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New York! American society
« Thus, living as we do from morning to night with men of all social classes, speaking the language badly but understanding it well enough that little escapes us, and, what is more, motivated by an immoderate desire to understand, we are in a good position to educate ourselves quickly. »

Tocqueville's first impressions of American society, as he found it in New York, are mixed and often quite critical. One of the first things that struck him was the condition of women: although he admired the freedom enjoyed by young women, and the opportunity that young people were given to visit each other regularly to get to know each other "in a right and proper manner" before marrying, he openly deplored the complete confinement that all women had to endure once they were wed. He was also disturbed by the religious indifference that was, according to him, the underlying cause of the proliferation of Protestant communities, and by the Catholic minority's long-lasting intolerance. Religious life seemed unsettled (like the Quakers, whose frenzied movements astonished him), split between an extremely dogmatic Catholicism and the deism that certain "Protestant sects" seemed to embrace. It seemed clear to him that the role of religion in society was to "provide a regulated and morale framework for ideas, while reining in the mind's excesses". (Letter to Louis de Kergorlay, June 29, 1831)  Finally, he was very disappointed to discover that the only unifying element in such a cosmopolitan and diverse society was the desire of each for what profit could be made from his or her work. The absence of political passion, i.e. the interest in public matters for themselves, was a continual source of surprise, and even distress. And yet, in attending the Independence Day celebrations on July 4, 1831 in Albany, he discovered with respect the force of civic responsibility and the patriotic feelings of the inhabitants of the United States. His view of American society was definitely altered.   play sound extractlire l'extrait sonore  

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A Street in New York, ca 1850, Hippolyte Sebron

A Street in New York, Hippolyte Sebron
© RMN/Gérard Blot

View of Wall-Street, New York

View of Wall-Street, New York, Anonymous © BNF

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