Laboulaye and Levasseur’s journal

April 13, 2011

When Édouard Laboulaye, the Frenchman who shepherded the Statue of Liberty from idea into construction, wrote a novel about liberty in America, he drew on another experience recorded by Levasseur. Shortly after Lafayette’s arrival in New York in August 1824, a fire broke out a few blocks from where he and his companions were staying. Hearing the bells and the sound of fire trucks passing, Levasseur and George Lafayette rushed into the street to join the crowd headed toward the fire. Once there, the two Frenchmen watched the fire fighters in action and spoke with one of the police officers about their progress. Levasseur was duly impressed by the courageous firemen – volunteers, he learned – and by the order that prevailed among the onlookers, “without the aid of a single bayonet or uniform.” The experience led him to a favorable conclusion about a democratic society’s effect on its citizens: people maintain order and respect the law when they, as opposed to an authoritarian ruler, are the authors of their laws.

Édouard Laboulaye took this as a theme for his novel, Paris in America. And he used Levasseur’s story about courageous volunteer firemen as the basis for a lively scene in the opening section of his book.

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