Adams Family Correspondence, volume 3



Card to John Adams Announcing the Birth of George Washington Lafayette, Paris, 1779 facing 212[unavailable]

Brief and formal as it may be, this document signalizes a relationship between the Adams and Lafayette families that was sustained over two full generations and for more than sixty years.

“Acceptez mon compliment, Monsieur le Marquis,” Mme. de Lafayette wrote from Passy to her husband in Paris on 24 December 1779, announcing the birth of her first and only son. “Il est très sincère, il est très vif. L'Amérique va illuminer et je soutiens que Paris devrait le faire aussi. Le nombre de ceux qui vous ressemblent est si petit qu'un accroissement de ce nombre est un bienfait public” (André Maurois, Adrienne ou la vie de Mme. de La Fayette, Paris, 1960, p. 107). This was her proud way of saying that, after bearing him two daughters (one of whom had died in infancy), she had now provided him with a son and heir.

The “Card” (announcement) must have been sent to Adams at his former quarters at the Hôtel de Valentinois in Passy to await his arrival. (Adams and his sons were still in La Coruña, about to set out for Paris.) The amanuensis who wrote it evidently had trouble with Adams' given name, possibly because of the current notoriety of Captain John Paul Jones; at any rate the new peace minister appears on the superscription as “Monsieur Jones Adams.” When he heard the news, John Adams wrote Abigail: “The Marquis has a son since his Arrival in Europe, whom he has named George, not from the King of Great Britain but his friend Washington” (letter of 28 February 1780, below; see a brief note there on the younger Lafayette's career).

It was accordingly appropriate that Mme. de Lafayette sent George to America and placed him under President Washington's care during the imprisonment of the Marquis de Lafayette. This created a problem for the President because of the delicate diplomatic relations the United States had with the France of the Directoire, but he handled it with extreme tact and equal generosity, writing the boy's father at the end of the year and a half that George spent in his household that his conduct had “been exemplary in every point of view” and developing—as his letters to George consistently show—a genuine affection for him (Washington to Lafayette, 8 October 1797, The Writings of George Washington . . . 1745–1799, ed. John C. Fitzpatrick, Washington, 1931–1944, 36:40–41; see numerous other letters and references in same, vols. 34–37).

George Washington Lafayette attended his father on his triumphal tour of the United States in 1824–1825, renewing his acquaintance with members of the Adams family both in Quincy and in Washington, where President John Quincy Adams entertained the Nation's guest and his entourage at the White House just before their return to France. Later still, George Washington Lafayette, upon request, furnished materials for J. Q. Adams' impressive and widely reprinted Oration on the Life and Character of Gilbert Motier de Lafayette . . ., Washington, 1835, delivered xviibefore a joint session of Congress on the last day of 1834. See J. Q. Adams to G. W. Lafayette, 3 July 1834, and reply, 21 October 1834; both in Adams Papers. Correspondence on this and related subjects continued for some years thereafter.

From the original in the Adams Papers.