Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to George Washington du Motier de Lafayette, [19 June 1796]

To George Washington du Motier de Lafayette

Monticello [19 June 1796]

Dear Sir

The enquiries of Congress were the first intimation which reached my retirement of your being in this country, and from Mr. Volney, now with me, I first learned where you are. I avail myself of the earliest moments of this information to express to you the satisfaction with which I learn that you are in a land of safety where you will meet in every person the friend of your worthy father and family. Among these I beg leave to mingle my own assurances of sincere attachment to him, and my desires to prove it by every service I can render you. I know indeed that you are already under too good a patronage to need any other, and that my distance and retirement render my affections unavailing to you. They exist nevertheless in all their purity and warmth towards your father and every one embraced by his love; and no one has wished with more anxiety to see him once more in the bosom of a nation who knowing his works and his worth desire to make him and his family for ever their own. You were perhaps too young to remember me personally when in Paris. But I pray you to remember that should any occasion offer wherein I can be useful to you, there is no one on whose friendship and zeal you may more confidently count. You will some day perhaps take a tour through these states. Should any thing in this part of them attract your curiosity it would be a circumstance of great gratification to me to recieve you here and to assure you in person of those sentiments of esteem and attachment with which I am Dear Sir Your friend & humble servt.

Th: Jefferson

RC (NNPM); undated, but supplied from PrC; at foot of text: “M. de la Fayette.” PrC (DLC); dated in ink by TJ: “June 19. 96.” Enclosed in TJ to George Washington, 19 June 1796.

George Washington Louis Gilbert du Motier de Lafayette (1779–1849) was the only son of the Marquis de Lafayette. After visiting the United States in 1795–97 (see below), he pursued a career as an officer in the French army, but finding his advancement slowed by antipathy between his father and Napoleon Bonaparte, he left the service in 1807. He subsequently entered politics, accompanied the marquis on his journey to the United States in 1824–25, and succeeded to his father’s title in 1834 (Arnaud Chaffanjon, La Fayette et sa descendance [Paris, 1976], 163–71).

In 1795, while his father languished in an Austrian prison, George Washington Lafayette was sent by his mother to the United States with a tutor to reside under the care of his namesake, his father’s old comrade in arms. The president, torn between his paternal feelings for his friend’s son and his desire to maintain a neutral stance toward the conflict in Europe, privately extended his financial support to the young man through intermediaries. Lafayette avoided Philadelphia and was living incognito in New Jersey under the family name of Motier when, at the behest of Congressman Edward Livingston of New York, who had learned of Lafayette’s visit, the House of Representatives on 18 Mch. 1796 appointed a committee to make enquiries and, if the news was confirmed, to report appropriate measures for expressing “the grateful sense entertained by this country for the services of his father.” This elicited a letter from the young Frenchman, who thanked the House for the honor but noted that as the recipient of the president’s patronage, he did not require aid from Congress. In April the young man took up residence with the president’s family until his departure from the United States in October 1797 (same, 166–7; Annals, description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … Compiled from Authentic Materials Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1834–56, 42 vols. All editions are undependable and pagination varies from one printing to another. The first two volumes of the set cited here have “Compiled … by Joseph Gales, Senior” on the title page and bear the caption “Gales & Seatons History” on verso and “of Debates in Congress” on recto pages. The remaining volumes bear the caption “History of Congress” on both recto and verso pages. Those using the first two volumes with the latter caption will need to employ the date of the debate or the indexes of debates and speakers. description ends v, 423, 798, 1202; Washington, Diaries, description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds., The Diaries of George Washington, Charlottesville, 1976–79, 6 vols. description ends vi, 236–7, 261; Syrett, Hamilton, description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–87, 27 vols. description ends xix, 324–7, 455–8; Madison, Papers, description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962– , 26 vols. Sec. of State Ser., 4 vols. description ends xvi, 252).

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