Wednesday, August 31, 2011


"Heroes," of course, are not so much the product of their own actions as they are the adulation of those acclaiming them...and thereby acclaiming themselves. Nevertheless, it is nice to think that those acclaiming their heroes are acclaiming something that may be accidentally/coincidentally worthy of acclamation.

In 1824, when the Marquis de La Fayette (sometimes called Lafayette) returned for a tour of the then-24 United States, a crowd of 80,000 was said to have turned out to greet him in New York ... then a city of 120,000. The turnout for the Revolutionary War general dwarfed (by ratio) the hysteria that was to greet The Beatles in 1965. Those in the throng were capable of remembering the sacrifices of The Revolution and the general who had helped achieve victory over the British. "Liberty" was not an idle word in the mouths of idle patriots.

Lafayette arrived in the colonies 1777 as an adventurer bred in a military family. He was 19 when he assumed a post as a major general in the revolutionary army. That's nineteen. He won some and lost some, but he proved himself a commander capable of thinking on his feet (employing, for example, the guerrilla tactics of the American Indians when outgunned) and capable of a serious loyalty to his troops. When camped outside Yorktown, he sent several spies into the city to gauge the British intentions. His best spy was a black man, James Amistead (Lafayette), who spread disinformation and sent back intelligence. Throughout the war, he formed a close relationship with George Washington and would later write to President Washington, urging him to free the slaves ... 60-plus years before Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis would go toe-to-toe on the issue. He loved the United States and willingly acted as Washington's emissary to France, seeking aid for the beleaguered army that its own government failed to supply. He loved the United States and its efforts and wished to be buried here ... a wish that was never realized. "Liberty" was not an idle word in the mouths of idle patriots.

During Lafayette's tour of the United States, he ordered one particular procession to stop because he recognized an old friend in the crowd. There was James Amistead (Lafayette), his old comrade in arms. La Fayette stepped from his carriage and publicly embraced his old companion... in a time when the economy of the United States was heavily dependent on black slave labor. Lafayette had sued for an won the freedom of Amistead. "Liberty" was not an idle word in the mouths of idle patriots.

A hero in the United States and, for a while, a hero in France, Lafayette was imprisoned during his own country's revolutionary upheavals. Later released. He died in 1834.

American President Andrew Jackson ordered that Lafayette be accorded the same funeral honours as John Adams and George Washington. Therefore, 24-gun salutes were fired from military posts and ships, each shot representing a U.S. state. Flags flew at half mast [sic] for thirty-five days, and "military officers wore crepe for six months". The Congress hung black in chambers and asked the entire country to dress in black for the next thirty days.

In July 2002, the United States voted to make Lafayette an honorary citizen, one of only six people accorded such status. The others were Winston Churchill, Mother Teresa, Raoul Wallenberg, and Pennsylvania founder William Penn and his wife Hannah.  

Perhaps it all sounds 'old' and drab now but ...

"Liberty" was not an idle word in the mouths of idle patriots.

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