Washington DC - Lafayette Square

Planned as part of the pleasure grounds surrounding the Executive Mansion, now called the White House. This square was originally called “President’s Park”. 

In 1804, President Thomas Jefferson had Pennsylvania Avenue cut through the park, separating it from the White House grounds. In 1824, the park was officially renamed in honor of the Marquis de Lafayette, the French military leader whose involvement was crucial in securing victory in the American Revolutionary War.

Lafayette Square has been used as a racetrack, a graveyard, a zoo, a slave market, an encampment for soldiers during the War of 1812, and many political protests and celebrations. In 1851, Andrew Jackson Downing landscape Lafayette Square in the picturesque style.

The Statues

Today’s plan, with its five large statues, dates from the 1930s. In the center stands Clark Mills’ equestrian statue of President Andrew Jackson, erected in 1853. In the four corners are statues of foreign Revolutionary War heroes: Major General Marquis Gilbert de Lafayette and Major General Comte Jean de Rochambeau of France, Brigadier General Thaddeus Kosciuszko of Poland, and Major General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben of Prussia.

Philip Barton Key & Daniel Sickles

On February 27th, 1859, Representative Daniel Sickles killed Philip Barton Key II in Lafayette Square. Key had come to the park for an assignation with Sickles’ wife, only to be discovered and killed by the congressman.

Daniel SIckles was acquitted after using temporary insanity as a legal defense for the first time in United States history. 

>During the Battle of Gettysburg, Sickles disobeyed orders from his superior, General Meade. Sickles was struck, and his leg was later amputated in a medical hospital. When he awoke, he was informed that the North had won the war. He allegedly replied, “I have won the war!” He insisted that General Meade should not have been accredited for the victory at Gettysburg. 

His leg remains preserved in a medical museum in Maryland.

Make sure to see the White House from Lafayette Square when you are on your Washington DC Middle School trip.