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Alexis De Tocqueville Essay, Research Paper

Robert Friedman

Criminology 360

Dr. Crisp

February 02, 2000

Alexis de Tocqueville

Alexis de Tocqueville was born in Paris on July 24, 1805. He was born into an

aristocratic family and enjoyed a privileged upbringing. In his younger years he had a private

tutor. As a young adult, de Tocqueville studied law in Paris. After studying law, de Tocqueville

served as a substitute judge in Versailles. At the age of twenty five, de Tocqueville decided to

visit the United States and study the American people and their political institutions. The main

reason de Tocqueville wanted to leave France was that he disliked the government of Louis

Philippe. On May 9, 1831, de Tocqueville and his friend, Gustave de Beaumont, arrived in

America. De Tocqueville traveled through seventeen of the twenty four states. In each state he

studied and observed many components of the United States? political system including the

prison system. De Tocqueville wrote many books that discussed his findings while in America.

Two of these books are The U.S. Penitentiary System and its Application in France and

Democracy in America. After returning to France, de Tocqueville held many government

positions. He was elected to the Chamber of Deputies, Constituent Assembly, Legislative

Assembly, and briefly served as the minister of foreign affairs.

On May 9, 1831 de Tocqueville and de Beaumont arrive in Newport, Rhode Island and

immediately begin traveling and investigating the U.S. penal System. De Tocqueville first

travels to New York. He receives a warm welcome by the newspapers and the governor of New

York. He describes the authorities in all of the states he visits as ?very approachable? and says

that he feels welcomed wherever he goes. He immediately observes and writes that equality

between different social classes within the U.S. is amazing. While in New York, de Tocqueville

visits Sing-Sing prison. He praises the penal system of New York.

De Tocqueville and de Beaumont also traveled to southern states. De Tocqueville

describes a similar feeling of being welcome, but his evaluation of the penitentiary system is

different than his evaluation in the North. He begins by stating that the judicial process in the

South is very fair and logical, but he also finds one major problem. De Tocqueville observes that

there are very few white criminals. He says the reason for this is that most crimes are punished

within the community and, more specifically, the family. For this reason, de Tocqueville

concludes that the penal system in the South cannot be compared to that of the North.

De Tocqueville?s visit to America is a very important event in history. His writings and

books in which he discusses his observations of the political systems within the United States,

are still studied by politicians as major sources of information about the American political


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