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An Emerging World Power

In 1824 the Marquis de Lafayette returned to the United States at the invitation of President James Monroe. Over 14 months, he visited all 24 states. His stellar American reputation dates more from this trip than from his wartime exploits. As he traveled, Lafayette saw a booming population, a rapidly growing economy, and a nation expanding across the continent. He recognized that the country he helped establish was becoming a new world power that would rival European nations.

 

The Nation’s Guest

President James Monroe invited the Marquis de Lafayette to visit America as it approached the 50th anniversary of its independence. He hoped the general’s iconic presence would help rekindle the nation’s “revolutionary spirit” and commitment to unity, which seemed to be slipping away. The trip was a smashing success, but it did not moderate the divisive 1824 presidential contest between John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson.

Marquis de Lafayette, 1788

Marquis de Lafayette, 1788

© RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY

Hosting the Marquis de Lafayette at a New York banquet, Revolutionary War veteran Matthew Clarkson wore this vest covered with the general’s image. During his sojourn, Lafayette attended hundreds of banquets, balls, and celebrations.

Vest Worn at Banquet for Marquis de Lafayette, 1824–1836

Vest Worn at Banquet for Marquis de Lafayette, 1824–1836

Gift of Sandra Boyd in memory of Richard and Patricia Tilton Boyd

Commemorative Souvenirs, 1824–1825

American tradesmen created a cornucopia of souvenirs to celebrate the Marquis de Lafayette.

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Wedding of the Waters

In the 1820s, America was growing and prospering, especially as it expanded westward. Nothing symbolized this more than the technological wonder of the age, the Erie Canal. It “wedded the waters” of the Great Lakes and Atlantic Ocean, fundamentally changing American trade patterns and spurring New York City to become the nation’s leading maritime and financial center. When he visited the canal, the Marquis de Lafayette was amazed.

"View on the Erie Canal,” 1829

Courtesy of The New York Public Library

Erie Canal map, around 1817

Erie Canal map, around 1817

The technological wonder of the age, the Erie Canal linked Midwest agriculture and industry with the Atlantic Coast. The waterway ultimately spurred the development of New York City as the nation’s leading maritime and financial center. The canal symbolized the rapid commercial expansion of the United States and its increasing links to world markets.
Courtesy of Albany Institute of History and Art

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