“For God’s Sake, John, Sit Down!”

Ah yes, the Fourth of July. A day off work and an excuse to eat to excess while lighting explosives. America.

Though we have celebrated this holiday for hundreds of years, few know that John Adams was the one who foresaw the pomp and circumstance of July 4th. “I believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival,” he wrote in a letter to his wife, Abigail. “It ought to be celebrated by pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other…”

You're welcome, America. Now blow up some explosives. INDEPENDENCE!!!

You’re welcome, America. Now blow up some explosives. INDEPENDENCE!!!

If you’re so inclined you can also listen to Mr. Feeny himself (William Daniels) as John Adams sing about this in the musical 1776.

Most of the parties happen in the late afternoon or after sundown. That leaves a decent chunk of the day to lounge around in anticipation for the festivities to come. Why don’t you sit down and give 1776 a watch on Thursday? It’s a bit of a doozy (nearly three hours!) but a hilarious interpretation of the events of the summer of 1776. Franklin’s a bit of a creep, Adams is always angry, Jefferson is swoon-worthy, Lee is hilarious, and Hancock just wants to go home. (You can rent it for $2.99 on Amazon! Do it! Start a new tradition before you put your liver into overdrive! Or drink and watch it! Take a shot every time someone tells John Adams to sit down! Don’t worry, you’ll catch on fast.)

"WON'T SOMEBODY OOOOOOOPEN UP A WINDOW!????"

“SOMEONE OUGHTA OPEN UP A WINDOOOOOOOOW!!!”

Documentaries can be dry and a book is hard to swallow in day. A film isn’t. Granted, you’ve been bottle fed the story of the Declaration of Independence since you could wipe your own butt, but I’m sure there’s at least one aspect of it you never knew.

There was originally a slavery clause in the Declaration of Independence? Yup! New York abstained from voting on anything of importance? Sure thing! The delegates fought so much that a motion to even discuss Independence almost didn’t pass? You betcha!

I’m quickly reminded of the recent Spielberg film, Lincoln. Though we obviously knew the 13th Amendment was passed, many watched the final scene with baited breath. 1776 is incredibly similar. At the very least, you’ll notice that 18th century politics doesn’t differ too much for today.

The musical also does an excellent job of rounding out some Founders who aren’t the household names Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin are. John Dickinson is Adams’ main opposition. A delegate from Pennsylvania, Dickinson believed that independence was necessary but the time to declare it could wait. Adams, obviously, disagreed and Dickinson gets to sing a really cool song about being a conservative. (I’m serious. It’s one of my favorite songs in the whole show. Anyone doing a reverse gender 1776? Call me. I do great renditions in my car when driving to work.)

Fun fact. This song was cut from the theatrical movie release because President Nixon thought it was a personal jab towards him.

If this is too much of a history lesson overload, don’t worry there’s a romantic break. The only two female characters in the show are Abigail Adams and Martha Jefferson. Abigail only appears in visions John has and their dialogue is based upon the actual letters of the Adams’. Martha Jefferson is introduced when Thomas refuses to write the Declaration of Independence because he misses his wife and Adams is forced to send for her. She also gets an awesome song.

She’s really into dudes that play the violin…

If you’re someone who knows a lot or nothing at all about the Congress of 1776 and the passing of Declaration of Independence, you’ll learn something while watching 1776. And you won’t even know it.

“…all my wishes end, where I hope my days will end, at Monticello.”

If you’re a fan of Thomas Jefferson or just American History in general, put Monticello on your next-to-visit list. The gorgeous plantation was built on top of a 850 foot high mountain in Charlottesville, Virginia, about an hour outside Richmond, starting in 1769. It wasn’t finished until 1809, though Jefferson continued to work on it until his death in 1826.

I was lucky enough to visit Monticello this past Saturday and was completely in awe of this amazing home.

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Jefferson went to William and Mary to study natural philosophy, but in his downtime he learned law, languages, and architecture.  And yes, Monticello’s design came out of the brain of a man who was untrained but not uneducated. Jefferson was obsessed with architecture and Monticello (which is Italian for ‘little mountain’) was heavily influenced by neoclassical design.

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The house itself is a sight to behold, a beautiful 43 room structure, but the grounds are equally as magnificent.  Unlike any other plantations, Jefferson built long L-shaped terraces jutting from each wing and placed the necessary servant rooms (kitchen, smokehouse, wine and beer cellars, etc.) underneath each terrace.

South Terrace

South Terrace from below

North Terrace from above

North Terrace from above

Jefferson first moved to Monticello in 1770. The house was far from being completed and Jefferson lived in a one room building, called the South Pavilion.

South Pavilion

South Pavilion

When Jefferson married Martha Wayles Skelton in 1772, he brought his new bride to Monticello’s South Pavilion. Their first child, Patsy, was born there in late 1772.

South Pavilion interior

South Pavilion interior

After Martha died, Jefferson left for France in 1984 as America’s Ambassador. While living abroad, Jefferson fell in love with European architecture and rebuilt Monticello to fit this new obsession. Monticello’s most noticeable addition was a dome that capped the top floor. A beautiful apartment, the dome was rarely used because it was hot in the summer and cold in the winter.

Inside, Monticello boasts thirteen skylights (the first house in America to do so), 18 foot high ceilings in various rooms, eight fireplaces, and a dumbwaiter which brought wine from the cellar to the parlor, to name a few attributes. Today, about 1/3 of the glass in the houses windows and doors is original.

Jefferson's greenhouse off his private wing.

Jefferson’s greenhouse off his private wing.

Monticello started its life as a tobacco plantation, but due to the damaging effects of the plants on the soil, Jefferson later switched to wheat.  He also grew over 300 different types of vegetables, various herbs, and ran an orchard and a vineyard.

Vineyard

Vineyard

Vegetable garden and Garden Pavilion

Vegetable garden and Garden Pavilion

View from the Garden Pavilion

View from the Garden Pavilion

Monticello was also home to at least 200 slaves during Jefferson’s life. They lived on Mullberry Row, named for the Mullberry trees planted along the path. More than 20 structures were built along this small stretch of land. Unfortunately, all that stands today are stone foundations and the fireplace from the joiner’s shop.

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Jefferson died in his bedroom at Monticello on July 4, 1826. He had been slipping in and out of consciousness for days and it’s believed he held on only to die on the 50th anniversary of our country’s independence. Jefferson requested to be buried at Monticello and even wrote his own epitaph. He is buried alongside his children and wife.

Jefferson's grave marker

Jefferson’s grave marker

Jefferson’s presence is felt throughout the house and the grounds, whether or not that presence is actually him or not is up to the visitor to decide. In a few pictures I took, though it was a clear and beautiful day out, orbs and hazy blobs show up in the photographs. Could it be Jefferson himself coming back to check on the house he loved so dearly? Take a visit to Monticello and decide for yourself!

Further reading:
Monticello website
Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello by William L. Beiswanger
Twilight at Monticello by Alan Pell Crawford

Reasons Why Thomas Jefferson is Cooler Than You

As I’ve said in a previous post, Thomas Jefferson was a total babe. Tall, ginger, athletic, and brainy, he’s probably tied with Hamilton for foxiest Founder. Yes, the water starts to get murky when it comes to slavery and his ancestors, but take that (granted rather large) section out and you’ve got a pretty snappy dude. I mean, the fact that he’s the Founder that people turn to time and time again to attribute false quotes to stands the test of time. (For future reference, literally every single Jefferson quote can be checked here, Facebook and meme users!) So before you chalk TJ up to being just another stuffy dude in a wig, keep these in mind.

  • He pretty much invented “foodies.” Jefferson loved food. He loved it so much, he’s responsible for some of our favorites today. Macaroni and cheese? You can thank Jefferson, not Stouffer’s.
  • He was an inventor. What? Is writing the Declaration of Independence and founding the University of Virginia not good enough for you, Tom? Swivel chairs? Jefferson. Helped improve a letter duplicator? Jefferson. Granted, it wasn’t modern in the slightest, but for someone who wrote as much as he did, it let him have two copies of each letter and saved his hand from cramps.
Thomas Jefferson's letter duplicator- a polygraph

Thomas Jefferson’s letter duplicator- a polygraph

  • Hand cramps were important to Jefferson because he broke a ton of bones throughout his life. In the summer of 1785, he broke his right wrist in Paris while jumping over a fence. He was trying to impress Maria Cosway, a married woman he was attempting to woo. He was 42 years old. For the rest of his life, the wrist was deformed. In 1821, at age 75, Jefferson fell off a step at his home, Monticello, and broke his left wrist.
  • He built and rebuilt Monticello numerous times throughout his lifetime. When he died, he considered it still to be unfinished.
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Monticello today.

  • He was probably the most passionate person in the world about the separation of church and state. (Rule of thumb, if you’re using a Jefferson quote to defend religion, he didn’t say it). He founded UVA as one of first non-religion affiliated universities in the United States. He also read the Bible, the Torah, and the Quran. In his Bible, he cut out any inconsistency he could find within the New Testament and rearranged them in another book in, what he believed, was a “more coherent narrative.”
  • His bed was too small for his 6’2″ frame and had to sleep partially sitting up or curled up. He slept between 5-8 hours a day and always rose with the sun. Sometimes he’d get up even earlier and just study books for fun.
Jefferson's awesome alcove bed.

Jefferson’s awesome alcove bed.

  • Jefferson’s wife, Martha, died in 1782, when she was only 33 and her husband 39 years old. On her deathbed, Jefferson promised he would never remarry. After she died, it is reported that he had to be forced from the room to his library by his sister, where he fainted. After the funeral, he didn’t speak for three weeks. It is during this time that it is believed he destroyed every portrait and letter from his wife, effectively erasing all memories of her.  Shortly after her death, Jefferson started remodeling Monticello once again. He never spoke of Martha’s name again.
  • He could speak French, Greek, Latin, Spanish, and Italian. When he read the classics, he read them in their original language. He loved books so much, he drove himself into debt. After the Library of Congress was destroyed in the War of 1812, he donated 6,487 of his own books to establish the new library.
Jefferson's books in the Library of Congress

Jefferson’s books in the Library of Congress

  • Thomas Jefferson died in 1826. On the Fourth of July. His last words are reported to be, “Is it the Fourth?”

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What Hogwarts House Would The Founding Fathers Be In?

Everyone loves Harry Potter and the only thing that people love more than Harry Potter is trying to determine what house they’d be placed in. Remember when Pottermore was released and the site crashed over and over as people clamored to get sorted and the promptly abandoned their accounts? Exactly.

So let’s clamp the sorting hat onto the Founders’ heads and see where they place.

George Washington
Gryffindor

Ah, Mr. Washignton. The big kahuna. Of course he’d be Gryffindor. He led the thousands of his soldiers to defeat the British, the strongest army in the world. He was known for keeping his cool under pressure (or just keeping his cool at any time–the man wasn’t known for his emotions). He was chivalrous, a completely perfect example of a Virginia gentleman. Washington was not nearly as avid a reader as Jefferson but he was far more skilled in horseback riding and dancing. He was a leader, not only to the people of his time, but to the millions of Americans today.

Other Gryffindors: James Monroe, John Adams

Thomas Jefferson
Ravenclaw

Bookish and silent, but with a pompous air, Jefferson is the dictionary example of a Ravenclaw. If drafting the Declarations of the Rights of Man and the Declaration of Independence wasn’t enough of example of his brains, perhaps his innovative inventions of a letter duplicator and the world’s first example of the office “spinny chair” will convince you. Instead of people who complain of the lack of things to make their lives either, Jefferson not only drafted them, but made them himself. His habit of reading and buying books literally helped put him in millions of dollars in debt (by today’s standards) by the end of his life. He was incredibly knowledgeable about other cultures, and is the person who introduced such food as creme brulee, champagne, macaroni and cheese, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and peanuts to the States.

Other Ravenclaws: Benjamin Franklin, James Madison

Alexander Hamilton
Slytherin

Some may argue that Hamilton belongs in Gryffindor, but the two houses are different sides of the same coin. Hamilton’s drive and cunning nature (hello–slandering Aaron Burr) makes him lean more towards the snake. He was also more self-centered than his Gryffindor counterparts.  But Slytherin isn’t all Malfoys and Voldemorts. It’s thanks to Hamilton’s determination that he left Nevis on a scholarship and went onto become a part of history. And of course, along the way were a variety of scandals (like Maria Reynolds) which makes him lean more on the Slytherin side. He was brave, of course, but the combination of his desire for power,  brains, and ambition keep him in the green and silver.

Other Slytherins: Sam Adams, Aaron Burr, Edward Rutledge

Marquis de Lafayette
Hufflepuff

Sweet, sweet Lafayette. Never seen a day of battle, and yet ships himself to help fight a war in a country he’s never visited before. Such good intentions and so, so friendly and helpful, the Marquis belongs in Hufflepuff. He was Washington’s personal cheerleader and the picture perfect sidekick. Imagine his little French accent screaming support for freedom. Adorable. But he’s also a perfect example that Hufflepuffs aren’t useless. Mr. French Enthusiasm’s dedication rallied thousands of French troops which helped us actually win the war.

Other Hufflepuffs: Richard Henry Lee, Rev. John Witherspoon

Duel!

HEY. YOU.

DO YOU LIKE GUNS? DO YOU LIKE COOL STORIES ABOUT COOL DUDES WHO DUEL?

WELL HANG TIGHT BECAUSE I’VE GOT A COOL STORY FOR YOU.

July 11, 1804. Weehawken, New Jersey. Two men arrive, only one walks away. One is Aaron Burr, the Vice President. The other, Alexander Hamilton, first Secretary of the Treasury and a signer of the Constitution. You would think that two forty-somethings that helped form our nation would handle personal disputes in a calm rational matter. Well you’d be wrong because these two fought like toddlers.

"Stop hitting yourself. Stop hitting yourself."

“Stop hitting yourself. Stop hitting yourself.”

Both men were orphaned in adolescence and faced extraordinary strife in childhood. Hamilton was born in Nevis, an island in the West Indies. His father abandoned their family when Alexander was 10 and his mother died two years later.  After her death, Hamilton worked as a clerk in a counting house, impressing his bosses so much that they raised money to send him off to school in America. In New York, he attended King’s College–known today as Columbia University.

"I'm better than you."

“I’m better than you.”-Hamilton, age 14

Meanwhile, Burr was an orphan at age two. He was sent to live with an uncle who whipped him. Aaron ran away time after time, but his uncle found him. At age 16, Burr graduated from the College of New Jersey (today, Princeton) as a student of theology, but later turned to a career in law.

Tensions rose between these two men during the American Revolution. Both men were war heroes, either being one of two men of their regiment to survive a battle (Burr) or having their horse shot down from under them and walking away unscathed (Hamilton).

General George Washington heard about Hamilton’s victories and invited him to be one of his aide-de-camps. Though Hamilton was moving up the ranks, he was extremely temperamental. Because he was born in the West Indies, he felt many people judged him for it, causing him to lash out with his peers and even Washington himself.  Burr was invited to become an aide as well, but was almost immediately fired and sent to work for General Israel Putnam.

“George likes ME more!”

After the war, the two were friendly to each other in public, but were rivals in New York City courtrooms, where they both worked as lawyers. In 1791, Burr beat out Hamilton’s father-in-law, Philip Schuyler for a U.S. Senate seat. Hamilton lashed out, thinking Burr ran just to spite him. He wrote letters to lawmakers, hurling insults at Burr.

"Aaron Burr is a stupid, silly, poopy head."

“Aaron Burr is a stupid, silly, poopy head.”

In 1800, Burr ran for President. He tied with Thomas Jefferson and the House of Representatives had to choose the next POTUS. As the House chose, Hamilton once again wrote notes slandering Burr’s name and intentions. Burr was defeated, and he believed it was because of Hamilton’s words. The feud between the two had been given more fuel.

Always the VP, never the P.

Always the VP, never the P.

When Burr’s Vice Presidency was coming to a close, he decided to run for governor of New York. Burr caught wind that Hamilton was once again planning to run a smear campaign against him. Burr lost the election for governor and was infuriated, once again blaming Hamilton for the loss. He wrote his falsifier and requested that Hamilton apologize or Burr would challenge him to a duel. Hamilton chose the duel.

The location would be the Weehawken dueling grounds, across the Hudson River from New York City. The location was the same where, just three years before, Hamilton’s son Philip died from, you guessed it, a duel.

He inherited his father's good looks, too.

He inherited his father’s good looks, too.

Hamilton shot first, but missed. To this day, the jury is out on whether he purposefully missed or misfired. Burr returned fire and hit Hamilton in the lower right abdomen above his right hip. The bullet fractured his third false rib and ricocheted through his liver and diaphragm before lodging into his spine. He collapsed immediately and Burr started to approach his fallen comrade, seemingly out of regret, but he was rushed away to his rowboat.

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Hamilton drifted in and out of consciousness and died the following day. Burr was tried for treason in 1807 but was pardoned. He lived in Europe from 1808 to 1812 and never regained political power. He remarried in 1833 at the age of 77 and frequently remarked about the duel, referring to Hamilton as, “my friend, whom I shot.”

Dueling grounds monument

Dueling grounds monument

Today, a road runs through the original dueling grounds site, but along the bank of the river is a monument with a statue of Hamilton’s bust and a boulder where he is believed to have rested after being wounded. Hamilton’s face is plastered on the ten dollar bill and statues of him are in almost every major city on the East Coast. Burr remains a forgotten figure from history for an act that both men shared equal blame.

Currently, Broadway actor, composer, and lyricist is composing “The Hamilton Mixtape,” a concept album based on the life of the former Secretary of the Treasury. The first song, performed by the character of Aaron Burr, can be watched here:

In addition, Nick Cardiff- who portrays Alexander Hamilton in the YouTube series “I Made America”, performed a response to Miranda’s rap, where he mentions more of the details of the duel (It’s also hilarious–if you have the time, watch the entire series, it’s great. Just great.):

Further Reading:

Duel: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr and the Future of America by Thomas Fleming
Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr by Nancy Isenberg
Alexander Hamilton, American by Richard Brookhiser

4 Songs Historical Figures Would Have On Their iPod

Thomas Jefferson
“Come On Get Higher” by Matt Nathanson

I miss the sound of your voice
Loudest thing in my head
And I ache to remember
All the violent, sweet
Perfect words that you said

After Jefferson’s wife, Martha, died, he became extremely introverted and he was already a man who preferred communicating with paper rather than with his voice. He never remarried and destroyed all likenesses of his wife in a rage after her death. The only person he confided in was his daughter, Patsy.

Marquis de Lafayette
Party in the USA by Miley Cyrus

Got my hands up, they’re playin’ my song
And now I’m gonna be okay
Yeah! It’s a party in the USA!
Yeah! It’s a party in the USA!

The lyrics might be simple and juvenile, but the message is strong and clear. Parties? In America???? America’s Number One Fanboy would be all over this, keeping it on a constant loop as he prepped for battle.

And imagine his adorable little French accent singing along. Perfection.

Alexander Hamilton
Go The Distance from Hercules

I have often dreamed
Of a far off place
Where hero’s welcome
Would be waiting for me
Where the crowds will cheer
When they see my face
And a voice keeps saying
This is where I’m meant to be

Born a poor bastard in the West Indies, Alexander Hamilton came from nothing. Orphaned in adolescence, Hamilton worked as a clerk where he impressed his bosses so much, they started a fund to send him to America for school. He arrived in America at the ripe old age of 16.

Growing up, he found he had a talent for words and yearned for a place where he would fit in. Even as Hamilton got older, this would be the song he’d go back to to remind him of how far he’d come.

(I was tempted to give him Mumford and Sons, “Little Lion Man” but that would be too easy.)

John Wilkes Booth
“Some Nights” by fun.

This is it, boys, this is war – what are we waiting for?
Why don’t we break the rules already?
I was never one to believe the hype
Save that for the black and white
I try twice as hard and I’m half as liked

I’m sure if JWB gave this song a listen, he’d be drawn in by the catchy hooks. But upon second listen, he’d probably realize this song is unintentionally his bio-song. The music video is even Civil War themed.

The mention of an upcoming war? Check.
Using women as a means of repressing your sense of self? Check.
The doubting of yourself? Check.
Even the mention of a sister’s children. Check.

Someone might want to check to see that Nate Ruess wasn’t using the infamous assassin as his ghostwriter.

The Man America Forgot: Marquis de La Fayette

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You’ve likely driven down a road bearing his name. Perhaps you’ve spent some time in the park across the street from the White House. (Hint: It’s named after him) Statues of him are littered across the world. But chances are, your childhood social studies classes passed him right by. Meet Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette, known simply as Lafayette.  And you can thank him for your freedom.

You think that today’s conservative Republicans are America’s biggest fanboy? Wrong. Lafayette loved America so much, he sent himself Stateside to fight alongside George Washington.

Nicknamed Le Héros des Deux Mondes, or The Hero of Two Worlds, is no small feat. Born September 6, 1757 into French aristocracy, Lafayette was orphaned by the age of 13 and inherited 145,000 livres, approximately 22 million dollars today.

In 1775, Lafayette first heard of the rumblings of war across the Atlantic. He was so moved by the American plight and passionate about the freedom the American’s sought, Lafayette acquired his own ship and sailed to America disguised as a woman to keep British spies at bay.

"Nothing to see here..."

“Nothing to see here…”

In America, Benjamin Franklin heard all about the Parisian wunderkind and wrote to George Washington advising him to choose Lafayette as his aide-de-camp. Washington accepted and at age 19, Lafayette was the top aide to the future POTUS. (What were you doing at age 19? Complaining about that 5 page book review you had to write for your college elective class? That’s what I thought.)  Lafayette saw Washington as the father he never had, and Washington saw Lafayette as the son he’d always wanted.

Lafayette-Washington

“Uhhhh, Monsieur Washington, take zis big cloth as a token of my amour. Oui, Oui.”

Lafayette was a badass in battle. In the Battle of Brandywine, he was shot in the leg and rallied the troops to a safe retreat before accepting treatment. Keep in mind, this was the first time he was experiencing American warfare. Battle after battle, Lafayette was noted for his valor and skill.

In February 1779, Lafayette returned to France. When he arrived, he was given two weeks house arrest for disobeying the King by going to America. Regardless, he was showered by gifts from the adoring public. While he was in France, his wife, Adrienne, gave birth to Lafayette’s first son, Georges Washington Lafayette. Lafayette continued to push for more French support to aid the Americans. Before returning to America in March 1780, he had secured 5,500 men and 5 warships to help the Continental Army.

In the fall of 1781, Lafayette and his men took Yorktown redoubt 9 from the British, while Alexander Hamilton and his men charged redoubt 10 in hand-to-hand combat. Cornwallis surrendered on October 19. The Americans had won. Lafayette returned to France and was greeted as a hero.

Suck it, Cornwallis.

Suck it, Cornwallis.

While in France, Lafayette was granted commander-in-chief of the French National Guard.  The French Revolution was brewing and Lafayette sought to maintain order. When an angry mob came to Versailles, Lafayette saved the Royal Family from danger. In 1792, France declared war with Austria and took command of the army. As the Jacobin influence gained power, Lafayette was replaced and fled to Belgium. The Austrians captured him and he was jailed until 1797. He returned to France in 1800 and found that his fortune was gone.  Feeling betrayed by the country he called home, he declined many social and political offers for nearly a quarter of a century.

In 1824, President James Madison invited Lafayette to tour America. Lafayette accepted and was greeted like a rockstar  during his two month trip. During that time, he visited every state, visited Mount Vernon and the tomb of Washington, met with his old friend, Thomas Jefferson, and attended public banquets in his honor. The frenzy that met him at each stop rivaled the celebrity frenzy of today. While visiting Jefferson in Monticello, one of Jefferson’s slaves noted 50 years later that, “Lafayette remarked that he thought that the slaves ought to be free; that no man could rightly hold ownership of his brother man; that he gave his best services to and spent his money on behalf of the Americans freely because he felt that they were fighting for a great and noble principle – the freedom of mankind; that instead of all being free a portion were held in bondage (which seemed to grieve his noble heart); that it would be mutually beneficial to masters and slaves if the latter were educated, and so on. …This conversation was very gratifying to me, and I treasured it up in my heart.”

Up until his death, Lafayette kept fighting for the rights of people, slaves, poor, and religion. Lafayette died on May 20, 1834 of pneumonia. He was buried at Picpus Cemetery with dirt from Bunker Hill, joined forever by the two countries he loved.

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“Humanity has won its battle. Liberty now has a country.”

Further Reading on Lafayette: