It's 'Lafayette Day' in N.H., Celebrate Accordingly | New Hampshire Public Radio

It's 'Lafayette Day' in N.H., Celebrate Accordingly

May 20, 2018

The Marquis de Lafayette, the first foreign dignitary to address a Joint Meeting of the Congress in 1824, was presented to the House by French artist Ary Sheffer that year in honor of the occasion. (U.S. House description of the painting, which hangs to the left of the Speaker's rostrum.)
Credit U.S. House of Representatives

It doesn't pack the same wallop or stoke the local pride as much as, say, John Stark Dayhonoring the general who coined the Live Free or Die motto. Still, "Lafayette Day" is a long-time official observance in the state of New Hampshire.

Will the French Tricolours be flying in the Granite State today in celebration of the Marquis de Lafayette?

Don't strain your eyes trying to find Le Drapeau Français. One would have better luck finding something named in honor of the French aristocrat, a hero of the American Revolution—from Lafayette Road (Route 1) to Mount Lafayette, one of the most-hiked peaks in the White Mountains.

Gen. Lafayette was a favorite son when he toured America, including stops in Concord, Dover and Portsmouth, in 1824-1825. 

His triumphant return dovetailed into one of the biggest patriotic road trips in U.S. history. He was the first foreign dignitary to address Congress. He visited every state then in existence. He was toasted. He gave speeches.

At this time, for a dose of perspective, the New Hampshire State House in Concord was only five or six years old (it's "the oldest State House in the nation in which the Legislature still occupies its original chambers," as James L. Garvin wrote in his history of the building).

So many place names and businesses in New Hampshire, and around the country, pay silent homage to Lafayette. Other states have long celebrated a Lafayette Day. May 20 is the anniversary of his death in 1834. New Hampshire has numerous honorary days on the books, including Constitution Days, Pearl Harbor Day, Law Enforcement Memorial Week (why the state flag was ordered to half-staff Friday), and General John Stark Day.

The New Hampshire state law for Lafayette Day was enacted in 1955. It reads:

"The governor shall annually issue a proclamation calling for a proper observance of May 20, the anniversary of the death of General Marquis de Lafayette, Revolutionary War hero, in lasting recognition of his gallant and illustrious service in the war for American independence."

Celebrate accordingly.