GILBERT MOTIER MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE, descended from an ancient family of Auvergne, was born September 6th, 1757, in the castle of Chavagnac. He became a soldier at an early age, and although he inherited a large fortune, was of high rank, and had powerful connections at court, he came to America in 1777, to take part with the colonists in the war of independence. He raised and equipped a body of troops at his own expense, fought as a volunteer at Brandywine and Monmouth, and received the thanks of Congress. He then repaired to France and in 1780 returned with reinforcements under General Rochambeau. He was intrusted by Congress with the defense of Virginia, and commanded the vanguard of Washington's army at the time of the surrender of Cornwallis in 1782. The war being closed, Lafayette returned to France.
Lafayette had imbibed liberal principles, and now eagerly sought to promote a thorough reform in his native country. He was called to the Assembly of notables in 1787, and was one of those who most earnestly urged the Assembly of the States. He took part also in the movements which converted the Assembly of the States into the National Assembly in 1786. He took a very active part in the proceedings of the Assembly, and being appointed to the chief command of the armed citizens, laid the foundation of the National Guard, and gave it the tricolor cockade. In these first periods of the Revolution, it seemed as if Lafayette had the destinies of France in his hands. But he found himself unable to control the excitement that sprung up. The extreme republicans soon came to dislike him because he advocated a constitutional kingdom; and the court party, especially the queen, did the same - in spite of the services rendered them - because of his zeal for the new order of things. Along with Bailly, he founded the club of the Feuillants. After the adoption of the constitution of 1790, he retired to his estate of Lagrange, till he received the command of the army of Ardennes, with which he won the first victories at Phillipeville, Maubeuge, and Florennes. Nevertheless, the calumnies of the Jacobins rendered him exceedingly unpopular, and he was accused of treason, but acquitted. After some vain efforts to maintain the cause of rational liberty, he left Paris for Flanders, but was taken prisoner by the Austrians, and conveyed to Olmutz, where he remained for about five years, till Bonaparte obtained his liberation in 1797; but he took no part in public affairs during the ascendancy of Bonaparte. He sat in the Chamber of Deputies for the department of Sarthe from 1818 to 1854, and was one of the extreme left. From 1825 to 1830, he was again a leader of the opposition in the Chamber of Deputies. In 1830, he took an active part in the revolution, and commanded the National Guards. He died on the 8th of May, 1834.