Sam Houston and General Lafayette on Liberty and the United States of America
Except for Houston. He escaped the house to watch the sun set, to see the first stars come out. He felt happy, despite the lack of a tete-a-tete. He felt alive. Thankful, and surprised at his life, his rise from no one to a bit of a someone, in five short years after leaving the army and showing up on Judge Tremble’s doorstep. How had this happened? How had his circumstances so changed? And yet, thank the gods, the stars were just the same.
“Ah, excellent, another star-gazer.” There stood Lafayette behind him, the French accent making him like no other.
“Sir.” Sam found himself inclining his head, even though it was dark. Then his mouth took charge. “Forgive me. I’m simple. It amazes me, how they are the same, the stars. They are so constant.”
“Ah, oui. C’est vrai. So very true. When I gazed at the same sky, as a young gallant, serving le magnifique Washington, I wondered, how can it not be liberte est vivant equality of man. How can it not be? And this Constitution, how doubt it? Des droits de l’homme et du citoyen.” He shook his head. “The rights of man, how can they be in question? Why, les etoiles, the stars, the night skies, do they not profess liberte? La liberte, elle est vrai. Elle est constante. Non? Oui, La Dame Liberte, vive La Dame Liberte!”
Sam smiled. He agreed with the great man. Still, he wondered. “Do you still believe in us, so much, sir? After what you’ve seen?”
He’d noticed the pinched French faces when they saw not just the perfection of the Hermitage, but the enslaved, the bent backs who made it so. The Frenchmen stopped, frowned, looked at each other, then looked down, upset, embarrassed, confused. An imprisoned man, even when free, can never fail to notice misery he’s left behind. Lafayette could never blithely overlook it. He could never play the game.
At Sam’s words, Lafayette grasped him on the arm. “Ah non, Monsieur. Do not doubt her, vous, le member du Congress. Why, you must believe her, La Dame Liberte, for her to be so. Vous est l’homme de guarde. Listen! You are the men who uphold her, La Dame Liberte. Je suis comprende. I, myself, I know. I learned this the hard way, with the tears and blood of my people, of myself. C’est vous! Vous! L’homme du Congress your body, those of you who serve the people, c’est vous who must defend La Dame Liberte et La Constitution.”
Houston stared at the beloved Frenchman, mind racing.
“Ah. Non? Non? You doubt me? Mais, Mon Dieu, mon amie! Vous est le guerrier, non? But yes, you were, we established this truth earlier.”
Houston felt his cheeks grow hot with a mix of pleasure and pain flashing across his face. Yes, Lafayette honored him as a fellow soldier, as a soldier wounded for his country.
His right arm was still stiff and practically immobile, except with the vilest of emotions. He should be proud of this and his other injury. But, walking with a cane before finishing his first quarter of a century, despite his best struggles, along with the stiff arm keeping him from hunting, these didn’t feel like badges of honor, even here gazing at the night sky, smelling the beauty of the country, with one of his heroes.
“Ah, oui.” Lafayette dug in his pocket for a little tin. “You, I remember from La Capital. I could never forget you and your love of your General, just as I loved my General. La devotion, tres bon. And yet vous est extrordinarre. In your moment of sorest disappointment, even though you wanted to fight, I saw you. Oui, je vous ai vu. When le General Jackson shook le Presidente’s hand, Monseiur Adams. Rein de vous. In my devotion to Mon General, I am unsure of my response. And yet, he would have.” Lafayette opened the tin and took a big sniff of fresh snuff, and sneezed three, precise and measured times. “Oui. Le magnifique Washington. Pour La Liberte, le fenatique. And Le General Jackson? He went and shook hands. He could have called La Revolution, non? But no. Monsieur le General Jackson, Il est pour La Dame Liberte. Gaze upon stars in the sky, and behold those in your flag, Monsieur General Houston. Constant, they must be. America is a new constellation, and her light must not go out. Vous comprenez? We soldiers think it is we who guarantee freedoms.”
“Yes.” Houston could not move, there under the stars, taking in the words as if from the best school master of all.
“Ah. Oui. Oui, mais non. This mistake, I have made. Do not make it yourself. Any military group can take freedom away. But no military can make a governing body act as it should. Not under true freedom. That body must always be willing to sacrifice its desires, its cliques, its seats, even its parties, to uphold the rights of the people. Without such a body, quelle frommage, the military knows only one way to rule. This you did, when you and Monsieur le General acquiesced to the election. Mon General Washington would have applauded you.”
Finally, Lafayette summed himself up. He pointed to the throngs of people following everywhere he traveled.
“They want freedom, non? They want to see the emblem of what their ancestors achieved. Non? They want their country to live to posterity. Non? Do not the crowds that follow me teach you anything?
“Listen to me, l’homme de Congres. America, she must survive. She’s the light of freedom to the world. She’s the great guiding star. When you hear my name, think of this. If you do, my purpose, I will have lived. Mon General, I will have championed.”
Freedom is not free. Do not take being able to do as you wish for granted. Put the United States first. It is just like the oxygen mask rule on airplanes. Put yours on first so you can help others. God bless America and God bless President Trump!