In the park behind the Philadelphia Art Museum are statues of various Revolutionary War officers: Baron von Steuben, Nathanael Greene, John Paul Jones, Peter Muhlenberg and Richard Montgomery. Also present is Lafayette who, like some rock stars today, is generally known by his one name.
When viewed against the setting sun, he appears to be winged, giving fancy to the image of an angel. There is no discounting his personal courage or conviction, but as to military prowess, his record on the battlefield cannot be said to have been dispositive. To the contrary, he was almost destroyed at Barren Hill. Nonetheless, there was (and remains) great affection for him; certainly Washington treated him as a favored son. His "value" may also have been in the political connections with France that proved useful in cementing French support for the cause.
It was a cold November evening when I wandered among the statues of these men. Most jogged past without a glance, but one other person was captivated by the statue, and stood on a bench to take his picture of Lafayette.
We read and hear constantly about contemporary politicians doing this or that for their "legacy." True character comes from within, and those who are great do what they do regardless of whether others note it at the time or not. Legacies are commanded, not demanded. Perhaps that is why Lafayette's reputation and appeal persist today in the lay imagination: he did what he did from belief and conviction, not based on polls and narcissism.