Book review, David A. Clary, Adopted Son : Washington, Lafayette, and the Friendship that Saved the Revolution


Book review
David A. Clary
Adopted Son : Washington, Lafayette, and the Friendship that Saved the Revolution
First Edition, Hardcover, 2007, 592 pages
Published by Bantam Dell (a division of Random House)
ISBN-10: 0553804359, ISBN-13: 9780533804355

In the French aristocratic system of the day, where the oldest son inherited the most status, the marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834), the youngest son of a youngest son, would have been a low level aristocrat.

The name of the marquis de Lafayette was Marie-Joseph-Paul-Yves-Roch-Gilbert du Motier.

The book Adopted Son by historian David A. Clary is an account of the American revolution from the perspective of the intimate friendship between George Washington (1732-1799) and Lafayette.

The two-year-old French boy was there when his father was killed in battle in 1759, and his mother died in 1770. At 14 Lafayette acquired his first military experience in the French army, and at 19 he traveled to America to volunteer to serve without pay in the army of the American colonies.

Washington, who had become the commander of the American army in 1775, immediately accepted Lafayette's assistance and found it valuable. Clary's angle in presenting the story is an effect of the twenty-five year age difference between these two men, "the childless Washington and the fatherless Lafayette." [From the dedication]

The Battle of Brandywine in 1777 [map on page 112] gave Lafayette his first experience under fire, after which a leg injury made him useless for two months. Not yet recovered, he insisted on being part of a assault at Gloucester being planned by Gen. Greene. "One foot booted, the other wrapped in a blanket," writes Clary, "Lafayette again rode off to do righteous battle." [page 128] "Determined to be in the way of danger" he went to Gloucester and participated in the defeat of the Hessians there. It was his first experience commanding. [129]

It was for Lafayette's performance at Brandywine that Congress voted in 1777 that "Washington be informed, it is highly agreable" that Lafayette be given the command of a division. In December of that year, Washington decided to give Lafayette the division that was formerly led by General Adam Stephen. [130] (Stephen had been kicked out of the army in November after being accused of giving bad orders and other "misbehaviours" that caused many unnecessary casualties in the battle of Germantown, Pennsylvania in October.)

Clary conveys the story of the Revolution and its colorful personalities with the help of seven maps, an extensive "cast of characters" table, and 57 black-and-white illustrations.

The author's purview of the Revolution through the friendship between the two leaders allows historical events to ride on human emotion. He shows a youthful Lafayette thrust abruptly into adulthood and leadership, trying to catch up with himself. Hear about the Lafayette who sometimes had "more money than sense" [91] and was occasionally found "whining about American attitudes." [216] Clary shows the relationship that gave rise to the book's title. Washington gives Lafayette "some fatherly advice about what cause they were fighting for." [217] The author depicts the older leader acquiring increasing confidence in the the younger leader's ability to devise strategy. Read about Lafayette's suggestion to Washington to gather the French troops on Long Island, combine them with Americans, and begin the 1780 invasion of New York. [226] Clary also communicates feelings of disappointment. Read about Lafayette's inability to assist the governor of Maryland in 1781 in resisting repeated attacks on British ports because his own troops were "out of food and almost naked" [297-298]

The book provides a vivid account of the ending of the war. In 1781, at Yorktown, Virginia, a division led by Lafayette combined with American troops led by Washington and French troops under French General Rochambeau. They defeated the troops of British General Cornwallis and accepted their surrender. The Yorktown campaign is described as "an engineering operation," but whereas the French army had engineers, and the American army had none, it would be "an American operation" and yet "plotted by French specialists following French methods." [332-333] Lafayette remarked of this campaign, "The engineers troll about like sorcerers making circles about poor Cornwallis." [333]

The events at Yorktown were Lafayette's last participation in the American army, but his role was not finished. The marquis participated in peace negotiations, working for chief diplomat Benjamin Franklin. [350] September of 1783 saw the Treaty of Paris and the end of the Revolutionary War.

After the victory for American independence, when Lafayette was once again living in France, the spirit of the American democratic experiment dwelled in him. He became an activist for adopting religious tolerance in France. Lafayette was also an activist for abolishing slavery in France and the French colonies, recruited into this task by abolitionist John Jay. [376-377] He bought a sugar plantation in French Guyana so that he could emancipate the slaves who were operating it. [377]

Lafayette was first elected to political office in France in 1787. That was, of course, the same year that the new United States ratified a Constitution.

- - - - - - Book review by M. L. for

From the publisher's press release ...
About the Author:
David A. Clary, former chief historian of the U.S. Forest Service, is the author of numerous books and other publications on military and scientific history. He has been a consultant to several government agencies and has taught history at the university level. He lives in New Mexico with his wife, Beatriz.