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The Kergorlay Affair

Although his name was listed in the Order of Lawyers between 1832 - after his resigned from his post as apprentice magistrate - until 1855, Alexis de Tocqueville never wanted to practice law. He did, however, make a single exception to this rule: his defense plea in favor of his long-time friend Louis de Kergorlay, before the Montbrison Criminal Court. De Kergorlay found himself in the dock, along with his father, for having taken part in the colorful affair of the duchess de Berry.

« Your Honor will allow me to add that when I hear it said in this chamber that M. de Kergorlay has not always lived up to his noble character, I cannot prevent my lips from curling in an indignant smile, for it seems to me that all notions of just and unjust are confounded. »
(Gazette des Tribunaux, Court of Assizes of the Loire [Montbrison],
March 9, 1833)

Why? After the events of July 1830, the de Kergorlay family had never accepted either the new regime or the new king. Like his son, Florian de Kergorlay - who had been a deputy from the Oise and peer of France under the Restoration - had refused to swear a loyalty oath to the new regime, and had even published, on September 27, 1830, an open letter in La Gazette de France and La Quotidienne in which he gave his reasons for refusing. This initiative resulted in a condemnation by the Chamber of Peers, which had been exceptionally convened as a tribunal. It also made him the most radical representative of the Legitimist party, which was behind the wild adventure of the Duchess de Berry. Given these conditions, it was no surprise that Louis and Florian de Kergorlay were among the passengers captured aboard the Carlo Alberto, the ship that had ferried the duchess de Berry near Marseille, and which had been forced to drop anchor at La Ciotat due to bad weather. As soon as he received word of his friend's imprisonment, Tocqueville traveled to Marseille and offered to defend Louis at his trial - even though he himself had sworn allegiance to Louis-Philippe and did not at all share his friend's legitimist beliefs. The trial took place at Montbrison between February 25 and March 9, 1833, and the Gazette des Tribunaux, which kept track of trials, tells us about the final day of the proceedings: Tocqueville was not the offical lawyer for the young de Kergorlay, but presented himself as a friend wishing to defend "his childhood companion". His intervention was severely judged in the journal's account of the trial, and describes "a panegyric completely at odds with the cause" in which "he prided himself on his independence and his love for equality and freedom".  play sound extractlire l'extrait sonore   Although Alexis de Tocqueville's defense plea does not seem to have been particularly adept, Louis de Kergorlay was freed. In his description, Gustave de Beaumont saw in this the very stamp of the enduring character of the Louis's and Alexis's friendship: "They were spared no hardship: and this was doubtless somewhat cruel, since Louis de Kergorlay, compromised along with his venerable father in the Carlo Alberto affair, was taken before the Montbrison Criminal Court and charged by the very government to which Alexis de Tocqueville had sworn a loyalty oath. Tocqueville came to the aid of his friend and defended him with ardor, not as one would defend a person accused, but as a friend of whom one is proud. Once this duty of the heart was performed, he continued to follow his proper political path."

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Inscription of Alexis de Tocqueville in the table of Order of Lawyers © Conseil de l'Ordre des avocats de Paris

Inscription of Alexis de Tocqueville in the table of Order of Lawyers
© Conseil de l'Ordre des avocats de Paris

Gazette de France dated September 27, 1830

Gazette de France dated September 27, 1830
© CHAN

Portion of the minutes of the Chamber of Peers dated November 13, 1830

Portion of the minutes of the Chamber of Peers dated November 13, 1830
© CHAN

Minutes of the secret hearing of the Chamber of Peers dated November 23 and 24, 1830

Minutes of the secret hearing of the Chamber of Peers dated November 23 and 24, 1830
© CHAN

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