||A Lifetime Passion
The emancipation of slaves remained
an abiding passion for Lafayette until his death in 1834. As a young
man he eagerly enrolled in anti-slavery societies on both sides of the
Atlantic. He took an active role in the French Society of the Friends
of Blacks, formed in 1788 to promote the abolition of the slave trade.
After the upheavals of the French Revolution, Lafayette returned to France
from prison and exile in 1799 and resumed his correspondence with
British abolitionists and American statesmen on these issues, and began
once again to follow the developments of the anti-slavery movements in
England, France, and the United States.
||Lafayette to Alexander Hamilton,
Paris, April 13, 1785
In one of your New York Gazettes,
I find a Association Against the Slavery of Negroes which seems to me worded
in such a way as to give no offense to the moderate men in the Southern
States. As I ever have been partial to my brethren of that colour,
I wish, if you are one in the Society, you would move, in your own name,
for my being admitted on the list.
||Lafayette to John Adams,
February 22, 1786
In the cause of my black brethren
I feel myself warmly interested, and most decidedly side, so far as respects
them, against the white part of mankind. Whatever be the complexion
of the enslaved, it does not, in my opinion, alter the complexion of the
crime which the enslaver commits—a crime much blacker than any African
face. It is to me a matter of great anxiety and concern to find that
this trade is sometimes perpetrated under the flag of liberty, our dear
and noble stripes, to which virtue and glory have been constant standard-bearers.
||Lafayette and Jefferson
Lafayette and Jefferson had differing
views on slavery. Although both men accepted that slavery was, in
the words of one scholar, “in absolute contradiction with republican principles
and the laws of nature,” Jefferson had not emancipated his own slaves,
nor had he sought to make the new nation abide by these principles.
In the letter excerpted here, he expresses his willingness to let slavery
extend into states newly admitted into the Union, believing that this would
lessen the control of the Southern States in deciding slavery’s ultimate
fate. In his letter of July 1, 1821, Lafayette disagrees vehemently
with this approach, finding it incomprehensible to consider the spread
of so evil a system.
Letter from Jefferson to Lafayette:
December 26, 1820
Letters from Lafayette
July 1, 1821
June 1, 1822