Alexis de Tocqueville

 

Representative Voices is designed to provide a specific contextual background for George Wilson Pierson's Tocqueville in America, a valuable text for the study of Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America. Pierson's thorough and extensive work, first published in 1938, documents the observations and journal entries of Tocqueville and his traveling companion Gustave de Beaumont as they prepared for, carried out, and wrote about their American studies. Of paramount importance to Tocqueville's study was his ability to interview friends, acquaintances, and strangers with a sense of diplomacy and a calculated manner with which to extract their candid opinions. Pierson chronicles that study, describing many of the people with whom the Frenchman spoke as well as Tocqueville's reactions to their thoughts.

What is lacking in Pierson's book, however, is an extensively clear and marked sense of the roles which Tocqueville's interview subjects played in 1830-31 American society. While he frequently notes some of the offices and social positions which those Americans held, Tocqueville in America neglects to give a sense of the overall influence and weight which each person's words and ideas held in the nation at the time and would hold into the future. Perhaps Pierson's intent is to focus specifically on how those people related to Tocqueville and Beaumont. This site, however, promotes the notion that knowledge of the characters who served as informants for the two Frenchmen provides a rich contextualization for understanding Tocqueville's observations and for understanding what democracy meant for him and America in 1830-31.

 

Navigating Representative Voices

The following pages provide background material on some of the more influential people to Tocqueville and Beaumont during their journey, whether that influence was exercised by direct or indirect contact with them or whether it was conspicuous in not being as powerful as its potential. The Characters are listed alphabetically on the Impressions page, and many of the entries include images of that informant. The list is also organized by the geographic location in which the travelers met that person or that person's general geographic sphere of greatest influence. Still another link provides the same list of people organized by the general subject matter discussed or passed between the travelers and each person.

This site also includes a Commentary which explores Tocqueville's absorption and transformation of the ideas and issues discussed with the Characters, focusing on some of the subjects which Pierson expounds upon and which end up in Democracy in America. A bibliographical Resources site is also included for further study.

It is important to note that this site is intended to serve as a contextual reference tool for Pierson's evaluation of Tocqueville and not as a specific textual evaluation of Democracy in America itself. The Impressions pages, designed to illustrate the effects these Characters had on Tocqueville's work, are the axis around which this site revolves. Please refer to the AS@UVa Tocqueville site for other projects.

 

About the Front Page and Images

Tocqueville and Beaumont left a France blurred to them by political strife and social turmoil, symbolized by the blurred fleur-de-lis and the blurred vision of the iconic Cathedral of Notre-Dame. They explored the value of republicanism by surrounding themselves with the American people and their leaders, represented by the images of Daniel Webster (George Healy, 1846), Salmon P. Chase (Francis Carpenter, 1861), Andrew Jackson (Ferdinand Pettrich, 1836), and John Quincy Adams (George Caleb Bingham, c. 1844). All portraits on this site are in the permanent collection of The National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. The fleur-de-lis represents the iris and was chosen by Charles V to be the royal emblem of France. This icon is located at the bottom of each page and will take you back to the Front Page at any time.

 

Impressions | Commentary | Resources