Representative Voices is somewhat of an arbitrary term. What it generally stands for is the acceptance of one person's opinion as the authoritative voice on a particular topic. Pierson and this site both examine how Tocqueville translates the views of many prominent (and not-so prominent) Americans of 1830-31 and comes up with the body of work that is Democracy in America. Other metaphors may be used to explain how Tocqueville goes about his translation process, such as seeing the world through the lenses of the Characters' sensibilities. What is more important to consider is how, in his translation, Tocqueville gives serious weight to the arguments of the Characters who inform him. This site examines the weight those people had in American society, partly within and partly outside of their relationship to Tocqueville.
This site is not intended to re-do the work of George Wilson Pierson. It does not attempt a close study of the journals of Tocqueville and Beaumont in order to see how those writings play themselves out in Democracy in America, nor does it attempt to characterize how the travelers had changed from the time they left France to the time they returned. This site is intended to contextualize the Characters with whom the Frenchmen met, and, in doing so, it attempts to shed light on and provide a response to an inherent challenge in American Studies.
The term "American Studies" is problematic and ironic. It is a quite accurate description of the evaluation of ambiguous and broad subjects. It may be argued that Democracy in America is the first text in American Studies, for it covers, with depth, a wide stretch of topics related to the foundations of American culture as well as that culture in the 1830s. Those topics include, but are not limited to, the Constitution, government, law, justice, jurisprudence, slavery, race relations, religion, expansion, progress, education, morality, inheritance, popular thought and feeling, regionalism, and imprisonment. Tocqueville explores how all of these issues, when appropriate, are related to each other in questioning and evaluating a variety of topics the people with whom he comes into contact. Part of his perspicacity, his keenness of observation, was in knowing how to manipulate conversations in order to soak up information like a sponge, and part of it was in recognizing he had a limited time in the United States and should speak with specific people knowing he would get information from both experts and "Jacks-of-all- trades."
This site does not claim that Tocqueville viewed a single person as representative of the way all Americans thought about a particular issue. Due to the regionalized nature of his trip, however, that sometimes occurred. For instance, the fact that he met Peter Schermerhorn, a prominent New York merchant, on his trip across the Atlantic did lead him to make some conclusions about the role of commerce in American culture. As he continued to travel, though, he recognized the monumental disparity of opinions on issues, from various regions and various individuals. This was part of his education.
This site does claim that it is necessary to, in effect, improve the complex crystallization process inherent in American Studies. In this case, the improvement comes in providing biographical background of the Characters who influenced Tocqueville during his journey and in his later writing. For him, those Characters held a particular weight or influence in American society. In truth, his letters of introduction took him to powerful sources. He and Beaumont met two of the seven men who had been President of the United States up to that time, three of the men who had been President of Harvard University, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, men who fought in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, men who led major religious movements of the day (especially Unitarianism), men who developed American systems of imprisonment and slavery, prisoners who enjoyed and feared the fruits of those imprisonment theories, pioneers, Native Americans, slaveholders, slaves, and former slaves. They also met historians, professors, authors, merchants, innkeepers, military leaders, politicians at every level of government, other European visitors, French emigrees, and many, many lawyers. This type-cast is far from a comprehensive list, but it truly contextualizes what their journey was like. They met the common and the uncommon man. In short, they were in heavy company.
Democracy in America packs this information together, filters it, and comes to conclusions and predictions about American institutions and people. Pierson unpacks the text by evaluating the journal entries of Tocqueville and Beaumont and attempting to connect, in some way, how those entries became Democracy in America after Tocqueville returned to France and read volumes of other documents related to his questions. This site attempts to extend the scholarship on Tocqueville by unpacking Pierson and "loosening-up" even further the resources which Tocqueville used by placing them in context -- by finding out who these people really were and what that meant to their contemporaries. In the study of Tocqueville, knowing more about what the lives of his sources were like is just as important as knowing Tocqueville and what he wrote. Those lives inform the Tocqueville scholar as they did Tocqueville, not in exactly the same way or with the same depth, but by providing a sense of time, place, and characterization.
That, in a sense, is this site's commentary on the nature of American Studies. Projects such as this site are necessary in order to serve as reference tools for those who come into contact with this information -- be it Tocqueville, Pierson, or any American Studies-related text - - for the first time, with no sense of experience on the topic from which to draw. These projects provide a more informed study of a work or an issue and can be made readily available, especially when placed in a hypertext format such as this, and can be of quick and ready reference for students, teachers, and others who are curious.
Projects such as this can also serve as a springboard for discussion of other topics or the creation of different projects. For example, there are some glaring omissions from the cast of characters included on Tocqueville's journey, as described by Pierson, such as major literary figures and women. A discussion of that omission has come to exist as a hypertext project on Women in America from 1820 to 1842. Each time a comprehensive American Studies project is created, like Democracy in Ameica or Tocqueville in America, there are bound to be limitations and omissions since America itself is such an enigma. The Resources page of this site also contains a list of suggested projects to add to or create and then link to the study of Tocqueville or this site in particular.
Tocqueville entered the United States with a serious of questions, the most important of which were "Will a republic or democracy work for France?" and "Why does it work in America?" The Characters whom he questioned provided him with some information but also with more questions, such as "Why is there a seeming equality of conditions?" and "Will this last?" Such an unfolding of questions is truly a demonstration of how Tocqueville helped to create what we know as American Studies. Certainly he was subject to the zeitgeist in which his informants lived, which colored his perceptions and his work. This site attempts to place the spirit of that age in perspective by examining those men, and the fact that this site exists is proof that Tocqueville's observations transcended his day with success.