Hero of Two Worlds: The Marquis de Lafayette in the Age of Revolution
Mike Duncan, author and history podcaster who previously investigated the Roman Republic in The Storm Before the Storm, highlights the Marquis de Lafayette’s turbulent life in this enthralling biography. Of course, Lafayette is a popular hero of the American Revolution. Two-Worlds Hero: The Marquis de Lafayette in the Age of Revolution expands our awareness of his involvement in other significant political movements, detailing his role in the French Revolution and the overthrow of the Bourbon Dynasty in 1830.
At first appearance, nothing about Lafayette’s early life indicated a dedication to liberal values in the future. Lafayette (1757–1834) was born in Chavaniac, France, as Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier. As a nobleman’s son, he lost his father when he was only two years old, leaving him as the sole heir to the family fortune. When his mother died when he was twelve, he was placed in the care of guardians who made numerous decisions for him, including arranging for his marriage to Adrienne d’Ayen at the age of sixteen. They were a devoted pair until 1807 when she died.
Duncan traces Lafayette’s commitment to liberty and equality all the way back to the summer of 1775 when he first learned of George Washington and the colonists’ struggles. Lafayette’s career in the French army had been cut short by politics, and he resolved to devote himself to this new noble cause. He rose to the rank of major general in the Continental Army and gained a spectacular reputation on both sides of the Atlantic by the age of 24.
Duncan takes a deliberate approach to documenting Lafayette’s lengthy career, making extensive use of primary materials, particularly correspondence. The author successfully strikes a balance between Lafayette the man and Lafayette the public figure, thereby defining the United States’ relationship with France.
Duncan’s examination of Lafayette’s lengthy and ongoing popularity with Americans is perhaps the most fascinating component of A Hero of Two Worlds. (Unlike the French, the Americans have never lost their affection for him.) Lafayette was invited to visit the United States by President James Monroe in 1824, as the nation prepared to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Lafayette was greeted as a hero, his presence serving as a reminder to “local and state officials that they were one nation with a shared past and shared future.”
Lafayette was a singular and unifying figure in American history, revered and celebrated by members of all political parties. As the United States approaches its 250th anniversary, Duncan’s illuminating biography offers a unique perspective on the American Revolution that both history buffs and ordinary readers will appreciate.