Marquis de Lafayette
Marquis de Lafayette
 Marquis de Lafayette
"...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.