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Lafayette Seeks a Position for a Friend
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The French hero of the American Revolution writes from his home to a customs official in Napoleonic France recommending his attorney friend Monsieur Gros for a position in a customs office in southern France.

Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gillbert du Motier, MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE. Autograph Letter Signed, in French, to Unknown Recipient. June 15, 1811, La Grange. 1 p.

Inventory #24153       Price: $1,750

Complete Translation

                                Lagrange[1] 15 June 1811

My dear old colleague, you had suggested that I remind you of your good will toward M. Gros and to indicate any possible placement for him, especially in the customs offices.

            I just heard that the district attorney for the customs tribunal of St. Gaudens, Agen district,[2] has handed in his resignation. As you know, the law practice, the talent, and the work of M. Gros, a most distinguished lawyer in the affairs of the commune, put him in good position to fulfill the functions that come with the new tribunals that you have had the kindness to point out to me, as you voiced your regret that there was no fitting place.

            It would be superfluous to repeat here that you have been most kind to honor the obligations that my family and relatives have had toward M. Gros. Regarding the general esteem with which I write, and his and my gratitude for your favorable disposition toward him, I will limit myself to offering you the expression of my highest respect and my sincere attachment.



18 June 1811 / Customs

Although he tried to steer a middle course during the French Revolution, the Marquis de Lafayette found himself imprisoned by radicals in 1792. After Lafayette spent more than five years in Prussian and Austrian prisons, Napoleon Bonaparte obtained his release in 1797 and restored his French citizenship in 1800. Believing the monarchy needed to be reformed rather than eliminated, Lafayette did not support Napoleon’s rise to power but remained quiet at his country estate.

In each year from 1802 to 1807, Napoleon commanded that a law be passed regarding customs. Customs tariffs were established in 1803 and 1806, making France much more protectionist. The restrictions of Napoleon’s Continental System in opposition to Great Britain opened many opportunities for smuggling. In response, Napoleon granted temporary licenses giving certain French shippers the right to import prohibited goods with payment of duties of 40 percent. By a decree issued October 18, 1810, Napoleon established Tribunaux ordinaires de douane (Customs Tribunals) to try cases of smuggling. Above these courts, the Cours prévôtales de douane, presided over by Grand Provosts, decided final judgments in cases of appeal. That in Agen had within its jurisdiction the four ordinary courts of the south-west: Bordeaux, La Rochelle, Saint-Gaudens, and Bayonne.

Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834) was born in south central France into an aristocratic family. Commissioned an officer at age 13, he traveled to America to participate in the American Revolutionary War. Commissioned a major-general, he initially had no troops to command. He was wounded at the Battle of Brandywine but organized an orderly retreat of his soldiers. He returned to France to seek additional support for the Americans and returned in 1780. He was given a senior command in the Continental Army and delayed British General Cornwallis’ troops in Yorktown until other American and French forces could arrive for the climactic siege. He returned to France and was appointed to the Assembly of Notables in 1787 and elected to the Estates-General in 1789. As commander-in-chief of the National Guard, he tried to steer a middle course through the French Revolution, but radicals had him arrested and imprisoned for more than five years. Napoleon Bonaparte obtained his release in 1797, but he did not participate in Napoleon’s government. After the restoration of the monarchy in 1814, he became a member of the Chamber of Deputies. In 1824, at the invitation of President James Monroe, Lafayette visited each of the twenty-four United States and received a hero’s welcome.

*This item is also being offered in part II of The Alexander Hamilton Collection

[1] Château de la Grange-Bléneau is a fourteenth-century castle 30 miles southeast of Paris that Lafayette received from his wife Adrienne de La Fayette (1759-1807), who received it from her mother. Lafayette lived there from 1802 until his death.

[2] Saint-Gaudens is a commune in southwestern France, facing the Pyrenees, and fewer than twenty miles from the Spanish border.

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