Monroe and Lafayette

– Marquis de Lafayette by Ary Scheffer, 1825

“A public ship shall be immediately ordered to the port which you may designate, to carry you to the country of your adoption in early life, and which has always cherished the most grateful recollection of your important services.”

– James Monroe to the Marquis de Lafayette, February 7, 1824

James Monroe and the Marquis de Lafayette forged their friendship during the American Revolution, first serving together under General George Washington prior to the Battle of Brandywine in 1777. Despite their difference in rank and nationality, Monroe greatly admired the leadership of the Frenchman, and both men shared an affinity for the democratic ideals for which they both fought. After the War, Monroe climbed the political ladder, serving in many public offices and eventually as president for two terms, while Lafayette faced imprisonment and political exile for opposing Napoleon Bonaparte’s ascendancy to the French throne. In fact, Monroe and his wife Elizabeth were instrumental in freeing Lafayette’s wife, Marie Adrienne, from similar imprisonment in 1795. These problems persisted for Lafayette under the reign of King Louis XVIII, contributing significantly to his woes and personal debt.

Forty-seven years after they endured the bitter winter at Valley Forge together, President Monroe chose to honor his old friend and comrade. Monroe, with a resolution from Congress, sent an invitation to Lafayette welcoming him back to the United States, along with financial assistance and a land grant in Florida. It was a heartfelt gesture that Lafayette accepted eagerly. He arrived in New York aboard the frigate Cadmus and toured his way south towards the capital, eventually visiting all 24 states. Everywhere he visited, aging veterans and new generations of Americans alike celebrated him. His reception at the White House was a magnificent moment in early republic history, as officials celebrated the reunion of two men who helped win the nation’s independence. In 1825, the University of Virginia invited Thomas Jefferson, Monroe, and Lafayette to a reception at the Rotunda, where Lafayette praised the University for its revolutionary curriculum, concluding “the rights of man, national independence, religious, civil, political liberty and equality, have been eloquently promulgated and strenuously promoted.” This celebration was the last time Monroe saw his mentor, Jefferson, and a few months later Lafayette returned to France.

The primary sources in this section pertain to Lafayette’s return to the United States. The letter dated February 7, 1824 is the invitation Monroe sent, followed by Lafayette’s response on May 10. In October, Monroe wrote to Jefferson stating the purpose of the invitation and reason for not initially receiving him at the White House. Monroe purchased the dinner platter to remember Lafayette’s American tour, which the dish portrays.

Document Based Questions

Letter from James Monroe to the Marquis de Lafayette, February 7, 1824 (Courtesy of the Library of Congress) View

  1. What had Congress done since James Monroe forwarded the first letter to Mr. Brown?
  2. How would the Marquis de Lafayette travel to the United States?
  3. What relationship did the Marquis de Lafayette have with the United States?

Letter from the Marquis de Lafayette to James Monroe, May 10, 1824 (Courtesy of the James Monroe Museum and University of Virginia) View

  1. How did the Marquis de Lafayette react to the resolution of Congress inviting him back to the United States??
  2. What did the Marquis de Lafayette hope would happen before the summer ended?
  3. The Marquis de Lafayette considered it his happy lot to become what?

Letter from James Monroe to Thomas Jefferson, October 18, 1824 (Courtesy of the Library of Congress) View

  1. How would the Holy Alliance react if the Marquis de Lafayette went directly to Washington D.C.?
  2. How would European nations view the United States based on the course the Marquis de Lafayette took?
  3. What were the “united people” of the United States devoted to?
  4. What did James Monroe hope the visit to the United States would accomplish for the Marquis de Lafayette?
  5. Who did James Monroe want to visit before the next session of Congress?

Blue Lafayette Platter (Highland) View

  1. How does the platter depict the arrival of the Marquis de Lafayette?
  2. What does the port in New York City look like?
  3. Which ship appears to be the Cadmus and why?
  4. Why might James Monroe have purchased this platter?

Essential Questions

  1. How did the American Revolution strengthen the bond between the Marquis de Lafayette and James Monroe?
  2. Why did James Monroe invite the Marquis de Lafayette back to the United States in 1824?
  3. What impact did the return to the United States have on the Marquis de Lafayette’s and James Monroe?

Virginia Standards of Learning

CE.1    The student will demonstrate skills for historical thinking, geographical analysis, economic decision making, and responsible citizenship by

d) determining the accuracy and validity of information by separating fact and opinion and recognizing bias.

USI.6  The student will apply social science skills to understand the causes and results of the American Revolution by

c) describing key events and the roles of key individuals in the American Revolution, with emphasis on George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and the Marquis de Lafayette;

National Standards for Social Studies

Era 3: Revolution and the New Nation

Standard 1C

Grades 5-12     Appraise George Washington’s military and political leadership in conducting the Revolutionary War. [Assess the importance of the individual]

Grades 5-12     Analyze United States relationships with France, Holland, and Spain during the Revolution and the contributions of each European power to the American victory. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]

Bibliography & Suggested Readings

Johnson, Monroe. “James Monroe, Soldier.” The William and Mary Quarterly 9, No. 2 (1929): pp. 110-117.

Kelly, Robert. “Lafayette’s Visit to Fort Monroe in 1824 as Guest of the Nation.” Fort Monroe.

Marrone, Daniel S. “Promoting the Era of Good Feelings: James Monroe and Elizabeth Monroe’s Supportive Partnership.” American Spirit 150, No. 2 (March/April 2016): pp. 22-27.

Neely, Sylvia. “The Politics of Liberty in the Old World and the New: Lafayette’s Return to America in 1824.” Journal of the Early Republic 6, No. 2 (Summer, 1986): pp. 151-171.

Ward, Robert D. An Account of General La Fayette’s Visit to Virginia, In the Years 1824-’25. Richmond: West, Johnston & Co., 1881.