Letter to Adrienne Lafayette from Valley Forge, January 6, 1778
What a date, My Dear Heart, and what a country from which to write in the month of January! It is in a camp in the middle of woods; it is fifteen hundred leagues from you that I find myself buried in midwinter. Not too long ago, we were separated from the enemy by a small river; now we are seven leagues away from them and it is here that the American army will spend the winter in small barracks hardly more cheerful than a jail. I do not know if the general … will decide to visit our new abode; should he, we would show him around. The bearer of this letter will describe to you the pleasant place which I seem to prefer to being with you, with all my friends and amidst all possible pleasures.
In all sincerity, My Dear Heart, don’t you think that strong reasons forced me to this sacrifice? Everyone has been encouraging me to leave; honor told me to stay, and indeed when you learn in details my circumstances, that of the army, my friend who leads it, My Dear Heart, I trust that you will excuse me and I dare almost say that you will approve my decision. It would give me such pleasure to tell you all the reasons myself, and, as I embraced you, to ask your forgiveness that I am sure to obtain. Please do not condemn me before you hear me.
Beside the reason I gave you, there is another one that I do not want to tell everyone because I would seem to attribute to myself a ridiculous importance. At the present time, my presence is more necessary to the American cause than you would imagine. Many foreigners, whose help was turned down and whose ambition was not served, created powerful intrigues and, with all sorts of tricks, they tried to turn me away from this revolution and its leader; they relentlessly spread word that I had left the continent. For their part, the British affirmed it. In all conscience, I cannot make these people be right. If I leave, many Frenchmen, who are useful here, would follow my example. General Washington would really be unhappy if I told him that I was leaving. His trust in me is deeper than I dare say because of … In the place he occupies, he is surrounded by flatterers and secret enemies. He finds in me a trustworthy friend in whom he can confide and who will always tell him the truth. Not a day goes by without his talking to me at length or writing long letters to me. And he is willing to consult me on most interesting points. There is presently a particular circumstance where my presence is not useless to him; so it would not be appropriate to talk to him about departing.
At present, I also have an interesting correspondence with the president of Congress. The abasement of England, service to my homeland, the happiness of Humanity whose interest it is to have a completely free country in the world, all these reasons contributed to my not leaving, precisely when my absence could have been harmful. In addition, after a small success in Jersey, the General, following the unanimous wish of the Congress, asked me to take an army division and to train it as I saw fit, as well as my mediocre means would allow. Was I to answer his proofs of trust by asking him to take his messages to Europe? Such are, My Dear Heart, part of my reasons which I entrust to you. I could add many others, but cannot risk writing them in a letter.
(Translated by Christine Valadon, Maison Française de Cleveland)
The complete letter's contents, in both English and French, may be found online as part of The Marquis de Lafayette Collection, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections. It is shared here on HistoryPoint.org with the library's permission.
Image: "Presumed Portrait of Madame de Lafayette," 1793-94, by Adelaide Labille-Guiard, part of the permanent collection of the National Museum of Women in the Arts