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France 1789 General Lafayette, Commander of the Paris National Guard Silver Propaganda Medal

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A glimpse into the past: an of-the-moment medal issued by Louis XVI to inform the Paris mob of Lafayette's appointment as the Commander of the Paris National Guard!

Lafayette_By_Boze.jpgThe story of Lafayette’s involvement in the American Revolution is truly stranger than fiction. His is a tale of a 19-year-old orphan, recently married and with a young child, an aristocrat, a personal friend of the King of France and affluent beyond measure, who journeyed to a foreign land he had only read about, to enlist in a floundering rebellion against the most powerful nation on earth.

Please see lower on the page for the full story of Lafayette's role in the American Revolution and more images!

In the summer of 2007, Monnaie de Paris released a very low mintage coin program to remember the 250th anniversary of the Marquis de Lafayette's birth, timed to coincide with the Independence Days of both the great democracies in whose revolutions Lafayette fought for freedom, July 4th in the United States and July 14th (Bastille Day) in France. In addition to these two coins (one gold and one silver) the mint also restruck several historical Lafayette medals, including this one.

Click here for other coins and medals featuring Lafayette!

This wonderful little medal was originally designed and struck in 1789 on the order of King Louis XVI. Its purpose was to inform the public of Lafayette's appointment as commander of the Paris National Guard in July, 1789, and it is completely of-the-moment. The last words of the inscription on the reverse intentionally recall the epithet, bestowed by Louis XVI, by which Lafayette was known in France: "The Hero of Two Worlds". Particularly interesting is that Lafayette is referred to both by his rank in the American Revolutionary Army, "General", and with the American spelling of his name, as opposed to the French "La Fayette", as well as the fact that his new position is downplayed, appearing in tiny letters under his portrait.

Lafayette Coat of ArmsWe believe that this medal was hastily designed and engraved, specifically so that it could be used to get the word out as quickly as possible, as the situation in Paris at the beginning of the Revolution was extremely tense at best. We've based this conclusion on several pieces of evidence:

    The medal's relatively small size;
    Its relatively low relief;
    The somewhat rough style of the lettering;
    The anonymous (unknown) artist; and
    Spelling and accent errors on both sides.

As an example of this last, even though the two letter Es in the word Général have their proper accents aigus, Ne in the same obverse legend does not (it should be spelled ). Likewise, on the reverse the contraction qu'il is misspelled as q'uil, and there are several missing accent marks, etc.

Keep in mind that there were no mass media in 1789, or rather, medals were the mass media of the day! As propaganda (as opposed to being a presentation medal or honor) this medal would have been used to spread the news of Lafayette's position. Louis XVI appointed him to this post specifically because he enjoyed the respect and trust of both the populace and the aristocracy, with a reputation of integrity and fairness, and wooed therefore work to maintain order without unduly favoring either group. The inscription on the reverse bears this out. Lafayette was therefore charged with establishing and maintaining a delicate balance, a task he achieved for three years, until the Reign of Terror assumed full control of the revolution in 1792.

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A handsome and delicately-engraved bust portrait of the Marquis de Lafayette, facing right. Above Lafayette the inscription LE GÉNÉRAL LAFAYETTE NE EN 7BRE. 1757 translates as "General Lafayette, Born September 1757". Below Lafayette's effigy is his new title COMDT. DE LA GDE. NATLE. / PARISIENNE EN 1789. - "Commander of the Paris National Guard, 1789".

The legend in French OBJET / TOUR A TOUR / D'IDOLATRIE ET DE HAINE / ON NE SE RAPELLE / AUJOURD' HUY / QUE SES MALHEURS / ET LES SERVICES Q'UIL / A RENDUS A LA LIBERTÉ / DES DEUX MONDES translates as "The object from time to time of both worship and loathing, today we remember only his sacrifices and the services that he rendered in the cause of Freedom in two worlds." Below the inscription is the cornucopia mint mark of the Paris Mint.

Click here for a superbly-illustrated article about Lafayette!


This medal is presented in the traditional, blue Monnaie de Paris gift box.

Country France
Year of Issue 1789
Weight 22 g
Diameter 32 mm
Composition .950 Fine Silver
Edge Plain
Artist Inconnu (Unknown)

Lafayette, Hero of the American Revolution
LAFAYETTE_EQUESTRIANAlthough only a teenager, Lafayette presented himself as a volunteer to the Continental Congress in 1777 and was commissioned a major general. He not only served the entire Revolution without pay, but personally bought and outfitted a warship to carry him to the colonies, as well as arming and equipping the American soldiers who served in his division. He commanded with distinction throughout the war, both in minor skirmishes and major battles, such as Brandywine and Monmouth, the largest pitched battle of the revolution.

Lafayette’s crowning glory came in the victory that capped the Revolution. Utilizing George Washington’s training and following his specific orders, Lafayette harassed the British General Cornwallis’ much larger force in Virginia, practicing hit-and-run bush fighting tactics. As a result of his depredations, Cornwallis decided to hole up on the Yorktown peninsula and await relief. This ill-fated decision would lead the siege of Yorktown by Washington and Rochambeau’s army as well as the Comte de Grasse’s French fleet. The result was the final British surrender, for which Lafayette was present.

But the Marquis didn't just fight for the colonies militarily, he fought for them diplomatically as well. Visiting France in 1779, Lafayette was instrumental in convincing Louis XVI of France to ally with the Americans and to greatly increase the amount of military and economic aid the king had planned to send. Historians are unanimous in agreement that without this support the nascent nation would not have gained its freedom.

MOUNT_VERNON.jpgLafayette and his commander, Washington, quickly developed a bond unique in the annals of military history. Serving side by side in the heat of battle, the childless Washington and the orphan Lafayette quickly became as close as father and son, terms each used to describe the other. Washington appreciated that Lafayette was always a quick study, while Lafayette learned as much as he could from the older American about strategy, leadership and diplomacy. Such was their friendship that once the French Revolution had begun and Washington knew he would not live to see Lafayette again in person, he would weep openly at Mount Vernon whenever the dinner conversation turned to his adopted son. For his part, Lafayette named his only son George Washington Lafayette, and made the American general his godfather.

Click here for other coins and medals featuring Lafayette!

“The Hero of Two Worlds”
Upon his return to France, Lafayette embarked on a life of nearly continual public service. King Louis XVI proclaimed him “the Hero of Two Worlds”, his nickname for the remainder of his life. He was at the forefront of the French Revolution - as vice-president of the National Assembly he wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, based on the Declaration of Independence. Just after this he ordered the burning of the Bastille in July, 1789, then was named commander of the newly-formed National Guard. When the Reign of Terror began Lafayette was branded a traitor for his moderate views and aristocratic background (even though he had publicly renounced his title “Marquis” in 1790), and was jailed for five years.

LAFAYETTE_GRAVE.jpgIn 1824, at the invitation of President James Madison, Lafayette made a triumphal return to the country that he helped liberate. As the last surviving general of the American Revolution, he was feted everywhere he went with balls, parades and honors. He was the most important visitor that the country had ever entertained, and was treated like a modern-day superstar. During his fifteen-month journey he managed to visit all 24 states of the Union, traveling as far west as St. Louis, in Missouri, the most recently-admitted state.

Lafayette died in 1834 in Paris. In accord with his last wishes, dirt he had taken from the Bunker Hill battlefield was spread over his grave, because he wished to be buried in both American and French soil. The United States has never forgotten the debt owed to the young, passionate Marquis. In 1900 the Lafayette Dollar, the country’s first commemorative dollar, was struck for the Paris Universal Exposition. To this day, an American flag flies over his tomb, and each year on the anniversary of his death, the American ambassador to France pays a visit to his final resting place. As if to underscore his significance to the nation he helped liberate, in 2002 Lafayette was posthumously made an Honorary Citizen of the United States, one of only six persons ever to be so honored.

Click here for a superbly-illustrated article about Lafayette!

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