HIS ARRIVAL IN NEW YORK AND THE TRIP TO ALBANY
Général le Marquise de Lafayette, after an absence of thirty-nine years, revisited our country, on the invitation of Congress, as the nation's guest in 1824. He reached New York on the 15th of August, in the packet-ship Cadmus, Captain Allyn, with his son and secretary. The Government had tendered him a United States frigate, but always simple and unostentatious, he preferred to come as an ordinary passenger in a packet-ship.
There were no wires fifty years ago over which intelligence could pass with lightning speed, but the visit of Lafayette was expected, and the pulses and hearts of the people were quickened and warmed simultaneously through some mysterious medium throughout the whole Union. Citizens rushed from neighboring cities and villages to welcome the French nobleman, who, before he was twenty-one years old, had devoted himself and his fortune to the American colonies in their wonderful conflict with the mother country for independence; and who, after fighting gallantly by the side of Washington through the Revolutionary War, returned to France with the only reward he desired or valuedthe gratitude of a free people. General Lafayette was now sixty-seven years of age, with some physical infirmities, but intellectually strong, and in manners and feeling cheerful, elastic, and accomplished.
The General's landing on the Battery, his reception by the military under General Martin, his triumphant progress through Broadway, his first visit to the City Hall, awakened emotions which can not be described. I have witnessed the celebration of the completion of the Erie Canal and the mingling of the waters of Lake Erie with the Atlantic Ocean, the completion of the Croton Water Works celebration, the reception of the Prince of Wales, and other brilliant and beautiful pageants, but they all lacked the heart and soul which marked and signalized the welcome of Lafayette. The joy of our citizens was exprest more by tears than in any other way. It is impossible to imagine scenes of deeper, higher or purer emotion than the first meeting between General Lafayette and Colonel Marinus Willett, Colonel Ebenezer Stevens, Colonel Varick, Major Platt, General Anthony, Major Popham, Major Fairlee, and other officers of the Revolution, whom he had not seen for nearly forty years, and whom without a moment's hesitation he recognized and named.
But the crowning glory of that series of honors and festivities was the fête at Castle Garden on the evening of the General's departure for Albany. The Castle was expensively, elaborately, and gorgeously fitted up and adorned for the occasion. I remember that, even without the aid of gas, the illumination was exceedingly brilliant. There was a ball and supper; the occasion was graced by the intelligence, beauty and refinement of the metropolis. How manyor rather how fewof that then youthful, joyous throng remain to recall, with memories subdued and chastened by time and change, the raptures of that enchanting scene!...
The steamboat James Kent, Commodore Wiswall, chartered by the city for the occasion,2 dropt down the river opposite Castle Garden, brilliantly illuminated, at 12 M., where she remained until half-past 2 A.M., when the General and his friends embarked.
About three o'clock General Lafayette retired, and his friends were soon afterward in their berths. I rose at five o'clock. General Lafayette came on deck before six for the purpose of showing his son and secretary where Major André was arrested; but the view was shut off by a fog, in attempting to grope through which the steamer grounded on Oyster Bank, where she lay until nearly ten o'clock; so that instead of reaching West Point at half past six, it was nearly twelve when the multitude assembled there announced our approach by a discharge of cannon.
As soon as the fog lifted, General Lafayette in the most enthusiastic language and manner pointed out Stony Point, and described the manner in which the British garrison was surprized and captured by "mad Anthony Wayne." As we approached the West Point wharf, cheers of citizens lining the banks echoed and reechoed from hill to hill, well-burnished muskets dazzled the eye, tall plumes nodded their greetings, the ear-piercing fife, the spirit-stirring drum, and the loud bugle sent forth their loftiest notes, while the reverberating cheers filled the air with welcomes. The General was received by Colonel Thayer, and ascended the hill in a landau, escorted by the officers of the post, followed by the Revolutionary officers and a long procession of citizens. He was received by the cadets from their parade ground, and escorted to his marquee, where they paid him the marching salute. From the marquee he proceeded to the quarters of Generals Brown and Scott,3 where he was presented to the ladies and partook of refreshments. From thence he was conducted to the library and introduced to the cadets. Dinner was served in the mess-room of the cadets, which had been splendidly decorated for the occasion. . . .
The day was in all respects a happy one: it is the greenest in my memory. General Lafayette's happiness took every conceivable form of expression. He made an early visit to the ruins of old Fort Putnam, where he had been stationed. Almost every scene and object served to recall incidents of the Revolution, of which he spoke with the greatest enthusiasm. He pointed out the Robinson House, where General Washington, himself, and General Knox were breakfasting with Mrs. Arnold when the commander-in-chief received the first news of Arnold's treason. Early in the day a committee of citizens arrived from Newburg, where General Lafayette was expected to dine, and where the citizens of Orange County en masse anxiously awaited his arrival. But he was too much delighted with West Point to be hurried away. An early dinner had been ordered, so that the impatient thousands at Newburgh might be gratified with a sight of the General before evening. The dinner, however, with the associations and remembrances it suggested, proved irresistible. Hour after hour passed, but the interest increased rather than diminished, and it was not until seven o'clock that the General could be prevailed to rise from the table. It was dark, therefore, when we reached Newburgh.
Upon landing, a scene of indescribable confusion ensued; troops were in line, but powerless to preserve order. The desire to see the nation's guest was uncontrollable. The huzzas of men mingled with the shrieks of women and the cries of children. All were eager to see, but everywhere good humor and kindness prevailed. The village was illuminated, and the occasion was honored by a ball and supper. The festivities of the evening, however, were saddened by the sudden death of Hector Seward (a cousin of the late Governor Seward4), who received a fatal kick from an excited horse. Notwithstanding the excitement and fatigues of the day and of the preceding night, General Lafayette was as cheerful and buoyant at the ballroom end at the supper-table as the youngest and gayest of the revelers.
The General reembarked at one o'clock A.M. At half past two our approach was announced by a discharge of cannon from the bluff, just below the landing at Poughkeepsie. Large piles of seasoned wood, saturated with tar and turpentine, were kindled on that bluff, fed by hundreds of boys who had been entrusted with the duty, and were kept blazing high, filling the atmosphere with lurid flame and smoke until daylight. Soon after sunrise, a large concourse of the citizens of Poughkeepsie, with a military escort, arrived at the wharf. The General, on disembarking, was shown to a splendid barouche, and the procession moved to and through the village of Poughkeepsie, where congratulatory speeches were made and reciprocated. A large party sat down to a bountiful breakfast; and here, too, death has silenced tongues that were then eloquent. . . .
The party reembarked at ten o'clock, when the steamer proceeded up the river to the then beautiful residence of Governor Morgan Lewis, where the party landed, proceeded to his fine old mansion, and partook of a sumptuous collation. About two o'clock the steamer glided through the placid waters until between four and five o'clock, when she reached Clermont, the manor-house of Chancellor Livingston, of Revolutionary memory. On landing the General was received by a large body of freemasons, and was escorted by a military company from Hudson to the beautiful lawn in front of the manor-house, where the General was warmly welcomed by the master of the lodge with an appropriate speech. The afternoon was uncommonly beautiful; the scene and its associations were exceedingly impressive. Dinner was served in a greenhouse or orangery, which formed a sort of balcony to the southern exposure of the manor-house. When the cloth was removed, and the evening came on, variegated lamps suspended from the orange-trees were lighted, producing a wonderfully brilliant and beautiful effect.
But the grand event of the occasion was the ball, which was opened by General Lafayette, who gracefully led out the venerable and blind widow of General Montgomerywho fell in the assault of Quebec in 1775amid the wildest enthusiasm of all present. While the festivities were progressing within, the assembled tenantry, who were "to the manor born," were feasted upon the lawn, where there was music and dancing. The party broke up and returned to the boat about 3 A. M. The steamer hauled out into the river, but did not get under way until sunrise.
We reached Catskill at seven o'clock. A large procession, civic and military, awaited the General's arrival at the landing. General Lafayette and the Revolutionary officers were seated in open barouches, and the procession moved through the main street for more than a mile, affording the dense mass of men, women, and children the great happiness of seeing the compatriot and friend of Washington. Several beautiful arches, profusely drest with flags, flowers, and evergreens, each one bearing the inscription, "Welcome, Lafayette," were thrown across the street. In the center of the village a brief address was made, to which the General responded. After this he was escorted in the same order to the boat, and at eleven o'clock he reached Hudson, where a hearty welcome awaited the General. Not only the citizens of Columbia, but many of the inhabitants of Berkshire County, Mass., were present, whose acclamations, as General Lafayette was seen upon the main deck of the steamer, made the welkin ring. The ceremonies and festivities at Hudson consumed between three and four hours. A committee, consisting of the most distinguished citizens of Albany, awaited the General's arrival at Hudson, anxious that the steamer should reach Albany before dark, preparations having been made for a magnificent reception. But in this the Albanians were disappointed, for, on account of the low water above Coeyman's, the steamer's progress was so slow that it was quite dark when she reached Albany. What was lost, however, in one respect was gained in another, for between the illuminations and torches the procession, from Lydius Street landing to the Capitol, was alike brilliant and impressive.
The excursion from New York to Albany occupied three days, and afforded to all who enjoyed it an interest and a happiness more complete and more touching than tongue or pen can describe.
1 From Weed's "Autobiography." By permission of the publishers, Houghton, Mifflin Company. Copyright, 1883, by Harriet A. Weed. Thurlow Weed at this time had been editor of newspapers in Rochester and elsewhere, and was just becoming influential in state politics. In 1880 he was made editor of the Albany Journal, a position he held for thirty-two years, during which he was one of the chief leaders in the Whig party, State and national.
2 A trip up the Hudson to Albany.
3 General Jacob Brown, General-in-Chief of the Army of the United States, and General Winfield Scott.
4 William H. Seward, Lincoln's Secretary of State, who had died before Weed wrote his "Autobiography."
In the summer of this year General Lafayette, accompanied by his son, Mr. George Washington Lafayette, and under an invitation from the President, revisited the United States after a lapse of forty years. He was received with unbounded honor, affection, and, gratitude by the American people. To the survivors of the Revolution, it was the return of a brother; to the new generation, born since that time, it was the apparition of an historical character, familiar from the cradle; and combining all the titles to love, admiration, gratitude, enthusiasm, which could act upon the heart and the imagination of the young and the ardent.
He visited every State in the Union, doubled in number since, as the friend and pupil of Washington, he had spilt his blood, and lavished his fortune, for their independence. His progress through the States was a triumphal procession, such as no Roman ever led upa procession not through a city, but over a continentfollowed, not by captives in chains of iron, but by a nation in the bonds of affection. To him it was an unexpected and overpowering reception. His modest estimate of himself had not allowed him to suppose that he was to electrify a continent. He expected kindness, but not enthusiasm. He expected to meet with surviving friendsnot to rouse a young generation. As he approached the harbor of New York he made inquiry of some acquaintance to know whether he could find a hack to convey him to a hotel? Illustrious man, and modest as illustrious! Little did he know that all America was on foot to receive himto take possession of him the moment he touched her soilto fetch and to carry himto feast and applaud himto make him the guest of cities, States, and the nation, as long as he could be detained.
Many were the happy meetings which he had with old comrades, survivors for nearly half a century of their early hardships and dangers; and most grateful to his heart it was to see them, so many of them, exceptions to the maxim which denies to the beginners of revolutions the good fortune to conclude them (and of which maxim his own country had just been so sad an exemplification), and to see his old comrades not only conclude the one they began, but live to enjoy its fruits and honors. Three of his old associates he found ex-presidents (Adams, Jefferson, and Madison), enjoying the respect and affection of their country, after having reached its highest honors. Another, and the last one that Time would admit to the Presidency (Mr. Monroe), now in the Presidential chair, and inviting him to revisit the land of his adoption. Many of his early associates seen in the two Houses of Congressmany in the State governments, and many more in all the walks of private life, patriarchal sires, respected for their characters, and venerated for their patriotic services. It was a grateful spectacle, and the more impressive from the calamitous fate which he had seen attend so many of the revolutionary patriots of the Old World. But the enthusiasm of the young generation astonished and excited him, and gave him a new view of himselfa future glimpse of himselfand such as he would be seen in after ages. Before them, he was in the presence of posterity; and in their applause and admiration he saw his own future place in history, passing down to the latest times as one of the most perfect and beautiful characters which one of the most eventful periods of the world had produced. . . .
He was received in both Houses of Congress with equal honor; but the Houses did not limit themselves to honors: they added substantial rewards for long past services and sacrificestwo hundred thousand dollars in money, and twenty-four thousand acres of fertile land in Florida. These noble grants did not pass without objectionobjection to the principle, not to the amount. The ingratitude of republics is the theme of any declaimer: it required a Tacitus to say, that gratitude was the death of republics, and the birth of monarchies; and it belongs to the people of the United States to exhibit an exception to that profound remark (as they do to so many other lessons of history), and show a young republic that knows how to be grateful without being unwise, and is able to pay the debt of gratitude without giving its liberties in the discharge of the obligation. . . .
Loaded with honors, and with every feeling of his heart gratified in the noble reception he had met in the country of his adoption, Lafayette returned to the country of his birth the following summer, still as the guest of the United States, and under its flag. He was carried back in a national ship of war, the new frigate Brandywinea delicate compliment (in the name and selection of the ship) from the new President, Mr. Adams, Lafayette having wet with his blood the sanguinary battle-field which takes its name from the little stream which gave it first to the field, and then to the frigate. Mr. Monroe, then a subaltern in the service of the United States, was wounded at the same time. How honorable to themselves and to the American people, that nearly fifty years afterward, they should again appear together, and in exalted station; one as President, inviting the other to the great republic, and signing the acts which testified a nation's gratitude; the other as a patriot hero, tried in the revolutions of two countries, and resplendent in the glory of virtuous and consistent fame.
1 From Benton's "Thirty Years' View."
THE DUEL BETWEEN CLAY AND JOHN RANDOLPH OF ROANOKE