March 6, 2016
Dear Friend of Lafayette:
In July of 2015, the Hermione departed our shores, leaving in its wake a huge number of Americans who were reminded of, or exposed for the first time to, General Lafayette and the contributions that he and France made to the cause of America. In this regard, the Friends of Hermione-Lafayette report that 50,000 people actually boarded the ship, that there were 6.3 million impressions on Facebook and Twitter combined, and 725 media imprints.
I am reminded of an article that appeared in The New York Times on August 31, 2007 announcing the arrival of an exhibition French Founding Father: Lafayette’s Return to Washington’s America that would open that fall at the New-York Historical Society. The article reported on a survey of New Yorkers on Lafayette Streets in Manhattan and Brooklyn. All but one (of the 35 polled) did not know who Lafayette was. One firefighter actually recognized our hero, and the next closest was a woman who remarked helpfully, “Sounds French.” It is appropriate that the one New Yorker who knew of Lafayette was a first responder, because that was what Lafayette was – a first responder to America’s cause.
As Bob Dylan sang, “the times, they are a-changin’.” Three Lafayette-themed books have appeared in the last six months or are about to debut. One is an important anthology of Lafayette scholarship, in which both AFLers Robert Crout and Lloyd Kramer are represented, entitled Lafayette in Transnational Context, Identity, Travel and Nationalism in the Revolutionary Atlantic World. Another is a young-adult novel by award-winning author and AFL member Dorothea Jensen, A Buss From Lafayette. A third is Sarah Vowell’s satirical but historically accurate work, Lafayette and the Almost United States. Moreover, long-time AFL member Donald Miller recently appeared on C-Span 3 to discuss his recent book, Lafayette: His Extraordinary Life and Legacy. Finally, Lafayette is a major character in the hit Broadway “rap-opera” Hamilton. Sold-out houses of about 1,200 per performance mean that new and younger audiences have been and will continue to be exposed to “America’s favorite fighting Frenchman.”
As an aside, on February 20, I was privileged to give my “Lafayette and the Farewell Tour: Odyssey of an American Idol” speech to 300 congregants at Colonial Williamsburg’s 2016 Antiques Forum.
Meanwhile, after the meteoric rise in our membership in the first half of 2015, sparked by the Hermione’s voyage, membership has continued to grow, albeit at a more measured pace. There have been 44 new members since the last Gazette. Two recent trends should be noted. First, one observes a large number of new European members, mostly French but also from Germany and Portugal! We are grateful to Pierre Leroque who has recruited many of our new French Lafayettophiles. He is our French pied piper of Lafayette.
Second and equally significant, there is a smattering of next-generation members including members of the Ravosa family and my daughter and son-in-law, whose membership I can assure you was not compelled but came as a pleasant surprise. In regards to the younger generation, Sarah Vowell, whose book appeared last October and was briefly on The New York Times best-seller list, has a following with Millennials. Inside the Unitarian Church in Harvard Square for Vowell’s book talk last October, I was struck by the fact that about 70% of the 200-300 person audience was half my age or younger.
In light of the above, I believe that if The New York Times polled pedestrians on Lafayette Streets in Manhattan and Brooklyn today, recognition of Lafayette would be significantly increased.
In closing, I invite you to take a close look at the information relating to our upcoming Boston meeting from June 9 to June 12, 2016. As Lafayette himself said when he addressed Bostonians in the Massachusetts Senate Chamber on June 15, 1825, “Faneuil Hall is the cradle of American liberty.” See the article entitled “Boston’s Revolutionary Vanguard.” We are planning a very exciting and informative program, and I hope to see you in June in the “Hub of the Universe.”
Alan R. Hoffman
Copyright The American Friends of Lafayette 2016.
"The American Friends of Lafayette" is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.