“A True Friend of the Cause”: Lafayette and the Antislavery Movement

Although the Marquis de Lafayette is popularly known as “America’s Favorite Fighting Frenchman” in the current Broadway musical Hamilton, his role as an ardent abolitionist has not received the same kind of attention as his contributions to the American Revolution. This winter, a new exhibition organized by Lafayette College and curated by Olga Anna Duhl, Oliver Edwin Williams Professor of Languages, and Diane Windham Shaw, Director of Special Collections and College Archivist, will offer the first comprehensive view of Lafayette as an international antislavery advocate, influencing the abolitionist movement on three continents.

Drawn from the College’s rich collections of 18th and 19th century rare books, manuscripts, paintings, prints, and objects, some of which are on public view for the first time, the approximately 130 works in the exhibition also include loans from Cornell University and the New-York Historical Society. Among the exhibition themes are the personal and intellectual origins of Lafayette’s interest in the welfare of the enslaved, his gradual emancipation experiment in French Guiana, his passionate correspondence with international political figures, and his special influence on the antislavery movement in the United States.

Founded in 1884 and named for French Renaissance book collector Jean Grolier, the Grolier Club is America’s oldest and largest society for bibliophiles. The Club has an exceptional exhibits program, which features books and prints on a remarkable range of topics and produces outstanding exhibition catalogs. A seventy-five page catalog will also accompany this exhibition. During the run of the exhibit, there will be a talk by the curators on December 7, a series of lunchtime guided tours, and a roundtable discussion by three scholars—Laura Auricchio (The New School), François Furstenberg (Johns Hopkins), and John Stauffer (Harvard) on January 24.

The Grolier Club is located in New York City at 47 E. 60th Street. The exhibitions are free and open to the public Monday-Saturday, 10 am-5 pm, Dec. 7, 2016 – Feb. 4, 2017. More information is available at the Grolier Club website [http://www.grolierclub.org/].


Diane Windham Shaw
Director of Special Collections, College Archivist