Formed in the 1960s through the generosity of Arthur H. and Mary Marden Dean, the Lafayette Collection is unparalleled outside of France as a resource on Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert Du Motier, marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834). With over 11,000 original manuscripts, documents, and letters, the collection is essential to any serious biographical work on General Lafayette and constitutes an important resource for the general study of late 18th- and early 19th-century France. See the Lafayette Collection website.
The collection covers all facets of Lafayette’s life and career. His youth and his involvement in the American Revolution are detailed in documents, papers, and correspondence, including letters to his wife as he set off to the American colonies in 1777. An extensive manuscript memoir sketches his life through 1779. Materials spanning the period between the American and French Revolutions reveal the expanding range of the General’s liberal interests. His correspondence with the Presidents of the Continental Congress underlines the political and philosophical issues that would re-emerge in 1789. In a similar vein, the collection documents his plan to emancipate slaves on his plantation in Guiana, his projects to abolish slavery, and his correspondence with colonists and missionaries regarding the plantation.
Lafayette’s most thoughtful response to the French Revolution is evident in a large gathering of manuscripts and correspondence written after he fled France in 1792, only to be imprisoned in Austria until 1797. While held captive, he reflected on the Revolution and corresponded with friends, sympathizers, and other émigrés to secure his own release. The collection also covers his return to France in 1799, his retirement at the family estate of La Grange, and his renewed public role during the Bourbon Restoration. The papers go on to document the family estate following Lafayette’s death in 1834, and include the papers of his son, Georges Washington Lafayette.
Besides chronicling the life and career of a principal figure in revolutionary France, the collection also serves as a revealing source concerning 18th-century liberal causes in Europe and America. Among the General’s English correspondents are Lord Holland, William Cobbett, Mary Shelley, Robert Owen, and Jeremy Bentham. American correspondents include all the presidents and other political leaders and reformers of the period. The letters from Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, and James Madison are especially significant. Considerable light is shed on Lafayette’s involvement with other European liberal movements, including the Carbonari and the cause of Polish independence. The collection includes many letters to him from Italian leaders, and more than 400 documents and letters detail his direction of the Central Polish Committee in Paris.
The papers dealing with Lafayette’s public life are complemented by a rich abundance of material on his private business affairs. Records concerning the management of the family properties at Chavaniac, Langeac, La Grange, and Francières, by both the General and later his son, provide a useful view of the economic and political issues confronting provincial landholders during the French Revolution.
The collection features equally comprehensive holdings in printed books. Included is a nearly complete run of all editions of Lafayette’s Mémoires, and a comprehensive collection of pamphlets, broadsides, and single issues of newspapers containing commentary on his activities. The collection also contains a sampling of books from the Lafayette library at Chavaniac, some bearing his coat of arms on the bindings, and a large collection of biographical and critical works. Holdings of nearly 1,000 prints, portraits, and drawings are similarly complete, rounding out this extraordinary archive and forging integral links to the Library’s related collections for the study of 18th-century France.