Tocqueville: The Aristocratic Sources of Liberty

David A. Bell writes:

On 11 May 1831, a fastidious 25-year-old Norman aristocrat arrived in New York City with an assignment to report on American prisons for the French Ministry of Justice. Over the next nine months he travelled up the East Coast, down the Mississippi and through what was then the wild west of Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan. ‘Not every American is pleasant to interact with,’ he complained in a letter home. ‘A great many smoke, chew tobacco, and spit in front of you.’ He nearly drowned in a steamboat accident, and spent one long winter night shuddering with fever in a log cabin where the wind whipped through the walls and water froze in the glass. In Tennessee, he noted that the people had elected to Congress ‘an individual called David Crockett, who had received no education, could read only with difficulty, had no property, no fixed dwelling, but spent … his whole life in the woods’.

(LRB 18 July 2013)