George Washington Papers

To George Washington from the Marquise de Lafayette, 12 March 1793

From the Marquise de Lafayette

Chavanire near Brionde1 in the Departmt of the Upper Loire
12th Ma[r]ch 17932


The Gazetts have announced to me that you are a second time chosen President of the U.S. and this good news a little revives my courage, which the silence of your nation put to a new & severe test.

For these six months that M. lafayette has been in the chains of the enemy, after the unheard of proscription which he experienced from his country, from which he was obliged to fly to prevent it from committing a crime, I have scarcely heard a word of any demonstrations of interest on the part of any americans.3

I had the honor to write to you, Sir, on the 1st of Octr 1792, when I was myself detained a Captive in France, by order of the Committee which governed the faction, who, after commanding me to Paris about the time of the Massacres, granted, nevertheless, to the administration of the department where I dwelt, permission to guard me themselves, under the responsibility of the municipality of my village.4 It was from thence I had the consolation of writing to you; I dared not sign my letter, nor even write it with my own hand. A young English farmer (M. Désson) who had passed some time with us in our retreat—took charge of it, to address a copy of it to you, and to certify it.5 Has this letter reached you? Was it necessary to excite your interest? I cannot beleive it! But I confess to you, Sir, that your silence—and the abandonment of M. L. ft. & his family is perhaps of all our evils the most inexplicable to me. I hope it will not continue forever, and if I am ever to see his face again & to be reunited to him—the hope of accomplishing it still rests upon your goodness—and upon that of the U.S.6

The public papers will have informed you that M. L. fte was transported from Wesel to Magdebourg about the latter part of december, with his unfortunate companions—since which they say he has been transferred to Spandau. These movements have given me better hopes—but nothing has confirmed them.7

As to myself I am no longer a Captive to the municipality of my Village—the particular orders with respect to guarding me have been revoked; but I am bound by laws of a more tyrannic & severe Kind—One prevents emigration from the French territories—others pronounce confiscation, and give to that law a retroactive effect, which makes them the Creditors of all the debts, contracted since the 9th feby 1792 by those who have emigrated since that period & who shall emigrate hereafter (The 7 lines following this—T.L. cannot read correctly; but the purport of them seems to be, that she finds herself very much circumscribed in her circumstances in consequence of the fore mentioned laws).8

But I can do nothing for him (M. Lafte) I can neither receive a line from nor convey one to him; Such is the manner in which I am treated; but I shall take no step unworthy of him whom I love, nor of the cause of liberty to wh. he would have been faithful had not his fellow Citizens given proofs of their unworthy manner of defending it—unworthy, at least for a long time, of being served by virtuous men.

Be assured, Sir, that in the actual state of Europe & during the continuance of the war every thing is to be feared for M. Lafte. I shall add no more at present, but to repeat my confidence in M. Washington, in whom my whole hope is founded.9 I dare in offerg my homage of high esteem due to his Character & Virtues, yet promise that I shall preserve for him that of a tender respect with which I have the honor to be Sir, Your most humble & most Obedt Servt

Noailles lafayette

Translation, in Tobias Lear’s writing, DLC:GW; ALS, PHi; ALS (duplicate), DLC:GW; copy, NjMoHP. Lear apparently made his translation, which GW docketed, from the ALS now at the PHi. The copy at the NjMoHP was made from the duplicate ALS at DLC:GW. The French text of the original receiver’s copy at the PHi appears in CD-ROM:GW.

1Lear’s translation should read: “Chavaniac near Brioude.”

2The ALS at the PHi and Lear’s translation are both dated 12 Mar. 1793. The duplicate ALS at DLC:GW and the copy at the NjMoHP, however, both bear the date 13 March.

3On 19 Aug. 1792 Lafayette and twenty-two members of his general staff fled France only to be arrested and held in prison by Austrian and Prussian forces for five years. For more details on his imprisonment, see note 7.

4The marquise’s earlier letter to GW was written on 8 October. She was able to stay at the family’s estate at Chavaniac in Auvergne until her imprisonment in November 1793. During the September Massacres of 2–6 Sept. 1792, hundreds of Parisian prisoners, both political and criminal, were seized from their cells, hastily tried, and executed.

5On 20 Feb., GW received the marquise’s 8 Oct. letter and one from John Dyson of the same date. This current letter was also accompanied by a cover letter from Dyson, dated 24 Mar. 1793 at “Gunton near Lowestoft Suffolk,” England, in which he wrote: “The above written Letter from Madame Lafayette reached me yesterday ten days after date, at her request I dispatch it by the first convenience[.] I shall make a duplicate of it lest by accident the original Should miscarry—The distressed Situation of the unfortunate Monsr Lafayette is again Submitted to your consideration and the only hope of the family to See him extricated from his confinement apparently centers on your goodness & generosity—it will afford a considerable degree of consolation to Madame Lafayette to know that you have received the Letters I have Sent for her, and to be acquainted with your Sentiments respecting them, if you will be pleased Sir to indulge me with a reply I will be punctual & expeditious in Communicating it to her” (DLC:GW).

6For GW’s personal efforts to aid Lafayette’s family, see GW to the Marquise de Lafayette 31 Jan., enclosed in GW to Nicholas Van Staphorst, 31 Jan., and 16 Mar. 1793.

7After Lafayette’s original detention by the Austrians at Namur, Belgium, he was transferred to the Prussians and imprisoned in the fortress of Wesel in Westphalia before being moved in late December 1792 to the fortress at Magdeburg in Saxony. In January 1794 he was transferred to the fortress at Neisse in Silesia. In May he was returned to the custody of the Austrians and imprisoned at Olmütz (present-day Olomouc in the Czech Republic) in Moravia, where he remained until freed in 1797. He was never imprisoned in the Prussian citadel at Spandau in Berlin.

8The lines with which Lear had difficulty read: “je me trouve condamnée a conserver a nos creanciers depuis cette epoque, Le gage que Leur offre ma très petite fortune personelle, et a mes enfans une existance, tandis qu’on sémpare du bien de Leur pere.

“je suis obligée de Les garder près de moi, ce n’est pas pour ma consolation, jen suis peu capable, et Le serois bien plus de sacrifier a La sienne; mais La providence moffre celle d’espoir que je puis esperer qu’ils ne Seront pas indignes de Lui. rien ne peut me rendre insensible a cette esperance.”

9For GW’s reply, see GW to the Marquise de Lafayette, 13 June.

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