Posts Tagged ‘Napoleon Bonaparte’

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Statue of Major General Marquis Gilbert de Lafayette

After my bike ride at the end of last week to see L’Hermione, the 18th-century French war ship which brought General Lafayette to the American colonies in 1780 with news of the French assistance in the American Revolution, I decided for this ride to go to see a local statue of him, entitled Major General Marquis Gilbert de Lafayette.  The statue is located in Lafayette Square, which is also named after him, and is located just north of The White House, on H Street between 15th and 17th Streets (MAP).

The statue of General Lafayette was commission by the U.S. Congress and created by a French sculptor and painter named Jean Alexandre Joseph Falguiere. It was cast in 1890, and unveiled without ceremony in April of 1891.  The inscription on the base of the north side of the statue reads, “To General la Fayette and his compatriots, 1777-1783, Derville Farbre, by the Congress in commemoration of the services rendered by General Lafayette and his compatriots during the struggle for the independence of the United States of America.” It is part of the “American Revolution Statuary”, a group of fourteen statues scattered throughout D.C., mainly in squares and traffic circles, which are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roche Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette was born in 1757 into a wealthy noble family.  Before his second birthday, his father, a Colonel of grenadiers was killed when he was struck by a cannonball while fighting a British-led coalition at the Battle of Minden. At the age of twelve, his mother passed away, leaving him a young and very wealthy orphan. In 1771, at the age of fourteen, Lafayette entered the Royal Army. Then when he was sixteen, Lafayette married Marie Adrienne Francoise de Noailles, who was related to the King, thus allying himself with one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in France.

But Lafayette was never impressed with status or riches, longing instead for military glory. However, two years after marrying into the royal family, he lost his military commission, like many other noblemen, when the government reduced military spending. This sent his life in another direction, one which would lead him to America.

At a dinner in August of 1775, Lafayette came into contact with the Duke of Gloucester, who spoke with sympathy of the struggle going on in the colonies. He became convinced that the American cause in its revolutionary war was noble. In fact, Lafayette would always remember this dinner as the turning point of his life. “My heart was enlisted,” he later confessed in his memoirs, “and I thought only of joining my colors to those of the revolutionaries.” Lafayette then set about studying the ideals of the American Revolution while making plans to enlist in the Continental Army.

At that time, a representative of the Continental Congress named Silas Deane was sent to France to recruit officers. And even though Lafayette was only nineteen, spoke almost no English, and had no experience in war, Deane offered him a written agreement that he would be commissioned a major general. The King of France, however, issued a decree forbidding French officers from serving in America, specifically naming Lafayette. So Lafayette secretly and against the wishes of the French government, bought a shop named the La Victoire and sailed to America, where he announced himself a volunteer.

Lafayette arrived in America in June of 1777, and by the end of the summer he had met General Washington and a friendship developed between the two men which lasted as long as Washington lived. Their bond became so strong that when Lafayette was shot in the leg during the Battle of Brandywine, Washington sent his own surgeon to care for him, telling the doctor to treat the young Frenchman as if he were Washington’s own son.

Lafayette arrived in America in June of 1777, and by the end of the summer he had met General Washington. A friendship subsequently developed between the two men which lasted as long as Washington lived. Their bond became so strong that when Lafayette was shot in the leg during the Battle of Brandywine, Washington sent his own surgeon to care for him, telling the doctor to treat the young Frenchman as if he were Washington’s own son. (Sharing the same sentiment, Lafayette would years later name his son George Washington Lafayette.) After Lafayette recovered, he became a valued member of Washington’s close-knit military family. At the end of that year, Lafayette went with Washington and the army into winter quarters at Valley Forge.

Lafayette was overjoyed when news of the French alliance arrived in early 1778, but decided to return to France in June in hopes of winning even more military support for the American cause. Lafayette had also hoped to be put in charge of the French army, but Marshall Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau was chosen instead. In 1780 Lafayette returned to America aboard L’Hermione, delivering news to George Washington of full French aid in the colonialists’ cause, helping turn the tide of the American Revolution.

Washington then sent Lafayette to Virginia to stop British raids along the James River. While there, General Charles Cornwallis’ forces arrived in Virginia, Lafayette harassed the British general until Washington and Rochambeau could lay siege to him in Yorktown. In October 1781, there was no prouder soldier than Lafayette at Cornwallis’ surrender to a combined American and French force at the Siege of Yorktown, ending the war.

Still only 24 years old, Lafayette returned again to France after the American Revolution, where he was welcomed as the “Hero of Two Worlds.” Back home, he rejoined the French army and organized trade agreements with Thomas Jefferson, the American ambassador to France. With the country on the verge of major political and social upheaval, Lafayette was named commander of the Paris National Guard. But when violence broke out in 1789, Lafayette’s obligation to protect the royal family left him in a vulnerable position to the factions vying for power. So he fled France in 1792.

Upon his departure from France Lafayette was captured at Olmütz by Austrian forces and imprisoned. He was later released by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1797. He finally returned to France in 1799, where he largely retired from public life. He settled at LaGrange, an estate near Paris nicknamed the Mount Vernon of France. In 1824, he made one final tour of America and was hailed as a hero.  Six years later, the aging statesman declined the dictatorship of France during the July Revolution, and Louis-Phillipe was crowned king.  He died four years later, May 20, 1834 at the age of seventy-six, following a battle with pneumonia.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

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The equestrian statue of Simón Bolívar, located at the intersection of Virginia Avenue, 18th Street and C Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood, is a public artwork by Felix de Weldon. It depicts Bolívar wearing a military uniform with great detail, including the gold medallion that was given to him by George Washington.  He is shown riding his horse, and holding a sword in his right hand and wielding it upward over his head.

Bolívar is remembered as “El Libertador,” or The Liberator, so it is befitting that his statue is part of a series, entitled “Statues of the Liberators,” honoring liberators and other national figures of western-hemisphere countries.  The statues can be found along Virginia Avenue between 18th and 25th Streets, near the headquarters of the Organization of American States in northwest D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood. The statues were erected by various Latin American countries, and are maintained by the National Park Service.  The sculpture of Bolívar was authorized by the U.S. Congress in July of 1949, and installed at its current location in June of 1955.  It was donated by and the installation was paid for by the government of Venezuela.

Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad Bolívar y Palacios Ponte y Blanco, more commonly known as Simón Bolívar, was the son of a Venezuelan aristocrat of Spanish descent.  He was born to wealth and position, and travelled to and was educated in Europe, where the thought of independence for Hispanic America took root in Bolívar’s imagination.  The Latin American independence movement was launched a year after Bolívar’s return, as Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Spain unsettled Spanish authority.  Bolívar became an outstanding military general and charismatic political leader, and played a key role in Latin America’s successful struggle for independence from the Spanish Empire.  He not only helped drive the Spanish from northern South America, but also was instrumental in the formative years of the republics that sprang up once the Spanish had gone.

Having also traveled to the United States, Bolívar was an admirer of President George Washington, with whom he shared two commonalities.  First, like President Washington, Bolívar was a Freemason.  George Washington and Bolívar also shared the same objective, namely, independence for their people and the establishment of democratic states.  But Bolívar differed in political philosophy from George Washington and the leaders of the revolution in the United States on two important matters.  First, unlike his northern counterparts, Bolívar was staunchly anti-slavery.  Second, while he was an admirer of the American independence, he did not believe that the same governmental system could function in Latin America, and establishing a republic there would require making some concessions in terms of liberty.

Bolívar is considered by historians as one of the most powerful and influential figures in world political history.  Yet today, outside of Latin America where he is still practically worshipped, his name and who he was is almost unknown.

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Volta Laboratory

In 1876, 29-year-old Alexander Graham Bell received a patent for a revolutionary new invention – the telephone.  On one of my recent bike rides I went to the Volta Laboratory, which he founded using money he received for his invention  The laboratory is located at 1537 35th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood of D.C

As early as 1865, Bell conceived the idea of transmitting speech by electric waves. By March 7, 1876, his apparatus was so far developed that he received a patent. Three days after filing the patent, the telephone carried its first intelligible message – the famous “Mr. Watson, come here, I need you” – from Bell to his assistant.

Bell’s patent filing beat a similar claim by Elisha Gray by only two hours. Not wanting to be shut out of the communications market, Western Union Telegraph Company employed Gray and fellow inventor Thomas A. Edison to develop their own telephone technology. Bell sued, and the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld Bell’s patent rights. In the years to come, the Bell Company withstood repeated legal challenges to emerge as the massive American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) and form the foundation of the modern telecommunications industry.

Bell subsequently received the Volta Prize for inventing the telephone. The Volta Prize was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 to honor Alessandro Volta, an Italian physicist noted for developing the battery. Since that time, the French government has awarded the prize for scientific achievement in electricity. Bell received the third Grand Volta Prize in 1880, with its purse of 50,000 francs (approximately $10,000 at that time, about $250,000 in current dollars). Mr. Bell used the prize money to create institutions in and around D.C., including the Volta Laboratory Association (in 1880, also known as the ‘Volta Laboratory’ and as the ‘Alexander Graham Bell Laboratory’), with his endowment fund (the ‘Volta Fund’), and then in 1887 the ‘Volta Bureau’, which later became the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf.

Considering the above, I found it interesting that the photos I took while on this ride I took with my phone.  I wonder what Mr. Bell would have thought.