Lafayette Returns to Philadelphia

A Currier and Ives illustration from 1876 recreates the moment when the Marquis de Lafayette first met George Washington. (Library of Congress)

A Currier and Ives illustration from 1876 recreates the moment when the Marquis de Lafayette first met George Washington. (Library of Congress)

In 1824-25, the Marquis de Lafayette inspired an outpouring of enthusiasm in the United States as he revisited the nation he had aided during the American Revolution. Among the stops on his tour was Philadelphia, where he first met George Washington in 1777.  Philadelphians greeted Lafayette with a reception in the room in the old Pennsylvania State House where independence was declared, and in the process of preparations for his visit, they began to refer to this room as the “Hall of Independence.”

Gradually over the nineteenth century, “Hall of Independence” or “Independence Hall” became the common name for the old Pennsylvania State House. The east room on the first floor, where independence was declared, served as a place for welcoming honored guests to the city and exchanging greetings that honored the room’s historic significance.


Lafayette’s speech in the Hall of Independence (1824)

“My entrance through this fair and great city amidst the most solemn and affecting recollections, and under all the circumstances of a welcome which no expression could adequately acknowledge, has excited emotions in my heart in which are mingled the feeling of nearly fifty years.

“Here within these sacred walls, by a council of wise and devoted patriots, and in a style worthy of the deed itself, was boldly declared the independence of these vast United States which, while it anticipated the independence- and, I hope, the republican independence of the whole American hemisphere- has begun for the civilized world the era of a new and of the only true social order founded on the inalienable rights of man, the practicability and advantages of which are every day admirable demonstrated by the happiness and prosperity of your of your populous city.

“Here, sir, was planned the formation of our virtuous, brave, revolutionary army, and the providential inspiration received that gave the command of it to our beloved, matchless Washington. But these and many other remembrances are mingled with a deep regret for the numerous contemporaries, for the great and good men whose loss we have remained to mourn. It is to their services, sir, to your regard for their memory, to your knowledge of the friendships I have enjoyed, that I refer the greater part of the honors here and elsewhere received- much superior to my individual merit.

“It is also under the auspices of their venerated names, as well as under the impulse of my own sentiments, that I beg you, Mr. Mayor, you gentlemen, of both councils, and all the citizens of Philadelphia, to accept the tribute of my affectionate respect and profound gratitude.”

From Ellis Paxon Oberholzer, Philadelphia, A History of the City and Its People (Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1912), 137.


Preparations

Resolution of Philadelphia City Councils, July 29, 1824

 …Resolved, that it peculiarly becomes the City, where that declaration was framed, which gave freedom to the new world, to receive with affection and with honor, the brave man, whose devotion to liberty and whose gallantry as a soldier so greatly contributed to the acquisition and establishment of that blessing.” — Marquis de Lafayette Reception Committee Papers, Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Saturday Evening Post, August 21, 1824

…A committee of the City Councils have directed the Room in the State House, in which the Declaration was signed, to be fitted up, under the direction of Mr. Strickland, as a Levee Room for the General. …

… On Wednesday afternoon, about 4 o’clock, a large assemblage of citizens collected in the State House yard and proceeded to organize the meeting by appointing Thomas Leiper, Esq. Chairman, and Mathew Carey, Esq. Secretary. Resolutions were passed, as proceeding from the people, indicative of the respect and veneration which is every where felt for the veteran soldier, and the Nation’s guest…

Notice to Philadelphia City Councils, Sept 23, 1824

General La Fayette will be received by the Corporation of the City of Philadelphia, in the Hall of Independence, on Tuesday, the 28th instant, at 2 o’clock P.M. and will dine with them the next day at 5 P.M. in the building adjoining the Mansion House. The punctual attendance of the Members of Council is requested at both places. — Marquis de Lafayette Reception Committee Papers, Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Lafayette Reception Treasurer’s Account, October 6, 1824 (Historical Society of Pennsylvania) [link]


Procession and Reception

Auguste Lavasseur, Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825, translated by John D. Godman, vol. 1 (Philadelphia. Carey and Lea, 1829), 141-43.

On a plain a short distance from the city, General Lafayette was received by the civil and military officers, and about 6000 uniformed volunteer militia, drawn up in a hollow square, amid the thunder of canon.  … Never could it be more truly said, that a whole population came out to meet Lafayette; more remained at home but those whom age and feebleness detained. Stages had been erected on each side of the streets, as high as the eves of the houses, for the accommodation of spectators. In the principal street of the suburbs by which we entered, the different trades were drawn up in a line, at the head of each corps was a workshop, in which were workmen at their employments; a banner accompanied each of these workshops, containing portraits of Washington and Lafayette, with this inscription, “To their wisdom and courage we owe the free exercise of our industry.” The printers were the most remarkable among all these mechanics. Over a press which they had in operation in the open street, was the following inscription, “Liberty of the Press, the surest guarantee of the rights of Man.” From this press, an ode to Lafayette, written by James N. Baker, was thrown into the carriages and among the crowd, as they passed. After the mechanics, followed the public schools, the masters and scholars all being decorated with a ribband bearing a portrait of the general and the motto “Welcome Lafayette.” At the head of the procession marched a detachment of cavalry; the nation’s guest followed in a magnificent barouche drawn by six horses, and by his side was placed the venerable Judge Peters, who was the secretary and soul of the war office throughout the revolutionary struggle. Then followed the mayor, city council, and judges, in different carriages; then George Lafayette and myself in a barouche, and behind us four large open cars resembling tents, containing each forty revolutionary soldiers. No one could, without emotion, behold these veterans of liberty, whose eyes half extinguished by age, still poured fourth tears of joy at their unexpected happiness, in once more beholding their ancient companion in arms. Their feeble and trembling voices were reanimated by the sounds of the martial music, which accompanied them, and acquired a new vigour in blessing the names of Washington and Lafayette. A long column of infantry closed the procession. After passing though the streets, and under thirteen triumphal arches, we halted and alighted before the state house. While we rested there a few moments, the city council, judiciary, and military officers, assembled in the principal hall, and a few minutes after, under a salute of thirteen guns, we were conducted into the Hall of Independence, and the general having been led to the foot of the statue of Washington, was impressively addressed by the mayor.

In listening to this address, and recognizing this hall in which the declaration of independence of the United States was signed; this hall at whose door he had waited in 1777, with so much impatience to devote his life and fortune to an almost desperate cause, Lafayette felt an emotion he could scarcely conceal, and which several times showed itself in his eloquent answer.

The people were then admitted to take the guest of the nation by the hand; this greeting lasted for several hours, and presented a picture of the most perfect equality that can be imagined. Mechanics with their hardened hands and uprolled sleeves, advanced to Lafayette; the magistrate and plain clad farmer stood together; the clergyman and player stood side by side, and children sure of having their rights and feebleness respected marched boldly along before soldiers and sailors. The varieties of dress contrasted singularly with the uniformity of physiognomy, which all expressed the same gratitude and admiration…

Excerpts from news coverage:

Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser, September 30, 1824

…As the General passed the United States Bank, the Patriots of ’76, each bearing his banner with 76 in large letters upon it, encountered his gaze. The effect was electrical. The Patriots cheered him as he passed, waving their banners, and the General rose, and saluted them most respectfully with three low bows.

Saturday Evening Post, October 2, 1824

             …The Civic  Arch which crosses Chestnut Street in front of the Hall of Independence is constructed of frame work covered with canvass, and painted in perfect imitation of stone…

…After the General had been received by the Committee, he walked on the covered way prepared for him to the door of the Hall of Independence, the people rending the air with acclamations. – The hall has been fitted up in the most splendid manner. The Room is 40 feet square, the walls and ceiling painted a stone colour, the windows hung with scarlet and blue drapery studded with stars. In the east side stands a statue of the immortal Washington, in a recess which was formerly occupied by the Chair of the Speaker of the first Congress. Behind the statue there is an azure star drapery suspended from spears and wreaths. To the right and left of the statue hangs the Portraits of William Penn, Franklin,  and Robert Morris and Francis Hopkinson. The intermediate spaces are filled with the Portraits of Greene, Wayne, Montgomery, Hamilton, Gates, Richambeau, Charles Carrol of Carrolton, and Gov. M’Kean. Over the door entrance is placed the celebrated Portrait of Washington by R. Peale, relieved on each side by crimson and azure drapery, suspended from spears and laurel wreaths. On the right and left of the entrance are placed the Portraits of Jefferson, Hancock, Adams, Madison, Monroe, and the venerable Charles Thompson – On the north and south the windows are draped to the floor with crimson and azure, the carpet of similar colours, and the furniture of mahogany tastefully and appropriately disposed.  The General was introduced into the Hall so celebrated in our National Annals, amidst the reiterated and redoubted  peals of joy from the multitude.

… Among others he recognized his old friend and compatriot in arms, Col. Forrest, who burst into a flood of tears and was so completely overwhelmed with emotion as to be compelled to retire. Colonel Forrest, it is well known, behaved with great gallantry at the head of his Regiment in the Revolutionary War and was struck in the arm by a ball that kicked him off his horse…

Excerpt from Mayor’s Welcome to Lafayette

“Forty-eight years ago, in this city, and in this hallowed Hall, which may emphatically be called the Birthplace of Independence, a convention of men such as the world has rarely seen, pre-eminent for talents and patriotism, solemnly declared their determination to assure for themselves the right of Self Government and that they and their posterity should hence assert their just rank among the nations of the earth.” — Saturday Evening Post, October 2, 1824

Grand Civic Arch, Erected in Honor of Lafayette (Historical Society of Pennsylvania) [link]


Aftermath

Saturday Evening Post, October 9, 1824

We under the City Council have determined to remove the costly furniture with which the Hall of Independence was adorned for the suitable reception of the Nation’s Guest, and intend using the Hall, as at former elections, a receptacle for votes. If our information on this subject be correct, we cannot but regret, that a room so splendidly fitted up, should be despoiled of all its elegance, and converted into an election poll, when the convenience offered by the County and District Court Rooms, are equal if not greater for this purpose.

Saturday Evening Post, October 16, 1824

Everything is LaFayette, whether it be on our heads or under our feet. We wrap our bodies in LaFayette coats during the day, and repose between LaFayette blankets at night. – We have La Fayette bread, LaFayette butter, LaFayette beef, and LaFayette vegetables of every description, from the common turnip relish to the most dainty dish of celery; together with various other LaFayette articles too tedious to mention.  Even the ladies distinguish their proper from common kisses, under the title “LaFayette smooches.”


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