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The departure and the transatlantic crossing: crossing the ocean

Le ship <i>Le Havre</i> towed into harbor by a steamship, Gustave Le Gray

Le ship Le Havre
towed into harbor by a steamship , Gustave Le Gray
© RMN/Christian Jean

Tocqueville and Beaumont set sail for the United States on April 2, 1831, aboard the ship Le Havre, sailing from the port of the same name. They were not entirely free of worries at the idea of the adventure that awaited them across the ocean, far from French soil and their families. Although their trip would in many ways be a real initiation, the first trial they had to face was the crossing itself. The weather was not favorable, and the crew had to endure storms that could not have improved the already rudimentary conditions of the thirty-eight-day voyage. But what struck Tocqueville even more, was the promiscuity aboard the ship, which contained, in addition to its eighteen American crew members, more than 160 passengers of all nationalities and social classes. For Tocqueville, it was a real Noah's ark! In addition, to escape the disorder that sometimes seemed to reign on deck, the two friends, who had booked single cabins, create a meticulously planned schedule, which included various meals taken at set times, long discussions with certain of the passengers, and many hours of study.

« Dear Mama, What a strange life one leads in this vast carriage they call a ship! »
(Letter to his mother,
April 26, 1831)

In particular, they spent many hours of the crossing reading Jean-Baptiste Say Jean-Baptiste Say (1767-1832)
French economist. Say was a leading exponent of the doctrine of free trade and the author of the first treatise on political economy
's Cours d'économie politique.
Nevertheless, it is interesting to read between the lines of the long and colorful letter in which Tocqueville recounts this trip to his mother. It is clear that the ocean crossing - because it brought him in contact with loneliness of the individual when faced with the infinite monotony of the waves - prefigured the feelings he would have in the presence of the forests of the New World, and take on real metaphysical significance, as we can see in his conclusion of the episode of the ball that was held in the middle of the Atlantic.   play sound extractlire l'extrait sonore  

Common Tern (Sterna hirundo), John-James Audubon

Common Tern (Sterna hirundo), John-James Audubon
© RMN/Bulloz


Registry of entrance and exit of ships of the port of Le Havre

Registry of entrance and exit of ships of the port of Le Havre
© AD Seine-Maritime

Notes on Jean-Baptiste Say, made on board the Le Havre

Notes on Jean-Baptiste Say
© AD Manche

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