Letter from Lafayette to Patrick Henry, August 30, 1798
    (Reel 25, Folder 233)

    Lafayette writes to Patrick Henry, famous American patriot and a Governor of Virginia. One subject of the letter is the actions of French “privateers” preying on American merchant ships headed to Great Britain, ignoring the United States' claim to neutrality.

(click images for full-sized versions in a new window)

page 1

page 2

page 3

page 4

page 5

page 6

page 7

page 8

Letter from Lafayette to Patrick Henry, August 30, 1798

Wittmold Holstein August the 30th, 1798

My dear Mons. Henry,

When I had last the pleasure to write to you I was far from thinking I should at this period of the year be still detained in Europe. The health of my wife, the primary cause of those delays, has been continually so bad, it had in the spring taken on a dangerous turn, that untill now there has not been for me a moral possibility to embark. Even now that she is so far recovered as to have just been able to undertake an indispensable journey, for a few months, to France, I find that besides tender motives not to hasten to put between us the Atlantic she shall soon be ready to cross with me. My presence on this Continent is essential to forward arrangements respecting her property which she is about to make. I need not telling [sic] you, my dear friend, that had I the smallest hope to be useful in public concerns no personal considerations, not even the dearest ones to my heart, could one instant detain me. –May I in my inactive but not unconcerned retirement be soon blessed with the intelligence, now earnestly expected, of a mutual disposition to reestablish harmony between two nations in the fate of whom my whole soul is so deeply interested.

My principles and sentiments have long been known to you. The appeal to liberty in the old world has reminded you of your conversations in the new one. In my doctrine of opposition to every despotism of obedience(?) in a free constitution to national laws you could anticipate the part which, in the different circumstances, I have had to act. From your knowledge of my republican heart you are sensible that my objections to the present state of France are not owing to her form of Government, but to her want of Freedom. –While that Government, who rescued me out of prison and with whose agents abroad I have every personal reason to be satisfied, are nevertheless far from wishing to facilitate my return, or discouraging the nonsense now and then published against me, I am not myself in hurry to witness measures that I disapprove, nor am I uncertain of the national opinion in my behalf. But such as I am situated I cannot be prejudiced by any other influence than my attachment to the two countries whom I now am persuaded that on the part of the Directory there are actual and sincere dispositions to make up this unhappy quarrel. Hitherto(?) I have not in my expressed(?) hopes ventured so far; but now, I repeat it, I have reasons to think that they are in earnest, and to flatter myself that either directly or through the Batavian mediation, which I know is to be offered to you, matters may be properly and amicably adjusted. Thus far although the Americans have been materially injured, the moral advantages remain theirs. It appears to me the French Government has caught the example not long ago given by that of Great Britain. This system of oppression on the part of the late plunderers and incendiaries of the country, the late prison ship managers, the constant enemies to American independence, unjustifiable as it was, had something less shocking than an imitation of such a wicked policy by the early defenders, the first and essential friends of the United States. No doubt their rulers were led into it on a supposition that it had been the means to bring about your English treaty. Thank God, instead of submission, they have met with noble, spirited resistance. The Dignity of America has been asserted and a reconciliation on proper terms cannot but leave her with an increase of national respectability and political consequence(?). That situation of hers, in which no man can more heartly exalt than I do, would, in my opinion, be lost if by a rejection of honorable means to restore harmony between the two Republics, by a precipitation of measures unnecessary for self defence, or an eagerness to be too far entangled with other European powers, you did countenance the accusation of having seized on the faults of the Directory to engage elsewhere that independence which you are now so justly applauded to defend. --

The British Court I dislike and mistrust, nor for their intriques against me, not for their vindictive share in my captivity. It is a matter of course, nor shall they ever forgive American names formerly doomed to proscription. But I have heard the boasts and hopes of those men with respect to America, I have known their machiavelism(?) in Holland, I have witnessed their wicked exertion to vitiate the revolution of France, and while I think England has many of the most enlightened and virtuous friends of liberty to boast of, while I glory in my obligations to her first characters, I am convinced that in her present Government no confidence is to be had. On the other hand, although my love to my native Country is unalterable, the arbitrary measures of her Government at home cannot agree with me; and not withstanding I ever expected the doctrine of the rights of man to be extended from France throughout the ancient world as from the United States to the rest of America, I never lost a due respect for the mutual independence of enfranchised nations. Nay there have been in certain revolutionary circumstances compliments from the United States which I would not have paid to the then Governors of France; and while I don't deny that the idea of a war between those two dear countries cuts me to the heart, you my confidential friend, have known that in every transaction, great or trifling, no man has been more that me tenacious of the interest and honour of the American Republic, nor more attached to the happy system of federal union. May I not, therefore, however averse I am to the actual government of Britain, however bound to my native country by everlasting ties of duty and affection, however anxious to see the true American principles of liberty, equality and republicanism fairly and honestly spread throughout the world; may I not, says(?) I, trust my own opinion of the dangers arising from your connection with England against France, of the advantages to be found in an honourable reconciliation, and of the dispositions(?) of the French Directory, to make for it a sincere and proper trial.

Measures, I hear, have been taken with respect to the piracies which I really believe have far exceeded the intentions of Government. Letters from Paris tell me that the neutral navigation shall soon be on better footing. Was I not fearful to lose the opportunity to write to you, I would have waited for answers I daily expect. I just now have hinted that besides direct communications the Batavian Commonwealth is ready to interfere. Mr. Murray has acquainted you with the changes operated in that country. To judge the sentiment of her actual Government one private circumstance may help you. On my emersion from the Olmütz Castille the Batavians intended to invite me to their country. The January revolution, long forseen, put an end to their plan. Now that the Jacobines are out, the new Government has taken up the same idea. My going there, as in their kindness for me I understand it will be agreeable to them, appears to be advantageous in many respects, particularly as it is nearer to the family. Yet I am not hitherto determined.

Not withstanding the efforts and threats of England and Russia, the Kings of Denmark and Sweden have refused to part from their system of neutrality. So has(?) the King of Prussia who is satisfied with protecting the north of Germany. At Vienna the two hostile courts are aided by female Neapolitan influence, and it is possible an Austrian war may be renewed, the results of which will be the ruin of the Royal father in law and heavy losses to the imperial young man. Bonaparte, after the taking of Malta, has arrived safely and even uninterrupted at Alexandria. That expedition is big with consequences.

The name and merits of Vaublan(?) are not unknown to you. He was in ?? a member of the Legislative Assembly where his virtues, eloquence and courage commanded universal admiration and exposed him to great danger. His life highly valuable to his country and his friends has been happily preserved to make him again shine in the Council of the Cinq Cens(?), and among the more undeserving victims of the fructidorian proscription , there is not a more illustrious and unright [sic] statesman. This excellent patriot is now wandering out of France to which he shall soon or late be gloriously restored. His wife and daughter, lately married to General Pinckney's nephew, are gone to America and intend to land some where in Virginia. I beg you, my dear McHenry, I also request all the other friends, to pay them the attentions that are due to their personal merit and to the husband and father with whom they are ??. To him I am under great obligations. He has in ?? stood my defender; he has risked his life in my cause. Gratitude and affection bind me for ever to him. I depend on you to let the two ladies experience that my American friends feel with me on the interesting occasion. --

Here is an affair of a quite different nature. A French emigrant of the aristocratic party having, in a letter to me, on my release from the coalitionary prisons, exposed the state of misery to which he is reduced, and reminded me of his services in the American army; I regretted not to have it in my power to present him with a pecuniary assistance. To the expression of that sentiment it was natural to add an offer to carry his petition to America; the enclosed one he sent to me. But for fear of differing too much I forward it to you who best know what can be done. The part incumbrant [sic] on me I felt the ?? to act as I spurn the idea that his having in Europe belonged to a party opposed to us could make me forgetful of his services to our cause under American colours. --

There goes with this letter one to General Washington. I beg you to present my respects to the Pres., to the V. Pres., and to remember me to all other friends about you. I cannot know whether or not the expressions of my dutiful patriotic attachment of profound and lively gratitude have ever reached the United States. If not I hope it will not be imputed to any deficiency on my part, but I beg you to let me know what has been received from me; I have written to you unanswered letters. My son Georges requests me to remember him to you. I join with him in affectionate respects to your lady and family. Adieu my dear McHenry, you know how friendly I am.


Pay my best compliments to my generous friends Bolman and Huger. No answer from this excellent and heroic Huger has yet reached me. How happy I would be to hear from him.

1. Lafayette met Patrick Henry (1736-1799), the famous patriot and the newly-elected Governor of Virginia in Williamsburg in 1784, on his 5 month return visit to America.

2. Lafayette had been made commander of the Paris National Guard troops from 1789-1791, and as such was in charge of Louis XVI. As a moderate, favoring a constitutional monarchy, he won the dislike of both the Royalists and the Jacobins and eventually resigned. When war with Austria and Prussia began in 1792 Lafayette was made a commander at the front. But when he tried to save Louis XVI later that year he was impeached by the revolutionary government. Fleeing France, he was captured and spent the next five years in prisons, first in Prussia, then at Olmütz in Austria. Finally released in Sept.1797, Lafayette however remained in exile from Napoleon Bonaparte's France, in Danish-controlled Holstein. His wife, Adrienne, was not considered exiled and could return to France to tend to financial affairs of her own inheritance.

3. In the late 1790s "privateer" ships of Revolutionary France preyed upon U.S. merchant ships headed to Great Britain, ignoring the United States' claim to neutrality. In July , 1798, America cancelled all her treaties with France and war between the two seemed very likely.

4. In Paris the coup of 18 Fructidor (Sept. 4, 1797) was directed at the constitutional monarchists and propertied class who had come to prominence under the Constitution of the Year III (1795). A group of legislators who had opposed republicanism were ousted from France.

5. Dr. Justus E. Bollmann, a young doctor from Hamburg, and Francis Huger, the young son of Lafayette's host in Charleston in 1777, had unsuccessfully attempted to effect Lafayette's escape from Olmütz.

6. Stanley J. Idzerda. "Lafayette, Marquis de"; http://www.anb.org/articles/03/03-00266.html. American National Biography Online Feb. 2000.

Lettre de Lafayette a Patrick Henry, 30 Août, 1798
(Traduction d'un extrait. Robert Brooks, traducteur.)

J'ai entendu dire qu'on a pris des mesures en ce qui concerne les actes de piraterie qui, j'en suis persuadé, ont de loin dépassé les intentions du gouvernement. Des lettres provenant de Paris m'informent que, bientôt, une navigation complètement neutre sera mieux établie. Si je n'avais pas craint de perdre cette occasion de vous écrire, j'aurais attendre l'arrivée des réponses que je compte recevoir d'un jour à l'autre. Je viens de vous faire entendue que, en outre des ses communications directes, la République de Batave est prête à intercéder. Mr. Murray vous aura mis au courrant des changements qui ont eu lieu dans ce pays-là. À fin de mieux évaluer les sentiments ( ?) de son gouvernement actuel, je vous fais une confidence qui pourrait vous être utile. Les Bataves avaient l'intention de m'inviter à faire un séjour dans leur pays à ma sortie du château d'Olmutz. La révolution de janvier, prévue depuis longtemps, a mis fin à leur projet. Depuis la déposition des Jacobins, le nouveau gouvernement a repris la même idée. Ils ont eu la gentillesse de me faire comprendre que ma présence parmi eux leur serait agréable. Sans doute, et de plusieurs points de vue, elle présenterait des avantages certains, me permettant ainsi de me rapprocher de ma famille. Néanmoins, je ne suis pas encore décidé.

Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
2121 Euclid Avenue  ·  Cleveland, Ohio 44115  ·  (216) 687-2449

Cleveland Memory Project     Cleveland Digital Library
© 1996-2005 Cleveland State University Library

LAFAYETTE HOME About the Collection Selected Documents Finding Aid CSU and Lafayette Life & Times in Words & Pictures Links Credits LAFAYETTE HOME