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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Lafayette and Napoleon

By Edward Everett (1794–1865)

[Eulogy on Lafayette. 1834.—From Orations and Speeches by Edward Everett. 1850–68.]

OF all the ancient nobility who returned to France, Lafayette and the young Count de Vaudreuil were the only individuals who refused the favors which Napoleon was eager to accord to them. Of all to whom the cross of the legion of honor was tendered, Lafayette alone had the courage to decline it. Napoleon is said to have exclaimed, when they told him that Lafayette refused the decoration, “What, will nothing satisfy that man but the chief command of the National Guard of the empire?” Yes, much less abundantly satisfied him;—the quiet possession of the poor remnants of his estate, enjoyed without sacrificing his principles.

From this life nothing could draw him. Mr. Jefferson offered him the place of governor of Louisiana, then just become a territory of the United States; but he was unwilling, by leaving France, to take a step that would look like a final abandonment of the cause of constitutional liberty on the continent of Europe. Napoleon ceased to importune him, and he lived at Lagrange, retired and unmolested, the only public man who had gone through the terrible revolution and remained in France, with a character free from every just impeachment. He entered it with a princely fortune,—in the various high offices which he had filled he had declined all compensation,—and he came out poor. He entered it in the meridian of early manhood, with a frame of iron. He came out of it, fifty years of age, his strength impaired by the hardships of his long imprisonment. He had filled the most powerful and responsible offices; and others, still more powerful,—the dictatorship itself,—had been offered him; he was reduced to obscurity and private life. He entered the revolution with a host of ardent colleagues of the constitutional party; of those who escaped the guillotine, most had made their peace with Napoleon. Not a few of the Jacobins had taken his splendid bribes; the emigrating nobility came back in crowds, and put on his livery; fear, interest, weariness, amazement, and apathy reigned in France and in Europe; kings, emperors, armies, nations bowed at his footstool; and one man alone,—a private man, who had tasted power, and knew what he sacrificed,—who had inhabited dungeons, and knew what he risked,—who had done enough for liberty in both worlds to satisfy the utmost requisitions of her friends,—this man alone stood aloof in his honor, his independence, and his poverty. And if there is a man in this assembly that would not rather have been Lafayette to refuse, than Napoleon to bestow, his wretched gewgaws; that would not rather have been Lafayette in retirement and obscurity, and just not proscribed, than Napoleon with an emperor to hold his stirrup; if there is a man who would not have preferred the honest poverty of Lagrange to the bloody tinsel of St. Cloud; who would not rather have shared the peaceful fireside of the friend of Washington, than have spurred his triumphant courser over the crushed and blackened heaps of slain, through the fire and carnage of Marengo and Austerlitz,—that man has not an American heart in his bosom….

And what was it, fellow-citizens, which gave to our Lafayette his spotless fame? The love of liberty. What has consecrated his memory in the hearts of good men? The love of liberty. What nerved his youthful arm with strength, and inspired him, in the morning of his days, with sagacity and counsel? The living love of liberty. To what did he sacrifice power, and rank, and country, and freedom itself? To the horror of licentiousness,—to the sanctity of plighted faith,—to the love of liberty protected by law. Thus the great principle of your revolutionary fathers, and of your Pilgrim sires was the rule of his life—the love of liberty protected by law.