One of our first visits was to the consul of France, Baron de St. Andre [consul-general at New
for whom we had a letter from the Minister of Foreign Affairs. He has a wife and children. They are
likeable people; and he immediately asked us to dinner. But there is nothing to be gained from their conversation. They don't know the country they are in at all and they are entirely without the faculty
of observation. We dine there again today, which bores us, because we have much better things to do.|
Mr. Palmer, the Englishman of whom I spoke before, continues to overwhelm us with attentions
with care. He is on the hunt for all the person who can be useful to us, so as to put us into touch with
them. We have been presented to the Governor of the State of New York, to the mayor of the city, to
Recorder, to the Alderman, and to nearly all the magistrates; several among them even anticipate us
and offer us their services.
... I want, mon petit pere, to inform you at once of the position in which I find myself here. The new
society in which we are does not at all resemble our European societies. It has no prototype anywhere. It
has also some primary conditions of existence that no other possesses, which makes it dangerous for any
other society to imitate it: - It's quite a remarkable phenomenon, a great people which has no army, a
country full of activity and vigor where the action of the government is hardly perceived!
But what conclusion to draw from it for the states of Europe? The United States have no
ambitious neighbors to fear; they are more powerful than the peoples who surround them, so of what use would
an army be?
In the United States political parties are almost unknown. There are sometimes personal disputes
places and public office; but never is the basis of things in question. The sole interest which absorbs
attention of every mind, is trade. It's the national passion, and it's not necessary to have all the arms of
Guard and of the Troops of the Line for the merchants to do their business. But is it the same in the
states where for a long time past interior dissensions divide the people, and where the administration is
unceasingly forced to have recourse to the public force to disarm the factions?
The American people is, I said, a merchant people. That is to say that it is devoured by the thirst
for riches, which brings in its train many hardly honorable passions, such as cupidity, fraud, and bad faith.
Thus they appear to have but one single thought here, but one single purpose, that of getting rich. In
addition, they consider the bankruptcies which are very frequent in all the cities as of no importance or of
very little account. Undoubtedly this is a very vicious side. Yet it is impossible not to admit that there is
much morality in this people. (This at first glance seems hard to reconcile with what precedes) but I
Morals there are extremely pure. A woman who does not conduct herself well is cited as an
rarity. To tell the truth, you meet only happy households. People get together often in winter; but
everything in the last analysis comes down to family life. Unmarried men pay attention only to girls;
these once married think only of their husbands. So long as they are not engaged, they exercise an
extreme freedom in their relations. One sees them out walking alone, for example. A young man accosts
them, goes to the country with them, and this is considered quite natural.
They receive at home without their parents finding fault. But this life of freedom ends for them
day they get married. In short, the happiness which seems to reign in their families has something
tempting in it. Doubtless I should never want to marry in a foreign country, because such a union entails
a host of unpleasant consequences. But Tocqueville and I, glimpsing the happiness so common here and
so rare in other countries were unable to keep from saying that, if we should ever be victimized by
political circumstances in France, we would come to live here with our wives and children.
Whence comes this morality so powerful in the habits of a people which, as we have seen, is not
always a virtuous people? I believe that by and by I will be in a better position to answer this question
than I am now. I already see however some causes which seem of a character to explain this fact. The
first seems to me to be the religious spirit which dominate society - Nowhere are religious ideas more in
honor. All the cults here are free and are honored; but he would be looked on as a Brute who did not
belong to any religion. This general opinion spread throughout society arises out of some first causes
which some day we will develop.
In the second place, there is here as I said only a single class of Merchants, all concerned with
same one interest, and competing against each other for one thing, riches. There is not, as in France,
a certain number of individuals who, if they didn't busy themselves seducing women, would have nothing
to do. Why are garrison towns more immoral than the others? Because a regiment in a city increases
the number of unoccupied whose only pastime is to corrupt and seduce. Here commerce and industry take up
all the time. One must add that the Americans have a colder temperament than we. Thus this people has
an interest in being moral; it believes besides in a religion which commands morality, and the nature of
its blood, instead of being an obstacle, favors this disposition and leaning in it.
I am going to study with care the divers[e] religious sects which exist here, and inform myself of
the reasons for there being such perfect harmony between them. It seems that each day Catholicism
There are several Roman Catholic churches and a cathedral here; we visited them yesterday. The
Bishop, Mr. Dubois, is absent at the moment. We learned that at his home where we went to see him.
We asked for his grand vicar, who was also out. We heard mass, and a Catholic priest delivered a sermon
in English which we understood very well (we are making great progress in English, as we speak it all
day long). We found Mme de St. Andre [wife of the French consul] at the Catholic church, and she had
us sit in her pew. Sunday is observed here with the greatest rigor. Not a single person works; the shops
are closed otherwise than at Paris; one allows oneself no other reading than the Bible.
I am not describing New York to you because I, don't know the city yet. However, Saturday
evening Tocqueville and I, while out walking, perceived a church that was open. Within were only a few pious
souls wrapped in prayer. We found the door of the stairway leading to the steeple open. There we were
climbing from attic to attic, by little staircases dark and steep. At last, after many tribulations, we got all
the way to the top, and we enjoyed an admirable spectacle: that of a city of 240,000 inhabitants built in
an island, surrounded on one side by the ocean and on the other by immense rivers, on which are to be
seen an unending multitude of vessels and small boats. Its harbor is immensely wide. Its public buildings
are few and as a rule of undistinguished construction.
The fine arts are here in their infancy. The commerce and industry which are the source of riches
do not at the same time produce good taste. As for the political notions which the Americans entertain
about France, you must not believe that they are as enthusiastic about our revolutionists as it is thought.
In general they consider the hero of two worlds [Lafayette] as a fine man who lacks judgment and who
wants to apply political theories to a people whom they don't suit.
What's more, the aristocracy of fortune aims at distinctions here as elsewhere. Much is made of
the oldness of families. I was astonished to hear these proud champions of equality call themselves
honorable esquires. They put heraldic arms on their carriages and on their seals. The taste for superiority crops
everywhere. They are besides excessively vain. This results from the eulogies of their government
which are made in Europe. As a consequence, to be on good terms with them, you have to praise them a
great deal. I do it with all my heart, without its affecting my manner of seeing. This national pride induces
them to do everything they can to fascinate our eyes and to show us only the fine side of things; but I
hope that we will manage to find out the truth.
You can have no conception of the activity of our existence. We haven't the time to breathe. It's
a rolling fire of agreeable invitations, of useful occupations, of official presentations, etc., etc. They tear
us away from each other, and each one does all in his power to make our stay in New-York pleasant for
us. The Sharmerhall [Schermerhorn] family with whom we crossed is one of the richest and most esteemed
of the city; it overwhelms us with friendship. Mr. Prime, our banker, who is the wealthiest man in this
country, also puts himself out to be nice to us.
There's where we stand, and as yet we have presented only two of our letters of
recommendation. According to calculation, we still have seventy to present, and we realize now that we could have
done without them. ...
When you answer, mon petit pere, please tell me what you think of the ideas I hazard in this
letter on what I have already seen, and especially what you think of the country where I am? Do you believe
that this people is called to a great destiny among the civilized nations; do you think that its institutions
have solid foundations? Do you believe that it will long conserve its territorial unity? Would not the
result of interstate war be a] dictatorial and soon a monarchical authority? What is your opinion on the
character of the Americans? To what cause, think you, must the purity of their morals be attributed?
[written] May 16, 1831