In 1787 Lafayette took his seat in the Assembly of Notables. He demanded, and he alone signed the demand, that the king convoke the states-general, thus becoming a leader in the French Revolution. He showed Liberal tendencies both in that assembly and after its dispersal, and in 1788 was deprived, in consequence, of his active command. In 1789
Lafayette was elected to the states-general, and took a prominent part in its proceedings. He was chosen vice-president of the National Assembly, and on the 11th of July 1789 presented a declaration of rights, modelled on Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence in 1776.
On the 15th of July, the second day of the new regime, Lafayette was chosen by acclamation colonel-general of the new National Guard of Paris. He also proposed the combination of the colours of Paris, red and blue, and the royal white, into the famous tricolour cockade of modern France (July 17.)
For the succeeding three years, until the end of the constitutional monarchy in 1792, his history is largely the history of France. His life was beset with very great responsibility and perils, for he was ever the minister of humanity and order among a frenzied people who had come to regard order and humanity as phases of treason. He rescued the queen from the hands of the populace on the 5th and 6th of October 1789, saved many humbler victims who had been condemned to death, and he risked his life in many unsuccessful attempts to rescue others.
In the Constituent Assembly he pleaded for the abolition of arbitrary imprisonment, for religious tolerance, for popular representation, for the establishment of trial by jury, for the gradual emancipation of slaves, for the freedom of the press, for the abolition of titles of nobility, and the suppression of privileged orders.
In February 1790 he refused the supreme command of the National Guard of the kingdom. In May he founded the "Society of 1789" which afterwards became the Feuillants Club. He took a prominent part in the celebration of July 14, 1790, the first anniversary of the destruction of the Bastille.
He was the friend of liberty as well as of order, and when Louis XVI fled to Varennes he issued orders to stop him.
Having been promoted lieutenant-general, 30 June, 1791, he was appointed, on the declaration of war against Austria, 20 April, 1792, to command the army of the center, 52,000 strong, between Philippeville and Lauterbourg. From his camp at Maubeuge, 16 June, he wrote the famous letter to the National assembly, in which he denounced the dangerous policy of the Jacobins. The insurrection of 20 June followed.
On the 28th Lafayette came to Paris, and appeared before the assembly to defend his course. After two days, finding the Jacobins all-powerful in the city, he returned to camp, and formed a plan for removing the king from Paris. Before the plan was fully matured, and while his army was at Sedan, only four days' march from the capital, there came the news of the revolution of 10 Aug. and the imprisonment of the king.
Lafayette now refused to obey the orders of the assembly, and arrested the three commissioners sent by that body to his camp. In return the assembly removed him from command and appointed Dumouriez in his place, 19 Aug.; his impeachment was also decided upon, and it became evident that his soldiers were in sympathy with the Jacobins.
He fled into Belgium with half a dozen companions, was taken prisoner by the Austrians, and handed over by them to the Prussians, by whom he was imprisoned first at Wesel, afterward at Magdeburg. He was offered his liberty on condition of assisting the allies in their invasion of France, but refused. After a year's incarceration at Magdeburg, he was transferred to Austria for safe keeping, and passed the next four years in a loathsome dungeon at Ohnutz, where he was treated with barbarous cruelty.
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Writing about Lafayette’s remarkable life, the historian Lloyd S. Kramer notes: “No other prominent figure lived through or participated so extensively in the sequence of national revolutions that moved from North America (1770s) to France (1789) to south America (1820s) to Greece (1820s) to Spain (1820s) to France again (1830) to Belgium (1830) and finally to Poland (1831-33), not to mention other national movements in Ireland, Switzerland, Italy, or Germany. Lafayette connected people and events in all of these places, serving as a liberal revolutionary bridge”. In light of Lafayette’s consistent support for liberal causes and reform movements, it is noteworthy that his legacy today is frequently cited by neo-conservative supporters of democratic export and regime change policies, dating back to Ronald Reagan’s State of the Union address on January 25, 1988: “Let us be for the people of Nicaragua what Lafayette, Pulaski, and Von Steuben were for our forefathers and the cause of American independence.”
-- “Lafayette: Citizen of Two Worlds” Cornell University
TEXT: Popular Leadership of Lafayette in the French Revolution - by Michelle Brown (09/14/13) ?