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France 1789 Marquis de Lafayette, Hero and Defender of Liberty in Two Worlds Silver Medal

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King Louis XVI commissioned this medal to honor Lafayette, "The Hero of Two Worlds"!

Lafayette_By_Duvivier.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.

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This historically significant silver medal was originally commissioned in 1789 by order of King Louis XVI. Its purpose was to honor Lafayette and commemorate his role in the opening events of the French Revolution, as indicated by the inscription on the reverse of the medal. In 1789, Lafayette was elected to the Estates General, and took a prominent part in its proceedings. He was chosen Vice President of the National Assembly, and on July 11, 1789 proposed The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, modeled on Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence of 1776.

Lafayette Coat of ArmsLafayette ordered the burning of the Bastille prison on July 15, the day after the revolution started in earnest, and was quickly appointed Commander of the Paris National Guard, charged with maintaining order and protecting the lives of the royal family. 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 would therefore work to maintain order without unduly favoring either group. The title of the medal, on the reverse, refers to the epithet, bestowed by Louis XVI, by which Lafayette was known in France: "The Hero of Two Worlds".

That this medal is a piece of living history and very much of the moment is witnessed by the use of Lafayette's title on the obverse, Marquis, which he would renounce in June 1790, less than a year after the storming of the Bastille. Other examples include missing accent marks in the legends on both sides, the numerous non-standard abbreviations, and the incorrect order of the initials of Lafayette's many names on the obverse!

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Lafayette_By_Houdon.jpgObverse
A stately profile portrait of the Marquis de Lafayette, facing left, by the well-known artist Benjamin Duvivier, after his own famous drawing. Above Lafayette the inscription M.P.J.R.I.G. MOTIER MQUIS. DE LA FAYETTE NÉ LE 6. SEPT. 1757 translates as "Marie Paul Joseph Roch Yves Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, Born September 6, 1757". Below Lafayette's effigy is the artist's credit: OFFERT PAR B. DUVIVIER / A LA GARDE NATIONLE - "Offered by Benjamin Duvivier to the National Guard".

Reverse
The title of the medal can be found in upper exergue: VENGEUR DE LA LIBERTE DANS LES DEUX MONDES, which is translated "Defender of Liberty in the Two Worlds", referring to his prominent roles in both the American and French Revolutions. The main dedication reads MAJOR GÉNÉRAL / DANS LES ARMÉES / DES ÉTATS UNIS D'AMERIQE. / EN 1777 / MARESCHAL DE CAMP, / VICE PRÉSIDT. DE L'ASSEMBLÉE / NATIONALE LE 12 JUILLET / COMMANDANT GÉNÉRAL / DE LA GARDE NATIONE. PARISE. / LE 15 JUILLET / 1789. This list of honorifics translates as "Major General in the Army of the United States of America, 1777; Brigadier General, Vice President of the National Assembly on July 12, 1789; commanding General of the Paris National Guard, July 15, 1789."

Click here for a superbly-illustrated article about Lafayette!

Packaging

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

Specifications
Country France
Year of Issue 1789
   
Weight 47 g
Diameter 41 mm
   
Composition .950 Fine Silver
Edge Plain
Artist Benjamin Duvivier

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.

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“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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