In the year 1831, while the United States was still fairly young, and thirty years before the start of the American Civil War, two young men arrived on the shores from France. Alexis de Tocqueville and his long time friend, Gustave de Beaumont were sent to study the prison system of America. The two men […]
Alexis de Tocqueville
Alexis Charles Henri Clerel de Tocqueville was born in France in July of 1805. He was a political philosopher and historian. After barely escaping the guillotine, his parents escaped to England. The family returned during the reign of Napoleon. While his father was gaining a peerage, Alexis was learning democratic viewpoints. He despised the July Monarchy, under Louis Phillippe I. Because of his political positions, Alexis was not trusted by either side of the regime. So, getting him out of France seemed a good idea. So, Alexis obtained permission to examine the prison system in America.In 1831 he, and his life long friend, Gustave de Beaumont, began their travels.
In 1831 he, and his life long friend, Gustave de Beaumont, began their travels. Although, the orders were to investigate the American prison system, Alexis used the time to research his book, Democracy in America. Gustave de Beaumont also wrote accounts of their travels in "Jacksonian America: Marie or Slavery in the United States". Alexis also traveled through England and wrote, Memoir on Pauperism. Then on to Algeria. Alexis was a fan of England's form of indirect rule. And, was on the side of racial segregation. Especially in regards to English citizens and Arabs.
In 1835, Alexis traveled through Ireland. There he saw the horrible conditions the tenant farmers lived under. Families starving and dying in filth, even before the Great Famine. When he wrote about it, Alexis included the growing Irish Catholic middle class.
After the fall of the July Monarchy in 1948, Alexis was called back to Paris and elected a member of the Constituent Assembly. There he was instrumental in drafting the Constitution of the Second Republic. As a proponent of bicameralism, he believed in the wisdom of two parliamentary chambers. Alexis also stood behind the election of the President of the Republic by universal suffrage, or the right to vote of all citizens.
Even though he supported the uprising of the June Days Uprising of 1848 and General Cavaignac, Alexis accepted the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs from June to October of 1849. He voted to restrict the liberty of clubs and the freedom of the press. He also approved the arrest of demonstrators, limiting freedom of speech.
These measures were the very things he praised in his book, Democracy in America, but, he justified his actions by saying that he didn't want the democracy in his country to come about in an “earthquake” , but to grow slowly and stably. After working with a group that tried to have Napoleon III arrested for high treason because he served too many terms in office, Alexis was arrested himself and spent a short time in prison. Afterwards, he retired from political life, spending the remainder of his days in his castle. Alexis could not serve under a man who would be a despot. After spending thirteen years trying to prevent it, he spent the rest of his days fighting the battle with his writing.
Spending years fighting tuberculosis, also, Alexis finally capitulated in 1839. He was given a Catholic service and entombed in Normandy at the deTocqueville Cemetery.