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Politics & Views

The July Monarchy

The representative from La Manche

The Valognes church

The Valognes church, anonymous
© AD Manche

Although Tocqueville clearly did not enjoy his time in the Chamber of Deputies, he found much more satisfaction in the company of his Normandy constituents. The displays of joy each time he was re-elected, as well as the warm welcome that he received during his election tours seemed to reconcile him to his political plans. One could point out that among his constituency he had organized a particularly efficient form of political cronyism, attested to by the presence, among his papers, of many and various lists of voters, which list their political leanings, and details about their professional and private life. This would, however, give short shrift to Tocqueville's real attachment to his region of origin, as well as to the lives of its inhabitants. In the land of Tocqueville, he benefited from the prestige connected with the great politician from the region and, without being a dupe, re-connected with the tradition of the aristocratic era by taking on the role of Lord of the Manor. For example, he continued the work of his father, and organized the distribution of bread to the poorest families in the village of Tocqueville, and he did his utmost to find paid work for unemployed heads of households - a solution he preferred to private charity.

« What made me a thousand times happier than the election was the way in which the population greeted it. As soon as the results were known, many residents left their homes. An enormous crowd of people tried to accompany me home with joyful cries and hurrahs, which would have made me dizzy with joy had I been sure of being able to live up to such enthusiasm. I was obliged to say a few words to the crowd from my window. At the end there was a veritable ovation such as Valognes had never seen before. »
(Letter to Francisque de Corcelle,
March 6, 1839)

Faithful to the idea of decentralization, however, his works extended to the entire department of La Manche, and he attempted to improve the current situation and give it a future. Thus, in the elections of 1842, he was made councilor of the combined cantons of Montebourg and Sainte-Mère-Église, without even having to officially announce his candidature. He took his role in this assembly very seriously, adding his weight to discussions, studying every bill relating to the life of the department, and energetically drawing up the most significant reports, such as those concerned with the elimination of towers to accommodate orphans in hospitals, aid to young mothers, and the project of a railway line between Paris and Cherbourg. He was a fervent defender of this railway line both in Paris - where he emphasized the strategic and military interest of such a link - and in Saint-Lô, where he attempted to convince the other councilors of the economic interests that the railway would represent in terms of access to the Parisian market.

« From contact with all these people it is quite easy to see that, on the whole, the country is better than the people who run it. All these groups of people among whom I live share a relatively untutored but very eager taste for liberty and the rule of law. »
(Letter to Louis de Kergorlay, October 25, 1842)

In 1846, a law outlined the principle of this railway connection, but the complex study of the various possible routes delayed its concrete implementation for a long time. The question of financing for the second part of the line between Caen and Cherbourg was still on the agenda for the last session of the Departmental Council, chaired by Tocqueville in the spring of 1852. He had become Council president for La Manche in 1849, and remained there for three years, until his refusal to join the Second Empire forced him to resign, regretfully, this local mandate to which he had become quite attached. Tocqueville was aware that his local political action allowed him to act more easily on behalf of his fellow citizens, and for the future of a country that his considered as his own.

Political Figures

Map of Valognes

Map of the Valognes arrondissement, Bitouzé-Dauxmesnil, 1835
© AD Manche


Voter rolls

Voter rolls for the preparation of the legislative elections of 1842, private collection
© AD Manche/A. Poirier

Order by Louis-Philippe concerning the organization of the railroads

Order by Louis-Philippe concerning the organization of the railroads, 1842 © CHAN

Letter from the Western Railway Company

Letter from the Western Railway Company to the Eure Departmental Council, 1845 © CHAN

Map of the Paris-Caen-Cherbourg railway line

Map appended to the report on the Paris-Caen-Cherbourg railway line

Bill relating to the Western railways

Bill relating to the Western railways, Dated May 5, 1846 © CHAN

Minutes of the meeting on the railway committee

Minutes of the meeting on March 19, 1852 relating to the railway committee
© AD Manche

Minutes of the deliberations of the Manche Departmental Council

Minutes of the deliberations of the Manche Departmental Council © AD Manche

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