June 7 - Greenburgh

Westchester Herald newspaper report on Tocqueville and Beaumont's visit to Sing Sing

"M. de Beaumont and M. de Tocqueville, the distinguished gentlemen composing the (French Prison) Commission, have spent the last two weeks in this place, and after a most laborious and careful inspection of the prison here, its construction, its order, cleanliness, discipline and regularity, together with a strict investigation into all the minutiae of its government and its operation, we are gratified with the opportunity of stating that they are highly pleased with the institution, and do not hesitate to pronounce it superior, in many of its branches, to any which they have ever visited in Europe. They are gentlemen of engaging manners, of first rate talents and acquirements, and have been repeatedly honored with distinguished offices by their country. We trust that the attention and kindness of the American people, who cannot but feel flattered with the object of their mission, will render their visit throughout the Union both pleasant and profitable."

- from the Westchester Herald, June 7

(Pierson, p. 104)

Return to Travel Itinerary

Next Entry

Previous Entry

Journal entry about inheritance laws and public officials

Conversation with Mr. Livingston

I. It seems to me that American society suffers from taking too little account of intellectual questions.
He. I agree. Far from improving, we get daily worse in this respect.
I. Why do you think that happens?
He. Chiefly because of the law of inheritance. When I was young I remember the country peopled by
rich landowners who lived on their estates as the English gentry do, and who used their minds, and had too a sense of tradition in their thoughts and their manners.
Then there was distinction in the behavior and turn of mind of one class in the nation. The law making shares equal has worked continually to break up fortunes and form them anew; our former standards and conceptions have been lost and this process goes on from day to day. Land changes hands incredibly quickly, nobody has time to strike root in one place, and everybody must turn to some practical work to keep up the position his father held. Almost all families disappear after the second or third generation.

I. Is there anything analogous to the influence, the patronage of large landowners?
He. No. Only individual merit counts here.
I. How do the wealthy classes put up with such a state of affairs?
He. They put up with it as something inevitable since there is nothing whatsoever to be done about it.
I. But is there nonetheless some resentment between them and the common people?
He. None. All classes joined together in the Revolution. afterwards the strength of Democracy was so paramount that no one attempted to struggle against it. Generally speaking the people show no distaste for electing the very rich or well-educated.

I. I am very struck by what seems an extreme equality in American social relations. The richest of men and the poorest artisan will shake hands in the street.
He. There is a great deal of equality. Less however than a foreigner supposes. The manners which strike you often count for no more than such a formula as "your humble servant" at the end of a letter. Here we have to be polite to everybody as everyone has political rights.
There is much pride of wealth among the new-rich of New York. Like the rest of the world we have our moneyed aristocracy, if one can use the word aristocracy of an ever-changing class which makes its pretensions but has no power.

I. In general what type of men hold positions in public service?
He. Generally they are held by men whose abilities and characters put them in the second rank. Such
places do not carry sufficient pay, social consideration or power to attract men of distinction. But that was not so in the first years of Independence. Now we have no great men in politics. They use their energy and resources in other careers.

Mr. Livingston has been in Europe. He comes from a very old family and seems a man of culture.

(Tocqueville, p. 1)

Return to Travel Itinerary

Next Entry

Previous Entry

Excerpt from Beaumont's letter to his mother about Ossining

At two or three hundred paces from the small town of Sing-Sing, there is on the summit of the hill forming the bank of the Hudson a charming country house, occupied by a lady who takes in the people who wish to stay there as pensioners by the week or month. There we established ourselves. Several people were already before us in this house, among others an Englishwoman, mme Maceheidge [?] and her daughter, whose society we found very agreeable.

We always took a short walk at five in the morning. At half past eight after breakfast we took a
second. And in the evening at seven we went swimming in the Hudson. I am beginning to swim passably. Tocqueville is giving me lessons with all the fierce energy of a friend who realizes how unfortunate would be my position if I by chance fell into the middle of a great American river. Where we were the Hudson is one and a quarter leagues wide.

In the evening on leaving the prison we went to call on the people of the village and the neighborhood; everywhere we were overwhelmed with civilities and invitations. The clear profit I've found in these calls in society has been to speak much English. We are making progress. Nevertheless, it happens to us every day to confuse things strangely. We are never entirely certain of what we are told. When it's a matter of banal conversation, the mistake is of no consequence; but it's not the same when they give us an invitation which we do not understand.

We sometimes mistake the day on which we are invited to tea, and very recently a great landholder of the neighborhood, a member of the Livingston family, had made great preparations to receive us. He had prepared a splendid dinner and gathered a number of people in our honor. His dinner was for three o'clock. He waited till five, and we did not come. Alas! We at the moment quietly at home, completely ignorant that they were waiting for us.

You conclude from that that we are not yet very strong in English; I readily agree. Nevertheless, in France we would have the reputation of speaking it like Londoners, we are so nonchalant in saying the clumsiest things.

We saw several attractive persons in Sing-Sing society. American women have a fault we cannot pardon them, which is that of being detestable musicians and of always playing music. ...

We are living in a country which for a long time past has not yet known civil and political dissensions. To tell the truth, there is only one party in America. The quarrels which are carried on in the newspapers or in society concern persons rather than things. It is to be noted that the highest public offices are little sought; there is but one thing which keenly arouses ambitions; that is riches. Wealth alone gives credit, consideration, power. Public offices which are little paid yield neither consideration, nor power, nor credit; thus they are not sought after except by those who have nothing better to do.

This indifference in this matter is a great element for peace and order in a society, as the passion for place, for honors, and for public office is with us a principle of discord and agitation. The more we consider this American society, the more we realize it to be composed of peculiar elements which render imitation very dangerous if not impossible.

We pass the half of our time taking notes. I've forgotten to tell you an incident of our return from Sing-Sing which I am going to relate since I still have half a page.

Desolated to have been impolite to Mr. Livingston in spite of ourselves, we wanted to make a courtesy call on him. His country house is situated between Sing-Sing and New York. It was therefore on
our road, on returning, to pass by his house. We knew that he dined at two o'clock. Consequently we arrived at his house at three. But by misfortune we had been mistaken and we arrived at the moment of family dinner. There were then at table with everybody, but resolved not to eat, because the visit would have lost its character of civility.

Judge of our position. We were dying of hunger and the dishes passed under our noses. They pressed us to eat some excellent ices prepared in haste for us. We had to accept; we devoured them. But at four o'clock the steamboat was to pass and we were to go on board. It was for us the only method of getting away. Four o'clock rings; no steamboat. Someone says it has passed, so that we were in mortal embarrassment. For if we stayed at the house, how dine after having said that we had already dined? We saw ourselves in the plight of having eaten an ice for a meal. We couldn't help laughing at the comical in our situation. Happily the steamboat which was late came to deliver us.

We saw enough of the Livingston house to desire deeply to return there. Adieu. ...

[written] June 7

(Pierson, p. 116)

Return to Travel Itinerary

Next Entry

Previous Entry

June 9

Journal entry about religion

There are 35,000 Catholics in New York. There were not 30 fifty years ago. Mr. [Rev. John] Power
(Vicar-general) claims that the number is daily increasing by conversions. They already form the most numerous community.
What has struck me most in Mr. Power's conversation is:
1st. That he seems to have no prejudice against republican institutions.
2nd. That he regards enlightenment as favorable to the moral and religious spirit.

- conversation of 9th June, 1831

(Tocqueville, p. 212)

Return to Travel Itinerary

Next Entry

Previous Entry

June 10 - Meeting with New York leaders

The following selection was written by Pierson. It is presumed that he retrieved these details from a letter Beaumont wrote to his brother, Achille, June 18

On 10 June, at some club in the city, they were introduced to the former Secretary of the Treasury, the third member of Jefferson's famous triumvirate, the distinguished Albert Gallatin [National Bank president, statesman, diplomat and financier]. That evening they attended a dance at James Gore King's. The night before they had been to a "sort of ball" at the house of the old soldier of the Revolution, Col. Nicholas Fish, whose son Hamilton, three years younger than Tocqueville, was to live to be Secretary of State after the Civil War.

A few evenings later, they ventured out into the country for the first of two very amusing parties on the banks of the East River. And a week after that, Robert Emmet [who later became Justice of the Superior Court of NY], the well-known son of the famous Irish patriot Thomas Addis Emmet, asked them to dinner and introduced them to New York's most distinguished social leader, the courtly Philip Hone.

(Pierson, p. 136)

Return to Travel Itinerary

Next Entry

Previous Entry

Journal entry about lawyers

Conversation with Mr. Gallatin, who has spent several years as American Minister in France and in England

He. We have no villages in America, that is to say none inhabited by people who cultivate the land. A landowner lives on his estate and the houses are scattered all over the country. What you take for villages had better be called towns as they are inhabited by shopkeepers, craftsmen and lawyers.

I. I take you up on the last word; so you have a great many lawyers?

He. Many more, I think, than anywhere in Europe.

I. What is their social standing and character?

He. The one explains the other: lawyers count among the top ranks of society and have much influence; so instead of having bustling, restless characters as in Europe, they tend to stability. Without the lawyers we should by now have revised our civil law, but they defend the abuses and the ambiguities from which they profit.

I. Do they play a great part in elected bodies?

He. They form the majority of members of such bodies; but it has been noticed that the most distinguished speakers and, still more, the greatest statesmen have not been lawyers.

I. How are your judges chosen? What is their position and character?

He. The judges are all chosen from among the lawyers, and, bar the authority of the bench, remain on a footing of equality with them. Our judges are held in very high esteem. Being entirely dependent on public opinion, they need to make continual efforts to keep this esteem. Their integrity is unquestioned. I look on the judges, supported as they always are by the lawyers as a body, as the regulators of the irregular movements of our democracy, and as those who maintain the equilibrium of the system.

Note that having the power to refuse to enforce an unconstitutional law, the judges are in some sort a political force.

I. Is it true, as I am told, that morals are chaste?
He. Conjugal fidelity is admirably secure; there is not always the same chastity before marriage. It very often happens in our country districts (not in the towns) that the extreme liberty enjoyed by young people of both sexes leads to trouble. The savage tribes that surround us go even farther in this disregard of chastity before marriage. They do not see it as a moral duty.

The same day while I was in a club, someone maintained that the Americans, as they stretched inland, would find their fleet diminishing. Mr. Gallatin has estimated at 60,000 (in round figures) the number of sailors at present sailing under the American flag. He has commented: "As we have neither the English press gang nor the French inscription maritime I forecast that at the first outbreak of war, it will be impossible for us to find enough sailors to man twelve of our ships."

(Tocqueville, p. 3)

Return to Travel Itinerary

Next Entry

Previous Entry

June 15 - Dinner at Belmont Farm

Note: According to Pierson, Peter Schermerhorn asked Tocqueville and Beaumont to dinner at his
place, Belmont Farm. The cottage stood on the bank of the East River (at the foot of 64th Street). Adjoining it, a tiny Greek temple housed the billiard room and to the north and south stretched the farms of the wealthy. The billiard room - fashionable Greek Revival Style - caught Beaumont's eye, and he drew a quick sketch of it in his album. It was the first seashore cottage the pair had visited.

Excerpt from Beaumont's letter to his brother, Achille, about the dinner at Belmont Farm

Mr. Schermerhorn had got together all our old companions of crossing (on the Havre). There we found Miss Edwards again; we jumped, danced, gambled; only music box was lacking. But to make up we had a little mechanical music box which served as orchestra the whole time. Our evening yesterday [June 14] was even finer. Mr. Prime has just married off one of his daughters. For this occasion he gave a charming party at his country place. He is a neighbor of Mr. Schermerhorn, but his house is without comparison more beautiful and agreeable than the latter's. There was a howling mob; all the fashionable women of New York were gathered there. That's the first time we've seen so many women together. It seemed to me that several of them were very pretty. I am not certain because one alone occupied me during the evening.

Miss Fulton [probably Julia Fulton] rightly passes for the most beautiful woman of New York; it's to her that I continuously paid the tribute of my admiration. We took some charming walks by the light of the moon. ... Alas! It's a hundred to one that I shall never see her again. She is the daughter of the famous Fulton, inventor of the steamboat. It seems that this great man did not apply his process to the creation of children, for she hasn't at all the air of being filled with vapor. ...

[written] June 18, 1831

(Pierson, p. 141)

Return to Travel Itinerary

Next Entry

Previous Entry

June 20

Excerpt from Tocqueville's letter to Chabrol about a criminal trial in New York

Yesterday we were at the Court of Assizes to see a famous thief tried.

The District Attorney had invited us to come and had saved seats for us; it was the finest affair of the season. Unfortunately the accused had not had time to have an important witness summoned; great disappointment on the part of the Attorney and the Court, who wished to show us a fine specimen of criminal trial. They tried to find a thousand difficulties for the poor devil to oblige him to allow himself to be judged immediately. I believed that for the love of us they would condemn him without a hearing. They were forced, however, at the end of an hour and a quarter to put his trial over to the next session.

You see that men on this side of the Atlantic resemble closely enough those on our side.

The big affair falling through, they hurried over three or four small ones in our presence. The foundation is the same as in France, but the formalities are much simpler. They draw the jurors for all the trials on the same day unless the accused challenges some of them. There is neither acute d'accusation nor examen; everything greatly resembles the Police Correctionnelle. The attorney and the public prosecutor have exactly the same instincts as in France. It is indeed two causes that they defend, of impartiality not a word. The President (presiding officer) sums up in a few words, expresses his opinion, counsels the jurors.

The latter deliberate without going into a council chamber, and in two minutes the man is condemned. The judgment is only pronounced at the end of the session.

There is good and bad in these forms. I think that ours are better for big affairs, but I am convinced that if trial by jury is ever applied to small cases, which cannot fail to happen sooner or later, we shall be forced to do like the Americans.

I hope, however, that we shall never adopt the carelessness that reigns here. The public prosecutor speaks with his hands in his pockets, the Court chews, and the lawyer picks his teeth while interrogating witnesses.

I doubt whether these ways of acting are absolutely inherent in the good administration of justice. Moreover it is evident that the magistrates and the bar form one and the same thing. Properly speaking, there is no Magistrature, only lawyer-magistrates. This state of affairs does not produce, according to what I believe I see, the bad results which we naturally expect from it in France. In general, the position of lawyers here is quite different from what you might imagine it.

I have no time to tell you why. Let it suffice you today to know that they form the resistance, in other words the stationary class. I shall throw light on this another time. Adieu. ... [dots in book]

- [written] June 20

Return to Travel Itinerary

Next Entry

Previous Entry

June 27 - Interview with Hugh Maxwell

Journal entry based on Tocqueville's interview with Hugh Maxwell

Conversation with Mr. (Hugh) Maxwell

Mr. Maxwell has been a district attorney for 10 years. He is one of the founders of the House of Correction, and is reputed to be a "broad but able man."

I. What do you think of the penitentiary system?

He. One must make a distinction between penitentiaries properly so called and houses of correction. As to penitentiaries, I think the discipline is excellent as far as keeping order is concerned and getting useful work out of the prisoners; but I don't think it has an effective influence ont heir dispositions or behavior. In general I do not think that the criminal who is a reformed man can be reformed, however one treats the matter. My view is that he comes out of penitentiaries "hardened."

I take a different view about houses of correction: I believe in the reform of youthful offenders and I think that the only way to reduce the number of crimes in a country is to increase and to improve institutions of that sort. When I was a district attorney, the number of young offenders had become decidedly alarming. It was daily increasing at a frightening rate. A few people had the idea of establishing a house of correction to remedy this evil. This conception had incredible difficulty in taking root in the public mind. Now success has made it popular. There is now a fifth or sixth as many young offenders compared to five years ago.

I. Have you any documentary proof to establish to establish that last fact?

He. No. But it is within my personal knowledge, and I can assure you of it. I think that the houses of correction are multiplying not only in the different States, but also in the districts of the same State. In my view it is a great disadvantage if one has to send a child a very long way off to a house of correction. Such journeys necessarily involve considerable expense, and the young offender's moral sense is often lost during the move he has been forced to make.

Note: This belief in usefulness of the penitentiary system as far as moral reform is concerned seemed to us to be shared by a great number more of able men, among others those with practical experience. See under the heading penitentiaries.

(Tocqueville, p. 5)

Return to Travel Itinerary

Next Entry

Previous Entry

June 30 - Yonkers

Excerpt from Beaumont's letter to his brother, Jules,about Yonkers and the boat race to Albany

We had a visit to make to Mr. Livingston who lives at Younker [sic]. Our intention was to go on board a steamboat; but that day the service was interrupted, so we were obliged to resort to another means of transport. By chance we found in the harbor a sloop (small vessel with one mast) making for the place where we wished to go. We took it on the spot, and after two or three hours of delightful sailing we arrived at Younker, a village near the residence of Mr. Livingston.

But, lo and behold, the Livingstons were not at home. We therefore had to return to Younker. But what to do next? Where to go? We would have liked to continue our voyage up the Hudson and on our way up to Albany stop at different places worth inspecting more closely, such as West-point where the military school of the United States is, and Caskill [sic] whose heights present a noted view. But we have no means of transport and so are retained at Younker without any way of leaving it.

We spent our afternoon as well as possible. After a modest repast Tocqueville took his gun, I my portfolio and album, and while I, seated on the summit of a hill, sketched a view of the Hudson, at the side of which I was careful to place Younker and the sloop which brought us, Tocqueville was carrying on a war to the death against American birds.

The birds are most of them charming. May are entirely blue; others, whose body is black, have a small yellow collar which is very pretty. Those of whom I speak are very common here. We haven't had
much opportunity to shoot them yet; we had forgotten to take our guns to Sing-Sing. Besides, for us in our position that's a very incidental occupation.

To return to Younker, daylight having yielded to the shades of night, I had to close my album. We climbed down the bank and, arrived at water's edge, we plunged into the Hudson, where we took a very agreeable bath. I swim fairly well now, thanks to the lessons of friend Tocqueville, who has put a lot of perseverance into procuring me this talent which is so useful to travelers.

That night we found in our inn two beds prepared in a kind of attic, so well warmed by the last rays of the setting sun that I thought we should suffocate during the night. Finally the steamboat from New York to Preskill [Peekskill] came next morning [July 1] to draw us from our hole. In taking this boat we were counting on having it carry us to Calwell [not sure about this]. We did in fact arrive at Calwell. There we took a charming promenade through woods and over rocks; and we sweat blood and water to get to the summit of a very high mountain from the top of which we saw one of the most beautiful spectacles and one of the most imposing tableaus that the north river presents.

On all sides we see chains of mountains stretching out before us. There was near us especially a bay called Anthony's Nose, whose shape is all that is most picturesque. We waited until evening for a steamboat. At nine o'clock it arrived with its ordinary precipitation. It did not land where we were because that would have taken too much time, but it sent us off a boat into which we were thrown like packages with our trunks, and we found ourselves being towed by the steamboat until we caught up with it. All this happened so quickly, in such darkness and on such a vast sheet of water that there was something magical in our taking off.

An instant after we were to experience a new surprise. Just as we were arriving at Newburgh, which is several leagues from Calwell, we suddenly see shooting up from the steamboat fireworks, skyrockets, and soon, by the aid of a certain combustible matter that I believe to be sulphur and resin, the ship is so lit up and throws on all its surroundings so strong a light that it seemed like midday.

Imagine 500 people on the steamboat watching this unexpected spectacle, in the middle of a river a league wide, flowing between steep banks which are like two walls from 1,000 to 1,500 feet high enclosing it. Add to that the effect produced by the little town of Newburgh, opposite which we were, and which was so well lit pu by our fireworks that one could distinguish the houses and the inhabitants crowded on the shore to watch us pass. From Newburgh we were answered by rockets and boites. We were ignorant of the cause of this rejoicing. It was the first of July. We thought at first that they were celebrating the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence of the United States, which took place the fourth of July, four days ahead of time.

We finally learned that our steamboat the North-America had left New York at the same time as another, and that they were racing. The North America, which was ahead, was everywhere celebrating its victory; and, as this race had been announced, the shore was covered with people who wished to witness it.

Furthermore, this circumstance, which provided us with several very interesting episodes, was also the cause of a real disappointment. Scarcely had we boarded the steamboat than we said to the Capt'n that we were going as far as West-point. - He answered that he was unable to stop at that place ... so we were forced to continue our journey. Consequently we arrived on 2 July at Albany, which is about 50 leagues from New York (144 miles). ... [letter continued July 2]

[written] July 4, 1831

(Pierson, p. 171)

Return to Travel Itinerary

Next Entry

Previous Entry

Excerpt from Tocqueville's letter to his mother describing the boat race to Albany

We were in the position of a man who, mistaking his stage, should go to Rouen instead of to Compiegne: with this difference, that one can jump down from a stage but not from a steamboat. We therefore had to resign ourselves to our fate. Not only did we not go to West-point, but we sailed all the way up the north river, the most picturesque spot in the world, in the middle of the night and we arrived fraichement at five in the morning in the city of Albany.

[written] Aug. 17, 1831

(Pierson, p. 175)

Return to Travel Itinerary

Next Entry

Previous Entry

July 2 - Impressions of Albany

Excerpt from Beaumont's letter to his brother, Jules, about Albany
Albany counts 2,500 inhabitants. It's a fairly pretty city, well situated. It much resembles Amiens. The Hudson, which at this point has lost all its grandeur and majesty, quite recalled me to the Somme.

Albany is the political capital of the state of New York. It owes this advantage to its central position. In the last ten years it has doubled in population, and according to every indication its growth should not slow down. The Hudson gives it the easiest means of communication with New York, which is the intermediary between it and Europe; and there is a canal which joins the waters of the Hudson with those of Lake Erie and which by this means makes Albany the market of all the peoples of that part of the west. These communications are soon to be rendered even more easy by a road in iron which is being built at this moment and which will go from Albany to Schenectady.

On arriving here we found a man for whom we had letters, Mr. Cambreleng, member of Congress. He is a positive and practical man. He received us with much distinction and at once presented us to the Secretary of State. (That's the minister of the Interior of the State of New York. This Secretary of State is a small man, whose face is very intellectual. He has the air of a clerk and wears blue stockings; the rest of his toilet is no less neglected; he lodges always at the inn and his minister's pay does not exceed seven to eight thousand francs. One might almost as well be substitute at Paris as Minister in America. Mr. Flagg (for that it his name) has given us a multitude of very precious documents: pamphlets, memoirs, books, plans. He sends us of all those at every hour of the day, and it's so many presents that he makes to the commissioners of the French government (as he calls us). ...

[written] July 4, 1831

(Pierson, p. 176)

Return to Travel Itinerary

Next Entry

Previous Entry

July 3 - Shaker meeting

Pierson's summary of a Shaker meeting, based on Beaumont's letter to his sister Eugenie dated July 14

The unusual and the surprising seemed now to be greeting the travelers at every step. On their second and third days in Albany they witnessed two of the queerest and most provocative spectacles to be met with anywhere in America.

The first was a full-dress Shaker meeting. Beaumont had heard about these "Quaker Shakers," as he called them, and his curiosity had been thoroughly aroused. Why a community of religious men and women should live practically under the same roof, and yet be vowed to celibacy - or how a society can be founded on "the most anti-social principle in the world" - the community of goods - passed his comprehension. Being offered the chance to inspect the Shakers of Niskayuna [now Watervliet, writes Pierson], he and Tocqueville thought it too good an occasion to be missed.

They found the establishment about twelve miles from Albany "in a perfectly isolated place in the middle of the woods." And at 10:30, in "a large room, very clean, without altar or anything which recalls the idea of a cult," the ceremony began. Beaumont was dumbfounded. He later, in great detail [in a letter to his sister Eugenie, dated July 14], described how first the women in their special costumes, then the men, filed in. All arose - there were about a hundred present - and a silence of five minutes ensued. Then a Shaker spoke, briefly. This was followed by a religious chant, repeated over and over for "twenty minutes."

Another orator was promptly followed by the "really burlesque" part of the ceremony; they began to dance. As Tocqueville remembered it, "they placed themselves two by two in a curving line, so that the man and women made but a single circle. They then held their elbows against the body, stretched out their forearms and let their hands hang, which gave them the air of trained dogs who are forced to walk on their hind legs. Thus prepared, they intoned an air more lamentable than all the others, and began to turn about the room, an exercise which they continued during a good quarter hour."

More Shakers spoke to the effect that the doctrine of the Quakers was the only true faith. After which the worship ended with a dance of special character: "men and women set themselves to jumping one after the other," and danced around about fifteen or twenty Shakers who remained immobile. "Great agitation in the arms, disjointed movements ... songs more violent than the preceding. ... [both dots in book] From time to time they stopped to clap their hands," which quite reminded Beaumont of the contredanse de la boulangere or of the Carillon de Dunkerque. He didn't understand the Shakers at all. He thought they must be mad.

"We had with us," Tocqueville concluded his own account of their strange experience, "a young American Protestant, who said to us on leaving: "two more spectacles like that, and I become a Catholic."

Return to Travel Itinerary

Next Entry

Previous Entry

July 4 - Parade in Albany

Journal entry about the 4th of July celebration

Ceremony of 4th July. Mixture of impressions, some funny, some very serious. Militia on foot and on horse, speeches swollen with rhetoric, jug of water on platform, hymn to liberty in church. Something of the French spirit.

Perfect order that prevails. Silence. No police. Authority nowhere. Festival of the people. Marshal of the day without restrictive power, and obeyed, free classification of industries, public prayer, presence of the flag and of old soldiers. Real emotion.

Departure from Albany in the night of 4th July. Valley of the Mohawk. Hills not high. Wooded the whole way up. A part of the valley wooded too. In general the whole country has the look of a wood in which clearings have been made. Much resemblance to Lower Normandy. Every sign of a new country. Man still making clearly ineffective efforts to master the forest. Tilled fields covered with shoots of trees; trunks in the middle of the corn.

Nature vigorous and savage. Mixture in the same field of bushes and trees of a thousand different species, plants sown by man and various self-sown weeds. Brooks on all sides. New country peopled by an old people. Nothing untamed but the ground; dwellings clean and well cared for; shops in the middle of the forest; newspapers in isolated cabins. The women well turned out.

Not a trace of the Indians, the Mohawks, the most admired and the bravest of the confederate tribes of the Iroquois.

Road infernal. Carriage without springs and with curtains.

Calmness of the Americans about all these annoyances; they seem to put up with them as necessary and passing ills.

Return to Travel Itinerary

Next Entry

Previous Entry

Pierson's summary, based on Beaumont's letter to his sister Eugenie, dated July 14

At daybreak the next morning Tocqueville and Beaumont were awakened by an artillery explosion, which was followed by the further firing of guns (in a "federal salute") and the ringing of all the church bells. Looking out, the commissioners discovered all the houses decorated with flags: the people of Albany were preparing to celebrate the Fourth of July.

At nine the parade began to assemble, and suddenly the two interested onlookers found themselves included. Their friend Azariah Flagg, with Lieutenant Governor Edward P. Livingston in tow, came to their hotel and insisted that they march with the dignitaries near the head of the procession.

When the parade started at ten o'clock, they found themselves preceded by what the Albany Argus proudly called the "militia escort ... all fine corps, well disciplined and equipped, and exhibiting on this occasion their usual soldier-like appearance." Next, drawn in a carriage came a handful of veterans. Then, in considerable pomp, paraded the orator of the day, the Lieutenant Governor and the Chancellor with Tocqueville and Beaumont walking between them, the Secretary of State, the Comptroller and the other civil authorities.

Following came the deputations of all the trades or associations of the city, each manned by local citizens, triumphantly turned out, and bearing aloft the emblems of their professions. If the two French visitors were astonished by such participation, the Americans seemed to look on with considerable pride. First in line, according to the solemn and circumstantial report of the Argus, came the Fire Department, nine companies strong, with a new banner and a miniature engine.

Then the Sons of St. Andrews, and the Association of Printers and Albany Typographical Society, with a float on which were to be seen a printing press and a gilt bust of Benjamin Franklin. At this press printers were actually at work, turning off copies of the Declaration of Independence, which a boy distributed to the crowd along the way. ...

On a flag staff in the center of the car, was displayed the U.S. colors, and in the several corners were the national banners of France, Belgium, Poland, and Columbia. ... They displayed a very large and finely executed silk banner of the N.Y. association of morning and evening journals, politely sent up for the occasion by their brethren in New-York. ... The design of the painting was a Clymer printing press, over which soared, with extended wings, the American eagle, holding in its talons a bust of Franklin, and in its beak a scroll, with the motto, verite sans peur -- truth without fear.

On the right was the Goddess of Liberty, supporting the American flag; on the left a full sized figure of a slave, bound in chains, who having burst the shackles from one arm, was in the act of grasping or reaching towards the press for emancipation. Behind him was a crown reversed, and a sceptre broken in pieces. The whole presenting an imposing and animating spectacle. ...

Next came the Mechanics Benefits Society, Carpenters' Architectural and Benevolent Association, Painters' Association, Apprentices Society, and other societies, with their various badgers, banners and implements of art. ... The Procession moved through South Market, Ferry and South and North Pearl Streets to the second Methodist Church. ... It extended nearly the entire distance from Ferry street to the Methodist Church.

Two things about this parade bothered Beaumont considerably. The first was the order of precedence, which was not at all what he was used to. And the other was the jovial participation of the industries and trades. "Nothing would be easier than to ridicule these standards on which one sees written: Association of Butchers, Association of Apprentices, etc., etc. But, when one reflects, these emblems seem very natural among a people which owes its prosperity to commerce and industry."

Of course, the absence of real military splendor rather robbed the occasion of the brilliance that he had expected.

Yet he [Beaumont] was broad-minded enough to concede that there was "something great in its simplicity. You must not look in this procession for fine uniforms and broidered habits; you must think of the great event which the day recalls and see under what emblems this recollection has engraved itself in the memory of the people. Here you see carried in great pomp and old American flag, bullet torn, which as come down from the war of independence. There, in a carriage at the head of the procession, are 3 or 4 old soldiers, who fought with Washington, whom the city preserves like precious relics, and whom all the citizens honor. ..."

"The Declaration of Independence was read in the Methodist Church by a magistrate who in America performs functions analogous to those of a Procureur du Roi. Into this reading he put much warmth and dignity. It's truly an admirable piece, and the sentiments which the reading excited in the beasts of the auditors were not feigned.

"This reading had been preceded by a religious prayer made by a Protestant minister. I recall this fact because it is characteristic of this country, where they never do anything without the assistance of religion. I don't believe things go any the worse for it. A young lawyer [John B. Van Schaik] then pronounced a political oration very much resembling an exercise in rhetoric in which he spoke of all the countries in the world.

"The master idea of his discourse was this: All countries are coming back, and will return, to liberty. To prove to you that he spoke of everything in his oration, it will suffice to tell you that he found a means of speaking of our mission in America. Finally the ceremony ended by a hymn to liberty, sung to the tune of Marseillaise. Each couplet was more or less well sung by different amateurs who in turn lifted their voice, and the refrain was repeated by everybody. This episode in the ceremony was quite original. The sense of the song was absolutely the same as that of the oration I just spoke of. I almost laughed once or twice on hearing the orchestra, which after each couplet played a retournelle.

"This orchestra was composed of a single flute. One could not imagine a sound plus maigre than that of this poor instrument, reduced to itself in a great chamber, and making itself heard all alone after a great tumult of voices singing together. Once more, however, it is not good taste and distinction that one must look for in these popular celebrations. Taken altogether, this ceremony with its parade en habit Bourgeois, with its commercial signs and its music with flute en retournelle, has made a deeper impression on me than our great celebrations in France, such as reviews, messe du St. Esprit, Procession, birth of a .Prince, anniversaries, etc., etc. There is more brilliance in our ceremonies; in those of the United States there is more truth. ..."

With this verdict, Tocqueville was in pretty general agreement. The procession had struck him as remarkably taciturn and solemn, more like a funeral than a celebration. He liked the honor and respect accorded to the veterans of the Revolution, however. And he was particularly struck by the reading of the Declaration of Independence.

"That was really a fine spectacle: a profound silence reigned in the meeting. When in its eloquent plea Congress reviewed the injustices and the tyranny of England we heard a murmur of indignation and anger circulate about us in the auditorium. When it appealed to the justice of its cause and expressed the generous resolution to succumb or free America, it seemed that an electric current made the hearts vitrate. This was not, I assure you, a theatrical performance. There was in the reading of these promises of independence so well kept, in this return of an entire people toward the memories of its birth, in this union of the present generation to that which is no longer, sharing for the moment all its generous passions, there was in all that something deeply felt and truly great.

"They should have stopped there; but after the reading of the Declaration of Rights a lawyer stepped up to make us a long rhetorical harangue in which he pompously passed the entire universe in review to get to the United States which, in all respects, he made the center of the world.

"This had all the appearance of a farce. We see such things as that in France at the burial of our great men. I came out cursing the orator whose flow of words and stupid national pride had succeeded in destroying a part of the profound Impression that the rest of the spectacle had made on me. ..."

(Pierson, p. 179-183)

Return to Travel Itinerary

Next Entry

Previous Entry

Utica: July 5

Journal entry describing Utica

Charming town of 10,000 inhabitants. Very pretty shops. Founded since the War of Independence. In the middle of a pretty plain.

(Tocqueville, p. 126)

Return to Travel Itinerary

Next Entry

Previous Entry

Syracuse: July 6

Journal entry about Utica and Syracuse

Visit to prison
Sunday school: 200 convicts 2 o'clock on Sunday.
30 teachers from the seminary.
Only to read. Rapid progress.

One must enquire from the controller at Albany to find out what the prisons cost under the old system. It is thought that that of New York cost 50,000 dollars a year.

Departure from Utica
Country looks the same as the day before. Met the first Indians at Oneida Castle, 116 miles from
Albany. They were begging. (?) [question mark in text]

Arrival in Syracuse
Placed in the middle of a rather unhealthy but thickly peopled plain. Junction of the two canals of Erie and Oswego. Visit to Mr. Elam Lynds. In his hardware store. He could not speak to us because he was busy selling. Conversation with him. [see below] A man of vulgar exterior, full of intelligence and energy. Despotic tendencies show clearly in him.

(Tocqueville, p. 126)

Return to Travel Itinerary

Next Entry

Previous Entry

Tocqueville's interviews with prison employees regarding discipline and prisoners' salaries

Comb shop.
The contractor's representative is present.

He told me that the average of the pay for each prisoner is 25 cents. A good worker at liberty would be paid 1 dollar. Here there are some who are paid 4 shillings, but generally they are taken on without knowing the trade. Besides they never work as well as when at liberty.

He then contradicts himself: I think that they work as well as they can. Work is a consolation for them.

Stone cutting shop.
No representative of the contractor. I think I understood that the work of these prisoners is used for State buildings. The keeper told me that his men worked well, perhaps better than when at liberty. A good workman at liberty earns 12 shillings.

Tool shop.
30 prisoners, one representative of the contractor.

Q. How much a day do you pay for the work of one prisoner?
A. An average of 30 cents.

Q. And how much would you pay the same man in freedom?
A. At least 20 dollars a month.

Q. What is the reason for the difference?
A. 1st. The contractor got very favorable terms because, at the time he made the deal, the State needed him. I think that without doing his business badly, he could have given 50 cents. 2nd. The contractor is obliged to keep the prisoners at work, even when the products of their labor cannot be sold. He cannot dismiss his workmen in proportion to the work. He must make up for that disadvantage by the price per day.

Q. Besides the prisoner works less than the man at liberty?
A. That is true for some days, but not for a year. I am convinced that in the course of a year one gets more work from a prisoner than from a free worker.

The Keeper seemed a man above the average.

Q. How do you get this sustained work from the prisoners?
A. From the fear they feel for the whip. I regard the punishment of the whip (the only one used at Auburn) as the only means of maintaining the discipline of the prison, and as the most humane punishment.

Shoe-maker shop. 62 convicts.
By the Keeper alone.

Q. How much are these men paid per day?
A. They are not paid by the day but by the piece. A pair of boots of first quality is paid 16 shillings,
second quality 12 shillings, and a pair of shoes 5 shillings.

Q. What is the price of the same things at Auburn?
A. A pair of first quality boots 20 shillings, second 16 shillings, and a pair of shoes 1 dollar.

Q. Does the contractor live in Auburn?
A. Yes.

Q. Does he come here often?
A. Seldom more than once a week.

Q. Why is that?
A. He has less reason than another to come because he pays by the piece. Besides he refers to me.

Q. You then are a professional man?
A. Yes.

Q. How in a country where the professions are so well paid, does one find good workers who
consent to become keepers?
A. There is great difficulty in finding them. It was my health that made me decide to come here.

Q. Do you think that there is an advantage in the keepers' being professional men?
A. Yes. A great one. When the keeper is not a professional man it is impossible for him to supervise the prisoners' work properly. One has to allow a contractor into the workshop, which has disadvantages for discipline. Formerly they were forbidden to go into the workshops. But it is difficult to find contractors on such conditions. The contract with the Shoemaker is in writing; it is the oldest one in the place. The contract was made by the piece to make the contractor's presence pointless.

Q. Do you often punish your men?
A. Very seldom. I have never seen, for the thirteen years I have been in the place, better discipline or fewer punishments.

Cooper Shop. 43 prisoners.
No representative of the contractor, but he often is there.
Keeper intelligent.

Q. What is the average for each man's work?
A. 25 cents.

Q. What would one pay a similar man at liberty?
A. About 83 cents.

Q. What is the reason for the difference?
A. 1st. The contractor is bound to pay the ignorant and clumsy prisoner the same as the capable one. 2nd. That he is not sure of selling all that he [not] ordered to be made.

Q. Besides do you think that the prisoner works as well as the free man?
A. I do not doubt it.

Q. Do you often have occasion to punish?
A. Very seldom. They know that punishment is inevitable and strikes the offender on the spot. They
do not risk it.

Q. Does the prisoner you want to punish rebel sometimes?
A. That has happened very seldom. And, in such case, the other prisoners have immediately taken the side of the keeper.

Q. Are you obliged to show a record of punishments?
A. Yes. Every evening we give the Deputy Keeper a list of punishments, cause and number of strokes.

Weaver Shop. 105 prisoners.
No contractor, but he comes very often.
The Keeper does not seem to have as much intelligence as the others. He could only give me approximate answers. The average is 25 cents per man; he does not know what he would earn at liberty.

Q. What were you doing before you came here?
A. I was a farmer.

Q. Are there any professional men among the Keepers?
A. There are two masons, a shoe-maker and a ruined trader.

Q. Does it often happen that there are difficulties between the Keeper and the Contractor who comes to visit the workshop?
A. Ordinarily they get on vely well together. In the two years I have been here, I have only twice seen a quarrel between them; it was settled on the spot by money.

Q. Are you often obliged to punish?
A. I have not given a stroke here for six weeks.

Q. What do you think of the wooden gallery that goes round the workshop?
A. I think it is the most excellent invention one could have. It greatly lessens the need to punish.

Blacksmith Shop. 37 prisoners.
Keeper very intelligent and out of the ordinary.

Q. Are you often obliged to punish the men?
A. I have once gone four and a half months without giving a single stroke. Now it is two months and a half since I have given any. The secret gallery wonderfully helps us to maintain discipline. I came to the prison before it was begun. I remember just how difficult it was to reduce the men to silence. I remember seeing nineteen corrected in less than an hour.

Q. What do you think of the contract system?
A. I think that one could do without it, and that the way in which it is used here is very dangerous. This is the whole story: to begin with there were only keepers and prisoners in the prison. The prisoners worked on behalf of the State. To save time and get rid of a lot of detail, the agent introduced the contract system. But then the agent was not allowed to address a single word to the prisoners, not even to go to them. I can assure you that for three years the prisoners in my workshop did not even know who the contractor was.

After some time the contractor was allowed to come himself into the workshop and supervise the work himself. After that, to give orders to the prisoners; then to send his representative. You see now that he is forever talking to the prisoners. We are being led little by little to the ruin of discipline. Now there are more strangers than keepers in the establishment.

Q. Do you think there are many prisoners who mend their ways?
A. I am talking to you as a man who wants to know the truth. What the books say about the extent of Reform is fiction. I am certain no one here becomes. ... [dots are T's; text breaks off]

Number of individuals reunited each year.

Return to Travel Itinerary

Next Entry

Previous Entry

Tocqueville's interview with Elam Lynds about prison administration and reform

Conversation with Mr. Elam Lynds

We felt great curiosity to meet Mr. Elam Lynds whose practical abilities are admitted by everyone, including his enemies, and who may be considered the father of the penitentiary system now in force, for it was his perseverance and energy which brought it about. So we were in good time for our visit to him.

We found him in a hardware shop which belongs to him. He was dressed like a shop assistant and performed the duties of one. Mr. Elam Lynds looks like a very common man, and I believe his speech has the same vulgar quality. A note he sent us had shown that he could not spell correctly. Otherwise he seems very intelligent and singularly energetic. We could not talk to him at once as there was no one else to look after the shop, but half-an-hour later he came to visit us at our inn and we had the following conversation:

He. I have passed ten years of my life in the prison administration. I have long been a witness of the abuses that prevailed under the old system. They were terrible; the prisons cost the state a lot. The prisoners succeeded in losing their moral sense there; all sorts of disorder prevailed there. ... I undertook reform at Auburn; but at first I had great obstacles to overcome in the legislature and even from public opinion. There were outcries against tyranny. However I had my way in the end.

When there was the question of building Sing-Sing and I offered to undertake it with prisoners working in the open fields, people wold not believe that it was a practical possibility. Now that I have bought it off, many people are still ill-disposed or jealous towards me. A year ago I retired; I felt that I had done enough for the public good and it was time to pay attention to my own fortunes.

Q. Do you think that the system of discipline that you established could be applied elsewhere than in America?
A. I am sure it would succeed anywhere where it was undertaken as I undertook it myself. ...

Q. What then is the secret of that powerful discipline of which you speak and of which we ourselves have seen the results at Sing-Sing?
A. I should find it difficult to tell you. It results from a series of daily efforts which you would need to see for yourself. One can't state general rules. It is a question of keeping work going and silence the whole time, and to achieve that one must never slacken in attention to one's job, supervising the wardens as much as the prisoners, being merciless and just.

Once the organization has got going, it will go on working very easily. If I were in charge of a government and wanted to alter the organization of prisons, I should seek to choose an able, intelligent man; it would be desirable that he should have seen a prison like one of ours, or at least that he should have the most precise conception of such a prison. The man found, I would give him full powers to make changes.

I have always held that for such work as this one must first concentrate all power and all responsibility in one man's hands. In that way the State stands a decidedly better chance of success and has real guarantees. When the inspectors wanted to harass me in my work, I told them: "You are perfectly free to dismiss me; I am subordinate to you; but while you keep me in office, I shall do nothing but carry out the plan I have conceived; it is for you to choose."

Q. Do you think one can manage without corporal punishment?
A. I am completely convinced of the opposite. I regard punishment by the whip as the most effective and at the same time as the most humane, for it never makes a man ill and compels the prisoners to lead an essentially healthy life. Solitary confinement on the other hand is often ineffective and almost always dangerous. I have seen many prisoners who could not be brought to reason this way, and who only left their cells to go to the hospital. I do not think you can control a large prison without the use of the whip
whatever those may think who only know human nature from books.

Q. Do you not think it rash to allow the Sing-Sing prisoners to work in the open fields?
A. I should rather govern a prison where that system prevailed than one where it did not. In a closed prison one cannot get the same supervision or the same care from the wardens. Once the prisoners have been thoroughly broken in to the yoke of discipline, one can set them to what work one thinks most useful and in the places one chooses. In that way the State can use criminals for various purposes, once it has improved the discipline of prisons.

Q. Do you think it completely impossible to maintain good discipline in a prison in which the cell system does not exist?
A. I think one could maintain strict order in such a prison, and one could make the prisoner's work profitable, but one could not prevent a heap of abuses which have very serious consequences.

Q. Do you think one could make cells in an old prison?
A. That depends on the nature of the place. No doubt the change could be made in most old prisons. It is very easy and inexpensive to put up wooden cells. But they have the disadvantage of holding bad smells and so sometimes become unhealthy.

Q. Do you decidedly believe in the reform of a great number of the prisoners?
A. We must understand each other. I do not believe in complete reform (except in the case of young offenders), that is to say I do not think one often sees a criminal of mature age turn into a religious and virtuous man. I put no faith in the saintliness of those who leave prison, and I do not think that either the chaplain's exhortations or the prisoners' own reflections ever make a good Christian. But my view is that a great number of former prisoners do not become recidivists and do even become useful citizens, having learnt a job in prison and formed a constant habit of work. That is the only reform that I have ever hoped to achieve, and I think that is all that society can ask.

Q. What do you think of hiring?
A. I think it very useful to hire out prisoners' labor, provided that the director remains in complete control of the prisoners themselves and of their time.

Q. In France the price for prison labor is put very low.
A. It would go up in proportion as discipline was improved. That is what we found here. Prisons were a great expense; now they bring in money. The well-disciplined prisoner works more and better and does not ruin the raw materials entrusted to him, as happens in ill-controlled prisons.

Q. What do you think the most important quality to look for in a prison director?
A. A practical capacity for handling men. He must above all be profoundly convinced, as I have always been, that a dishonest man is always cowardly. That conviction, which he will be sure to communicate to those under his orders, will give him an irresistible ascendancy and make a whole lot of things easy for him which at first sight might appear very dangerous.

During the whole conversation which, with intervals, lasted several hours, Mr. Elam Lynds came continually back to the idea that it was most important of all to break the prisoner in to a state of passive obedience. That point gained, the rest became easy no matter how the prison was built, and whatever the type or place of work.

Return to Travel Itinerary

Next Entry

Previous Entry