Newly elected French President Nicolas Sarkozy just completed a diplomacy visit with President Bush to much critical acclaim. As part of his playing host, Bush escorted Sarkozy to Mt. Vernon, the estate of Pres. George Washington, which is located about 20 minutes south of D.C., right at the end of the GW Parkway. By all accounts it was a lovely visit.
Writing at This Ain’t Hell, John Lilyea noticed something profound about Sarkozy visiting Mt. Vernon that was left unmentioned elsewhere:
The BBC also reported that Mr. Sarkozy was at Mount Vernon yesterday discussing events with President Bush (press conference video here). That’s particularly significant to me because of what resides there (besides George and Martha Washington). On the wall in the entranceway to Mount Vernon hangs an ancient key.
It’s the key to the west portal of the Bastille prison, where many of the French monarchy’s political prisoners were held. The storming of the Bastille on July 14th, 1789, to the French, equates to our own Boston tea party or the skirmish at Boston Commons. It was the opening salvo in their own fight for liberty.
In 1790, General Lafayette sent the key to the Bastille to George Washington - to me, that key represents France’s indebtedness to the United States for influencing their own struggle for freedom….
Lilyea’s observation is quite apt considering a persistent theme of Sarkozy’s visit:
At Congress earlier, the current resident of the Elysee Palace was cheered for more than three minutes before he even began his 45-minute address….
Mr Sarkozy devoted much of his speech to expressing gratitude for US heroism on French battlefields in World War II, and to praising American values, spirit and culture.
“America liberated us. This is an eternal debt,” he said, adding: “I want to tell you that whenever an American soldier falls somewhere in the world, I think of what the American army did for France.”
The Marquis de Lafayette, whose 250th birthday was celebrated during Sarkozy’s visit, was also kept front and center through much of the pagentry:
Indeed, Sarkozy seemed to fancy himself a modern-day Lafayette, retracing the steps of the French noble who became Washington’s aide-de-camp. This cast Bush in the supporting role of Washington, a performance Bush was delighted to give. The result was an extended historical reenactment by the two world leaders.
“In 1777, another George W. welcomed to America another Frenchman; his name was Lafayette,” Bush said Tuesday night in a toast to Sarkozy. Sarkozy answered with an anecdote about John Quincy Adams, “who was welcoming Lafayette in these selfsame walls, in this selfsame house.”
Both countries were forged in struggles for liberty, each taking an interest in the plight of the other. It therefore seems fitting that the entourage should visit the place where the Bastille Key is kept. However different the paths of America and France after their respective Revolutions, that key symbolizes, as well as anything, the common ideal of freedom from tyranny that was held dear to both nations at the close of the 18th century. Since then, each has explored methods of government that are in almost perfect diametrical opposition. Perhaps a new found affinity for one another, focused on the most immediate enemies of freedom and dangers to the world, will rekindle that ideal — both in France and here at home.
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