Art & Culture

Published on July 7th, 2016 | by Molly Montgomery

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Hamilton on Broadway !

The hit Broadway musical Hamilton, which combines history with hip-hop, has rejuvenated the American public’s interest in the Founding Fathers of the United States, especially the eponymous hero, Alexander Hamilton. But the musical also aims the spotlight at several other often forgotten Founding Fathers, including the Marquis de Lafayette, the only Founding Father from France.

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Photo by Broadway World.

In the musical, Lafayette features as Hamilton’s sidekick during the Revolutionary War. The musical highlights Lafayette’s key role in enlisting the support of the French king in the colonists’ war against the British. It portrays Lafayette and Hamilton working side by side to defeat the British in the decisive battle of Yorktown at the end of the war.

Lafayette exits the scene after the first act, and his story fades into the background of the musical. Nevertheless, Lafayette’s role in history is just as fascinating and complicated as Hamilton’s, and he left an impact on both the history of the United States and of France.

Lafayette, an aristocrat from Auvergne, was only 19 years old when he sailed to the United States in 1777 and met George Washington, becoming a major general under his command. At first, he was not given command of any troops. In his first battle, the Battle of Brandywine in Pennsylvania, he was shot in the leg but still managed to prove himself by directing the troops into retreat.

After that first battle, he commanded his own division and participated in a number of significant battles in the Revolutionary War, including Valley Forge and the Battle of Barren Hill. Lafayette returned to France in 1779 in order to recruit more troops and aid for the American cause. He rejoined the American troops and fought at the final battle of Yorktown in 1781 alongside Alexander Hamilton, who had his own command.

After the American Revolution, Lafayette returned to France where he helped negotiate trade treaties between the United States and France. He also supported the revolutionary cause in his own country, co-authoring the “Declaration of Rights of Man and the Citizen,” which ignited the first French Revolution. Despite his fervor for the revolutionary efforts, his aristocratic background and opposition to the Jacobins led to his imprisonment in Austria. Alexander Hamilton’s sister-in-law, Angelica Schuyler Church (who is also a character in the musical), arranged for Lafayette’s escape, but not long after, he was recaptured. Lafayette’s son, named Georges Washington after the original General Washington, escaped to the United States where he lived with his namesake at Mt. Vernon and attended Harvard University.

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Photo by Broadway World.

Lafayette spent eight years as a prisoner until Napoleon Bonaparte finally restored his French citizenship in 1800. Lafayette played an important role in the numerous revolutions and political regimes of the early 19th century. During the July Revolution of 1830, at 72 years old, Lafayette led the revolutionaries and kept order as a commander of the National Guard. Turning down the chance to rule France himself, he chose to install the Duke of Orleans, Louis-Phillippe, as the monarch.

Throughout his life, Lafayette maintained his close ties to the United States. He was made an honorary citizen in 1789 and came back to the U.S. in 1784, and again on a grand tour in 1824. That year, President James Monroe invited him to visit as a part of the celebration of the United States’ 50th anniversary. Lafayette was welcomed by the American public as a Revolutionary War hero. At his first stop in New York, thousands of people lined up to greet him.

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Photo by Broadway World.

Today, many people have forgotten about the Marquis de Lafayette’s role in the founding of the United States. His name does not have the recognition that other figures do, such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin. And in France, he does not have the same reputation as a brave revolutionary that he does in the United States. Still, his name stands for more than just the revolutions he participated in.

As a French citizen who joined the Revolutionary War because he believed in its principles, he helped to establish a long-lasting friendship between the United States and France, which still exists today. Since his name and his story have been revived as part of the musical Hamilton, more people from both the United States and France will now recognize the Marquis de Lafayette for his lasting legacy in both countries. Who knows, perhaps he will be the subject of the next hit Broadway musical: Lafayette.


About the Author

is an English teaching assistant at a high school in France and a recent graduate of UCLA, where she studied English and French. Her writing has been published in *TravelAge West Magazine* and in various literary journals including *Westwind* and the *Blue Lake Review*.



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