Today Americans think of the French as effeminate snobs who are lazy and weak. This caricature was in part inherited from the British, but it has been allowed to flourish in the absence of a historically informed citizenry. This distorted view of the French is unfortunate given the significant role the French played in the American Revolution. And one Frenchman in particular stands out as a forgotten American hero: the Marquis de Lafayette. During his lifetime he was treated like a rock star by grateful Americans, who were very much aware of the key role he played in the American victory. But since then he has faded from historical memory as the complexities of the revolution gave way to a simplified heroic narrative.
At the HNN, Thomas Fleming recalls Lafayette’s valiant heroism at Yorktown: “The Marquis de Lafayette played a crucial role in the final attack. His Americans captured one key redoubt, while French troops captured another one. The allies soon had cannon in the two redoubts, enabling them to fire directly into the rest of the British defense line. Cornwalliis [sic] decided it was time to surrender.” This victory was also made possible by Lafayette’s servant, and former slave, known as James. He infiltrated the British camp pretending to be a runaway, and came away with crucial information that led to the victory at Yorktown.
Read Fleming’s account of Lafayette’s heroism here:
History News Network | How Lafayette’s Arrival on the Hermione Made Yorktown Possible.
Marquis da Lafayette
In The New York Review of Books, Steve Pincus argues that George III’s austerity policies were responsible for the Revolution. He writes,
“Today, we tend to regard the practice of using government spending to stimulate economic growth as an invention of John Maynard Keynes in the 1930s. But already in the eighteenth century, self-styled Patriots, followers of Pitt on both sides of the Atlantic, argued that what the British Empire needed if it was to recover from the fiscal crisis was not austerity but an economic stimulus. In the midst of the crisis one journalist wrote that Pitt and the Patriots believed that the burgeoning debt could be reduced by increasing ‘the national stock,’ or Gross National Product, whereas Prime Minister Grenville believed ‘that an hundred and forty millions of debt is to be paid by saving of pence and farthings.’” To read the entire article go here:
1776: The Revolt Against Austerity by Steve Pincus | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books.
Lewis Walpole Library, Farmington, Connecticut
“Detail from The Great Financier, or British Economy for the Years 1763, 1764, 1765, showing British Prime Minister George Grenville holding a balance in which debt outweighs savings, 1765”
This past weekend I finished watching the History Channel’s Sons of Liberty. While watching it I had the same feeling I had while watching The Patriot with Mel Gibson: queasy. The docudrama was not billed as a documentary so I expected some artistic license, but it turned out to be more drama than “docu.” I suppose it was entertaining in a B movie sort of way! The story, for the most part, was an idealized patriotic version without the profound and revolutionary thought behind it. A young and handsome (unlike the real one) Samuel Adams (played by Ben Barnes) was the protagonist, who almost singlehandedly drug his fellow revolutionaries to independence. In reality Samuel did play a major role in driving the Revolution, but he was not the only major player. And the beer-drinking man of action portrayed in the series leaves out Samuel’s major contribution as a polemical writer. Continue reading