Review

Adopted Son: Washington, Lafayette, and the Friendship That Saved The Revolution

by David A. Clary



The friendship and professional military collaboration of George
Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette is a commonplace of
American historical scholarship. Most historians doubt that the
disorganized and inexperienced Continental army could have won the
war without the help of Lafayette and the aid that he coaxed from
the French government.


David A. Clary, who teaches at Eastern New Mexico University, has
set forth the whole story in engrossing detail in this book. His
portrait of Washington does not stray far from the marble-statue
heroic figure we have known all these years, but his Lafayette will
surprise many. Driven by dreams of military glory from his
childhood in the Auvergne region of France, orphaned early in life,
married at 16 and prematurely wealthy, he arrived in America a
young upstart with "more money than sense" and set out to learn the
American way of war from Washington, his senior by 25 years.


It turned out that the learning flowed both ways. Lafayette's
passionate hatred of slavery infected Washington fully as much as
Washington's ideas about warfare influenced him.


Lafayette was a quick study. He learned from Washington that when
you command a small, ill-trained, poorly equipped and undisciplined
army against a powerful foe, you play a cat-and-mouse game,
avoiding large-scale battles, chasing your foe around, nipping at
his heels, wearing him down. Lafayette applied this lesson
brilliantly, first against Lord Cornwallis in New Jersey, and
triumphantly later against the same general in Virginia. It was
Lafayette's mobile hit-and-run harassment that finally led
Cornwallis into the fatal trap at Yorktown, effectively ending the
war.


But military tactics are not the main thrust of Clary's story. He
concentrates on his two main characters, perhaps even too much so,
filling his book with page after page of the mushy letters that
passed between them protesting their eternal admiration for each
other in flowery prose. The French "boy general" must have been one
of the most prolific letter-writers of all time; Clary says more
than 30,000 of his letters are known. The acreage of them in his
book can be a bit wearying.


Clary does bring a lively writing style and much thorough research
to his task. We read of Lafayette "blowing his own horn," and
having a "ringside seat" for battle, as well as being in "the royal
doghouse" back home in France. There are also vastly entertaining
physical descriptions and character sketches of an enormous
supporting cast, American, French and British. His portrait of the
German general Von Steuben, another Washington ally, stands out as
a tiny gem. Knowing no English, Von Steuben was at pains to learn
how to cuss at his troops in English. The first English word he
learned was "goddam," and he would call upon aides to swear for him
in English when the right oath was not at his tongue's tip. I'll
bet you never learned that in high school history
class.


With the war over, Clary follows Lafayette back to France just as
his country was entering the horror chamber of the 1789 revolution.
He was a national hero to the French people, but his sympathy for
the despised royal family set the mob howling for his head and
thrust him into prison. He was lucky to escape with his life. Clary
concludes that even in maturity Lafayette acted with the impulsive
rashness that Washington was never quite able to understand or
control. He came back to America for a last reunion with his adored
Washington, and on this side of the Atlantic he remains a venerated
hero to this day, though he never made it onto our paper
money.


   














Reviewed by Robert Finn (Robertfinn@aol.com) on December 22, 2010

Adopted Son: Washington, Lafayette, and the Friendship That Saved The Revolution
by David A. Clary

  • Publication Date: January 30, 2007
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam
  • ISBN-10: 0553804359
  • ISBN-13: 9780553804355