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‘France is truly hallowed ground for we Americans, and let us always remember it’

Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough inaugurated the Lives of Liberty lecture series and officially kicked off the College’s celebration of the 250th anniversary of the Marquis de Lafayette’s birth last night.

The College has begun a yearlong celebration during 2007-08 in recognition of the life and legacy of the man for whom it is named. Major events include the lecture series; a historical exhibit at the Williams Center for the Arts, entitled A Son and his Adoptive Father: The Marquis de Lafayette and George Washington, and today’s birthday party on the Quad.

  • A web site dedicated to the celebration and to the Marquis’ unique connection to the College provides information and updates.

Speaking before an enthusiastic audience of more than 1,000 people in Kamine Gym, McCullough’s lecture, ”Ties That Bind: America and France,” looked at the connection between America and France and the Marquis’ role in that relationship.

President Daniel Weiss introduced both McCullough and the 250th celebration. Weiss described McCullough as an everyman of sorts – a scholar, a writer, an interpreter, a story teller, and a teacher. He also stressed that McCullough was a special member of the Lafayette community, receiving an honorary doctor of laws degree in 1995 and having a son who graduated from the College.

“This is indeed a very special occasion for the College,” Weiss said. “We begin today the celebration of the 250th anniversary of the Marquis de Lafayette’s birth. When we began this process some two years ago, we decided to make this a yearlong celebration focusing on the legacy of the Marquis in a historical context and today. We thought there could be no better way to begin this than with the wonderful speaker we have this evening.”

McCullough said he was “extremely pleased and honored to take part in this yearlong celebration marking the birth of the Marquis de Lafayette.”

He began by discussing the Marquis’ triumphal return tour of the United States from 1824-25. He said the Marquis represented “a symbol of a past heroic age” and the tour brought about a public outpouring of goodwill and gratitude across the nation that no visitor from abroad has seen before or since.

McCullough stressed that the return tour marked a start of an extraordinary relationship between France and the United States, which while not always smooth or easy, is unlike any other two countries have experienced.

He asked the question, “Would America have won the Revolutionary War without France’s help?” France, and the Marquis in particular, played a major role in the victory over the British in the form of money, troops, and resources. McCullough stressed the fact that Americans owe a great debt to the French for the country’s independence.

“Perhaps we would have won the war without France, perhaps not. There is no clear answer,” he said.

He went on to discuss the innumerable ways in which France and America have influenced each other.

“[Since our independence] more American history has unfolded in France than in any other country except for our own,” he said.

Specifically he mentioned the hundreds of thousands of troops who served and the tens of thousands who died in France during World War I and World War II. “France is truly hallowed ground for we Americans, and let us always remember it.”

France and Paris have also inspired many Americans. The city has provided a tremendous influence on American art, literature, music, dance, science, technology, and medicine. McCullough discussed numerous American writers, artists, and musicians who used Paris as their muse, such as Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Richard Wright, Josephine Baker, and Edward Hopper.

He mentioned the numerous names of cities, counties, places, and colleges which were inspired by the French, including, of course, Lafayette College.

There are also many visible reminders of France in America, such as the city layout of Washington, D.C., the engineering of the Brooklyn Bridge, and the most impressive gift from France, the Statue of Liberty.

“No other country ever honored another country with a gift of such magnitude,” McCullough said.

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