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A. de Tocqueville before America

1827-1830, the magistracy at Versailles: Tocqueville, hearing judge at the Versailles court
« I am beginning to get used to my new position. It isn't life as one imagines it at sixteen, full of emotions and illusions, but it is unfortunately the life most natural to man, and the one in which he still goes most tranquilly to his grave. »
(Letter to his brother Edouard,
July 5, 1827)

Alexis de Tocqueville was still traveling in Italy when his father secured a position for him at the Court of the First Instance in Versailles. It would appear that his appointment to the post of apprentice magistrate on April 6, 1827 had more to do with the fact that he was related to the great Malesherbes - a detail persistently mentioned in each letter of request - and that his father was Prefect for Seine-et-Oise at the time than with his personal qualities. In June 1827, Alexis de Tocqueville yielded to the wishes of his family and unenthusiastically took up the position that they had obtained for him. His duties were in fact rather simple: the post of apprentice magistrate was really just an unpaid internship while a candidate waited for a more settled position. Deprived of a salaried job, Tocqueville took advantage of the experience to become acquainted with the reality of legal practice, which interested him much more than theory, even if he was only moderately successful at it - a fact that he attributed to his lack of mastery of the art of oratory.

« [...] To become with time a law machine, like most of my peers. I would rather burn my books than end up there. »
(Letter to Louis de Kergorlay, July 23, 1827)

Nevertheless, the three years he spent in the magistracy gave him a solid legal and administrative background, as well as a real scientific rigor in preparing cases, which would remain one of the distinctive traits of the man who later became a thinker and politician. Clearly, Alexis de Tocqueville had never dreamed of making a great career as a judge, and even dreaded seeing his mind restricted to a single legal domain. However, he certainly benefited from this training, and during his three years at the court in Versailles evidently took the opportunity to expand his observation of French society.

Presumed portrait of Alexis de Tocqueville

Presumed portrait of Alexis de Tocqueville
© Conseil de l'Ordre des avocats de Paris

Archives

Letter written by Hervé de Tocqueville in support of the candidacy of his son

Letter written by Hervé de Tocqueville in support of the candidacy of his son
© CHAN

Letter from the Parquet to the Minister of Justice © CHAN

Letter from the Parquet to the Minister of Justice
© CHAN

Letter from the Duke de Damas © CHAN

Letter from the Duke de Damas
© CHAN

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