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The United States of America: A History
Book 2: Chapter VIII - Sympathy Beyond the Sea

FRANCE still felt, with all the bitterness of the vanquished, her defeat at Quebec and her loss of Canada. She had always entertained the hope that the Americans would avenge her by throwing off the English yoke. To help forward its fulfilment, she sent occasionally a secret agent among them, to cultivate their good-will to the utmost. When the troubles began she sent secret assurances of sympathy, and secret offers of commercial advantages. She was not prepared as yet openly to espouse the American cause. But it was always safe to encourage the American dislike to England, and to connive at the fitting out of American privateers, to prey upon English commerce.

The Marquis de Lafayette was at this time serving in the French army. He was a lad of nineteen, of immense wealth, and enjoying a foremost place among the nobility of France. The American revolt had now become a topic at French dinner- tables. Lafayette heard of it first from the Duke of Gloucester, who told the story at a dinner given to him by some French officers. That conversation changed the destiny of the young Frenchman. "He was a man of no ability," said Napoleon. "There is nothing in his head but the United States," said Marie Antoinette. These judgments are perhaps not unduly severe. But Lafayette had the deepest sympathies with the cause of human liberty. They may not have been always wise, but they were always generous and true. No sooner had he satisfied himself that the American cause was the cause ol liberty, than he hastened to ally himself with it. He left his young wife and his great position, and he offered himself to Washington. His military value may not have been great; but his presence was a vast encouragement to a desponding people. lie was a visible assurance of sympathy beyond the sea. America is the most grateful of nations; and this good, impulsive, vain man has ever deservedly held a high place in her love. Washington once, with tears of joy in his eyes, presented Lafayette to his troops. Counties are named after him, and cities and streets. Statues and paintings hand down to successive generations of Americans the image of their first and most faithful ally.

Lafayette was the lightning-rod by which the current of republican sentiments was flashed from America to France. He came home when the war was over and America free. He was the hero of the hour. A man who had helped to set up a Republic in America was an unquiet element for old France to receive back into her bosom. With the charm of a great name and boundless popularity to aid him, he everywhere urged that men should be free and self-governing. Before he had been long in France he was busily stirring up the oppressed Protestants of the south to revolt. Happily the advice of Washington, with whom he continued to correspond, arrested a course which might have led the enthusiastic Marquis to the scaffold. Few men of capacity so moderate have been so conspicuous, or have so powerfully influenced the course of human affairs.

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