NEW YORK CITY. Tocqueville's letter to his mother, May 14 1831, concerning the visiting practices of Americans.
For instance, we were utterly astounded the first day to see the women come to breakfast at eight o'clock in the morning carefully dressed for the whole day. It's the same, we are told, in all the private houses. One can with great propriety call on a lady at nine o'clock in the morning.
NEW YORK CITY. May 15, 1831. Tocqueville's diary entry on the American preoccupation with business, and the busyness of all American.s
All the Americans whom we have encountered up to now, even to the simplest shop salesman, seem to have received, or wish to appear to have received, a good education. Their manners are grave, deliberate, reserved, and they all wear the same clothes.
All the customs of life show this mingling of the two classes which in Europe take so much trouble to keep apart. The women dress for the whole day at seven in the morning. At nine o'clock one can already make calls. At noon one is received everywhere. Everything bears the stamp of a very busy existence. We have not yet seen any fashionables. I even have the notion that good morals are here the result less of severity of principles than of the impossibility in which all the young people find themselves of thinking of love or busying themselves seriously with it.
NEW YORK. June 9, 1831. Letter from Tocqueville to his sister, describing the courtship and marriage habits of the Americans.
We are living, dear sister, in the most singular country in the world. You have certainly heard it said that in England the married women lead a sedentary life, and that the young ladies enjoyed, on the contrary, a great liberty. Very well! Know that here they are as far [advanced] over England as England is over us. When a woman marries, it's as if she entered a convent, except however that it is not taken ill that she have children, and even many of them. Otherwise, it's the life of a nun; no more balls; hardly any more society; a husband as estimable as cold for all company; and that to the life eternal. I ventured the other day to ask one of these charming recluses just how, exactly, a wife could pass her time in America. She answered me, with great sang-froid: in admiring her husband. I'm very sorry: but that's the literal translation of the English. I tell you this so that, should you happen to be bored at home, you may know what you have to do.
So much for married women: you will comprehend the young ladies even less. Imagine the daughters of the first families, slim and elegant, from one o'clock in the afternoon on, tripping all the streets of New-York, doing their shopping, riding horseback, without father or mother, uncle or aunt, without even a servant. You are not at the end. A young man-and this has already happened to us several times-encounters on his path one of these travellers. If one is already acquainted, one stops, one chats in quite friendly fashion a quarter of an hour at the corner curb-stone, and at the end of the conversation the young lady invites you to come to see her and indicates the hour at which you will find her at home. At the said hour, in effect, [one goes calling on] Mademoiselle So-and-so, and one finds her often alone in her father's parlour, of which she does you the honours. Everybody tells us that this order of things has none of the inconveniences that one might foresee. Perhaps. If, as they also assure us, the tete-a-tete is ordinarily spent in discussing the value of wool and the price of cotton. We often see in society what are called accordes. They are a young man and a young woman who are to be married in several months and who are constantly together meanwhile, paying court to each other most respectfully. The fact is, there is not the least question here of playing the butterfly. Peste! One would speedily get burnt at the candle. These people here are very straightforward. They take words in the most literal meaning; and if one did not turn one's tongue seven times before speaking, as counsels the sage, one might find oneself much embarrassed.
NEW YORK. June 10 1831. Tocqueville's conversation with Albert Gallatin, concerning the morals of American men and women with regard to chastity and adultery.
I. Is it true, as I am told, that morals are pure?
He. Conjugal fidelity is admirably kept. It's not always thus with virtue before marriage. It very often happens in the country (not in our cities) that the extreme liberty enjoyed by the young people of both sexes has its drawbacks. The savage peoples who surround us carry disregard for chastity before marriage even further. They do not regard it as a moral obligation.
NEW YORK. Country Estate of Mr. Prime. June 15, 1831. Tocqueville's diary account of a wedding reception; American women's attempt at music.
They have here a good custom, a few days after a young woman is married she has it announced that she wants to see all her friends and that she will be at home or at her parents' at such and such a day. That being known, every one who has any relations with the family comes, and all the wedding visits are made at once. It's to an assemblage of that kind that we have been. The reunion place is at two leagues from New-York, in a charming country house situated on the edge of the water. The evening was magnificent, the ocean breeze freshened the air, the lawn on which the house was placed sloped right down to the shore, great trees surrounded it on all sides. They have flies in this country which give as much light as glow worms. The trees are filled with these little animals, one would have said a million sparks leaping in the air. It was really a very extraordinary scene.
The only thing overdone was the music. Don't take me for a barbarian. It was de trop because it resembled what one hears in the booths at a fair. This people is, without contradiction, the most unhappily organized, in matter of harmony, that it's possible to imagine. If only they realized the truth. But they are a hundred leagues from suspecting it. We spend our life enduring howling of which one has no conception in the old world. What the young ladies who regale us with this musique miaulante affect most are its difficult passages. And I answer for it that if their object is to produce contrasting and discordant sounds, it would be impossible to succeed better and very hard to carry the thing any further. Aside from the fact that one is never sure that the air is finished, it ends always like a book whose last page has been torn out. I used to think the singer had stopped short, and I would always listen instead of applauding. You must think that I speak of this subject with a sort of indignation; but note that besides the displeasure which detestable music causes, however little one has heard of good, there is always the feeling of moral violence to which one is subjected in being forced to listen, willy-nilly, and to appear pleased as well.
The other day, a propos of that, I had an amusing misadventure. We were at the house of a lady who set out to sing us a national song [Yankee Doodle, perhaps] whose air and words are comical. After the first couplet they laughed, myself with the rest of them. It was a way of applauding. The second couplet begins and I start thinking of something else, so profoundly that I soon am a total stranger to my surroundings. In the middle of my aerial voyage I hear the tune ending. I remember that one must laugh and I laugh, quite loudly even. At this explosion of gaiety every one looks at me, and I am confounded to learn that the comic song whose beginning I had heard had ended five minutes before, and that the song which had just put me into such a cheerful mood was the most plaintive, the most tearful, in short the most chromatic, of the whole American repertory.
MICHIGAN: ON THE STEAMBOAT SUPERIOR. August 1, 1831. Description of Pioneer Life for Women.
In speaking of the pioneer one cannot forget the companion of his miseries and dangers. Look across the hearth at the young woman, who, while seeing to the preparation of the meal, rocks her youngest son on her knees. Like the emigrant, this woman is in her prime; like him, she can recall the ease of her first years. Her clothes even yet proclaim a taste for adornment ill extinguished. But time has weighed heavily on her: in her prematurely pale face and her shrunken limbs it is easy to see that existence has been a heavy burden for her. In face, this frail creature has already found herself exposed to unbelievable miseries. Scarce entered upon life, she had to tear herself away from the mother's tenderness and from those sweet fraternal ties that a young girl never abandons without shedding tears, even when going to share the rich dwelling of a new husband. The wife of the pioneer has torn herself in one instant and without hope of returning from that innocent cradle of her youth. It's against the solitude of the forests that she has exchanged the charms of society and the joys of the home. It's on the bare ground of the wilderness that her nuptual couch was placed. To devote herself to austere duties, submit herself to privations which were unknown to her, embrace an existence for which she was not made, such was the ocupation of the finest years of her life, such have been for her the delights of marriage. Want, suffering, and loneliness have affected her constitution but not bowed her courage. Mid the profound sadness painted on her delicate features, you easily remark a religious resignation and profound peace and I know not what natural and tranquil firmness confronting all the miseries of life without fearing or scorning them.
Around this woman crowd half-naked children, shining with health, careless of the morrow, veritable sons of the wilderness. From time to time their mother throws on them a look of melancholy and joy. To see their strength and her weakness one would say that she has exhausted herself giving them life and that she does not regret what they have cost her.
The house inhabited by these emigrants has no interior partitions or attic. In the single apartment which it contains the entire family comes in the evening to seek refuge: this dwelling forms of itself a small world. It's the ark of civilization lost in the midst of an ocean of leaves. It's a sort of oasis in the desert. A hundred feet beyond, the eternal forest stretches about it its shade and the solitude begins again.
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS. September 21, 1831. Tocqueville's diary entry on the reasons for moral purity.
American morals are, I believe, the purest existing in any nation, which may be attributed, it seems to me, to five principal causes:
1. Their physical constitution. They belong to a northern race, even though almost all living in a climate warmer than that of England.
2. Religion still possesses there a great power over the souls. They have even in part retained the traditions of the most severe religious sects.
3. They are entirely absorbed in the business of making money. There are no idle among them. They have the steady habits of those who are always working.
4. There is no trace of the prejudices of birth which reign in Europe, and it is so easy to make money that poverty is never an obstacle to marriage. Thence it results that the individuals of two sexes unite ..., only do so from mutual attraction, and find themselves tied at a time in life when the man is almost always more alive to the pleasures of the heart than those of the senses. It is rare that a man is not married at 2-+ years.
5. In general the women receive an education that is rational (even a bit raisonneuse.) The factors above enumerated make it possible without great inconvenience to allow them an extreme liberty; the passage from the state of young girl to that of a married woman has no dangers for her.
Mr Clay, who appears to have occupied himself with statistical researches on this point, told Beaumont that at Boston the prostitutes numbered about 2000 (I have great difficulty believing this.) They are recruited among country girls who, after having been seduced, are obliged to flee their district and family, and find themselves without resource. It seems that the young blood of the city frequents them, but the fact is concealed with extreme care, and the evil stops there, without ever crossing the domestic threshold or troubling the families. A man who should not be convicted but suspected of having an intrigue would immediately be excluded from society. All doors would be shut to him.
Mr. Dewight was saying to me that a venereal disease was a mark of infamy which was very hard to wash away. On the other hand, the police do not concern themselves in any way with the prostitutes. The Americans say that it would be to legitimate the evil to oppose to it such a remedy. Mr. Dewight said to us (what we had already had occasion to remark in the prison reports) that of all the prisoners those who most rarely reformed were the women of bad morals.
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS. September 22, 1831. Tocqueville's interview with Franz Lieber on the purity of morals.
We asked him: Is it true that morals are as pure here as they pretend?
He replied: Morals are less good in the lower classes than among the enlightened ; however, I think them superior to those of the same classes in Europe. As for the educated, their morals are as perfect as it is possible to imagine them. I don't believe that there is a single intrigue in Boston society. A woman suspected would be lost. The women there are, however, very coquettish; they even display their coquetry with greater boldness than with us because they know that they cannot go beyond a certain point, and that no one believes that they overstep that bound. After all, I like still better our women of Europe with their weaknesses, than the glacial and egotistical virtue of the Americans.
Q. To what do you attribute the unbelievable master that one obtains here over the passions?
A. To a thousand causes: to their physical constitution, to Puritanism, to their habits of industry, to the absence of an unemployed and corrupted class, such as a garrison for example, to the early marriages, to the very construction of the houses, which renders the secret of an illicit liason amost impossible to keep.
Q. They say that the young men are not sages before marriage.
A. No. They are even, like the English, gross in their tastes, but like them they make a complete separation between the society in which they habitually live, and that which serves their pleasure. These are like two worlds which have nothing in common together. The young men never seek to seduce honest women.
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA. October 28, 1831. Tocqueville's conversation with James Brown concerning the status of Quadroon Women in New Orleans.
We spoke of New Orleans, where he lived for twenty years. He said to me: There is in New Orleans a clas of women dedicated to concubinage, the women of colour. Immorality is for them, as it were, a profession carried on with fidelity. A coloured girl is destined from her birth to become the mistress of a white. When she becomes marriageable, her mother takes care to provide for her. It's a sort of temporary marriage. It lasts ordinarily for several years, during which it is very rare that the girl so joined can be reproached with infidelity. In this fashion they pass from hand to hand until, having acquired a certain competence, they marry for good with a man of their own condition and introduce their daughters into the same life.
There's an order of things truly contrary to nature, said I; it must be the cause of considerable disturbance in society.
Not so much as you might believe, replied Mr. Brown. The rich young men are very dissolute, but their immorality is restricted to the field of coloured women. White women of French or American blood have very pure morals. They are virtuous, first, I imagine, because virtue pleases them, and next because the women of colour are not; to have a lover is to join their class.
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND. October 30, 1831. Tocqueville's conversation with lawyer John Hazlehurst Bonval Latrobe on the efforts of Catholics to win members.
[Catholics] are taking on an extraordinary increase, and following a very clever policy...In the last twenty years they have, with great skill, turned all their efforts toward education. They have established seminaries and schools (colleges). The best institutions of education in Maryland are Catholic; they even have schools in other states. These are full of Protestants. There is perhaps not a single young man of Maryland who, having received a good education, has not been brought up by Catholics. Although they take good care not to speak to the students about their beliefs, you can appreciate that they always exercise a certain influence. Furthermore, they have very adroitly turned most of their efforts to the education of women. They think that there where the mother is Catholic, the children must almost always be the same.
ON THE STEAMBOAT FROM WHEELING TO OHIO. December 1, 1831. Tocqueville's diary entry on Class Equality in Marriage.
When one wishes to estimate the equality between different classes, one must always come to the question of how marriages are made. That's the bottom of the matter. An equality resulting from necessity, courtesy or politics may exist on the surface and deceive the eye. But when one wishes to practise this equality in the intermarriage of familes, then one puts one's finger on the sore.
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA. December 27, 1831. Tocqueville's conversation with M. Guillemin on the fate of mulattoes in New Orleans.
There exists, as a matter of fact, a great deal of immorality among the coloured people. But how could it be otherwise? The law destines, as it were, coloured women to debauchery. You've no doubt noticed, in the place reserved for mulattoes in the theatre and elsewhere, women as white as the most beautiful Europeans. Eh bien! For all that they belong to the proscribed race, because tradition makes it known that there is African blood in their veins. Yet all these women, and many others who, without being as white, possess yet almost the tint and the graces of Europeans and have often received and excellent education, are forbidden by law to marry into the ruling and rich race of whites. If they wish to contract a legitimate union, they have to marry with the men of their caste, and partake their humiliation. For the men of colour don't even enjoy the shameful privilege accorded to their women. Even did neither their colour nor their education betray them, and that's often the case, they would not be the less condemned to perpetual indignities. Not a [illegible] white but has the right to maltreat the happy person in his way and to thrust him in to the muck crying, "Get out of the way, mulatto!"
MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA. January 1832. Tocqueville's diary on the relationship between blacks, Indians, and whites; Tocqueville's account of a slaveholder with slave children.
Near Montgomery in the state of Alabama, I witnessed a little scene that made me reflect. Near the house of a planter what a charming little white girl (his daughter) whom a young Indian girl was holding in her arms and showering with the most maternal caresses. By her side was a negress amusing the child. The latter, in its slightest gestures, showed a consciousness of the superiority which, according to its youthful experience, already raised it above the two companions, whose caresses and attention it received with a sort of feudal condescension. Squatting before it, and spying out its slightest movements, the negress seemed curiously divided between the attachment, and the respectful fear, that her young mistress inspired. While even in the effusion and tenderness of the Indian girl there was visible something free, something a little savage, contrasting strangely with the submissive posture and humble gestures of her companion. Something I couldn't see having attracted her attention in the woods, she got up brusquely, pushed the child aside with some roughness, and plunged into the foliage...
I encountered in the Southern part of the Union an old man who formerly had lived in illegitimate commerce with one of his negresses. He had had by her several children who, on coming into the world, had become the slaves of their father. Several times the latter had thought of at least bequeathing them their liberty, but hears had slipped by before he could clear the obstacles placed by the legislators in the way of manumission. During this time old age had come, and he was going to die. He pictured to himself then, his sons dragged from market to market, and passing from paternal authority under the rod of a stranger. These horrible images threw his expiring imagination into delirium, I saw him the prey of the anguish of despair, and I understood then how nature could avenge the wounds given by its laws.
EN ROUTE BY STEAMBOAT TO NEW ORLEANS. December 27, 1831. Tocqueville's interview with Sam Houston on the Indians.
Q. These notions of justice you speak of are very crude. They only apply to murder anyhow. What happens in case of theft?
A. Theft was absolutely unknown among the Indians before the Europeans introduced among them objects calculated to be a lively temptation to their cupidity.
Since then laws have had to be made to punish stealing. Among the Creeks, who are beginning to civilize themselves and have a written penal code, stealing is punished by whipping. It's the chiefs who pronounce sentence.
Adultery by the woman is punished in the same way; in addition they usually slit the nose and ears of the guilty. Creek law punishes fornication equally. Q. What is the position of women among the Indians?
A. Complete servitude. The women are burdened with all the unpleasant jobs and live in great degradation.
Q. Is polygamy allowed?
A. Yes. You can have as many wives as you can feed. Divorce is likewise permitted.
**all of the above excerpts from Tocqueville's notebooks and letters are taken from Tocqueville and Beaumont in America, by George Wilson Pierson, 1938.