Biographies & Memoirs



William Short had been in politics long enough to recognize a missed opportunity when he saw it. Like the vast majority of observers, Short believed that the Festival of Federation had marked “the zenith” of Lafayette’s “influence,” as he wrote toGouverneur Morris two weeks after the event. But he was one of the few to express a prescient regret that Lafayette did not capitalize more fully on that triumph. Short lamented that Lafayette had “made no use of it, except to prevent ill.” Looking ahead, he worried that “the time will come, perhaps when [Lafayette] will repent having not seized that opportunity of giving such a complexion as every good citizen ought to desire.”

In fact, the time was already at hand, as challenges were springing up daily on a national level. Insurrections roiling the army in the far reaches of France were a particularly vexing development, as Lafayette noted in correspondence with his cousin the Marquis de Bouillé, a former governor of Martinique who was stationed in Metz as commander of a portion of the Army of the East. An ardent defender of the monarchy, Bouillé had sworn allegiance to the new constitution only at the king’s behest and was now contemplating the various options that lay before him. Uncertain of how much support he should lend, he wrote to sound out Lafayette, who responded, “If I love liberty and the principles of our constitution above all, my second wish, my very ardent wish, is for the return of order, calm and for the establishment of the public force.” Lafayette understood as well as anyone that the success of a revolution depended on its army, and he took the opportunity to try to win Bouillé fully to the side of the constitution: “let us serve it, my dear cousin, with all of our power,” vanquishing “all that might disturb the happiness and peace of our fellow citizens, from whatever side the attacks might come.” Lafayette was being candid; he had no grand plans to hide and no personal agenda beyond ensuring liberty in the best way he knew how.

Three months later, as dissent in the army worsened, Lafayette confessed his deepening troubles to Washington, who was then serving his first term as president. Lafayette was worried not only about the king’s émigré brothers, who talked of raising foreign armies to retake France, but also about threats from Orléans and others on the left who had donned the populist mantle. Writing from Paris on August 23, he reported to Washington on “Revolts among the Regiments,” explaining that “as I am Constantly Attacked on Both Sides … I don’t know to which of the two we owe these insurrections.” Yet he correctly surmised that the more immediate danger to his own authority came from the left. As he put it, “I Have lately lost Some of My favour with the Mob, and displeased the frantic lovers of licentiousness, as I am Bent on Establishing a legal Subordination.”

Lafayette’s political rivals had been sharpening their attacks against him prior to the Festival of Federation, and his apotheosis on that day only urged them to bolder actions. Orléans returned to Paris over Lafayette’s objections in the first week of July and may well have begun his campaign of defamation as early as May, when a pamphlet bearing many of his hallmarks claimed to recount the Private, Impartial, Political, Military and Domestic Life of the Marquis de La Fayette, General of the Cornflower. Featuring more than ninety pages of personal and political calumny, the pamphlet garnered attention from the police and the reading public alike, and in May 1790, a bookseller was arrested and jailed for four days for purveying this scurrilous publication, until a plea from Lafayette led to his release. The arrest did little to dampen interest in the pamphlet, however, and it could still be purchased on the streets of Paris in May 1791. Railing against a topsy-turvy world filled with “pygmies disguised as giants,” the anonymous author issued a taunting address to the “honorable followers and zealous partisans of the little Auvergnac Cromwell.” Toying with Lafayette’s admirers, the pamphlet offered them mock encouragement in a torrent of angry prose:

Continue to adore your idol, to flatter his pride while beating your drums on the battlefields, as he, all perfumed and dolled up by the hands of a circle of courtesans, steps out of an elegant carriage, hiding, beneath a coiffure more ridiculous than martial, the horns that he received as a wedding present from his lubricious companion.

Orléans was likely the wealthiest and most influential of Lafayette’s rivals in the summer of 1790, but he was not the only man vying for control. Other contenders for power, including the artful Mirabeau and the three deputies to the National Assembly who were known collectively as the Triumvirate—Antoine Barnave, Adrien Duport, and Alexandre de Lameth—were committed to upholding order while embracing reform. Each man attempted to carve a path between the equally undesirable extremes of absolutemonarchy and chaos. Together and separately, Lafayette, Mirabeau, and the Triumvirate dominated an unstable political center throughout much of 1790 and 1791 as they established and dissolved alliances, struck side deals with the king, and tacked back and forth between the court and the people.

When Lafayette wrote to Washington on August 23, he expressed hope that he would be able to end the quarrels that prevented the moderates from banding together, although the situation demanded a type of politicking that had never come naturally to Lafayette. Emboldened by the courage of his convictions to the point that he was nearly blinded by certainty, Lafayette adopted a flat-footed negotiating strategy almost guaranteed to alienate would-be allies. Early in August, word reached Morris in England that a growing rift within the Triumvirate had prompted Lameth to reach out to Lafayette in the hope of establishing a new coalition. But Lafayette evidently dismissed the very notion in a phrase that bordered on bombast, responding with “a Declaration that in the present Situation there was no Alternative but Victory or Death.”

Others allowed themselves greater latitude. While Lafayette clung fast to his principles, the nimble orator Mirabeau, ever the master of the convenient deal, was busy negotiating with the king and queen in the hopes of supplementing, if not supplanting, the influence he believed Lafayette wielded at court. Whether Mirabeau was using the monarchs or the monarchs were using him is a question that has no clear answer, but Mirabeau was entirely open about his desires. On June 29, 1790, he drafted a letter for Louis XVI to send to Lafayette, ordering “that he agree to consult with Mirabeau on matters concerning the interest, the well-being of the State, my service, and my person.” (The king never dispatched the letter, but neither did he discard it. It was found in thenotoriousarmoire de fer—a secret iron chest, discovered behind a panel in the Tuileries Palace in 1792 during the search for evidence to be used at the king’s trial.) Moderates hoping to quell the infighting made occasional attempts to broker a peace between Lafayette and Mirabeau, but the enmities continued until Mirabeau’s death (apparently from natural causes) on April 2, 1791.

Lafayette was as skeptical of Mirabeau as he was of Orléans—he called them both “Cowards” in his August letter to Washington and suggested that “there is something Cloudy in the Present systems of those two men”—yet he remained confident that they would be defeated quickly. In fact, he predicted a rapid conclusion to the entire revolution, writing that “I hope our Business will End with the Year.” After that, Lafayette envisioned a retirement much like Washington’s. Poking fun at his own reputation, he explained that once the revolution ended, “this So much Blackened Cromwell, this Ambitious dictator, Your friend, Shall most deliciously Enjoy the Happiness to Give up all power, all public Cares, and to Become a private Citizen in a free Monarchy.”

Lafayette was jesting, but murmurs that he might be inclined to abuse his military might were growing louder. On August 16, the National Assembly voted “without discussion and unanimously” to place Lafayette’s cousin the Marquis de Bouillé at the head of an army charged with quashing open insurrection in three regiments—one Swiss and two French—stationed in the northeastern garrison town of Nancy. Prompted by Lafayette, the assembly authorized Bouillé to use whatever force might be needed. In an August 18 letter apprising Bouillé of the vote, Lafayette made clear that the rebelling troops should be shown no mercy. “The decree concerning Nancy,” he wrote, “is good; its execution must be entire and vigorous.” As Lafayette saw it, the nation had to be saved before it slid into chaos:

Now is the moment, my dear cousin, when we can begin the establishment of constitutional order that must replace revolutionary anarchy … let us not be discouraged … let us hope that by uniting all of our forces for the establishment of the constitution, by steeling ourselves against all domestic and foreign difficulties, we will assure liberty and public order at the same time.

In a “fraternal” rather than “official” capacity, Lafayette also wrote to the commanders of the National Guard of four neighboring regions, asking them to join with Bouillé’s forces. Their collective goal, he declared, must be to “strike a mighty blow for the entire army.”

The insubordination in Nancy abated briefly only to stir up again on August 25, when a general sent to review the regiments’ finances was held captive in his quarters by the Swiss soldiers. As Lafayette promised, members of the National Guard were promptly dispatched, but many of them sided with the Swiss mutineers. When the general escaped to nearby Lunéville on August 28, the soldiers and citizens of Nancy arrested a number of the National Guard’s officers and began arming themselves for the anticipated retribution. With Bouillé and an army several thousand strong now advancing toward the city, the soldiers of Nancy sent a deputation to plead their case before the National Assembly. It was their only hope. On August 31, as the assembly debated whether to intervene, the Jacobin Maximilien Robespierre and others on the left called for an inquiry. Lafayette objected. Instead, he argued that “Monsieur Bouillé needs a show of support from the Assembly, and that we must give it to him.” Barnave proposed, and the assembly passed, a motion endorsing Bouillé’s mission to restore order.

While the assembly weighed the pros and cons, Bouillé marched his troops to the gates of Nancy. At first, it seemed that the soldiers would surrender, and the Swiss were in fact departing when Bouillé’s troops came under cannon and gunfire issuing from soldiers and citizens alike. When the shooting was over, hundreds of Bouillé’s men lay on the ground, Nancy was obliged to bury ninety-four bodies of its own, and the numbers of casualties mounted as the injured succumbed to their wounds over the course of the next few days. The rebellious Swiss soldiers faced harsh sentences: twenty-three were executed and forty-one were condemned to serve thirty years in the galleys. Another seventy-one soldiers were referred to their regiments for judgment, and several hundred citizens of Nancy were taken into custody. As part of the subsequent crackdown, the Jacobin Club of Nancy, which had supported the uprising, was shuttered, and the wearing of the revolutionary cockade was banned in the city.

When the news reached Paris on September 2, tens of thousands of people took to the streets in protest, and the radical press unleashed a torrent of vitriol. Marat reached the peak of his anger on September 15 with an open letter in L’ami du peuple so inflammatory that the municipal authorities ordered the issue confiscated. The letter lambasted “General Motier” (Marat’s preferred name for Lafayette) for “pretending to pass for a good citizen, a true patriot, because fifteen thousand automatons” refused to hear otherwise. Writing off the men of the National Guard as “young fools, completely incapable of reflection,” Marat blamed Lafa- yette for preying on their weakness and deployed fiery rhetoric to accuse him of betraying the ideals of George Washington:

That you, a mature and educated man, you so-called patriot to whom our fellow citizens, seduced by the appearance of virtue that you put on, abandoned themselves in such good faith, that you would be willing to move the earth to turn the Parisian militia into an army of praetorians, is an execration of which few party leaders would be capable; it is reserved for the American hero, the great general, the immortal restorer of liberty.

“Villain!” Marat exclaimed. “Abandon your cowardly machinations if you are not completely dead to honor, or rather, stop deluding yourself, your tricks will get you nowhere.”

Marat was hardly the only one raking Lafayette over the coals. Camille Desmoulins, the editor of the left-wing journal Révolutions de France et de Brabant, denounced him in a funeral oration for fellow journalist Élysée Loustalot, who’d died of natural causes. Desmoulins avowed that Loustalot had expired with “the name of Lafayette on his lips” after reaching the painful realization that Lafayette was no more than an “an ambitious officer” whose spirit was never great enough “to play the role of Washington.” In fact, he insisted, Lafayette had effectively murdered Loustalot: “Yes, it is you, Lafayette, who killed him, not with the dagger of an assassin or the legal blade of the judge, but through the pain of seeing nothing but the most dangerous enemy of liberty in you, in whom we placed all of our confidence, and who should have been liberty’s strongest supporter.”

Even Brissot was losing faith. In a 1787 letter, he had warned Lafayette that “the art of circumspection, the need always to keep one’s options open and to avoid possible traps, the desire to have only friends and to caress one’s enemies … all these timid maxims will, in the end, extinguish virtue itself.” Brissot was now convinced that his fears were finally coming to fruition. On September 1, 1790, his newspaper Le Patriote français reported “with regret” that Lafayette had encouraged the assembly to declare its support for Bouillé. “It is difficult for a patriot to believe that he spoke these words,” wrote Brissot, who preferred “to suspend judgment until other accounts clarify whether he might not have misheard.” As the records show, however, he had heard correctly.

Not only did Lafayette utter those words; he also believed them. He prized liberty, and yet he was certain that it could be achieved only through law and order. And if he’d ever had a moment’s doubt, the lynchings he’d seen in 1789 had convinced him of the potential hazards of chaos.

Although Lafayette’s principled position left him increasingly isolated, he was still supported by the municipal authorities and the National Guard. The assembly of the city of Paris sent a deputation to express gratitude for his service, and on September 10, members of the National Guard filled the Rue de Bourbon in front of his town house, pledging to “swear a new oath of fidelity” to their general. But this scene only elicited more criticism from the Révolutions de Paris, which called it “idolatry” and insisted that Lafayette reject any oaths but those sworn to the nation, the law, and the king. The following week, the paper went further still, placing the blame for the Nancy debacle on Lafayette’s shoulders:

It is M. de Lafayette who plunged the National Assembly into all of the missteps that it made on this subject … it is he who named M. de Bouillé, his relative, to march against the patriotic soldiers.… It is M. de Lafayette who turned the legislative body against the various corps of the garrison of Nancy.… It is your general who, exercising at the same time the functions of legislator and commander of the capital’s public forces, mounted the podium at the National Assembly to request advance approval of the conduct of M. de Bouillé.

As the Révolutions de Paris saw it, the events at Nancy resulted not from accidents of poor judgment but from a premeditated plot against the nation. The article concluded that Lafayette’s maneuvers had been designed “to misdirect the patriotism of the Parisian army [and] have completely succeeded.”

On September 22, Lafayette led a procession to the Champ de Mars—the second in little more than two months. This time, the mood was somber. Black draperies interlaced with white crepe hung on the national altar, and doleful music filled the air, as sixty priests presided over a funeral Mass for the soldiers who’d fallen during the siege of Nancy. As the cortège made its way to the ceremonies, people lining the streets looked on in silence. According to the Révolutions de Paris, the spectators fixed their eyes on Lafayette, “seeming to accuse him of all the sorrows they had come to mourn on the Field of the Federation.”

In the autumn of 1790, one more rancid ingredient fell into the bubbling stew of accusations against Lafayette: he was said to be having an affair with the queen. Although Lafayette and Marie Antoinette had indeed been conferring about the future of the government behind closed doors, all credible sources concur that the queen felt nothing but contempt for the general, who was, in her view, the loathsome man who had led a murderous horde to Versailles during the October Days of 1789. In a letter to her closest confidant, the Austrian diplomat Florimond Claude, Comte de Mercy-Argenteau, Marie Antoinette wrote on July 12, 1790, “Everything goes from bad to worse: the minister [Necker] and M. de la F[ayette] take missteps every day. We go along with all of them, and instead of being satisfied these monsters become more insolent by the moment.” But the palpable enmity between them did not prevent Lafayette from becoming a standard character in a steady stream of pornographic prints and pamphlets of a type that, having defamed Marie Antoinette for more than a decade, had surged in popularity with the onset of revolution. The rumors were preposterous, but they made for irresistibly salacious reading.

“What double rapture! What divine pleasure! What a joy to fuck and be fucked at the same time!” Thus Lafayette is purported to exclaim in the first chapter of The Patriotic Brothel Founded by the Queen of the French for the Pleasures of the Deputies of the New Legislature, one of the pamphlets that emerged in 1791 from the circle of the Duc d’Orléans, who employed as his primary propagandist Choderlos de Laclos—the author of Les Liaisons dangereuses—and who was long presumed to have been behind much of the slander leveled against Marie Antoinette. Now Orléans turned his copious resources against his rivals for the leadership of Paris. In the pamphlet, Lafayette’s exclamation comes during a three-way sexual encounter among himself, Marie Antoinette, and Bailly. Lafayette had been accused of playing both sides of the political game, and here he plays both sides in a more carnal sense. But just as the threesome begins to heat up, the queen becomes worried that Lafayette might lose his resolve. “Courage, my friend, don’t pull out; thrust ahead!” she admonishes him. (Perhaps she remembered Lafayette’s reputation for dramatic retreats—one might say withdrawals—during the American war.)

Lafayette was just one of many figures taken down a notch in The Patriotic Brothel, but still other pamphlets were devoted entirely to imagined goings-on between Lafayette and the queen. Although the details varied, the premise was generally the same: the pair were said to be joined in an unholy alliance to debase the nation and cuckold its king. Such is the immortal theme of The Amorous Nights of General Motier and the Beautiful Antoinette, by the Austrian Woman’s Little Spaniel (1790)—a tell-all reputedly set to paper by the queen’s dog in a fit of jealousy; the spaniel resented having to share his mistress’s favors with Lafayette. Similar narratives unfold in Marie Antoinette in an Awkward Spot; or, Correspondence of La Fayette with the King, the Queen, La Tour du Pin & Saint-Priest (1790) and The Confession of Marie Antoinette, Former Queen of France, to the French People, About Her Loves and Her Intrigues with M. de La Fayette, the Principal Members of the National Assembly, and Her Counter-revolutionary Projects(1792). Even after the queen had been beheaded and Lafayette locked away in an Austrian prison, the sexual libels continued unabated; in 1792 booksellers offered The Good-byes of La Fayette; or, Capet the Younger, to Antoinette, and His Last Correspondence While Fleeing the Lands of Liberty.

Visual artists, too, had great fun with such material, using imagined sexual couplings as fodder for prints that depicted Lafayette as he had never before been seen. My Constitution is a delicately rendered aquatint engraving filled with astonishingly bawdy humor. The oval composition presents a well-appointed interior where Marie Antoinette reclines against the front edge of a sofa with her skirts lifted, her legs splayed, and the space directly beneath her private parts labeled ironically “res publica”—the state—echoing the quote that appeared on the print of Washington commissioned by Lafayette in 1779. Nothing on the woman’s person identifies her as the queen, but royal status is signaled at the right, where a winged putto raises his right hand to his lips in a gesture of silence as he knocks a crown off the top of a royal orb decorated with three fleurs-de-lis. Lafayette kneels before the queen in full uniform, his left hand resting against his chest and his right placed firmly on her pudendum. Lest there be any question as to the precise nature of this liaison, the decoration on the pedestal beneath the orb clarifies the matter: it features a bas-relief of a rigidly vertical penis, evocatively contrasting with the soft folds of the billowing curtains at the left.

This is clearly a dirty picture, but more important, it is a pointed political critique. The title’s reference to the “constitution,” for instance, is a play on words of a type that abounded in the satirical verse of the era. The term plainly refers to the recent swearing of oaths led by Lafayette at the Festival of Federation, but the first syllable—con—is French slang for “idiot” or “jerk” and can also mean “twat” or “cunt.” Pornographic pamphlets abounded with the latter usage, as writers of ribald doggerel made hay of the facile pun, often italicizing, capitalizing, or separating “con” from the rest of a word to emphasize the point with an orthographic elbow to the ribs. Just as Lafayette upstaged Louis XVI on that rainy July afternoon, so too does he supposedly usurp the king’s prerogative in the graphic imaginings of My Constitution by claiming for himself the queen’s con; and the visual puns don’t end there, as Lafayette’s gesture subtly mimics the vogue for oath taking that swept the nation. Extending his right arm, he repeats the very motion made by tens of thousands of fédérés on the Champ de Mars, who were, in turn, echoing the elected deputies who swore the Oath of the Tennis Court in 1789. But the oath in My Constitution differs in one crucial respect from the others: the representatives to the Estates General and the fédérés were committing themselves to the public good and affirming their readiness to lay down their lives for the national interest. Lafayette, in contrast, is shown taking an oath of a far more private, and far less noble, variety, declaring himself willing to sacrifice the public good in the interest of his own illicit pleasure.

My Constitution. Pornographic print depicting Lafayette and Marie Antoinette, c. 1790. (illustration credit 16.1)

Were this image anomalous, it would be a mere footnote to history. But My Constitution is typical of a whole host of prints and pamphlets that cast Lafayette and the queen in comically erotic vignettes. Another of the type, sometimes given the title L’âge d’or, depicts a lover’s reunion with an astonishing twist. In the center of the image, a mounted officer of the National Guard dressed in full uniform—the conventional visual shorthand for Lafayette—holds a pair of roses in his right outstretched hand. At the right, a standing woman is poised to greet his arrival, raising her left hand as though ready to receive the flowers. Yet these details are mere window dressing to be noticed only after the viewer has recovered from the startling sight of the officer’s mount, for this gallant soldier is riding an enormous penis that stands erect on two equine legs, a ring of pubic hair fulfilling the function of a saddle and a feathery white tail protruding from the rear portion of its testicles. An arc of liquid spraying from the top of its head suggests that our hero may be overly excited by the amorous encounter.

Pornographic print depicting Lafayette greeting Marie Antoinette, c. 1790. (illustration credit 16.2)

The Austrian/Ostrich Hen. Caricature of Marie Antoinette, c. 1791. (illustration credit 16.3)

More than just a crude joke at Lafayette’s expense, the bipedal penis adapts yet another play on words and images to identify the standing woman as Marie Antoinette. With its long neck, feathery tail, and rounded torso perched on two slender legs, the creature bears a striking resemblance to an ostrich, known in French as an autruche, which in turn sounds quite a bit like Autriche—Austria—the queen’s native land, and the nation with whom she was rumored to be plotting a military alliance that would restore France to absolute monarchy. The pun is spelled out in another caricature from the same period that identifies a female bird with a vaguely human face as both “la poule d’autruche” (the ostrich hen) and “la poule d’autryche” (the Austrian hen).

Who commissioned these prints? One can’t be certain—most of the era’s pornographic caricatures were produced either anonymously or under false names—but in the case of L’âge d’or, all signs point in the direction of Orléans. One variant on this print was skillfully executed in the labor-intensive medium of hand-colored etching, making it expensive both to produce and to purchase and suggesting an upscale patron and audience; Orléans and his friends fit the bill. But the most important Orléans fingerprint, if one can call it that, is the two-legged penis.

Pictures and sculptures of phalluses with legs (as well as phalluses with tails, phalluses with wings, and even phalluses with their own phalluses) were enjoying something of a heyday among the reform-minded French and British elite. Such images had been much reproduced as part of the ongoing interest in the findings from Herculaneum and Pompeii—the ancient Roman cities near Naples that, having been buried in volcanic ash in A.D. 79, had attracted widespread attention since the middle of the eighteenth century, when excavations began to uncover streets, buildings, and objects that had endured surprisingly intact.

Easily identified by his oversized and always erect penis, Priapus was the god of fertility and, by extension, served as a protector of gardens. In 1791, a herm—or bust on a pillar—of Priapus would play a key role in the frontispiece for the Orléanist satire The Patriotic Brothel, in which a pair of women interact with the carved deity in an outdoor setting. The woman at the left, identified in the text as Marie Antoinette, rubs the signature stone phallus between her breasts, while the democrat Théroigne de Méricourt (an unlikely companion for the queen), seen on the right, fondles the statue’s testicles from below. The women, the pamphlet reports, are intoning a hymn to Priapus as they “adorn with garlands the vigorous member of this god, heaven and earth’s premier fucker of sirens.”

Tintinnabulum (bell) believed to invoke the Roman god Priapus in order to ward off evil. (illustration credit 16.4)

Frontispiece to The Patriotic Brothel, a pornographic Orléanist pamphlet, 1791. (illustration credit 16.5)

Likening Lafayette, the protector of Paris, to Priapus, the protector of gardens, was not just a dirty joke—although it was surely that. It was also a sly critique of Lafayette’s provincial origins and clumsy bearing. As anyone schooled in the classics that dominated eighteenth-century French learning would have known, Priapus was renowned for a rough manner attributed, in part, to his rustic beginnings. In one antique epigram, Priapus, lamenting his own coarseness, explains that he was carved neither from fine stone nor by a master sculptor: “Neither Phidias nor Scopas nor Praxiteles produced me, but some bailiff hacked a log and told me ‘thou shalt be Priapus.’ ” In another he seeks the readers’ indulgence in excusing his rude behavior (which generally consisted of threatening to rape anyone—man, woman, or child—who attempted to steal from his garden). “Forgive a hick unable to compete with learned types,” he implores. From an Orléanist perspective, Lafayette, too, was something of a hick, but unlike Priapus, he was foolhardy enough to try to compete with his social superiors. According to the logic of the old regime, Lafayette had risen to heights that no child of the Auvergne should have been able to attain.

In 1790 and 1791, Priapus was just one of the classical characters pressed into service as stand-ins for Lafayette. The most common of these was probably the mythical beast known as a centaur. Half man, half horse, the centaur took Lafayette’s uncommon attachment to his white steed to its logical conclusion by fusing the two into a single monstrous creature. A print entitled Le sans tort spells out this conceit through a play on words and images. Le sans tort translates literally as “the blameless one”—a reference to Lafayette’s tendency to shake off any culpability for acts of violence committed under his watch. But when read aloud, the phrase sounds like “Le centaur.” Underscoring the double entendre, the picture features the body and legs of a galloping white horse whose neck morphs into Lafayette’s torso and head. A shadowy homunculus identified in the caption as “chagrin” rides atop the hybrid steed, its arms wrapped around the neck/torso as if holding on for dear life, while the horse charges full speed ahead, dragging behind it a liberty cap, which has been tied with a neat bow to its trimly cropped tail.

Le sans tort. Caricature likening Lafayette to a centaur, c. 1791. (illustration credit 16.6)

Signs in the background commemorate episodes that the supporters of Louis XVI saw as Lafayette’s greatest failures. Impaled heads preside over the center of the image like a gory totem pole. Beneath the heads, a round medallion reminds viewers of the promise that Lafayette had been unable to keep on the night of October 5, 1789: “Sleep peacefully. I’ll take care of everything.” At the right, a notice affixed to a wooden post recalls the 1790 execution of the Marquis de Favras—the only man to be put to death for counterrevolutionary activities before 1792. A third road sign, attached to the base of the pikes, simply references the day of February 28, 1791. This was the so-called Day of Daggers, when Lafayette and the National Guard subdued, disarmed, and arrested some four hundred noblemen who had gathered in the Tuileries armed with weapons of all variety—pistols, poignards, sabers, hunting knives—in order, it was believed, to facilitate the king’s escape. From the perspective of the aristocrats who opposed the revolution, Lafayette was very much like the ancient centaurs who were said to have battled the ancestors of the Greeks in a primordial struggle between civilization and barbarism. Centaurs were formidable opponents: powerful, lawless, and driven by nature’s coarsest instincts. But the forces of order ultimately prevailed. And surely, hoped supporters of absolute monarchy, they would do so again.

Lafayette was well aware that his image had been tarnished. Since the onset of revolution he had kept up avidly with the burgeoning production of pamphlets and prints, purchasing multiple copies of each regardless of whether its treatment of him was good, bad, or indifferent. During this same period, Lafayette appears to have grown steadily more anxious about what the future might hold. He kept a locksmith busy for much of 1791 changing the locks on nearly every door, box, drawer, and cabinet in the Rue de Bourbon town house. Perhaps he sensed that matters were fated to go from bad to worse.

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