune at court would not be imperilled if he persisted in it. He himself wrote to Maurepas that, as he had received no answer to his letters, and the government had not refused to remove its interdict, he should interpret this silence as signifying consent. This he probably regarded as a pleasantry, and apparently the ministers did the same; at least they expressed no serious indignation.
The Marquis de Noailles, then ambassador at London, was disturbed that his young kinsman, after being presented to the English King, should at once start to join the insurgents against that King's authority. But Maurepas quieted his apprehensions. "Your family," he wrote, "has nothing with which to reproach itself, and the King will not bear you any ill favor for the action of a young man whose head has been turned." (Doniol, ii, 410.) Vergennes wrote, "Lord Stormont seems to be in a very bad humor over this. He has the talent of attaching much importance to very small things." (See letter of May 2, 1777; Doniol, ii, 411.)
The forms of propriety were still maintained. An order was issued, forbidding any French officer to enter the service of the colonies, and enjoining those who should arrive in the West India Islands, and especially the Marquis de La Fayette, to return to France forthwith. This was sent to the Minister of the Marine to forward; but his clerical force seems to have been insufficient, for he returned the order for copies to be made that he might have one to send to each of the islands. It does not appear that copies were sent to any of them, and the matter apparently was intentionally neglected (The authorities for La Fayette's expedition are found in: his own Memoires; Doniol, volumes i and ii; the account given by La Fayette to Sparks and contained in the latter's Writings of Washington, volume v, Appendix 1; Memoires de Segur; and the correspondence of La Fayette. A full account is given by Tower in his Marquis de Lafayette in the American Revolution, volume i.)
In the meantime the Victory was peacefully pursuing her way to the New World. The young hero suffered from seasickness as well as homesickness. "I was very ill during the first part of the voyage," be writes his wife, "but I had the consolation of the wicked, that I suffered with many others." (Lafayette, Memoires, etc., i, 112.) The weather was unfavorable, but they were lucky enough to avoid any English cruisers, and after a journey of fifty-four days they landed near Georgetown, South Carolina.
The defenders of our country met at first with a cold reception. La Fayette and some of his officers rowed to the shore and proceeded to a house near by. It was now dark; they were met by the howling of the dogs, and the people within prepared to repel them as a band of marauders. Fortunately Kalb knew some English, and when it was discovered who the strangers were, they were received with great hospitality. La Fayette was charmed with all he saw; even the mosquito curtains around the bed interested him with their novelty and filled him with delight. He went to Charleston, and from there sent home enthusiastic accounts of the new people among whom he found himself. They were, he wrote, all his fancy had painted them; simplicity of manners, love of country, and a delightful equality prevailed everywhere; the worthiest and the poorest were on a level; though there were some large fortunes, he discovered no distinction in the manners of different classes towards each other. The city of Charleston he found one of the handsomest and best built he had ever seen, and its inhabitants among the most agreeable people. The women were pretty, simple in their manners, and neater even than their English sisters. Even the inns were charming, and the inn-keepers did not charge too much. Yet there were some trials in this paradise. The heat, he wrote, was dreadful, he had discovered the sinister meaning of mosquito nets, and was devoured by the insects (See letters to his wife; Lafayette, Memoires, etc., i, 124.)
His companion was less enthusiastic. "I have arrived here," Kalb wrote his wife from Charleston, "after many toils and pains, and in an unsupportable heat . . . Everything is exorbitantly dear; a shirt for the marquis's servant cost fifty livres. At Paris it would have cost four and a half at most, and everything else is in proportion, provisions, lodging, horses." (Letter of June 18,1777; Doniol, iii, 213.)
From Charleston, La Fayette and his officers made their way to Philadelphia. The era of enthusiasm over natural beauty had arrived in France, and La Fayette wrote of his delight in the vast forests and the immense rivers which he traversed, the freshness and the majesty of the country through which he travelled.
But the journey was a hard one, and his associates were more impressed by the difficulties of the way than by the beauties of the forests. Their carriages broke down and they suffered from heat and hunger. "We made a great part of the journey on foot," one of them writes, "often sleeping in the woods, dying of hunger, overcome by heat, several of us sick of fever and dysentery . . . There is no campaign in Europe harder than this journey. There the hardships are not continual, and are compensated by many pleasures, while in this journey our evils grew greater every day, and we had no solace except at last to arrive in Philadelphia." (Memoire d'un des Officiers francais [Chevalier du Buysson] passes en Amerique avec Is Marquis de La Fayette; Doniol, iii, 217.) That city they reached after thirty-two days of toil and trouble.
The American Congress was already beginning to weary of the host of adventurers whom Deane was sending over, and to whom, in his indiscretion, he had promised rank and pay out of all proportion to the value of their services. The committee received this new arrival of recruits with a chilliness that was very distasteful to them. "We were received in the street by a member," writes one of the French officers. "When he left us, after having treated us, in plain words, like adventurers, he finished by saying, 'You have papers from M. Deane. We authorized him to employ four French engineers. He sent us M. du Coudray, with some pretended engineers who are not such, and some artillerymen who have never served . . . The French officers come to serve us without our asking for them.'" (Mem. d'un des Officiers, etc.; Doniol, iii, 218.)
The unlucky volunteers were stupefied by their reception, but they finally admitted that the conduct of du Coudray and his associates had justly prejudiced the Americans against all foreign recruits. On the whole, they took their repulse with philosophy, were paid their expenses, after some delay and difficulty, and the most of them returned to France wiser if sadder men. They had no opportunity for distinction, nor did any period of cordial reception and social excitement atone for their disappointment. "For two months," writes the secretary of the expedition, "Baron Kalb and myself were reduced to two shirts and one suit, badly torn; but despite my ill fortune I am glad to have made the voyage. My constant ill luck has accustomed me to suffer patiently, and to find moments of pleasure in the midst of trial and misfortune." (Doniol, iii, 221.)
La Fayette brought special recommendations, and when he stated that the two favors be asked in return for his sacrifices were to serve at his own expense and to begin his service as a volunteer, the members of Congress found they were dealing with a recruit of a new order. On the 31st of July Congress passed a resolution in which they declared that inasmuch as the Marquis of La Fayette, by reason of his zeal for the cause of liberty, had left his family and was willing to expose his life without asking pay or indemnity, it was resolved that his services should be accepted and he should receive the rank of major-general. He was presented to Washington, who at once received him into his favor. "I came to learn and not to teach," said La Fayette, - a tone different from that of most of the foreign officers who expected to show the Americans how to fight.
The arrival of a young man of twenty, untried either in warfare or in public affairs, might not seem of great importance. But the services of La Fayette were of inestimable value to the American cause; not only did he prove himself a good officer and an exceedingly discreet adviser, but he was a connecting link between the Americans and the French government; the influence of his counsels, the enthusiasm incited by his conduct, were of considerable weight in bringing the French authorities to espouse openly the American cause.
His enthusiasm had a quality of Gallic effusion that was not always found among the Americans, even when fighting in their own behalf. He writes his wife soon after he reached here: "Defender of that liberty which I adore . . . I bring only my frankness and my good-will . . . In toiling for my glory I work for their happiness . . . The happiness of America is linked to the happiness of all humanity; she will become the sure asylum of virtue, honesty, tolerance, equality and a peaceful liberty." (Letters to his wife, June 7,1777; Lafayette, Memoires, etc., i, 115.)
Amid the dissatisfaction so common among the foreign volunteers, La Fayette's zeal and amiability stood out in pleasing contrast. Kalb writes his wife in January, 1778, complaining of the various annoyances he met. "One," he said, "is the mutual jealousy of almost all the French officers, particularly against those of higher rank than the rest. These people think of nothing but their incessant intrigues and back-biting . . . La Fayette is the sole exception . . . La Fayette is much liked, he is on the best of terms with Washington." (Kapp, Life of Kalb, 143.)
Washington at once appreciated the character of his new assistant, and reposed in him a confidence that was not misplaced.
The sights which met the new arrival must have seemed strange to one accustomed to the armies of Europe, but he was discouraged by nothing. In August, 1777, he joined the army in which he was now a volunteer, and comments upon the appearance of the soldiers. He found some eleven thousand men, poorly armed and worse clad; the best garments were a sort of hunting shirts, or loose jackets made of linen, while, as he says, the varieties of nakedness equalled the varieties of clothes, and the tactics were as primitive as the uniforms. In spite of these disadvantages, he recognized the fact that the men not only had in them the making of good soldiers, but were already well fitted for the requirements of an American campaign, and that bravery with them took the place of science (Tower, The Marquis de Lafayette, etc., i, 217.)
La Fayette soon had an opportunity to show his qualities as a soldier. He served as a volunteer at Brandywine with great courage, and received a bullet in his leg which laid him up for a few weeks. He was cared for by the Moravians, and they, like everyone else, were impressed by his amiability; in a diary of one of them is an entry recording that "the French Marquis, whom we have found to be a very intelligent and pleasant young man, came to bid us adieu."
With all of La Fayette's zeal and amiability, he was ambitious for distinction, and while serving cheerfully as a volunteer was desirous of a more important command. Washington befriended him, and wrote the President of Congress in his behalf, stating the qualifications of the young volunteer with his usual justness of expression. "He is sensible, discreet in his manners, has made great proficiency in our language, and . . . possesses a large share of bravery and military ardor." (Writings of Washington, Sparks's ed., v, 129.) La Fayette's wish was gratified, and he was given the command of a division. So friendly was the feeling towards him, that this selection was criticized by none. He wrote his father-in-law: "I am cautious not to talk much, lest I should say some foolish thing; I am still more cautious in my actions, lest I should do some foolish thing, for I do not want to disappoint the confidence that the Americans have so kindly placed in me." (Tower, The Marquis de Lafayette, etc., i, 256.)
His judgment was soon put to a severe test, for the cabal sought to avail themselves of La Fayette's popularity and win him away from Washington, by obtaining for him the command of an army that was to conduct a campaign in Canada. Naturally he was gratified by so flattering a selection, but he soon discovered the ill-will of the cabal to Washington, and no flatteries from them could affect his loyalty to the commander-in-chief. He writes to Washington of Conway: "I found that he was an ambitious and dangerous man; he has done all in his power by cunning manoeuvres to take off my confidence and affection for you . . . I am now fixed to your fate, and I shall follow it and sustain it as well by my sword as by all means in my power." (lbid., 262.)
The young marquis not only detected the plans of his new associates and declined to join in them, but he soon found that the expedition against Canada was little more than a farce. He reported at Albany, in compliance with instructions received from Gates, who was then president of the Board of War, but he found the northern army a myth. He met General Stark at Albany, who told him he had never heard of the undertaking, and he soon discovered that the whole scheme was an impossibility. The disappointment was bitter, but he accepted it with his usual amiability. The Canadian expedition was abandoned and La Fayette returned to Valley Forge, and in the following summer took an honorable part in the battle of Monmouth.
In the mean time, France had become the ally of the United States; La Fayette was no longer nominally a fugitive from his own country, acting in disobedience to the orders of his sovereign; he could now serve with his own countrymen in the cause in which his country had enlisted, a result which was to some extent due to the interest and admiration which his own example had excited.