American Journey



* Facts About the Trip * Events of 1831 * Tocqueville and Beaumont's Itinerary

In 1831, two young Frenchmen -- Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont -- received permission to travel to the U.S. for the purpose of studying the U.S. prison system. Both were at odds with the new government of Louis Philippe, and they were looking for an excuse to leave France. They were also intrigued with the notion of American democracy and eager to see the country. So Tocqueville, then only 25, and Beaumont, 28, spent nine months traveling throughout the U.S. in search of America's essence. They ventured as far west as Michigan where guides led them through the unspoiled wilderness. They headed south to New Orleans, risking their lives to travel during the worst winter in years. But the majority of their time was spent in Boston, New York and Philadelphia; they were warmly received by the elite and had little difficulty arranging meetings with some of the most prominent and influential thinkers of the early 19th century.

Tocqueville interviewed presidents, lawyers, bankers and settlers and even met with Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Maryland -- the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence. He also recorded his thoughts and observations on America's social and political institutions, and reported meticulously on the structure of government and the judicial system. Democracy in America, the book that resulted from his journey, set the stage for discussions about democracy that are still being carried on today. Tocqueville and Beaumont also fulfilled their original assignment; The U.S. Penitentiary System and its Application in France, their assessment of the prison system (based on interviews with prisoners and prison officials) received wide acclaim and was influential among prison reform circles in Europe.

Follow Tocqueville's and Beaumont's trip by clicking on the links above.