Our beautiful Fountain on the Square of LaGrange is frequently visited and enjoyed by many. It has long been the site of numerous community events, evening walks, and even marriage proposals. The cascading pure water imparts a composed aesthetic to our downtown environment. It also provides a lovely back drop for numerous family photos and the like. The striking figure of Lafayette himself is often noticed in those pictures. However, how often do we as citizens of Lagrange stop to think about this very distinguished luminary in our American history? Moreover, how much do we know about Lafayette?
Thanks to the celebrated work of distinguished scholar Alan Hoffman; an up close and personal account of this historical figure has been translated to English. The book was originally published in French in 1829 by General Lafayette’s private secretary who kept a concise journal as he traveled with Lafayette throughout the twenty-four states of America.
In a recent lecture in LaGrange; Alan Hoffman shared that it is a special honor to talk about Lafayette and his comprehensive human rights work. He details Lafayette’s unbroken support of America not only during the American Revolution but however, throughout his life. Hoffman talked about a letter written by Lafayette at the age of only nineteen. In the letter addressed to his wife, Lafayette stated; “The welfare of America is intimately connected with the happiness of all mankind. She will become a respectful and safe asylum of virtue, integrity, tolerance, equality and peaceful liberty.”
A great deal of our education about Lafayette has been focused on his military importance during his time in America. However, in his talk, Alan Hoffman asserted that the influence of Lafayette’s work as an abolitionist of slavery is profound. Hoffman maintained that much more should be known about this part of Lafayette’s story. He was a wealthy French nobleman who advocated for human rights and dignity for all; and he fully committed himself to end slavery. During Lafayette’s farewell tour in America, he was well-known by African-Americans for his efforts in the emancipation.
In concluding his talk; Hoffman referenced a letter written by Lafayette to President John Adams in which he stated best captures Lafayette’s view on slavery. The letter states; “In the cause of my black brethren, I feel myself warmly interested and most decidedly side so far as respects them, against the white part of mankind. Whatever be the complexion of the enslaved, it does not in my opinion alter the complexion of the crime which the enslaver commits a crime much blacker than any African face.” On October 3, 1845, English abolitionist, Thomas Clarkson wrote a long letter to American abolitionist, Maria Weston Chapman who at that time published a portion of the letter in the abolitionist paper The Liberator. In the letter, Lafayette is referenced as stating; “I would never have drawn my sword in the cause of America if I could have conceived that thereby I was founding a land of slavery!”
Alan R. Hoffman has practiced law in Boston for 40 years. He is president of the American Friends of Lafayette and president of the Massachusetts Lafayette society. In 2002, Hoffman received as a gift, an original copy of; Auguste Levasseur’s, Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825. For the following two years, Hoffman worked to translate the entire book to English. The book details Lafayette’s bond with our founding fathers, his heroic contributions in the American Revolution, as well as his liberating work as an advocate for human rights. In the introduction to the book, Hoffman describes his thoughts about Lafayette. He states; “I have concluded that he was the noblest, most consistent, most principled and, in many respects, the most modern of all of our Founding Fathers, and one of the greatest men of his time.”