Marie-Joseph-Paul-Yves-Roch-Gilbert du Motier, marquis de Lafayette, secured a place in history as the “hero of two worlds.”
was a French aristocrat and military officer who fought for George
Washington in the American Revolution. He became known, here, simply, as
No single foreign visitor to the United States
played a greater role in helping us to win our independence, or to gain
diplomatic recognition for our young Republic.
to France to become an important figure, and intrepid force for
stability, in the French Revolution. With guidance from Thomas
Jefferson, he wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the
Citizen. While flawed (it failed to condemn slavery or recognize the
equality of women), the Declaration stands alongside the Declaration of
Independence, and U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights as an inspiration
and early foundational document for liberal democracy.
Lafayette declared “resistance against oppression” among the “natural and imprescriptible rights of man.”
In 1825, more
than 40 years after American victory at Yorktown, a septuagenarian
Lafayette visited St. Louis. The old French trading post was still a
fledgling city. Its population had not yet reached 15,000. It had just
begun its ascent toward becoming a mercantile and metropolitan center.
Meanwhile, its Louisiana heritage remained a part of living memory.
accounts of the visit record a poignant remembrance on St. Louis
streets of the Franco-American alliance for liberty and resistance
against oppression. Lafayette was approached at a public gathering by
Alexander Bellesseme, a stooped old man who kept a tavern on Second
Street. When both were young men, Bellesseme accompanied Lafayette from
France to the United States, and fought in the Continental Army under
The two men embraced.
The French, in
North America, have their own celebratory tradition of Thanksgiving as
part of the autumn harvest. Like ours it embodies an expression
gratitude for bounty and fellowship.
It was begun by French
Huguenots, and predates the settlement at Jamestown or Pilgrims having
arrived at Plymouth. The Huguenots came to Florida fleeing religious
oppression. The sanctuary they sought was short-lived — ending in
violence at the hands of the Spanish, who labeled them heretics.
the sentiments of their Thanksgiving — and ideals for which Lafayette,
Hero of Two Worlds, fought — are squarely before us in St. Louis this
Once more, we join hands with French
allies. In affirming our Thanksgiving for bounty and liberty — together
we resolve to welcome people seeking refuge and freedom from oppression.
Vive la journée d'action de grâces, Lafayette!
Long live the Day of Thanksgiving.
(Pictured: Stained glass fleur-de-lys from a late 19th Century St. Louis home)