Liberté Egalité Animosité

When the French Revolution broke out two hundred years ago this month, Americans greeted it enthusiastically. After all, without the French we could never have become free. But the cheers faded as the brutality of the convulsion emerged—and we saw we were still only a feeble newborn facing a giant, intimidating world power.

There were two great revolutions against European monarchs in the late eighteenth century. In the first, the French nation helped Americans achieve their independence from George III. Without that help our revolution could not have succeeded. Yet when the French rebelled against Louis XVI, Americans hailed their action, then hesitated over it, and finally recoiled from it, causing bitterness in France and among some Americans. Why had the “sister republics” not embraced each other when they had the opportunity?Read more »

The Imprisonment Of Lafayette

and how, a decade after the Revolution, a melodramatic rescue attempt, involving a grateful young American, went awry

Early on the afternoon of June 13, 1777, a French vessel slipped into an isolated inlet on the coast of South Carolina and dropped anchor. On board was the young Marquis de Lafayette, who had purchased the ship for this voyage, along with Baron de Kalb and a group of French nobles, all promised commissions in the “Armies of the States-General of North America” by one of the American agents in Paris, Silas Deane. Read more »

Asylum In Azilum

Refugees from the French Revolution, many of them of noble birth, built a unique community in the backwoods of Pennsylvania—and hoped their queen would join them

On October 7, 1798, the streets of Philadelphia were ominously deserted. A yellow-fever epidemic was at its height. Anyone who could had fled the city, and few would enter it voluntarily. Nevertheless thirty-three-year-old Aristide Aubert Dupetit-Thouars, a captain in the French navy, arrived there on foot from Wilmington and was anxiously seeking The Mansion at Spruce and Third streets.Read more »

Lafayette’s Two Revolutions

Washington was his idol, but he could not apply his American ideals to a France sliding into the Terror

Lafayette, at the head of a group of young French nobles, first landed on American soil amid the live oaks hung with Spanish moss on the swampy shores of the little port of Georgetown in the southern Carolinas, in the early summer of 1777. He came in his own private brig, chartered from a Spaniard.Read more »