The Lives of the Characters
The following biographical entries are organized by the geographical order in which Tocqueville and Beaumont crossed the United States. They are organized alphabetically in each section, not in the order in which the travelers met each informant. It is important to note that, in some instances, they met a Character in more than one location. However, this organization places a person in the area in which he met the travelers or in the place with which he is most frequently associated.
New York |
Great Lakes Region
| Boston |
Kentucky and Tennessee
| New Orleans |
Organized Alphabetically |
Organized by Issue
(See alphabetized list for images of the Characters)
Swiss-born, U.S. Senator, Secretary of Treasury to Jefferson, diplomat to
France and London, president of New York branch of second Bank of the United
States. Met with travelers in Manhattan and discussed law.
Prominent New York Jurist; established precedence of handing written opinions
Chief Judge of N.Y. Supreme Court. Staunch conservative; spoke out
against universal suffrage. Wrote Commentaries on American Law
(1826-30) to which Tocqueville would refer often in composing his notes
and his text.
Lawyer, served as U.S. attorney for New York and Mayor of New York City (1801
03), suffered private and public debt and struggles until he regained fame in
1825 for revising the Louisiana penal law to aim at prevention of crime
rather than punishment. U.S. Congressman from Louisiana; hosted Tocqueville
and Beaumont in Washington, D.C.
Prison administrator, originator of the Auburn system of prison-keeping in
which prisoners worked in perpetual silence in open fields. Met with
Tocqueville and Beaumont in Auburn, N.Y. to discuss principles of prison-
Lawyer, New York politician, District attorney of New York County (1817-18,
1821-29). Discussed penitentiary system with the travelers while they were in
Manhattan, particulary the "House of Refuge" system designed for reform of
Distinguished New York merchant who met the travelers as they began their
excursion across the Atlantic on the Havre. His discussions with
Tocqueville and Beaumont helped shape some of their early sensibilities about
the nature of American government and the American people. Of particular note
to Tocqueville were Schermerhorn's comments regarding the dissipation of the
political party system, the American infatuation with wealth and the
unscrupulousness with which it is pursued, and the question of an eventual
division among the states which form the union.
Spencer, John Canfield
Distinguished lawyer in upstate New York. U.S. Secretary of War (1841-43) and
U.S. Secretary of the Treasury (1843-44) under President Tyler, resigned in
opposition to the annexation of Texas. Discussed the nature of the
legislature, jurisprudence, the press, religious tolerance, education, and
suffrage with the travelers when they visited Canandaigua, N.Y.
Great Lakes Region
Landlord and owner of the inn in Pontiac at which the travelers stayed on their
way to Saginaw. Discussed the nature of the pioneer and expansion,
particularly the abundance of land and the dearth of labor to clear it. Also
discussed settlement, economy, business, and religion in the wilderness, and
offered an example of American hubris in man's ability to conquer the land.
Advised them not to go to Saginaw, perhaps out of good will and perhaps out of
fear they were infringing on his economic gain by getting involved with the fur
One of two Indian guides who led Tocqueville and Beaumont through a fifteen
league journey from Flint River to Saginaw, at that point the farthest point of
western expansion. Despite their inability to communicate verbally,
Tocqueville's notes indicate an attention to Sagan-Cuisco's abilities to
negotiate the forest with ease yet be easily duped, in Western eyes, when it
comes to trade. The guides serve as a different kind of colloquial voice,
speaking of racial relations, from those who are foreigners on a new continent
to those who are being forced to become foreigners on land they once occupied.
Michigan businessman who advised Tocqueville and Beaumont which way to travel through the wilderness, advocating a trust of the Indians more than the white man. A colloquial voice in "Quinze Jours au Desert."
Adams, John Quincy (1767-1848)
Sixth President of the United States, Secretary of State to James Monroe and
ardent expansionist. Met with the travelers in Washington, D.C. and discussed
expansionism and the West.
Channing, William Ellery (1780-1842)
Leader of the Unitarian movement (1819), drawing together principles of
Protestantism and the Enlightenment. Advocated social reform and abolition of
slavery. Met with travelers in Boston and discussed religion.
Everett, Edward (1794-1865)
Unitarian clergyman; editor of North American Review; Congressman from
Massachusetts (Independent, 1825-35); President of Harvard College (1846-49);
U.S. Secretary of State (1852-53); Senator from Massachusetts (1853-54).
Ardent Unionist, distinguished orator, shared platform with Lincoln at
Gettysburg. Called on the travelers as they visited Washington, D.C.
German traveler who met Tocqueville during his visits to the United States,
once in Boston. Exchanged ideas with Tocqueville and wrote works on topics
corresponding with those in his text. The link from Lieber's name connects to
a site comparing the two travelers; though it is based from the AS@UVa
Tocqueville site, it will take you away from this site.
U.S. and Massachusetts Congressman; Mayor of Boston (1823-27), instituted great
plan for city reform. President of Harvard (1829-45), turned law school into a
professional school, brought on Jared Sparks, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and
Benjamin Peirce as faculty members. Authored The History of Harvard
University (1840). Discussed law and government with the travelers during
their stay in Boston.
Sparks, Reverend Jared
Historian, Unitarian minister, editor of North American Review (1823-
29), later served as President of Harvard University (1849-1853). Published
twelvevolume The Writing of George Washington. Met with travelers in
Boston and discussed religion.
Lawyer; Massachusetts legislator; author of The Public Men of the
Revolution. Met Tocqueville and Beaumont in Boston and responded, after
their departure, to their written inquiry regarding the administration of
Tuckerman, Reverend Joseph
Unitary clergyman and philanthropist. Began a city mission for the poor of
Boston in 1826 which later served as model for institutions in England and
France. Provided Tocqueville and Beaumont with documents and letters he had
written regarding temperance, charity, education, and pauperism. Discussed such
topics with them during their stay in Boston.
Political leader, U.S. Congressman from New Hampshire and Massachusetts, active
in sectional issues, considered one of the nation's leading constitutional
lawyers and great defender of the Constitution. Served as Secretary of State
under President Fillmore (1850-52). Met with Tocqueville and Beaumont in
Boston but left little impression; they considered him only "power-hungry."
Duponceau, Peter (Pierre, 1760-1844)
French-born American lawyer, served in American revolution. Authored legal
treatises and early works on history and philology, especially of Native
Americans. After 1785 became America's leading expert on international law.
Met with Tocqueville and Beaumont when in Washington, D.C.; little account
given of his views in their journals.
Gilpin, Henry D.
Philadelphia lawyer; U.S attorney, eastern district of Pennsylvania (1831-37);
U.S. Attorney General (1840-41). Met with Tocqueville and Beaumont during
their second visit in Philadelphia to discuss the justice system in America,
particularly which parts of English practice had been retained and which ones
abandoned. His commentary on the jury system shows up frequently in
Democracy in America.
Ingersoll, Charles Jared
Lawyer; author; U.S. District Attorney (1815-29); U.S. Congressman from
anti-French political views early in his career but broke away from those with
of View of the Rights and Wrongs, Power and Policy, of the United States of
which was widely read in America and abroad. Authored histories of the War of
for energy in championing causes unpopular in his own social environment. Met
travelers in Philadelphia to discuss principles of government.
Recorder of the City for Philadelphia in 1830; discussed the possibility of
foreign nations adopting America's jury system with the travelers. Provided
Tocqueville with extensive compositions regarding the penal code and system of
punishment in Pennsylvania, the judicial organization of the state, and
specific recommendations about the adoption of the jury system in France.
Poinsett, Joel Roberts
U.S. diplomat to Mexico; served in South Carolina legislature; U.S. Secretary
of War (1837-41). Developed the poinsettia from a Mexican flower. A strong
Unionist; discussed regional culture and expansion with Tocqueville and
Beaumont during each of their two visits to Philadelphia.
Prisoner No. 28 of the Eastern State Penitentiary
Inmate of Philadelphia prison interviewed by Tocqueville in order to get the
"insider's" insights about how the system affects the individual. Fittingly,
he is nameless, as are the other prisoners interviewed. His belief is that the
prospect of doing work while in prison is the only thing which keeps him
alive, particularly due to the forced solitude at all other times. He
considers the Eastern State Penitentiary superior to the Walnut Street prison.
His story precedes a moving social commentary from another prisoner, about his
perceived necessity to return to crime, forced by society which once put him
in jail for being a vagrant.
Philanthropist and devout Quaker. Associated with many public and private
activities for social welfare in Philadelphia, including creation of free
public schools, hospital work, work of learned societies, and prison reform.
Advocate of the Quaker theory of self-reform under solitary confinement for
prisoners; hosted a dinner for the travelers during their first stay in
Philadelphia, at which they exchanged ideas with others interested in prison-
Carroll, Charles (1737-1832)
Revolutionary leader and, at the time of meeting the travelers, the last living
signer of the Declaration of Independence. Member of Continental Congress and
U.S. Senator from Maryland (1789-92). Landed proprietor; discussed
primogeniture, issues of the aristocracy, and custom vs. law in American
culture when the men were in Maryland.
Latrobe, John Hazlehurst Boneval
Lawyer, inventor. Helped draft charter of Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (1827),
widely recognized as railroad and patent attorney. Active in many
philanthropic societies. Met travelers in Baltimore and discussed, among other
things, suffrage, customs vs. law in America, primogeniture, slavery,
regionalism, public education, Catholicism, and Maryland society.
Chase, Salmon Portland (1808-1873)
Cincinnati lawyer associated with antislavery movement. Later served as
Governor of Ohio, U.S. Senator, Lincoln's Secretary of the Treasury, and Chief
Justice of the Supreme Court (1864-1873).
Lawyer, legal writer, jurist, and law teacher in Ohio. Authored
Introduction to American Law (1837), an influential work of the
elementary principles of American justice system. Discussed the justice
system, government involvement in education, banking and revenue, voting
practices, and the general "equality of condition" in the United States when
Tocqueville and Beaumont visited Cincinnati.
Kentucky and Tennessee
A colloquial voice, represented in Pierson's work ("Down the Mississippi").
Owner of the cabin in which the travelers stayed when stranded in Tennessee
and while Tocqueville took ill. Slave-owner and representative of the
pioneer. Discussed the necessary link between Southern agrarianism and
slavery and how that affects the character of the whites.
Leader of Texas Independence (1836), first President of Texas republic. Left
office of Governor of Texas once it seceded in 1861. Served as governor of
Tennessee district (1829), resigned and lived 3 years with Cherokee tribe. Met
travelers on the Mississippi River and discussed Indians and racial tensions.
Louisville merchant and colloquial voice represented in Pierson's book ("Down
the Mississippi"). Discussed socioeconomic disparity between Kentucky and
Ohio, rooted in slavery, as well as the likelihood of abolition of slavery in
Kentucky and popular feelings about such issues.
French consul in New Orleans at the time the travelers visited the city.
Discussed French customs in the territory, immigration, slavery, and growth
and prosperity of the area with them.
French-born American lawyer, law partner of Edward Livingston in New Orleans.
Louisiana legislator, also served as Louisiana Attorney General. Discussed
New Orleans government and culture with the travelers, specifically growth of
the territory, slavery, and French influences on society.
Seventh President of the United States (1828-1836); distinguished General in
War of 1812. Associated with the "spoils system" in selecting cabinet and
public office holders. Met with travelers in Washington, D.C. but left little
impression on them. Frequently referred to by other informants as an example
of a man of no "talent" being elected to office, a negative example of
Lawyer, studied in law office of Thomas Jefferson. Diplomat to Cuba (1833-41)
and Mexico (1845-48); considered a man of high integrity. Instrumental in
helping the travelers collect printed materials on the operation and history of
the federal government during their stay in Washington, D.C.