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Who was the Marquis de Lafayette?

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Quick Answer

The Marquis de Lafayette was a French nobleman who was enthralled with the ideal of liberty, sailed to America, served under George Washington and became a key figure in the struggle for American independence. When he returned to his homeland, he held high-ranking positions in the French government.

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Full Answer

An American agent offered Lafayette the rank of major general in the colonial army before he left France. However, because his father-in-law and the king of France disapproved, he bought a ship, evaded authorities and sailed to America on his own. His fervor and his offer to serve without payment got him a position on George Washington's staff. After distinguishing himself in battle, Lafayette received his commission of major general. He not only fought alongside the Americans, but also persuaded France to lend more help to the American cause with additional supplies and troops. Lafayette was on hand for the surrender of British Major General Cornwallis after the final battle at Yorktown in 1781.

Returning to France after the war, Lafayette rejoined the French army and helped Thomas Jefferson negotiate trade agreements with France. When Lafayette returned for a tour of the States in 1782, he was treated like a national hero. Later in France, he became commander of the National Guard. During a period of political disfavor, he fled France and was held prisoner by the Austrians for five years. When he returned, he was offered the dictatorship of France, but he chose instead to support the heir to the monarchy.

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