1831 : Michigan’s First Tourist?

July 22, 2018 all-day

Alexis de Tocqueville courtesy of wikipedia

On July 22, 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville arrived in Michigan. He found the inhabitants incredulous that he merely wanted to visit to learn background for his various writings, such as Democracy in America. After a few days in Detroit, Tocqueville traveled North toward Pontiac and Saginaw. In Saginaw he was attacked by mosquitoes and spent time with both the Indians and whites living on the edge of the frontier in Michigan before continuing his travels throughout the rest of the United States.

Source : Michigan Every Day points to July 20 as the day of Tocqueville’s arrival in Michigan, but his diary entries seem to indicate July 22nd.

See Tocqueville Diary Entries from the Michigan Territory

In 1997 and 1998, the C-SPAN School Bus retraced the steps of Alexis de Tocqueville tour through America. If you visit the Library of Michigan in downtown Lansing, take a look at the following documentaries commemorating Tocqueville’s visit to Michigan and commenting on today’s Michigan (1997) in comparison:

Tocqueville in Detroit / C-SPAN, 2001. 1 VHS videocassette (30:43) . Tocqueville and Beaumont stop in Detroit to ask directions on how to get to the American frontier. In spite of the suggestion that they go by water, Tocqueville and Beaumont acquire horses and travel to Saginaw through Pontiac and Flint. Also in this segment is John Johnston, Executive Director of the Detroit NAACP who talks about race relations today.

Tocqueville in Flint / C-SPAN, 2001. 1 VHS videocassette (27:55) . Tocqueville and Beaumont visit Flint in 1831 and observe industrial workers. Bill Donohue, President of the Genesee Area Focus Council discusses the impact the automobile industry had and continues to have on Genesee County, Michigan.

Tocqueville in Mackinac Island / C-SPAN, 2001. 1 videocassette (ca. 25 min.) Tocqueville and Beaumont continue their journey by ferry to Mackinac Island where they observe its beauty and busy summer season. Phil Porter, Chief Curator of Mackinac State Historic Parks, explains what Mackinac Island was like in August 1831 and how little it has changed since then.

Tocqueville in Pontiac / C-SPAN, 2001. 1 videocassette (ca. 27 min.) Tocqueville and Beaumont move on from Detroit to Pontiac in search of the American frontier. Restaurant owner Nick Lucaj tells why he emigrated to America. Gary Peters, Michigan State Senator discusses the history of Michigan and the city of Pontiac. Charlie Martinez of the Oakland County Historical Society talks about Tocqueville and Beaumont’s visit to Pontiac in 1831.

Tocqueville in Port Huron / C-SPAN, 2001. 1 videocassette (ca 21 min.) Stephen Williams, Director of the Port Huron Museum gives a brief description of Tocqueville and Beaumont’s unplanned stay in Port Huron when inclement weather prevented them from traveling any further. U.S. Representative Walter Capps compares Tocqueville’s writings on religion in America with his own perspective on the topic.

Tocqueville in Saginaw / C-SPAN, 2001. 1 videocassette (ca. 31 min.) Tocqueville and Beaumont’s exploration of the American frontier take them to a settlement called Saginaw where barely 30 people lived in July of 1831.

Tocqueville in Sault Ste. Marie / C-SPAN, 2001. 1 videocassette (ca. 17 min.) : sd., col. ; 1/2 in. Tocqueville and Beaumont ride a ferry from Detroit to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan to learn more about the native American population. Susan Schacher, Director of River of History Museum gives an overview of the impact French settlers and Indians had on each other. By phone, Don Gerrie discusses what Tocqueville and Beaumont learned while visiting Sault Ste. Marie.

For some more recent volumes on Toequeville’s travels in America, see

Traveling Tocqueville’s America : retracing the 17-state tour that inspired Alexis de Tocqueville’s political classic, Democracy in America. Baltimore : Published for C-SPAN by the Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. 189pp. MSU Main Library E158 .T77 1998

Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont in America : their friendship and their travels / edited by Olivier Zunz ; translated by Arthur Goldhammer. Charlottesville : University of Virginia Press, 2010. 698pp. MSU Main Library E165 .T53213 2010 : A selection of Tocqueville’s writings on America together with letters and sketches from his traveling companion, Gustave de Beaumont.

Tocqueville’s discovery of America / Leo Damrosch. New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010. 277pp. MSU Main Library E165 .D16 2010 : Retraces Alexis de Tocqueville’s nine-month journey through a young United States in 1831 and 1832, during which he was impressed by America’s dynamic society, but was convinced that slavery would lead to civil war.

Letters from America / Alexis de Tocqueville ; edited, translated, and with an introduction by Frederick Brown. New Haven [Conn.] ; London : Yale University Press, c2010. 284pp. MSU Main Library E165 .T535213 2010

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