Lafayette, we are here
The Bicentennial of Lafayette Parish
On January 17, 1823, by separating it from Saint Martin Parish, the Louisiana legislature created Lafayette Parish. Named in honor of Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette, “the hero of two worlds”, the parish will celebrate its bicentennial throughout 2023 with a series of events that will highlight its history through the years and elucidate the contributions of the Frenchman whom George Washington looked upon as a son. Only 19 years old at the start of the American Revolutionary War, during which the future first President made him a general, Lafayette was the heir to one of the largest fortunes in France. He could have chosen to spend his days peacefully, but he could not ignore the cries of freedom emanating from the other side of the Atlantic, going so far as to spend the freezing winter in Valley Forge with his soldiers. His contributions were crucial, especially at the Battle of Yorktown, considered the moment when the war turned in favor of the Americans. Pushed by this new wind, Lafayette went back to France where he planned to apply these new ideas of independence.
One of the first contributors to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen in 1789, despite his title of nobility, Lafayette, inspired by the victorious struggle of the Americans against the English monarchy, worked for a reform of political power centralized around the King of France. At the time of the Storming of the Bastille which triggered the French Revolution on July 14, Lafayette was commander of the National Guard. Two days later, his first official act was to order the destruction of this prison, a symbol of despotism. The next day, he himself gave the new symbol of France, the blue, white, and red tricolor cockade to King Louis XVI, one of the official symbols of the Republic today still.
Even though the vicissitudes of the French Revolution did not always favor him, Lafayette’s popularity in America cannot be overstated. The year after the parish that bears his name was established, President Monroe officially invited him as the last living general of the Continental Army, then 67 years old. To say that his return was triumphant is hardly an exaggeration. When he landed in New York, 80,000 people were waiting for him at the wharf, or 65% of the population. For a little over a year, he toured the country which he largely contributed to founding. He stayed several days in New Orleans in April 1825, but unfortunately, he never came to the parish that bears his illustrious name.
The famous phrase, “Lafayette, we are here,” spoken by Colonel Charles E. Stanton on July 4, 1917, in front of his grave in Picpus Cemetery, signaling the arrival of the American army to assist French forces in World War I, gave tribute to the Marquis’ participation in the American Revolution. Evoking his memory also honors our dedication to independence and our heritage, both American and French.