Cur non, or better yet, why not?
The motto of Marie-Joseph-Paul-Yves-Roche-Gilbert du Motier de Lafayette and his family was spoken as ‘cur non’ in the original French, but it still stands to LaGrange’s new society, Lafayette Alliance today. According to the group’s chair, Richard Ingram, the saying was a part of the Marquis de Lafayette’s family’s coat of arms and was bolted to a sense of optimism.
Ingram sees promoting Lafayette as important because of the historical figure’s three main ideals — liberty, equality and justice.
“Lafayette not only represented liberty, equality and justice, he talked about it in his words and formed that, but he acted on it,” Ingram said.
More importantly, Lafayette is significant enough for the city of LaGrange, since it is named after his wife’s family’s estate, according to Ingram.
“It was March 19 and March 20, 1825, that he made his way from Savannah to Augusta to Milledgeville and over to Montgomery. While he was in this neck of the woods, he made the comment, ‘this reminds me of my homeland in France, Chateau de La Grange.’ (Local lawyer) Colonel Julius Cesare Alford overheard that. Alford’s the one who made the suggestion that we name this settlement LaGrange, hence where it came from,” Ingram said.
In fact, LaGrange even has a day recognizing the French general.
“We have a proclamation here in LaGrange where every September the 6th, (former LaGrange Mayor) Jeff Lukken signed in 2007 that we celebrate Lafayette,” Ingram said. “So, it’s already a done deal.”
With the Lafayette statue’s presence for the last 41 years in the center of town, Ingram said it is a copy of the statue in Le Puy, France.
“That’s an iconic presentation there,” he said. “President Waights Henry, he learned about Lafayette, he had this idea of putting that statue down there.”
Ingram said the idea for the alliance started with the Revolutionary War Art Project in September at the LaGrange Art Museum. He said it was first formed to spark conversation about those who played a role in giving the colonies independence from England and the ideals that mattered to Lafayette.
“For Americans historically, portraits, their purpose has been to inspire an inspirational urge. The idea here was to put a Revolutionary War Art Project together and then have it on display in the LaGrange Art Museum and such that people could come and observe, but then that might tweak some thinking and conversation about what the American Revolution War animated,” Ingram said. “What it animated was for the first time in history, philosophically, was we said ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal…’ What that implied was an ongoing discussion and the potential of working toward perfecting the idea of liberty, equality flanking justice. Justice is sort of the pivot and that requires continuous conversation and civil discourse to perfect those and democracy flails without it.”
Of course, with all the art displayed, Lafayette’s story seemed to have the least amount of attention, he said.
“The revolutionary art project had many stories, but it didn’t have one that could really attract and capture attention. It dawned on me it was Lafayette,” he said.
Lafayette was only 19-years-old when he heard of the American Revolution in 1775, according to Ingram.
“Lafayette first heard the American cause on August the 8th 1775,” he said. “He was in Metz, France, and there was a group, and they were familiar with what was going on in America. Lafayette heard that and then and there he said ‘I’m in.’”
Lafayette bought his own ship and then sailed to the colonies, Ingram said. While in America, he made a personal connection with George Washington in 1777.
“Lafayette was the son Washington never had and Washington was the father Lafayette never had,” Ingram said.
Lafayette contributed to the Battle of Brandywine in September 1777 and the Battle of Yorktown 1781, according to Ingram.
In addition to his contributions during the war, Ingram said Lafayette was ahead of his time with the beliefs in universal suffrage and emancipation. In 1785 and 1786, the general bought two properties in French Guiana and freed 70 slaves that came with the land, according to Ingram.
“He would pay these slaves for their work, he would educate them, give them time to get their footing, develop self-sufficiency and then give them their freedom,” he said. “It was a visionary experiment.”
Lafayette was imprisoned during the French Revolution from 1792 to 1797, according to Ingram. While in prison, he was stripped of his lands and, when freed, spent the rest of his life on his wife’s family’s estate of La Grange, Ingram said.
As for the society, Ingram said they hope to bring about promoting liberty, equality and justice through discourse of Lafayette as the historical figure did himself. Ingram said LaGrange owes Lafayette to honor him for all he did for the United States.
The group is also hoping to pay that forward with a possible interpretive center, or a symposium, among other things, he said.
“We think in a somewhat similar fashion, could we have a Lafayette symposium? We have a brand-new hotel downtown. It has conference rooms in it, there are places to park,” he said. “We’re just thinking these things through, nothing is written in stone.”
Ingram said the town has the potential to bring great awareness of the historical figure and his impact on the town.
“But LaGrange has the opportunity, with Lafayette being in the center of town, it is a superb point of departure to say ‘let’s learn Lafayette. Lafayette matters on these accounts, on these grounds,’” he said.
Other ideas for the alliance to bring awareness include a freedom festival, a license plate emblem project and crafts keepsake shop.
With all of the potential ideas that could bring awareness to people of all ages, the real question is why not?