LAFAYETTE, Gilbert du Motier, Marquis DE (1757-1834). Autograph letter signed ("Lafayette"), to Pierre-François Palloy, La Grange [Chavaniac], France, 19 May 1818. 1 page, 4to (9¼ x 7¼ in.), in French, integral address leaf with panel in Lafayette's hand, original postmark. In very fine condition.
LAFAYETTE RECALLS THE STORMING OF THE BASTILLE, WHICH "WILL FOREVER REMAIN ONE OF THE FINEST DEEDS WHICH PATRIOTISM HAS TO ITS CREDIT"
From retirement, Lafayette replies to Palloy, a master mason who during the turbulent early phases of the French Revolution had been placed in charge of the final demolition and dismantling of the hated fortress of the Bastille. Palloy's letter, Lafayette writes "recalled precious moments for me. For the unhappiness and the suffering that have afflicted the friends of liberty and have too often gladdened its enemies must not allow us to forget the honorable episodes of the Revolution, and all that it did for the rights and well-being of the French people and humanity. The destruction of the Bastille will forever remain one of the finest deeds which patriotism has to its credit. It is with much pleasure that the former commandant-general in whose name this event was proclaimed now renews thanks for your part in its accomplishment...." He goes on to express regrets that Palloy is not in favor with the present government and that he himself no longer has sufficient influence to be of assistance to him; in fact, he writes, his advocacy might actually be a disadvantage to Palloy.
The Bastille, a venerable stone prison in Paris had become, by 1789, a looming symbol of the despotism of the ancien regime; its destruction by the people of Paris on 14 July 1789 was immediately seen as representing the triumph of liberty and democracy over the monarchy. On July 15, 1789, the day after the Bastille was stormed, Lafayette, who had served as a member of the Estates-General, was appointed commander-in-chief of the new National Guard, and in this capacity, ordered the final destruction of the ruined royal fortress, stone by stone. In March 1790, Lafayette sent one of the large iron keys to the Bastille to his friend and mentor, George Washington, along with a print of the Bastille "just as it looked a few days after I had ordered its demolition," as "a tribute, which I owe, as a son to my adoptive father." That key, personally delivered by Thomas Paine, still hangs at Mount Vernon. In 1825 the Marquis presented another, somewhat larger key from the Bastille to the Alexandria-Washington Masonic Lodge, where it is displayed today.