« I swear that this Alexis is the best friend a man could ever find on this earth, and since he is mine, I am very glad to have him. »(Note from Gustave de Beaumont,
June 6, 1831)
"It is clear that our destinies are intertwined and always shall be": this is how Gustave de Beaumont described for his father the ties that bound him and Alexis de Tocqueville. The letter is dated April 25, 1831, when the two men were aboard the ship Le Havre, which was carrying them to America. It seems clear that this description would remain true all the way to Tocqueville's death - so much were the two friends' lives intimately connected.
Both men came from the nobility; Beaumont was a descendant of the Bonin de la Bonnière family, who were originally from Touraine. After the French Revolution, his parents - the count Jules de Beaumont and Rose Préau de la Baraudière - moved to the chateau de La Borde in the town of Beaumont-la-Chartre in the Loire Valley. Here Gustave, who was the youngest of four children, would spend his childhood. When Tocqueville met him for the first time, he was King's Prosecutor at the Tribunal de Première Instance at Versailles, a post he had occupied since February 22, 1826. Their relationship turned rapidly into a close friendship, even though their characters were completely dissimilar: while Alexis was maladroit when he had to speak in public, and was wary and fairly asocial with regard to others, Beaumont stood out from other young magistrates by his eloquence and verve, which earned him his appointment at Paris on September 27, 1829. This separation, which aroused bitter feelings in Tocqueville, was not sufficient to come between the two men, who were resolved to share their projects. Together, they planned their trip to the United States, even though it was thanks to Beaumont's promotion that they were entrusted with the official mission that justified their voyage.
« The same studies, the same projects, and the same places bring us together and may continue to bring us together throughout our lives. What a rare and invaluable circumstance! Each of us finds in the other the person best placed to offer him advice and most determined not to go easy on him. »(Letter to Gustave de Beaumont,
May 8, 1830)
The ten months they spent in America sealed their friendship, and deepened their intellectual complicity. The two young men even appeared to have considered co-authoring the work on American institutions, but their differences in temperament led them - after they both had resigned from their judiciary functions - to make use of their common experiences in different ways. Tocqueville the political analyst would go on to write his famous work, while Beaumont, who was particularly sensitive to social injustice, decided to write Marie; or, Slavery in the United States, a novel that dealt with the scandal of the separation of races in a moralistic society. Beaumont's novel was a success, but it did not confer on its author the intellectual recognition that was Tocqueville's when the first volume of Democracy in America was published. Beaumont would learn to live in his friend's shadow, even though his second book, Ireland - which was the result of the two friends' travels in Ireland in 1835, and a second trip in 1837 with his wife - is in every way a remarkable work.
Portrait of Gustave de Beaumont, engraving from the series of Representatives of 1848
© AD Sarthe
Pages from the first edition of Marie, from the collection of Alexis de Tocqueville
© AD Manche
Dedication by Gustave de Beaumont to Alexis de Tocqueville
© AD Manche
Birth certificate of Gustave de Beaumont, born at Beaumont-La-Chartre 17 Pluviôse An X (February 6, 1802)
© AD Sarthe
Report of Beaumont's start as apprentice magistrate and his loyalty oath to the king
© AD Yvelines