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The departure and the transatlantic crossing: the departure

Alexis de Tocqueville's voyage to the United States with his friend Gustave de Beaumont marked a profound turning point in his life, which scarcely could have been predicted. The decision to leave was taken very shortly after the Revolution of 1830: Tocqueville saw only advantages in such a trip, which he enumerated with great clarity in his letters to Charles Stöffels.  play sound extractlire l'extrait sonore  
It seemed to him a strategic move to take some distance from the new regime of the July Monarchy and wait for the political situation to become clearer.

« Our purpose is not to look at big cities and beautiful rivers. We intend to examine in detail and as scientifically as possible all the forces that drive this vast American society, about which everyone is talking and nobody knows anything. »
(Letter to Stöffels,
February 21, 1831)

In addition, going to see in America "what a great Republic is", and what the study of this democratic regime (rather than that of England) could offer France was a sufficiently original initiative that Tocqueville and Beaumont could hope to profit from it upon their return. Both secretly hoped that this voyage - by serving as the source for a new book on American institutions, or by giving them a certain amount of fame in America - would make them more well-known at home. To bring this about, they had avoid visiting the States as tourists; they needed to find a pretext for their travels, which would allow them an in-depth look at American society and institutions. This is why they sought to be given an official mission by the French government: a survey of the American penal system that could serve as a model for the reorganization of such institutions in France. It appears that Gustave de Beaumont's title of deputy public prosecutor finally allowed both men to be granted this mission, that they would carry out without remuneration or compensation.

The Entrance to the Port of Le Havre, Théodore Gudin

The Entrance to the Port of Le Havre, Théodore Gudin
© RMN/René-Gabriel Ojéda

Various Figures on the Bridge of a Ship, Eugène Boudin

Various Figures on the Bridge of a Ship, Eugène Boudin
© RMN/Michèle Bellot

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