“I am wonderfully impressed by the clarity of expression in Alan R. Hoffman’s translation of Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825. Having read so many books, journals, letters in French from that time period, I know the convolutions dear to their hearts so Mr. Hoffman has ‘fait un travail merveilleux.’“
—Veronica M. Eid, Adjunct Professor of French, Delaware University
Alan R. Hoffman obtained his BA in history from Yale College, where he studied under Professor Edmund Morgan, before earning a JD from Harvard Law School; and he has practiced law in Boston for 40 years. An avid reader of early American history, he “discovered” Lafayette in 2002 and spent two years – 2003 to 2005 – translating Auguste Levasseur’s Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825, the first-hand account of Lafayette’s Farewell Tour of America written by his private secretary. This translation was published in 2006 and is in its third printing. Hoffman has lectured widely on Lafayette – approximately 150 talks – and has spoken in each of the 24 states that Lafayette visited during the Farewell Tour. He has lectured on Lafayette in these venues:
- New York Historical Society
- New Hampshire Historical Society
- Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA
- University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA
- National Heritage Museum, Lexington, MA
- Lafayette College, Easton, PA
- Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA
- Boston Athenaeum
- Redwood Library, Providence, RI
- Fraunces Tavern Museum, New York, NY
- Massachusetts Historical Society
- The Hermitage, Nashville, TN
- Villanova University, Villanova, PA
Hoffman is an officer of two Lafayette societies: he currently serves as President of the American Friends of Lafayette and President of the Massachusetts Lafayette Society. He has been designated a scholar in the New Hampshire Humanities Council’s “Humanities to Go” program.
Title and Description of Lafayette Lectures
Lafayette and the Farewell Tour: Odyssey of an American Idol
General Lafayette, born the Marquis de Lafayette in Auvergne, France, was truly an American Idol in the 19th century. The proof is that 80 counties, cities and towns were named after him as well as streets and roads everywhere. In this program, the translator of Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825, a first-hand account of Lafayette’s Farewell Tour of America, will describe the full extent of his reputation and explore its origins. Lafayette’s extraordinary reputation was based on his military record in the Revolution, his friendship with Washington, his continued support of American interests, his story-book life and, perhaps most importantly, his Farewell Tour of America when he visited all 24 states and Washington City as the last surviving major general of the Continental Army. Lafayette’s visits to places associated with the venue of the talk are discussed to illustrate the grand reception that the American people gave him on his Farewell Tour.
Lafayette: Symbol of Franco-American Friendship
In this talk, Hoffman explores the role Lafayette played as a symbol of Franco-American friendship both during his lifetime, principally from 1777 to 1792, and after his death during the two other eras of warmth between the two great republics – 1870 to 1950 – and 2007 to date. To the extent the American people remember Lafayette, they recall his 18th century role in our Revolution and his activities on behalf of American interests in the 1780′s. However, Hoffman will emphasize the role of Lafayette’s Farewell Tour of 1824-1825, when he visited all 24 states of the Union as the “Nation’s Guest,” in imprinting Lafayette’s name and reputation on the American psyche. This program will explore this initial period of Franco-American friendship, but focus on Lafayette’s posthumous symbolic role, including his role as the inspiration for the Statue of Liberty, as a facilitator of America’s entry into and participation in the Great War in 1917, and finally as the emblem of the current thaw in Franco-American relations.
Lafayette and Human Rights
Lafayette’s first foray into human rights work was in the American Revolution which he saw as a cause important to all mankind. He wrote this as he sailed to America months prior to his 20th birthday: “The welfare of America is intimately connected with the happiness of all mankind; she will become the respectable and safe asylum of virtue, integrity, tolerance, equality and peaceful liberty.” He continued to promote natural rights – what he called “the Rights of Man and the Citizen” in his 1789 declaration in France – through his support for revolutions in Europe and South America.
Lafayette used his prestige and influence to advocate for causes designed to expand and enhance human rights for the oppressed. He lobbied successfully in favor of Protestants in France who had been unable to practice their religion publicly since the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. He opposed solitary confinement and the death penalty. He urged universal manhood suffrage in France.
The abolition of American slavery was the cause that engaged Lafayette most intensely and continuously – from 1783 until his death in 1834. One recent biographer describes him as the first international abolitionist. He spoke truth to power – both to Washington, his paternal friend in the 1780’s, and later to Jefferson in the 1820’s. Lafayette advocated for education of the enslaved and their gradual emancipation. In the 1780’s, after Washington demurred about joining him in the purchase of an experimental abolitionist plantation in America, Lafayette purchased one in French Cayenne and had his overseer provide education for the workers and pay them wages until they could buy their freedom. Lafayette was a close friend of Thomas Clarkson, the British abolitionist who in 1845, 11 years after Lafayette’s death, quoted him as follows: “I would never have drawn my sword in the cause of America, if I could have conceived that thereby I was founding a land of slavery.” After Clarkson’s letter was published in the Liberator in January, 1846, abolitionists used “Lafayette’s Lament” to advance their cause.