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LaGrange nephrologist discusses Marquis de LaFayette

LANETT — LaGrange nephrologist Dr. Richard Ingram was the guest speaker at Thursday’s noon hour meeting of the West Point Rotary Club. He’s been in Troup County since 1984 and is pretty well established as a physician. Though he’s an expert in the field, he didn’t come to discuss medicine; he came to talk about something else he’s an expert in – the Marquis de Lafayette.

The best known landmark in the City of LaGrange is the imposing statue of the Marquis on the square in the downtown area. Ingram said he was constantly amazed by the fact that many people who have lived in LaGrange all their lives have no idea of what the downtown statue is all about. And that’s a shame.

The City of LaGrange is named in honor of him, as is the county seat of Chambers County.

“Thousands of people drive by it every day, and many of them don’t even know who he is,” Ingram said.

According to oral tradition, the county seat of Troup County got its name from the Marquis’ triumphant return to America in 1825. He visited 24 states in the U.S., including many areas that were on the frontier. It’s believed that when he was traveling through the west-central Georgia region the Marquis remarked that how much the countryside reminded him of his country estate in France, which he called la Grange.

The Marquis (1757-1834) was a French aristocrat and military officer who fought in the Revolutionary War. He was close friends with such founding fathers as George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson.

“I would like for you to take the time to learn about Lafayette,” Ingram said. “He set a high bar for what he expected of America.”

Ingram said that one of his favorite quotes attributed to Lafayette made the point that America’s future was the world’s future. Lafayette believed that what happened to America would affect all of mankind.

George Washington and Lafayette were very close. “George Washington was the father he never had and Lafayette was the son George Washington never had,” Ingram put it.

Lafayette grew up in a military family. He was only two years old when his dad died in battle against the British in 1759. “He learned how to read and write at an early age and was raised on stories,” Ingram said.

He learned that he was descended from men who had fought for honor and doing great works. He was proud that his forefathers had fought with Joan of Arc.

“It had nothing to do with self,” Ingram said. “He had a sense of purpose in life, He was looking for a cause.”

At just 14 years of age, Lafayette was a black musketeer, or a member of the king’s bodyguard, and was in an arranged marriage.

“In August of 1775,” said Ingram, “He found what his purpose was.”

He was inspired by stories he’d heard from a kinsman of how a rabble of merchants, shop keepers and farmers in Britain’s American colonies risked everything by revolting and taking on the British army. Those upstart Americans – they were his kind of people.

He asked permission of the French government to go to America and fight with the colonials. Not wanting to risk another war with England, they denied him. Being a wealthy aristocrat, Lafayette bought a ship and hired a crew to take him across the Atlantic. He got there in the summer of 1777. He saw George Washington for the first time in a tavern in Philadelphia.

Ingram said he instantly knew that Washington must be a great leader. At six-foot-three, he towered above everyone else in the tavern and had a regal bearing about him.

Very quickly, Lafayette distinguished himself in battle. He fought on despite being wounded at the Battle of the Brandywine. He was at Valley Forge and out of his own pocket paid for uniforms for his men. In 1778, he turned certain defeat into victory by rallying his troops at the Battle of Monmouth in New Jersey.

Lafayette persuaded a reluctant French government to follow his example and to fight with the Americans. Intervention by France helped swing the tide of the war in America’s favor.

In one of the most decisive moves of the war, Washington put Lafayette in charge of 1,200 elite troops in 1781 and told him to harass British soldiers under Lord Cornwallis in Virginia. Lafayette skillfully maneuvered him into a peninsula at Yorktown.

Sensing opportunity, Washington brought his army to the scene, leaving Cornwallis to depend on the British Navy to show up and get him out of a mess. When the French Navy showed up first, he knew the game was up.

“The world turned upside down,” Ingram said. “Lafayette had committed himself to a purpose and had changed the world.”

Ingram added that Lafayette firmly believed in the concepts of liberty, equality and justice. He advocated for slaves to be freed.

At war’s end, Lafayette returned to France and was heavily involved in the French Revolution in 1789. He was a political moderate at a time when extremists were in control. In the 1790s, he spent five years in prison. He was freed by Napoleon in 1797 but would not participate in his government. After the Bourbon Restoration in 1814, he became a liberal member of the Chamber of Deputies, a position he would hold for most of the remainder of his life.

In 1824, Lafayette was invited by President James Monroe and the U.S. Congress to return to the U.S. for a grand tour on the eve of the country’s 50th anniversary. He agreed to come and arrived in New York in August 1824. He could be likened to America’s first rock star, given the cheering thongs he received everywhere he went. Prior to the announcement, officials in Philadelphia were considering tearing down the Old State House (Independence Hall). When they knew he was going
to visit their city, they
decided to restore it instead.

Lafayette toured the Southern states in 1825. He visited General Andrew Jackson at his home, The Hermitage, in Tennessee. Between cities, he was escorted by state militias. Arches were erected at each town along the way, and the procession would pass underneath. He entered Alabama from Columbus, being ferried across the Chattahoochee by Native Americans.

Ingram credits LaGrange College President Waights G. Henry for heading up the effort to get the statue of Lafayette in downtown LaGrange. It was dedicated in February 1975. Present at the ceremony were Count Rene de Chambray, a direct descendant of Lafayette, and Celestin Quincieu, mayor of Le Puy-en-Valey, France. Then known as Court Square,
the downtown area was renamed LaFayette Square.

The statue is a replica of one that stands in Le Puy-en-Valey, LaFayette’s hometown.