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Lafayette and the Liberal Idea: 1814-1824, Politics and Conspiracy in an Age of Reaction.

In Lafayette and the Liberal Ideal 1814-1824 Sylvia Neely sets out to clarify the brand of liberalism Lafayette stood for, to explain how early Restoration politics actually worked, and to examine the international context of French liberal opposition. She succeeds in all three regards. Lafayette's centrality to the period comes as no surprise; yet remarkably Neely is the first author to give the general the systematic study he deserves. Better yet Neely's extensive knowledge of the Restoration enables her to use Lafayette's correspondence to shed much light on matters previously only partially understood.

Lafayette emerges as a consistent radical, a champion of the principles associated with the American and (early) French revolutions. At times this could make him a difficult colleague; more than once Benjamin Constant had to try to water down a previous speech made by Lafayette in the Chamber of Deputies. Yet Lafayette's refusal to compromise over what he thought progressive in the French Revolution served a purpose. It constantly forced contemporaries to ponder historical legacies and lessons, and ultimately contributed to the fall of the Bourbon Monarchy. Lafayette became a personification of liberty to his contemporaries. In part this was an inevitable product of his association with well-known past events, but it also resulted from his persistent advocacy of ministerial responsibility, election of local officials, extension of the franchise, and popular sovereignty. Lafayette was not averse to party organization and in fact was much more in tune with grass-roots liberalism than most of his fellow deputies of the Left. Neely's portrait is very sympathetic and would have pleased the General; it thus has the merit of illustrating why he received so many testimonials of affection in the later 1820s. Yet not quite all liberals felt this way and in the east there was a conviction that Lafayette had caused the failure of the Belfort conspiracy of 1821; unhappily Lafayette's correspondence reveals little in this regard.

Neely's ability to analyse how early Restoration politics actually worked is second to none. In essence the book is one of high opposition politics, but the author gives excellent discussions of electoral laws and governmental manipulation of the political process. She carefully evaluates developments of political organization and the crucial role of the press. Emphasis is placed on how many compromises were necessary to maintain fragile unity between

Bonapartists and fiberals; it is illuminating to read that Lafayette was part of a planned petition to return Napoleon's remains to France in 1821. Neely also gives new insight into why the resort to conspiracy in the early 1820s was both contradictory and ineffective. Carbonari failure is placed in the broader context of inability to organize at the high political level; this has the merit of underlining a central point - liberal advances were dependent on initiatives taken by politicians at the local level. Neely's discussion of the role of Charles Goyet of the Sarthe in securing the election of Lafayette and Constant, and consequent influence, gives an example of a phenomenon which was much more general than is usually recognized.

In addition Lafayette provides the author with a means to unravel many of the international aspects of the liberal crusade. Not only was "the hero of two worlds" in constant correspondence with Monroe, Jefferson, and Gallatin of the United States, he was part of a network which brought together British radicals and South American agents with French, Spanish, and Italian revolutionaries. The General's contacts were vital for the many exiles and refugees who congregated in London, and Lafayette's patronage was a great advantage to writers and journalists such as Fanny Wright and Augustin Thierry who were in effect waging a war of values by trumpeting the American and French revolutions. Metternich was not entirely wrong: while there was no Comite directeur in Paris, this sprang more from failure to unify international conspiratorial efforts than from a want of trying. A good deal of research that goes beyond national boundaries remains to be done here, but Neely's work is a useful complement to the many studies of the Holy Alliance and Concert of Europe.

Neely organizes her work in a chronological format, which has the advantage of enabling her to show how liberal opposition was the product of day-to-day events; repeatedly she illustrates how governmental and opposition policies and tactics can be understood fully only through knowledge of immediate context. At times one needs to know Restoration history well to appreciate the finer points she clarifies, but the "republican" simplicity of her prose and eschewing of needless jargon makes for remarkably clear writing. The author is also to be congratulated on her extensive and meticulous notes; such painstaking scholarship helps to make this a major contribution to the field. Lafayette is a work which should be appreciated by readers at all scholarly levels.
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Author:Alexander, R.S.
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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