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Postcards From the Edge: Tocqueville’s Letters Home

November 7, 2009

NYT’s Charles McGrath on Tocqueville’s letters from America:

Alexis de Tocqueville, the author of the landmark “Democracy in America,” was in many ways a typical Frenchman. Practically the minute he got off the boat, in Newport, R.I., on May 9, 1831, he started making generalizations: the only thing Americans really care about is making money. American women are good homemakers but boring wives. Southern men care more about honor than Northerners do. Americans drink no wine but stuff themselves with stupefying amounts of food.

But Tocqueville was also unusual, especially for a Frenchman of his class and background, in immediately warming to America, a country that most European travelers considered uncouth, and Americans in turn warmed to him. His letters home fairly bubble with enthusiasm.

“Here we are truly in another world,” he wrote to his brother Édouard, and in a letter to his father he said, “This population is one of the happiest in the world.”

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