LAFAYETTE, Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de (1757-1834). Autograph letter signed ("Lafayette") to the "Gentlemen of the Committee of Both Houses of Congress," Washington, D.C., 2 January 1825. 1 full page, 4to (9¾ x 7 13/16 in.), integral blank, expert repairs along central horizontal fold.
"AN OLD AMERICAN SOLDIER AND SON OF THE UNITED STATES, TWO TITLES DEARER TO MY HEART THAN ALL THE TREASURE IN THE WORLD": LAFAYETTE EXPRESSES HIS GRATITUDE TO THE AMERICAN CONGRESS
As part of the nation's commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of its independence, the elderly Marquis de Lafayette was awarded honorary U.S. citizenship and formally invited by President James Monroe to visit the thriving nation whose independence he had fought to secure. Lafayette and his son disembarked at New York in August 1824, and in the course of a year-long sojourn, visited all 24 states of the Union from Maine to Missouri, setting off what historian Frank Monaghan has called "demonstrations of frenzied enthusiasm without precedent or parallel in American history." In the upheavals of the Napoleonic Wars Lafayette had lost most of his considerable fortune, with the exception of his farm estate, La Grange, and had gone heavily into debt. On 20 December 1824, Congress, anxious to reward the man who had become--like his mentor Washington--a living symbol of the Revolution, voted Lafayette the gift of $200,000, payable over ten years, plus a grant of some 24,000 acres in Florida, situated between what is now Gainesville and Tallahassee.
In the present quickly penned letter, Lafayette, evidently moved and astonished at this magnamimous gesture, attempts to express his gratitude to Congress: "The immense and unexpected gift which, in addition to former and considerable Bounties, it has pleased Congress to confer upon me calls for the Warmest Aknowledgments [sic] of an old American Soldier and adopted Son of the United States , two titles dearer to my Heart than all the treasure in the World. However proud I am of every Sort of Obligation Received from the people of the United States, and their Representatives in Congress, the large extent of this Benefaction might have created in my Mind feelings of Hesitation not inconsistent, I hope, with those of the most Grateful Reverence. But the so very kind Resolution of both Houses delivered by you, Gentlemen, in terms of equal kindness, precludes all other Sentiments except those of the Lively and profound Gratitude"
The document granting Lafayette the Florida lands was signed by Monroe and John Quincy Adams on July 4, 1825. In the end the Marquis was unable to visit his Florida estate before his return to France, and it was managed on his behalf by agents, who collected rents and eventually sold portions of the vast tract known as "Lafayette Township."
Provenance: New Jersey Historical Society (sale, Sotheby's, 26 October 1923, lot 70).