"...Lafayette is a young man of royal birth, with liberal politics and what
Jefferson later called 'a canine appetite for fame.' Someone said he was 'a
statue in search of a pedestal.' But he was intoxicated with, [had] a rather
theoretical love of, liberty. It was theoretical because liberty wasn't known
to many Europeans. [Lafayette] was a great romantic and he fell in love with
America, the concept of America that the French had. This wild new world where
you could start the world over, to use Tom Paine's phrase."
—Scholar Richard Norton Smith
European adventurers, soldiers-of-fortune, and romantics like Lafayette
flocked to the Continental Army during the American Revolution. A long list of
European soldiers aided the Continental cause, including: Baron von Steuben,
from Prussia, who is credited with shaping Washington's independent-minded army
into a well-drilled fighting machine; Tadeusz Kosciuszko, the Polish patriot,
who fought at Saratoga and engineered the construction of fortifications around
West Point; and Casimir Pulaski, another Pole, who fought with Washington at
Brandywine and Germantown.
With a commission secured from an American agent in Paris, Lafayette joined the
American ranks as a major general in 1777. He was just 20 years old. Lafayette
served on Washington's staff and became a great friend of the
Commander-in-chief, and, ultimately, a trusted field officer. He fought in New
Jersey and Pennsylvania in 1778, returned to France in 1779 to help secure full
French support for the American cause, and then came back to America, where he
played a vital role in the entrapment of Cornwallis at Yorktown.
Lafayette returned to France after the war and helped foment the revolution
there. In 1792, radical forces within the revolution forced Lafayette to flee
the country. He remained outside the corridors of power during the Napoleonic
era, but returned to public life after Bonaparte's exile.
In 1824, Lafayette made a triumphant return to the United States, where he was
feted wherever he went. When he returned to France, he took with him a plot of
American soil, within which he was buried in 1834.