New from The Atlantic: Because place matters.

Quotes of the Day

Conor Friedersdorf

These passages are taken from Tocqueville's journals entries, circa 1830.


What we have seen of the inhabitants up to this moment differs completely from what we saw at New- York. Society, at least the society in which we have been introduced, and I think that it is the first, resembles almost completely the upper classes in Europe. Luxury and refinements reign. Almost all the women speak French well, and all the men whom we have seen up to now have been in Europe; their manners are distinguished, their conversation turns on intellectual matters, one feels oneself delivered from those commercial habits and that financial spirit that render the society of New-York so vulgar. There are already in existence at Boston a certain number of persons who, having no occupation, seek out the pleasures of the spirit. There are a few who write. We have already seen three or four very pretty libraries of an altogether literary character. (It must be noted, though, that we hardly see any but distinguished men, yet they are otherwise distinguished than those of New York.) It appears, however, that the prejudice against those who do nothing (a very useful prejudice on the whole) has still great strength in Boston, as in all the states that we have traversed up to now. In Boston the labours of the spirit are directed especially toward religious matters. Out of 25 semi-periodical works or pamphlets to be found at the Athenaeum, 12 have more or less to do with religion.


Philadelphia is an immense city. You can convince yourself of it for it occupies the entire space between the Delaware and the Schuikil [sic]. All the houses are of brick, and without portes cocheres following the English custom, and the streets as straight as a string. The regularity is tiresome but very convenient. Philadelphia is, I believe, the only city in the world where it has occurred to people to distinguish the streets by numbers and not by names. The system of streets is so regular that, starting from the Delaware where is Street No. 1, one goes up number by number all the way to the Schuikil.

I am living in Street No. 3. Don't you find that only a people whose imagination is frozen could invent such a system? Europeans never fail to join an idea to each external object, be it a saint, a famous man, an event. But these people here know only arithmetic.

But we must not speak ill of them, for they continue to treat us admirably. Philadelphia, beyond all others, is infatuated to the last degree with the penitentiary system, and as the penitentiary system is our industry, they vie with each other in pampering us.

There here are above all two kinds of men who take a prodigious interest in prisons, although they envisage the subject differently. These are the theorists and the practical men: those who write and those who act. Between these two classes a struggle is going on to see which will monopolize us most completely. A week before our arrival the head keeper of the establishment had come to leave his card with the Consul of France and ask that he be notified the very instant of our arrival in this city: while the Society established to examine into the penitentiary theories assembled at the same time and named a committee to aid us in our research.

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