The Influence of Thomas Jefferson on the Development of Marquis de Lafayetteâ€™s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen
Lorien D. Johnson
4 May 2005 and 31 December 2005
Original Research Prepared for Submission to
HST 551: French Revolution & Napoleonic Era – Dr. Dale R. Streeter
Continued Research Prepared for Personal Study
The Marquis de Lafayette was awakened to the harsh reality of the condition of his homeland when returned to France following the victories of the American Revolution. He had been impassioned with a revolutionary zeal that he was eager to impress upon the struggling France. He was nonetheless a youthful product of French society, and he lacked the ideological wisdom upon which a revolution of the American variety could be practically achieved. When Thomas Jefferson arrived in France as the new Minister Plenipotentiary from America, an opportunity appeared for the mutual advancement Jefferson and Lafayetteâ€™s political goals. The involvement of the Marquis de Lafayette in the early development of the French Revolution of 1789, specifically his Declaration of Rights of Man and of the Citizen, bore the distinct mark of Thomas Jeffersonâ€™s philosophic and practical guidance.
The Marquis had been 19 when he pursued the ideal of liberty and petitioned to join the military forces in America. Lafayetteâ€™s position as a young noble of France appealed to American leaders and people, particularly when he made clear his intent to serve the American cause and its followers. For Lafayette, the decision to clarify his respect for Americans was both genuine and calculated. He recognized that the â€œAmericans are very responsive to these signs of regardâ€, and according to Lloyd Kramer, â€œhe was exceptionally open to their instruction.â€ :”(Lloyd Kramer, Lafayette in Two Worlds: Public Cultures and Personal Identities in an Age of Revolutions. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 1996, 19.)”: With the Marquisâ€™ respectful demeanor and his useful position of nobility, General George Washington quickly warmed to Lafayette and accepted him into close counsel. Kramer quoted Lafayette as having written that â€œthe welfare of America is intimately connected with the happiness of all mankind. [â€¦] She will become the respectable and safe asylum of virtue, integrity, tolerance, equality, and a peaceful liberty.â€ :”(Ibid 23.)”: As the American Revolution continued, Washington became a dear paternal figure and a representation of the revolution to Lafayette. The war for independence proved successful, and Lafayette cherished his personal involvement in the process. When the Marquis left this potential haven of a newly free America and returned home, the critical problems in French society appeared to him the sign that France required a champion of liberty.
Thomas Jefferson had served as a Virginian delegate to the Continental Congress of the British Colonies. Well considered by his fellow delegates and capable of precise articulation of philosophical discourse, he was chosen as primary author of the Declaration of Independence that would present to England and to the world the philosophy and goals of the United States of America. Following the success of the American Revolution, Jefferson traveled to Paris in 1784 and began his assignment as the United States Minister Plenipotentiary to France. Lafayette and Jefferson made contact soon after his arrival, while the events of the developing political struggle in France grew ever more pressing. The Marquis slowly expanded his revolutionary efforts and shared with Jefferson his intentions for France with the hope of finding political and personal support from a fellow man of the American Revolution.
In the person of Thomas Jefferson, Lafayette had found an ally of reason and revolution. Adapting Conor Cruise Oâ€™Brienâ€™s metaphor of Jeffersonâ€™s American Revolutionary involvement, Jefferson was the author of the â€œAmerican Holy Book, the Declaration of Independenceâ€ and the â€œprophet of the American Revolutionâ€, and Lafayette a devotee of the revolutionary faith. :”(Conor Cruise Oâ€™Brien, The Long Affair: Thomas Jefferson and the French Revolution, 1785-1800. Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 1996, 66.)”: Lafayette deliberately sought Jeffersonâ€™s advice and approval throughout his early revolutionary endeavors in France. He had served faithfully in Americaâ€™s pursuit of liberty, and had resolved to learn the cultural strategy implemented in the American Revolution by its leaders.
With Lafayetteâ€™s revolutionary father, George Washington, kept busy by the political process of managing post-war affairs and later the development and ratification of a federal constitution, Jeffersonâ€™s presence in France served Lafayette as that of a revolutionary uncle come to observe and advise in Lafayetteâ€™s implementation of his familial lessons in revolutions. The Marquis de Lafayette strove to prove himself an apt pupil and to assume his self-perceived role as the revolutionâ€™s father in France. :”(An example of this interaction in Lafayetteâ€™s political capacity is when, under constituent command to remain circumspect within the Second Estate, the Marquisâ€™ first action within the Assembly was performed in partial defense of Jefferson in an act of mediation between Jacques Necker and Comte de Mirabeau, as described in: Louis Gottschalk and Margaret Maddox, Lafayette in the French Revolution: Through the October Days. Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 1969, 76.)”:
Years later in August of 1826, when Jefferson had been dead for a month, Lafayette mourned Jeffersonâ€™s passing and expressed joy for Jeffersonâ€™s life, and for having been a part of Lafayetteâ€™s life, in a letter to Thomasâ€™ daughter Martha Randolph. â€œMy dear friend, I want words to express my feelings, But you know What friend your Beloved father Has Been to me, What Community of sentiments, opinions and Affections has United me for so many past years. [sic]â€ :”(Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette to Martha Randolph, August 25, 1826, in The Thomas Jefferson Papers Series 1. General Correspondence. 1651-1827, Library of Congress.)”:http://memory.loc.gov/master/mss/mtj/mtj1/055/1100/1152.jpg
Thomas Jefferson was not a man of such flowering sentiment. Such emotion is displayed in his correspondence with only a few people in his life, including his daughters, John and Abigail Adams, and a rare romantic interest, Madame Maria Cosway. Due to this natural interpersonal hesitance, he responded to Lafayetteâ€™s emotional needs with caution and objectivity. Conor Cruise Oâ€™Brien noted in The Long Affair the subtle shift in Jeffersonâ€™s letters to Lafayette, and suggests that Jefferson deliberately adapted his personal manner to suit Lafayetteâ€™s needs: â€œit seems that Lafayette must have indicated in some way that he was hurt by Jeffersonâ€™s habitually cool and formal tone. Jefferson excuses himself, without greatly relenting from the courteous frigidity habitual in his correspondence with French men.â€ :”(Oâ€™Brien, 32-33.)”:
Jeffersonâ€™s clearest assessment of the Marquis is found in his letter to James Madison, a fellow Patriot for whom Jefferson displayed implicit trust and was subsequently willing to express to Madison his precise and genuine opinion. Jefferson was clear in his praise, describing Lafayette as possessing â€œunboundedâ€ zeal and his â€œgood sense enabling him to comprehend perfectly whatever is explained to him [â€¦]. He has a great deal of sound genius [â€¦].â€ :”(Thomas Jefferson, â€œRebellion, Secession, and Diplomacy,â€ to James Madison, Paris, January 30, 1787, in Jefferson: Writings, ed. Library Classics of the United States, Inc. .New York: The Library of America, 1984, 881-887.)”: Jefferson emphasized Lafayetteâ€™s usefulness in political maneuverings, and referred to Lafayette being â€œwell remarked by the King, & rising in popularity.â€ :”(Ibid 885.)”: An oft-quoted portion of this letter is a reference to Lafayetteâ€™s â€œfoibleâ€: â€œa canine appetite for popularity and fameâ€, which is immediately followed by an assurance that â€œhe will get above this.â€ :”(Ibid 885.)”: Oâ€™Brien considers the â€œcanineâ€ reference an example of contempt, and is possibly correct. The context of Jeffersonâ€™s assessments must be considered, however.
Jefferson generally held French society in relative contempt and condescension, and the elements of Lafayetteâ€™s character that were found contemptible by Thomas Jefferson were the same elements found by him, in much larger degree, in French society. This view of the French was evidenced in a letter written to Abigail Adams, when he wrote that the â€œpeople at large view every object only as it may furnish puns and bon mots; and I pronounce that a good punster would disarm the whole nation were they ever so disposed to revolt.â€ :”(Thomas Jefferson, â€œA Little Rebellion Now and Then,â€ to Abigail Adams, Paris, February 22, 1787, in Jefferson: Writings, ed. Library Classics of the United States, Inc. New York: The Library of America, 1984, 889-890.)”: The frivolous nature of French society disturbed Jefferson, as it was a culture that was seemingly focused on personal popularity and amusement above all other cultural phenomena. In comparison, his American predecessor as Minister Plenipotentiary to France, Benjamin Franklin, greatly enjoyed the continual social contest of witty amusements and was acclaimed by the French. When Thomas Jefferson arrived in France to replace the aged Franklin, both Jefferson and French society were disappointed. The qualities of French society that was found contemptible by Jefferson were also evident in the Marquis de Lafayette. According to Jefferson, Lafayette was driven into a â€œcanineâ€ force by his â€œzealâ€, but was balanced by his â€œsound geniusâ€. :”(â€œRebellion, Secession, and Diplomacyâ€, 885. )”:
Jeffersonâ€™s assessment of Lafayette allowed his paternalistic nature to exhibit itself to the Marquis for the sake of French liberty, which sufficiently satisfied Lafayetteâ€™s need for affirmation and guidance from a cherished leader of his adopted American Revolution. Jeffersonâ€™s negotiated approach to Lafayette is displayed in his unusually informal and affectionate letter of 11 April, 1787, written while traveling Europe. Though acknowledging that Lafayetteâ€™s head was â€œfull of Notable thingsâ€, Jefferson encouraged the Marquis to learn the â€œcondition of all the provinces of your own countryâ€ through travel, and to make use of the â€œonly moment in your life in which you can acquire that knowledge.â€ :”(Thomas Jefferson, â€œThe Rewards of Travel,â€ to Lafayette, Nice, April 11, 1787, in Jefferson: Writings, ed. Library Classics of the United States, Inc. New York: The Library of America, 1984, 893-895.)”: Jefferson alluded to his prediction of Lafayetteâ€™s future political power :”(Previously conveyed to James Madison in his letter of 30 January, 1787.)”: when he suggested that â€œit will be interesting to them [the people of France] at some future day, to be known to you.â€ :”(Ibid 895.)”:
Thomas Jeffersonâ€™s cautiously paternalistic relationship provided Lafayette with a foundation from which he developed the Declaration of Rights of Man and of the Citizen, arguably his most significant contribution to the French Revolution. Meanwhile, the ability to influence the Marquis de Lafayette provided Jefferson with a channel through which he pursued his own goals for French Revolution. Lafayette wanted to usher into France the revolutionary wave of Liberty that he had witnessed and aided in America. There he had encountered people whose manners were â€œsimple, honest, and in every way worthy of this land where everything proclaims the beautiful name of liberty.â€ :”(Lafayette in Two Worlds: Public Cultures and Personal Identities in an Age of, 23.)”: He had observed the relationship between General George Washington and the American peoples, and seemingly longed for a similar relationship with his fellow Frenchmen. Lloyd Kramerâ€™s description of Lafayetteâ€™s records of his influence later in the revolution exhibit a perception of self-glory: â€œWithin a day after assuming his new position he [Lafayette] was reporting that he had dispersed a crowd of 40,000 angry people simply by appearing in their midst and pronouncing a brief â€˜word.â€™â€ :”(Ibid 40.)”:
According to Oâ€™Brien, Thomas Jefferson had two joint goals for France and its revolution. Jefferson wanted to see France evolve towards liberty both for its own sake and for the benefits to America that a politically and militarily strong France would supply by serving as a check on England. :”(Oâ€™Brien, 38.)”: Oâ€™Brien also stated Jeffersonâ€™s expectation for the strength of the French military depended upon a Monarchal presence. :”(That argument is marred by Article 5 of Jeffersonâ€™s later draft of a Charter of Rights, but the argument does hold correct for the general opinion of the period.)”: Jeffersonâ€™s goals contributed to his advice to Lafayette that the revolutionary forces pursue a constitutional monarchy.
In a letter written to Lafayette in 1815 that reminisces the early phase of the French Revolution, Jefferson states that a monarchy limited by a recognition of the rights of the people â€œwas as much as I then thought them able to bear, soberly and usefully for themselves.â€ :”(Thomas Jefferson, â€œWar, Revolution and Restoration,â€ to Lafayette, Monticello, February 14, 1815, in Jefferson: Writings, ed. Library Classics of the United States, Inc. New York: The Library of America, 1984, 1360-1366.”: This thought harkened back to his letter to Abigail Adams in which he conveyed that French society was not yet ready for Liberty of an American fashion: â€œwe may conclude the nation desperate, and in charity pray that heaven may send them good kings.â€ :”(â€œA Little Rebellion Now and Then,â€ 890.)”:
Thomas Jeffersonâ€™s emphasis on the use of constitutional and declaratory documents to limit a monarch held significant sway with the Marquis despite their differing expectations of the French people. When Jefferson wrote to Lafayette on 14 February, 1815, he described that when â€œat the date of the jeu de paumeâ€ he had earnestly â€œurged yourself and the patriots of my acquaintances, to enter then into a compact with the king, securing freedom of religion, freedom of the press, trial by jury, habeas corpus, and a national legislatureâ€, until with these freedoms the people â€œshould have rendered them capable of moreâ€. :”(â€œWar, Revolution and Restoration,â€ 1360.)”: Thus motivated by Jefferson in 1789, the Marquis had quickly set himself to the drafting of a declaration of rights.
Beyond the experience of the American Declaration of Independence, Jefferson and Lafayette each had reason for an interest in a declaration, or a charter, of rights for French society. In America, political discourse had been occupied with the challenge of ratifying the United States Constitution. The promise of an amended Bill of Rights helped to convince the States to ratify the Constitution, and the summer months of 1789 were spent finalizing twelve amendments that declared certain rights of the people and States. Both Jefferson and Lafayette paid close attention to the proceedings in the United States. A letter from Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, written in March of 1789 just eleven days after the ratification of the U. S. Constitution, outlined his support for the addition of an American declaration of rights. He did so in response to Madisonâ€™s letter of October the previous year that included a draft of the proposed amendments. Jeffersonâ€™s opinion of the proposal follows: â€œThe inconveniences of the want of a Declaration are permanent, afflicting & irreparable.â€ :”(Thomas Jefferson, â€œA Bill of Rights,â€ to James Madison, Paris, March 15, 1789, in Jefferson: Writings, ed. Library Classics of the United States, Inc. New York: The Library of America, 1984, 942-946.)”:
Jeffersonâ€™s philosophy regarding the need for declared rights was shared by members of the National Assembly of France. Thomas Jefferson submitted to James Madison on 12 January, 1789, Lafayetteâ€™s draft of the French declaration:
â€œThere has been a little foundation for the reports and fears relative to the Marquis de La Fayette. He has, from the beginning, taken openly part with those who demand a constitution [â€¦] and is viewed as among the foremost of the patriots. Everybody here is trying their hand at forming declarations of rights. As something of that kind is going on with you also, I send you two specimens from hence. The one is by our friend of whom I have just spoken. You will see that it contains the essential principles of ours, accommodated as much as could be, to the actual state of things here.â€:”(Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, with Declaration of Rights by Marquis de Lafayette and Dr. Richard Gem; Declaration in French, January 12, 1789, in The Thomas Jefferson Papers Series 1. General Correspondence. 1651-1827, Library of Congress.)”:
On the evening of 2 June, 1789 in Paris, Thomas Jefferson, the Marquis de Lafayette, William Short, and Rabout de St. Etienne discussed the subject of the future of French politics. Rabout de St. Etienne retired earlier than the others, and Jefferson wrote to him the next day a letter describing the remaining discussion. Jefferson described the following scene:
â€œThe desirable object being to secure the good which the King as offered and to avoid the ill which seems to threaten, an idea was suggested, which appearing to make an impression on Mons. de la Fayette, I was encouraged to pursue it on my return to Paris, to put it into form, [â€¦]. [â€¦] I have ventured to send to yourself & Monsieur de la Fayette a sketch of my ideas of what this act might contain without endangering any dispute. But it is offered merely as a canvas for you to work on, if it be fit to work on at all.â€ :”(Thomas Jefferson, â€œTo Rabout de St. Etienne, with a Draft of a Charter of Rights,â€ to Rabout de St. Etienne, Paris, June 3, 1789, in Jefferson: Writings, ed. Library Classics of the United States, Inc. New York: The Library of America, 1984, 954-956.)”:
The sketch included by Jefferson was entitled â€œA Charter of Rights, solemnly established by the King and Nation.â€ The drafted Charter created a regular meeting date for the State General, gave that body the sole right to legislate, and to levy and appropriate money. Also within the draft, the military was to be placed under â€œcivil authorityâ€, and a â€œcourt of justiceâ€ conducting a â€œregular processâ€ was to be the only method of restraining the liberty of an individual. :”(Ibid 955-956.)”: The draft concluded with a reference to the hypothetical signatures of the King and of each member of the States General.
The meeting of 2 June, 1789, appears to have been politically motivated. The evident collaboration of Jefferson and Lafayette, dating minimally from January of 1789, belies the impression of both a newly risen idea for a French declaration and Jeffersonâ€™s exceedingly humble presentation of a Charter of Rights to Rabout de St. Etienne. However, the ploy of disguised authorship and sudden presentation amply served its purpose. The idea was quietly tossed into the political discussion of the period, thus breaking ground for the nearest opportunity for public submission of a declaration.
Gottschalk and Maddox described in Lafayette in the French Revolution the events of 6-10 July, 1789 as follows. :”(Gottschalk and Maddox, 80-82.)”: Lafayette submitted to Jefferson on 6 July his most recent draft, the second that is known to have been presented, of the declaration with a request for a copy of the Bill of Rights (presumably that which was still under consideration by the United States). On 9 July, Jean-Joseph Mounier, a member of the National Assemblyâ€™s committee assigned to draft a French constitution, reported that the committee required a declaration of rights as preamble for the Constitution. Lafayetteâ€™s opportunity had appeared. He presented the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen to the National Assembly on 11 July, 1789. With his presentation of the Declaration he offered in speech his reasons for preparing the document:
â€œThe first is to recall [â€¦] that [â€¦] for a nation to love liberty, it suffices that it be acquainted with it, and for it to be free, it suffices that it wishes it. [â€¦] The second reason is to express these eternal truths from which all institutions should be derived and to become [â€¦] a loyal guide that always leads them back to the source of natural and social rightâ€¦. The merit of a declaration of rights consists in truth and precision [â€¦].â€ :”(Marquis de Lafayette, July 11, 1789, in The French Revolution and Human Rights: A Brief Documentary, ed. Lynn Hunt Boston, Massachusetts: Bedform Books of St. Martinâ€™s Press, 1996, 71-73.)”:
The Declaration was adopted by the National Assembly one month later on 26 August, 1789. As Gottschalk quoted from Lafayetteâ€™s MÃ©moires, he would later state â€œthat it was his â€˜profession of faith, fruit of my past, pledge of my futureâ€™ and that it â€œwas at the same time a manifesto and an ultimatum.â€™â€ :”(Gottschalk and Maddox, 98.)”:
The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen as a document exhibits Jeffersonâ€™s influence. The full extent of that influence is as yet unknown, but can be inferred by a comparison of Lafayetteâ€™s Declaration with Jeffersonâ€™s Declaration of Independence and his Charter of Rights. The documents differ strongly in intent and in scope. Jeffersonâ€™s Declaration was the public severance of allegiance to England and Englandâ€™s monarch. The specific items addressed were actions committed by that government and thus take the form of accusations of past events. Lafayetteâ€™s Declaration was the public limitation of allegiance to Franceâ€™s monarch. The blatant accusations that America used were inappropriate within the context of the constitutional monarchy that Lafayette advocated. This difference in format and legal purpose does not completely disguise, however, the philosophic and legislative similarities.
The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen began with the claim that human rights are â€œnatural, inalienable, and sacredâ€. :”(â€œDeclaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizenâ€, in The French Revolution and Human Rights: A Brief Documentary History, ed. Lynn Hunt Boston, Massachusetts: Bedform Books of St. Martinâ€™s Press, 1996, 77-79.)”: Lafayetteâ€™s Declaration was to serve as a statement that government was to be â€œfounded hence-forward on simple and incontestable principlesâ€ so that â€œthe demands of the citizens may always tend toward maintaining the constitution and the general welfare.â€ :”(Ibid 77-78.)”: The Declaration continued this thought: â€œMen are born and remain free and equal in rights.â€ :”(Ibid 78.)”: In comparison, the Declaration of Independence stated â€œthat all men are created equal; that they are endowed [â€¦] with inherent and inalienable rightsâ€. :”(Thomas Jefferson, â€œA Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress Assembled.â€, Autobiography, in Jefferson: Writings, ed. Library Classics of the United States, Inc. New York: The Library of America, 1984, 19-24.)”: The people had the right to â€œinstitute new governmentâ€ and to lay â€œitâ€™s [sic] foundation on such principles, & organizing itâ€™s powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety & happiness.â€ :”(Ibid 19.)”:
Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen and Jeffersonâ€™s Charter of Rights display marked similarities and differences as well, but the similarities are topical in nature and the differences exemplify key philosophic conflicts between Lafayette and Jefferson. Simple, yet legally significant, terminology differed. Where Jefferson referred to â€œpersonâ€, :”(â€œTo Rabout de St. Etienne, with a Draft of a Charter of Rightsâ€, 955-956.)”: Lafayette referred to â€œmanâ€. :”(â€œDeclaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizenâ€, 78-79.)”: Further, where Jefferson called for the â€œnationâ€ or the â€œStates Generalâ€, :”(â€œTo Rabout de St. Etienne, with a Draft of a Charter of Rightsâ€, 955-956.)”: Lafayette called for the â€œgeneral willâ€. :”(â€œDeclaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizenâ€, 78-79.)”: The comparison can be extended to subtle differences in the handling of topical points. For example, both documents addressed the judicial implementation of justice. Article 4 of the Declaration and Article 4 of the Charter of Rights included references to the principle of habeas corpus by articulating a vague standard by which individuals can be detained only through court process. Article 4 of the Declaration stated that â€œNo man may be indicted, arrested, or detained except in cases determined by the law and according to the forms which is has prescribedâ€, but left room for interpretation by stating that citizens could â€œrender themselves guiltyâ€ if when â€œseized by virtue of the lawâ€ they did not â€œobey instantlyâ€. :”(Ibid 78.)”: Jefferson is more precise, likely in consideration of his own demand that the U.S. Constitution include habeas corpus. His article 4 of the Charter of Rights stated that â€œNo person shall be restrained of his liberty, but by regular process from a court of justice, authorized by a general law.â€ :”(â€œTo Rabout de St. Etienne, with a Draft of a Charter of Rightsâ€, 955-956.)”: Jeffersonâ€™s Charter made one exception: â€œthat a Noble may be imprisoned by order of a court of justice, on the prayer of twelve of his nearest relations.â€ :”(Ibid 955.)”:
The pattern of influence in the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette remains clear. Fraternity of experience and love of liberty maintained a connection evident throughout their lives. Lafayette possessed the unique perspective of a Frenchman who had actively participated in another countryâ€™s revolution and pursuit of liberty while his own remained in the shackles of a crumbling absolute monarchy. Jeffersonâ€™s presence and position as the American Minister Plenipotentiary to France provided Lafayette with the guidance necessary to funnel his revolutionary drive into a constructive force. Thomas Jefferson was not a disinterested party, yet he remained a consistent voice that contributed a distinct and alternative element to Lafayetteâ€™s stream of ideas and the implementation thereof. Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette formed the foundations and structures of Declarations that remain the treasured legacies of their own revolutions and the blueprints of societies yet to arise.
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