A Musing about Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier Marquis de Lafayette
1st John 3:13-17 (NRSV)
For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We must not be like Cain, who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers and sisters.
Whoever does not love abides in death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers and sisters. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
In 2013 a fledgling new musical seeking support and funding made its theatrical debut at Vassar College in 2013. It quickly secured its funding and made its way to sold-out engagements off-Broadway in New York City before moving to the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway. It opened on August 6, 2015, to sold-out performances and critical acclaim.
A year later at the 70th Tony Awards, the show received a record-breaking 16 nominations and won 11 awards, including Best Musical.
If you haven’t guessed the show’s title already, it is Hamilton, written and produced by Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Hamilton tells the story of American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. It details Alexander Hamilton's life in two acts, along with how various historical figures influenced his life, including Marquis de Lafayette, Aaron Burr, John Laurens, Hercules Mulligan, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, Angelica Schuyler Church, Peggy Schuyler, Philip Hamilton, Maria Reynolds, George Washington, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson.
When it debuted my drama geek girls were immediately fans. The music from whatever streaming service we had at the time played the original cast recordings nonstop in our house and cars. A mix of rap, hip-hop, and song… at one point in time I knew most of the lyrics and I am sure my daughters still know them.
FYI—we did not fly to New York City to see the show despite begging, whining, attempted bribery, and promises to keep their rooms clean forever and ever. I did get them tickets when it went on tour and visited the Fox Theatre in Atlanta; however even their attendance at the show was delayed due to the pandemic.
I, however, did not see the show until Disney released it on its streaming platform in 2020. It was fantastic, and I would love to see it live someday.
One of the things I learned from the musical and later my own research was about Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier Marquis de Lafayette, (yes that is all one name), who was known in the United States simply as Lafayette.
Of course, my interest was spurred as I get to know this community and learning that LaFayette, Georgia was first called Chattooga in 1835. The small town was the seat of newly formed Walker County. However, Chattooga was renamed LaFayette in 1836 after Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, the French aristocrat who fought in the American Revolutionary War.
Wikipedia tells the following about Lafayette. “Lafayette was a French aristocrat and military officer who fought in the American Revolutionary War, commanding American troops in several battles, including the siege of Yorktown. After returning to France, he was a key figure in the French Revolution of 1789 and the July Revolution of 1830. He has been considered a national hero in both countries.
(The next three paragraphs are a brief history of Lafayette that you could skip and still get the point of the musing, but I hope you won’t.)
Lafayette was born into a wealthy land-owning family in Chavaniac in the province of Auvergne in south-central France. He followed the family's martial tradition and was commissioned an officer at age 13. He became convinced that the American revolutionary cause was noble, and he traveled to the New World seeking glory in it. He was made a major general at age 19, but he was initially not given American troops to command. He was wounded during the Battle of Brandywine but still managed to organize an orderly retreat, and he served with distinction in the Battle of Rhode Island. In the middle of the war, he sailed home to lobby for an increase in French support. He returned to America in 1780 and was given senior positions in the Continental Army. In 1781, troops under his command in Virginia blocked forces led by Cornwallis until other American and French forces could position themselves for the decisive siege of Yorktown.
Lafayette returned to France and was appointed to the Assembly of Notables in 1787, convened in response to the fiscal crisis. He was elected a member of the Estates-General of 1789, where representatives met from the three traditional orders of French society: the clergy, the nobility, and the commoners. After forming the National Constituent Assembly, he helped to write the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen with Thomas Jefferson's assistance. This document was inspired by the United States Declaration of Independence and invoked natural law to establish basic principles of the democratic nation-state. He also advocated the end of slavery, in keeping with the philosophy of natural rights. After the storming of the Bastille, he was appointed commander-in-chief of France's National Guard and tried to steer a middle course through the years of revolution. In August 1792, radical factions ordered his arrest, and he fled to the Austrian Netherlands. He was captured by Austrian troops and spent more than five years in prison.
Lafayette returned to France after Napoleon Bonaparte secured his release in 1797, though he refused to participate in Napoleon's government. After the Bourbon Restoration of 1814, he became a liberal member of the Chamber of Deputies, a position which he held for most of the remainder of his life. In 1824, President James Monroe invited him to the United States as the nation's guest, where he visited all 24 states in the union and met a rapturous reception. During France's July Revolution of 1830, he declined an offer to become the French dictator. Instead, he supported Louis-Philippe as king but turned against him when the monarch became autocratic. He died on 20 May 1834 and is buried in Picpus Cemetery in Paris, under soil from Bunker Hill. He is sometimes known as ‘The Hero of the Two Worlds’ for his accomplishments in the service of both France and the United States.”
My favorite anecdote about Lafayette occurred after he returned to France from America.
As an aristocrat, he owned a great deal of land and was the lord of several estates.
In 1783 there was a famine in France. The French harvest was a poor one, but the workers of Lafayette’s farms still managed to fill his barns with wheat. “The bad harvest has raised the price of wheat,” said one of his workers. “This is the time to sell.”
Lafayette thought about the hungry peasants in the surrounding villages. “No,” he replied, “this is the time to give.”
Perhaps Lafayette Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette was a theologian in addition to an aristocrat, statesman, military commander, and businessman.
If nothing else there was an occasion when he took those words from 1st John and lived them.
For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers and sisters. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
May those with ears hear and do likewise.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Alleluia Amen.