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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Why We Honor Lafayette

The man who designed the Statue of Liberty, Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, is responsible for the bronze statue of Marquis de Lafayette in Union Square in New York.

This statue was cast in 1873 and dedicated in 1876, according to the NYC Parks webpage on it.  A gift from the French government, by way of gratitude for aid given by New York City to the French during the Franco-Prussian War.  When the American forces arrived in Paris during the First World War, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Stanton (not General John Pershing) uttered the words "Lafayette, we are here" before the French general's grave.  There are Fayette Counties around the country named for him.

While his courage under fire was demonstrated, his lack of real military experience almost led to disaster at Barren Hill.  Nonetheless, a favorite of George Washington, he also gave significant diplomatic service in maintaining French-American relations.  Still, the fascination and respect afforded Lafayette, like that to Pulaski, Kosciusko, von Steuben and other foreign figures that were generals and officers in the American Revolution, seems to attest to the universality of the philosophical underpinnings of the Revolution.  It also speaks to another time in which people literally put their money where their mouth was, and even more literally, their lives.  These were not the "hit and run" commentators of today's digital world, striking through 140 character comments in the ether.  

We wander our cities and see these statues as part of the landscape, but it is good to remember who these people were and why they continue to be in our consciousness today.

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