Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

4-16 What You Didn't Learn in History 101

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- As a political journalist, I usually grow disinterested in history books sent for my review long before I finish them. But I've found one that should appeal to every casual reader with even a little interest in the history of our country.
It's called Adopted Son and it's the story of the surprisingly deep father-son relationship that developed between Gen. George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette.
History books don't tell us such things. We all learned that George Washington was a stern, old general who won the Revolutionary War and then became president. Lafayette was a French nobleman who came to help out and for some reason got a lot of towns named after him.
Adopted Son tells us the juicy, behind-the-scenes details. Washington didn't have any sons and Lafayette's father was killed in battle when he still was a baby. His mother died before he reached his teens and suddenly he was the richest orphan in France.
Did this make him a spoiled, undisciplined, impetuous brat? You bet it did. At age 19, he ran away, bought a ship and sailed for America to seek fame and glory fighting in a rebellion against the English, which sounded like a lot of fun.
Lafayette wasn't a French nobleman. He was a noble boy, with a ton of money he was willing to spend to help the colonists free themselves from the English he hated so much.
This made him very popular with the Continental Congress that was dreadfully short of money to feed, clothe and shelter an army. Its soldiers had no uniforms, many had no shoes, some were nearly naked even during the winter at Valley Forge, and most were hungry or starving.
Because of his status in France, Lafayette already was a military officer. But unlike other European officers who were streaming to the colonies, demanding to become generals, Lafayette sought no pay, no rank and announced he had come to learn.
No wonder Gen. Washington took a liking to him. But there was more to it. Each had something the other needed. Lafayette desperately needed someone to look up to, who could channel his lofty ambitions.
And Washington was just as much in need of an unquestionably loyal aide amid the treachery and intrigue of the Continental Army leadership.
It was a perfect fit. Washington was the mature, caring father figure who imparted military knowledge to Lafayette. And in turn, Lafayette pledged his unfailing loyalty to Washington while also becoming a brilliant and courageous military leader.
Lafayette also proved exceedingly valuable on the diplomatic front. I had assumed that France would jump at the opportunity to help the colonies against their British adversaries. But there were other options.
One was a direct attack on England while it was busy trying to put down the insurrection in its American colonies. Another was to gain more control over spice and sugar resources in the West Indies while England was busy elsewhere.
Lafayette managed to influence France to provide direct military assistance. In order to accomplish the feat he had to go home and serve some house arrest to atone for leaving France against the King's orders.
The author of this highly appealing book is David Clary, of Roswell. As in his other books, Clary proves himself an outstanding historian, providing extensive notes, chronology and bibliography.
But this time Clary writes in a narrative style that reads much like a novel, full of action, love and passion. His large cast of characters are very human, with foibles as well as strengths.
Clary doesn't end the book with the American Revolution. He follows Lafayette home and covers his adventures and tribulations in the French Revolution, along with his adoring correspondence with Washington.
Another highlight is Lafayette's triumphal return visit to the United States in 1824 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Revolution. What was planned as a short visit to major cities turned into a 13-month procession through every state.
MON, 4-16-07

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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