America Revisited: 150 Years after Tocqueville

America Revisited: 150 Years after Tocqueville

America Revisited: 150 Years after Tocqueville

America Revisited: 150 Years after Tocqueville

Excerpt

On May 9, 1831, two Frenchmen, Alexis de Tocqueville, age twenty-five, and Gustave de Beaumont, age twenty- nine, after nearly forty days at sea, landed at Newport, Rhode Island, being unable that day because of adverse winds to reach New York Harbor.

Tocqueville and Beaumont, French aristocrats, were both magistrates of the courts of France. Together they conceived the idea of a trip to the United States, officially to study American prison reforms. As with many political junkets, the formal and official purpose was secondary to another. Their larger purpose was to study democracy in action, to examine the emerging institutions of the United States.

The young magistrates had some difficulty in getting permission to be absent from their duties for the eighteen months of their projected travels. The court calendar then, as always seems to be the case, was reportedly crowded. Moreover, they had to be cleared by two of the ministries of the French Governmentthe Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Justice. Although they obtained leave for their trip to America, they failed in a secondary effort to have one or the other of the ministries pay their travel expenses. As is commonly noted in press releases or newsletters of our members of Congress today, the two Frenchmen traveled at "their own expense." In this case, it was at the expense of their families.

The scope of their mission was noted by Beaumont in a letter to his father:

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