RCC Honors History Project

Tocqueville’s “24 Hours in New Orleans”

Posted by dnsom on November 17, 2008

We had if I am not mistaken, twenty-one letters [of introduction] for New Orleans. It would indeed be a difficult task to put all this formidable correspondence in order, and to classify each letter according to the importance of the person to whom it is addressed. But we are among those who think that, however much of a hurry one is in, one cannot make too many sacrifices in favor of logic.

Having settled the order, we directed our steps towards the house of Mr. Mazureau who had been described to us as the eagle of the New Orleans bar, and who speaks French, an advantage we had come to appreciate during our travels. We had a thousand troubles and wasted endless time in finding his house, the houses being unnumbered, or the numbers not following at all; 2 came before 1 and 10 followed 90. That is an arithmetic in use by the corporation of New Orleans to which we were not yet accustomed. Besides that served to give us a true respect for the Consul; to be able actually to conceive of good government in a city where the stranger cannot find his way!

We arrived at last. The Negro who opened the door for us and of whom we asked if we could see Mr. Mazureau, looked fixedly at us at first without seeming to understand us. Finally he said to us:

“How! Sir, today?”

“Yes, certainly fellow, why not?”

There was a fair amount of energy in our answer, but not a word of argument: but the slave seemed convinced, and lowering his head in a submissive way, opened the drawing room door.

The eagle of New Orleans, wrapped up in his dressing gown, and sitting beside what in Louisiana is called a French fire-place, and in France would be called a rustic one, was at that moment receiving the congratulations of his family united around him. One could see his children, grandchildren, nephews, first cousins once removed, even cousins’ children, sweets, jam, toys, the whole family picture complete. It was only left for us to register emotion, to cry even with feeling as all the eighteenth-century philosophers do in their books. Joy seemed to reign in every face, concord in every heart. We are such good friends on the day of new year gifts!

For ourselves, we stopped struck with astonishment at the sight. Finally a ray of light reached even us. We understood the embarrassment of the Consul, the astonishment of the Negroes, those good Negroes whom we had treated as churls. To bring a letter of introduction on New Year’s Day! What unseemly behavior! Alas! where is the happy time when I would sooner have forgotten my own name than the advent of the 1st of January!

At the sight of his unwelcome visitors, Mr. Mazureau got up quickly and came towards the door, enveloping in the eddies of his dressing-gown two grandchildren who, lost in the middle of this dark labyrinth, let out piercing cries in our direction. In our haste we upset I do not know how many of the toys that covered the floor and made a cardboard dog bark, which set a real pug barking and dashing for our legs. Finally we did meet in the middle of the sitting-room and expressed our mutual pleasure at making each other’s acquaintance.

(Pierson, p. 625)

Interview with Etienne Mazureau
Conversation with Mr. Mazureau, one of the leading lawyers in Louisiana

Q. Before you came under American rule, did you have any of the forms of free government?
A. No.

Q. Was the change from complete subjection to complete freedom difficult?
A. No. Congress has been careful to give us independence by degrees. At first its rule was almost as absolute as that of our old Governors. Then it gave us the status of a territory. Finally it incorporated us int he Union as an independent State. We get on in that capacity as well as the other States in the Union, although the majority are still Creoles.

In my view Congress could even have done without putting us through an apprenticeship. A small State, placed as we were, is always able to govern itself. Hardly any of the troublesome consequences of the sovereignty of the people are to be feared in small societies.

Q. Do you think that in Louisiana the whites could cultivate the land without slaves?
A. I do not think so. But I was born in Europe and arrived here with the ideas you seem to have on that point. But experience has seemed to me to contradict the theory.

I do not think that Europeans can work the land, exposed to this tropical sun. Our sun is always unhealthy, often deadly. It is not that I think it completely impossible to work. But the white, to escape death, is bound to work in such a limited way that he can only barely gain his living. We have an example in the district of Arkapas; Spain formerly sent peasants from the Azores to this part of Louisiana, and they settled there and have remained without slaves. These men work the soil, but so little that they are the poorest people in Louisiana.

Q. But might not their poverty be attributed to their laziness rather than to the climate?
A. In my view the climate is the chief reason.

Q. People say that at New Orleans one finds a mixture of all the nations?
A. That is true. Here you see a mixture of all the races. There is not a country of America or of Europe that has not sent us some representatives. New Orleans is a sample of all the peoples.

Q. But amid this confusion which race dominates and sets the pace for the rest?
A. The French race up till now. It sets the tone and shapes manners.

Q. Are the ravages of yellow fever here as bad as said?
A. I think people exaggerate the evil. My experience indicates that of ten foreigners who live sensibly and do not allow themselves excesses of any sort, only two die. I speak of people who do not have to work with their hands to live. For of the same number of working-class men who spend the day in the open air, perhaps seven or eight would succumb. Besides you know that yellow fever is confined to the town of New Orleans. Two miles above or below no one ever has it.

Q. What is the lot of the Negroes in Louisiana?
A. Fairly pleasant. Severity towards the Negroes is exceptional. The condition of the Negroes has singularly changed during the last twenty years. Time was when they lodged in wretched huts which gave them, one may say, no protection from bad weather; their clothing was a blanket, and for food they were given a barrel of corn (containing about two bushels) for the month. Now they are generally fed enough and given proper clothes and healthy quarters.

Q. Does the law protect their lives?
A. Yes. I remember while I was Attorney General having a master condemned to death for killing his slave.

Q. People say that at New Orleans one finds a mixture of all the nations?
A. That is true. Here you see a mixture of all the races. There is not a country of America or of Europe that has not sent us some representatives. New Orleans is a sample of all the peoples.

http://www.tocqueville.org/la2.htm#0101

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