Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter 10 a: How the Young Girl Is Found Again in the Features of the Wife - Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition, vol. 4
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
chapter 10 a: How the Young Girl Is Found Again in the Features of the Wife - Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition, vol. 4 
Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition of De la démocratie en Amérique, ed. Eduardo Nolla, translated from the French by James T. Schleifer. A Bilingual French-English editions, (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2010). Vol. 4.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
This bilingual edition of Tocqueville’s work contains a new English translation of the French critical edition published in 1990. The copyright to the French version is held by J. Vrin and it is not available online. The copyright to the English translation, the translator’s note, and index is held by Liberty Fund.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
How the Young Girl Is Found Again in the Features of the Wife
In America, the independence of the woman becomes irretrievably lost amid the bonds of marriage. If the young girl is less restrained there than anywhere else, the wife submits to the most strict obligations. The one makes the paternal home a place of liberty and pleasure, the other lives in the house of her husband as in a cloister.b
These two conditions so different are perhaps not so contrary as you suppose, and it is natural that American women pass by the one in order to reach the other.
Religious peoples and industrial nations have a particularly serious idea of marriage. The first consider the regularity of the life of a woman as the best guarantee and the most certain sign of the purity of her morals. The others see in it the sure proof of the order and the prosperity of the house.
The Americans form at the very same time a Puritan nation and a commercial people; so their religious beliefs, as well as their industrial habits, lead them to require from the woman an abnegation of herself and a continual sacrifice of her pleasures to her business, which it is rare to ask of her in Europe. Thus, an inexorable public opinion reigns in the United States that carefully encloses the woman in the small circle of domestic interests and duties, and that forbids her to go beyond it.c
Coming into the world, the young American woman finds these notions firmly established; she sees the rules that derive from them; she does not take long to be convinced that she cannot escape one moment from the customs of her contemporaries without immediately endangering her tranquillity, her honor and even her social existence, and in the firmness of her reason and in the manly habits that her education gave her, she finds the energy to submit.
You can say that it is from the practice of independence that she drew the courage to endure the sacrifice without struggle and without complaint, when the moment has come to impose it on herself.
The American woman, moreover, never falls into the bonds of marriage as into a trap set for her simplicity and ignorance. She has been taught in advance what is expected of her, and it is by herself and freely that she puts herself under the yoke. She courageously bears her new condition because she has chosen it.
As in America paternal discipline is very lax and the conjugal bond is very strict, it is only with circumspection and with fear that a young girl incurs it. Premature unions are scarcely seen. So American women marry only when their reason is trained and developed; while elsewhere most women begin to train and to develop their reason only in marriage.
I am, moreover, very far from believing that this great change that takes place in all the habits of women in the United States, as soon as they are married, must be attributed only to the constraint of public opinion. Often they impose it on themselves solely by the effort of their will.
When the time has arrived to choose a husband, this cold and austere reason, which the free view of the world has enlightened and strengthened, indicates to the American woman that a light and independent spirit in the bonds of marriage is a matter of eternal trouble, not of pleasure; that the amusements of the young girl cannot become the diversions of the wife, and that for the woman the sources of happiness are in the conjugal home. Seeing in advance and clearly the only road that can lead to domestic felicity, she takes it with her first steps, and follows it to the end without trying to go back.
This same vigor of will that the young wives of America display, by bowing suddenly and without complaint to the austere duties of their new state, is found as well in all the great trials of their life.
There is no country in the world where particular fortunes are more unstable than in the United States. It is not rare that, in the course of his existence, the same man climbs and again descends all the degrees that lead from opulence to poverty.
The women of America bear these [sudden] revolutions with a tranquil and indomitable energy. You would say that their desires narrow with their fortune, as easily as they expand.
Most of the adventurers who go each year to people the uninhabited areas of the west belong, as I said in my first work,d to the old Anglo-American race of the North. Several of these men who run with such boldness toward wealth already enjoyed comfort in their country. They lead their companions with them and make them share the innumerable perils and miseries that always signal the beginning of such enterprises. I often met at the limits of the wilderness young women who, after being raised amid all of the refinements of the great cities of New England, had passed, almost without transition, from the rich homes of their parents to a badly sealed hut in the middle of a wood. Fever, solitude, boredom had not broken the main springs of their courage. Their features seemed altered and faded, but their view was firm. They appeared at once sad and resolute.
I do not doubt that these young American women had amassed, in their first education, this internal strength that they then used.
So the young girl in the United States is still found in the features of the wife; the role has changed, the habits differ, the spirit is the same.
[a. ] The American woman makes the house of her parents a place of liberty and pleasure. She leads a monastic life in the house of her husband.
These two conditions so different are less contrary than you imagine. American women pass naturally by the one in order to reach the other.
It is in the independence of their first youth and in the manly education that they then received that they have acquired the experience, the power over themselves and the (illegible word) with which they submit without hesitation and withoutcomplaint to the exigencies of the marriage state (YTC, CVf, p. 43).
[b. ] To the side, in a first version: “An analogous spectacle is seen in England, with this difference nonetheless that the young girl there is less free and the woman less constrained than in the United States.”
[c. ] “From the moment when the world becomes commercial, the household isnothing more than a house of commerce, a name of a firm. K[ergorlay (ed.)]” (In the rubish of the chapter on the family, Rubish, 2).
[d. ] See p. 458 of the second volume.