Who was Alexis, and Why is he in the Library?

 

Alexis visited Flint, Michigan.

That’s correct; he stood right here on the grounds of our campus!

Wait.  What?

Who was this Alexis person?

Well, he was a globe-trekker —  a world explorer, especially into rough country and new civilizations.

He was also a law student.    A husband.  A civil servant.  A judge.  An elected member of the legislature.  A politician and a patriot.  And an author of some importance and world renown.

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M. Alexis de Tocqueville, author of DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA.

He was French gentry; a man who’s father was mayor of the town where he was born.  He attended the royal college in Metz where he studied rhetoric and philosophy before moving to Paris to study law.  After law school, he traveled to Italy with his brother Edouard and visited Rome, Naples and Scicily.  He wrote his first book after that trip, “Voyage en Sicile.”

Upon his return to France, Alexis was appointed juge auditeur in Versailles, which later lead to a position as deputy public prosecutor at the court of Versailles.

Alexis was born and raised among the privileged members of the last of the titled (and entitled) nobility of France in the early 1800s.

However, in 1830 during the July Revolution, the last Bourbon King of France (Charles X) is overthrown.  The new government is established as a constitutional monarchy, with Louis-Philippe as the new ruler.

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Combats de la rue de Rohan, je 29 juillet 1830. (Fighting in the Street de Rohan on July 29, 1830) Oil on canvas by Hippolyte Lecomte, 1857. Musee Carnavalet, Paris

Alexis reluctantly takes the required oath of loyalty to the new government and the new king, and in exchange receives a reduced position as juge suppleant (substitute judge).

 

 

By August, he is thinking of getting out of the country for a while.

In October, another Frenchman (Beaumont) wrote a report to the Minister of the Interior on the reform of the penal system in France.  In February the following year, Tocqueville and Beaumont were given an 18-month leave to study the penal system in the United States.  On April 2, Beaumont and d’Tocqueville together embark for America from Le Havre, France.  His life as an explorer in the wilds has begun.

And what, you ask has this got to do with the Thompson Library and the University of Michigan-Flint? 

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Observations by de Tocqueville on Flint, Michigan.

Among his many stops during his 1800s tour of the United States, Alexis De Tocqueville visited Michigan.  In fact, at one point he stood on the banks of the Flint River, pretty much where our campus is currently situated.

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Map noting route and major stops of Alexis de Tocqueville during his tour of the young United States in 1831-32.

Meanwhile, back in July 22 of 1832, Monsieur de Tocqueville arrived in Detroit (which he remarked upon for being very like France on one side of the river, while on the other, savages and naked children were to be found running around).

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Rough sketch by de Toucqueville of native American seen during his tour of the USA.

 

He stayed with some locals in Pontiac, where he observed a woman “dressed like a lady,” commenting that “Americans and their log house have the air of rich folk who have temporarily gone to spend a season in a hunting lodge.”

 

 

 

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Observations by de Tocqueville in Michigan.

 

From Pontiac, De Tocqueville traveled with an Indian guide who took them to Flint and Saginaw via the Flint River, documenting everything he saw along the way.

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Comments by de Tocqueville in Michigan.

Writing extensively on his travels, he diligently described in his book the area of Flint, the sights he saw and the people he observed during the early 1800s, recording for posterity the life and times of the early settlers in the United States during the early 1800s.

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Comments by de Tocqueville in Michigan.

 

Recording his observations throughout his journey, he interviewed presidents, lawyers, bankers and many settlers along the way.  Eventually he assembled his thoughts and ruminations on the formation of the new country and how its people lived into a ground-breaking two volume book entitled, Democracy in America.

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The first volume of Democracy in America was published in 1835.  The second volume, in 1840.

 

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Books related to M. Alexis de Tocqueville in Thompson Library collection.

 

Not only has this book been quoted or referenced by untold scads of other books and mentioned in many major speeches (including President Clinton’s STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS in ’95, Speaker Gingrich’s Opening Session speech of the 104th Congress in ’95, Ross Perot’s speech on saving Medicare and Medicaid in ’95, US Supreme Court cases any many others), it has also  never been out of print from the day it was first published to the present.

Fast forward almost 200 years.

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Video available in Thompson Library Check Out this Video and Watch History Happen.

The television network, C-SPAN, celebrates the incredible journey and writings of Alexis de Tocquville with a year-long program, filming a major documentary while driving to the many locations mentioned in de Tocqueville’s writings.

The C-SPAN people worked with schools to assist in teaching the history of de Tocqueville and the young United States, and with local communities to celebrate de Tocquville’s travels throughout the country.  As a way of honoring the book and its author, C-SPAN conferred commemorative plaques to memorialize the locations of note from his tour of the country.071 copy

As a “location of note” described in great detail in his writings, C-SPAN visited Flint, Michigan and presented us with a plaque noting the event and time period.

And now we arrive at the intertwined history of Monsieur Alexis de Tocqueville, French patriot and author, with the University of Michigan-Flint and the Thompson Library.

In a ceremony sponsored by the UM-F student History Club along with the Department of History and hosted by the Thompson Library, the C-SPAN plaque was officially and formally dedicated on November 20, 2014.

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Commemorative plaque presented by C-SPAN to Flint, Michigan noting the visit to this area by Alexis de Tocqueville in 1831-1832. Plaque may be seen in garden round near Thompson Library and Flint River on the campus of University of Michigan-Flint.

 

Speakers at the event included Dr. Roy Hanashiro, Chair of the History Department; Prof Thomas Henthorne, History Dept; Robert Houbeck, Director of Thompson Library; and Justin Wetenhall, President of the History Club.   (Mr. Wetenhall and Mr. Houbeck kindly shared the text of their speech with us, which appears in full at the bottom of this article.)

Members of the History Club, notably Jeanette Routhier and Shelby photo 18Blair, assembled a remarkable display of works by and about Alexis de Tocqueville, some of which are still on display in the Library.

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Books related to M. Alexis de Tocqueville in Thompson Library collection.

 

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Please see Shelby’s poster on the 3rd floor of Thompson Library near069 copy the Reference Desk.  On the 2nd display case of the Genesee Archives, Jeanette has created a smaller display highlighting some of the writings of de Tocqueville held in the Archives collection.

These, and many other works by Alexis de Tocqueville can be found in the Thompson Library.  We invite you to visit the Library and the Archives to read and view some of these works and films about his works.

They are YOUR  history.

129 copyThe plaque has been officially installed in the memorial garden round near Thompson Library and the Flint River, no doubt close to (if not actually on THE  spot) where Monsieur Alexis de Tocqueville — explorer and author of Democracy in America — stood overlooking the Flint River so many years ago.

 

[Click on any image to enlarge.]

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After Charlet and Jaime 1830 LG Folio Lithographs. French Revolution Antique Folio Lithographs Published 1830, Paris by Gihaut, for a series of prints of scenes from the 1830 Revolution in France. Pair lithographed on india paper after Nicolas Toussaint Charlet

 Images of French Revolution of 1830 which propelled de Tocqueville to America.

 

 

 

 

 

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M. Alexis de Tocqueville; explorer, politician, patriot and author.

 

 

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Thompson Library Director, Robert Houbeck and Political Science Prof Albert Price muse over the impact of de Tocqueville in America.

 

 

 

 

 

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Display Case — Genesee Historical Archives on comments by Alexis de Tocqueville upon visiting Michigan in 1831-32.

 

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Display Case — Genesee Historical Archives on comments by Alexis de Tocqueville upon visiting Michigan in 1831-32.

 

 

 

 

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Display Case — Genesee Historical Archives on comments by Alexis de Tocqueville upon visiting Michigan in 1831-32.

 

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Display Case — Genesee Historical Archives on comments by Alexis de Tocqueville upon visiting Michigan in 1831-32.

 

 

 

 

 

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Thompson Library hosts the Dedication Ceremony for the deTocqueville Plaque
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From left, Dir. Houbeck, Prof Price, Librarian Vince Prygoski, History Chair Hanashiro, History Prof Henthornand Jeanette Routhier

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Display Case — Genesee Historical Archives on comments by Alexis de Tocqueville upon visiting Michigan in 1831-32.
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Rough sketch by de Tocqueville of observations in Michigan.

 

 

 

 

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Display Case — Genesee Historical Archives on comments by Alexis de Tocqueville upon visiting Michigan in 1831-32.
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Display Case — Genesee Historical Archives on comments by Alexis de Tocqueville upon visiting Michigan in 1831-32.