The lafayette jefferson reunionDocument Transcript
I found this article at www.cavalierdaily.com when I was
searching for more information to share with you about
Lafayette’s return. I knew about the visit to Jefferson and I
thought you could merge it with the story of Old Heroes, Old
Friends on p. 116 of Book IV, The New Nation.
Marquis and me: Jefferson and
Most of us probably only remember the Marquis
de Lafayette vaguely, in a sort of fifth-grade,
social-studies, vocabulary-test kind of way. You
probably remember at least three things about him from your elementary
school history lessons:
• He's French.
• He fought for us during the American Revolutionary War.
Well ... two out of three ain't bad.
It turns out, however, that Lafayette is in fact an incredibly fascinating
For one, his full name is Marie-Joseph-Paul-Yves-Roch-Gilbert du Motier
Lafayette. That's pretty impressive on its own.
But the good Marquis' story isn't just about fighting for the Americans and
having a ridiculously long name. He later became one of the early leaders of
the French Revolution only to have the Revolution turn on him in the days of
the Terror. Over 30 years later, history brought Lafayette here to Albemarle
County. The 67-year-old general who'd survived the dangers of British
redcoats and French tricolors had come to Monticello to visit his old friend,
The two were an unlikely pair. Jefferson, at 81, was over 15 years Lafayette's
senior. Lafayette was by all accounts something of a partygoer. Jefferson was
incredibly shy and habitually antisocial. But the two had a flair for the simple
things in life: good friends, good food and occasionally throwing off the
oppressive chains of a tyrannical government.
You know. In their spare time.
In November 1824, Lafayette was in the middle of a sort of "farewell" tour of
his adoptive country. Despite his trials and tribulations back in France,
Lafayette was a legend in his own time in the fledgling United States. A
foreign celebrity with incredible star power, his visit was something akin to the
Beatles appearing on the "Ed Sullivan Show," complete with girls screaming
and throwing themselves at his feet.
Well, not really. It was 1824. They might have politely waved their
Reports we have of the reunion of Jefferson and Lafayette read like the script
of a 19th-century Robert Zemeckis film. When Lafayette stepped onto
Monticello Drive, reports describe the over 300 assembled spectators falling
respectfully silent. Jefferson stood under the east portico, Lafayette a few
hundred feet away. One had written The Declaration of Independence. The
other had helped draft The Declaration of the Rights of Man.
John Locke couldn't have imagined a better scene.
Cue the theme from the "Forrest Gump" soundtrack.
Jefferson's grandson wrote that once they started to approach each other,
"their uncertain gait quickened itself into a shuffling run, and exclaiming, 'Ah,
Jefferson!' 'Ah Lafayette!' They burst into tears."
I don't care who you are. That's just a beautiful thought.
The night of Nov. 5, Jefferson decided to host a celebratory dinner for
Lafayette in the Dome Room of the Rotunda. The University wouldn't open
until the following March, and the Rotunda itself wasn't even finished yet, but
Thomas Jefferson undoubtedly wanted to show off his beloved University to
his good friend.
Next time you're in the Rotunda, go up to the Dome Room and stand right in
the center. Look around for a second. Really get a feel for the space.
Now imagine there are three concentric circles of tables taking up most of the
room, providing seating for over 400 guests. James Madison, James Monroe,
Lafayette, and Jefferson are all present, as is anyone who's anyone in
Charlottesville public life. These are the people who've come to U.Va. to dine
with the famous French general.
There were 13 official toasts that evening, one for each of the original 13
colonies. That's just classy. Try that at the next dinner you're invited to. New
Jersey, after all, gets a lot of flack. It deserves its own toast once in a while.
Jefferson himself had a toothache, but when his toast was read aloud for him,
Lafayette is reported to have shed a few tears.
Lafayette's visit, of course, wasn't all pomp and circumstance. Jefferson later
wrote to a friend, "During General Lafayette's stay at Monticello, I was obliged
to have so much company that we for thro' our stock of red wine. I expect
every day to hear of the arrival of my new annual supply."
Just like Jefferson: 81 years old and guzzling red wine like there's no
Sarcasm aside, however, there is something intensely humanizing about
Lafayette's visit to the University. We tend to think of the founding fathers as
faces on currency or as glorified heroes ensconced in marble and wearing
laurel leaves. Particularly here, a place that exalts Thomas Jefferson to semidivine status, it's almost impossible to imagine him as a real person.
The story of Lafayette's visit reminds us that Jefferson, and Lafayette, too, for
that matter, was a person before he was a legend. He enjoyed the company
of friends. He suffered from the occasional toothache.
He really liked red wine.
Now and again, it's refreshing to think of Jefferson the man and not Jefferson
the revered saint.
It's hard to imagine he would have wanted it any other way.
Daniel Young's column is printed bi-weekly on Wednesdays. He can be
reached at email@example.com.