Marquis de Lafayette

  • Sculptor: Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi
  • Pedestal: H.W. DeStuckle
  • Dedicated: 1873
  • Medium and size: Bronze (8 feet), granite pedestal (6.5 feet)
  • Location: Union Square at East 16th Street
  • Subway: 4, 5, 6, N, R, W or L to Union Square

Lafayette

Lafayette and America

Henry Clay's toast to Lafayette on his visit to the United States in 1825 sums up the American atttitude toward Lafayette:

To the great apostle of liberty whom the persecutions of tyranny could not defeat, whom the love of riches could not influence, whom popular applause could never seduce. He was always the same, in the shackles of Olmutz, in his various labors on the summits of power and glory.

Lafayette medal

Above: Medal struck when Lafayette visited the United States in honor of the country’s 50th anniversary, 1826

When Lafayette died in 1834, at age 77, King Louis-Philippe of France- still fuming after the riots at the 1832 funeral of General Lamarque (the one mentioned in Les Miserables) - refused to officially acknowledge Lafayette's death. He ordered a low-key military funeral at which crowds were held back at bayonet-point.

In America, on the other hand, the outpouring of grief when Lafayette died was even greater than when George Washington died thirty-five years earlier. Flags flew at half-mast. Former President John Quincy Adams read Lafayette’s eulogy in joint session of Congress, with the president, cabinet, Supreme Court justices and diplomatic corps in attendance. Every navy ship and military post fired a 24-gun salute at daybreak and a single cannon shot every half-hour afterwards until sunset. Army and navy officers wore black armbands for six months, and Americans dressed in mourning for thirty days. 

Why Was This Sculpture Erected 39 Years After Lafayette’s Death?

Bartholdi was commissioned to produce this sculpture of Lafayette as a way for France to publicly and permanently thank New Yorkers for the relief they sent during the German siege of Paris in 1870-1871, during the Franco-Prussian War. For other monuments honoring the friendship between France and the United States, see the Statue of Liberty and Joan of Arc.

The pedestal is one of the most understated but elegant ones in New York. The oak leaves, laurel leaves, and ribbons (symbolizing courage and honor) are glossy patterns on the matte surface of the granite. The inscription is barely visible: "As soon as I heard of American Independence, my heart was enlisted. 1776. To the City of New York. France, in remembrance of sympathy in time of trial, 1870-1871."

Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi

In his native France, Bartholdi (1834-1904) was famous for the Lion of Belfort, 1875-1880. Manhattan has Marquis de Lafayette, 1873, Statue of Liberty, 1886, and Lafayette and Washington, 1890 (114th Street and Manhattan Avenue, at Morningside Avenue).

Cross References

Copyright (c) 2013 Dianne L. Durante