Those who were there said they would never forget that moment. Some younger members of the gallery were surprised that Lafayette was still alive. They would not forget him again. Fifteen years later, at the head of yet another revolution at age 72, he installed the "republican monarchy" of Louis-Philippe by the simple act of wrapping him in a tricolor flag and embracing him—"coronation by a republican kiss," as Chateaubriand called it. Soon he would oppose what he saw as a return of authoritarianism, for which Louis-Philippe never forgave him. When Lafayette died, in 1834 at age 76, he was carried to his grave under heavy guard, and no eulogies were permitted.
Though his reputation in America has been secure, his reputation in France has varied with every change of government since 1789 (three monarchs, three emperors, five republics). To this day he is blamed by right-wing historians for having "lost" the Bourbon monarchy and by left-wing historians for a lack of revolutionary rigor. The fairest measure of his impact on France, though, would seem to be the Constitution of the Fifth Republic, which has been in effect since 1958 and which begins with these words: "The French people solemnly proclaim their attachment to the Rights of Man and the principles of national sovereignty as defined by the Declaration of 1789.... The national emblem shall be the blue, white, and red tricolor flag.... Its principle shall be: government of the people, by the people, and for the people. National sovereignty shall belong to the people."
James R. Gaines has edited Time and People magazines and written several books.
Copyright © 2007 by James R. Gaines. Adapted from the book For Liberty and Glory: Washington, Lafayette and Their Revolutions by James R. Gaines, published by W. W. Norton & Company Inc.