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Voyages


America

Journey down the Mississippi: En route for the South, via Philadelphia and Cincinnati
« What is extremely interesting in America is to look at democracy's penchants and instincts when left to its own devices, and to see what social state it necessarily leads to when it dominates a society. »
(Travels in America)

In the fall of 1831, Tocqueville and Beaumont left New York once again and undertook a second, long journey that took them to the Western and Southern United States. Their objective was clearly to discover New Orleans and Washington, but also to measure the differences in mores, customs, and the state of democracy between southern and northern states. For example, they wanted a closer view of the evils of slavery which they reckoned was the source of a possible upheaval for the United States. On October 12th, they stopped in Philadelphia for a fairly lengthy visit. This first stopover gave them the chance to spend time in very elevated social circles, more philanthropists than merchants, where they were given an enthusiastic welcome. Pennsylvania was not a slave state, and the pair noted that there was a problem of racial discrimination that the mere abolition of slavery would not solve.

View of the city of Philadelphia, Louis Garneray

View of the city of Philadelphia, Louis Garneray © BNF

To extend their analysis of the situation, between October 28th and November 6 they made an excursion to Baltimore, Maryland, where slavery was allowed. This city, with its festive, luxurious lifestyle, served as an introduction to the way of life in the south, and the experience of permanent discrimination between the races was sufficiently shocking that when Beaumont wrote his novel Marie; or, slavery in the United-States, the action was set in Baltimore. They finally left Philadelphia on November 21, 1831, and headed for Cincinnati. Before they got there, however, they experienced one of the greatest dangers they had ever faced in America - their steamboat, the Fourth of July, nearly sank in the Ohio River, and they were saved only by the extremely fortunate passage of another ship. As for Cincinnati, it had grown so fast, and without taking the time to organize itself rationally, that Tocqueville thought it looked like "a sketch of a city" rather than a real city. However, the dynamism that accompanied this mushrooming city's feverish growth fascinated both men, who saw it as the symbol of energy, courage and initiative that could be found everywhere on American soil.

« Thirty years ago, Cincinnati was still forest. This city today resembles no other that I know of. It is more like an outline for a city than a city. Yet in the midst of incomplete buildings one finds a raucous life, and people engaged in rather frenetic activity: such is Cincinnati today. It may no longer be the same tomorrow, because each passing day turns the city into something its own inhabitants no longer recognize. »
(Letter to his mother, December 6, 1831)

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View of the city of Philadelphia

View of the city of Philadelphia © BNF

Map of the city of Philadelphia

Map of the city of Philadelphia © BNF

View of Baltimore

View of Baltimore, anonymous © BNF

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Down the Mississippi

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