Thomas Jefferson, Marquis de Lafayette, two household names from the American Revolutionary War. One the author of Declaration of Independence and one of the great political minds of the era. The other, a Frenchman, enamored with the ideals of the rebelling colonies of British North America who risked a maritime crossing, was wounded at Brandywine, and served both on the field of battle and the international sphere to help achieve American independence.
That much is known about these two gentlemen, icons of history. How about their friendship, one that spanned decades and brought both men through times of personal and professional difficulties. Although years separated visits and both men were well into adulthood before making their respective acquaintance, the friendship helped cement the bond between countries, from aid during the American Revolution to a thankful nation celebrating the return of the Marquis in the mid-1820s.
This friendship has finally been captured in narrative form by historian Tom Chaffin, author of other historical works and biographies in a book published by St. Martin’s Press in 2019.
Chaffin weaves the lives of these men, capturing their achievements and inadequacies, their victories and missteps in a compelling, intimate dual biography. To fellow historians, the impact of place; walking the grounds, seeing the views, and taking in the atmosphere of historic homes, grounds, and fields adds an element to writing a history about those same aspects. Chaffin does this homework on both Jefferson and Lafayette, “I’ve long found that, as circumstances allow, visits to scenes of depicted events can be of value…they provide physical details that allow sharper description” (pages. 2-3).
Many aspects of Jefferson’s life are well known, but did one realize he played a part in trying to shape the political discourse during the early days of the French Revolution? Or that Lafayette learned English on the way to America and labored in a series of Prussian and Austrian prisons during another period of the upheaval in France?
How about Lafayette’s attempts at abolitionism and writing letters to that effect to George Washington?
If you did not, Chaffin’s history is for you. If you already did, this book is valuable in that it provides depth to that knowledge, explaining the details that surround those simple facts above.
To keep page count down there are large gaps, including Jefferson’s service as secretary of state and as president that are largely ignored. However, that comes with the territory as the book is a dual biography but focused on that connection, not a complete retelling of each of the respective gentleman’s full life.
Yet, this narrative is how two men can greatly impact their own surroundings but also aid the other in impacting their world as well. The author has woven that summation into a very readable history of these two remarkable men.
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (2019)