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Gustave de Beaumont

French Aristocracy, Political Play, Coming To America, The Prison Report, Political Disappointment

Born February 6, 1802 (Beaumont-la-Chartre, France)

Died February 22, 1866 (Paris, France)

French magistrate, prison reformer

Gustave de Beaumont was a nineteenth-century French statesman when he received a commission from the King of France Louis Phillipe (1773–1850) to inspect American prison systems for the French government. In 1831 Beaumont and his friend and noted historian Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–1859) sailed to the United States. They spent nine months inspecting American prisons. At the completion of their study, they published a report entitled On the Penitentiary System in the United States and Its Application to France.

"But while working on the penitentiary system we shall see America; in visiting its prisons we shall be visiting its inhabitants, its cities, its institutions, its customs."

America was the New World to Europeans in the 1830s. The French Revolution (1789–99; a war in which the monarchy was overthrown and a republic was established) had called for "liberty, equality and fraternity," and the United States was seen as the political future with its principles based in individualism and equality. Many Europeans came to North America to observe and write accounts during these years. But the experiences of Beaumont and Tocqueville—in observing the U.S. criminal justice system—would greatly affect the thinking of the Western world.

For More Information


Hall, Kermit. Oxford Companion to American Law. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Levinson, David, ed. Encyclopedia of Crime and Punishment. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc., 2002.

McCarthy, Eugene, J. America Revisited: 150 Years After Tocqueville. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1978.

Pierson, George Wilson. Tocqueville and Beaumont in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1938.

Web Site

The Alexis de Tocqueville Tour: Exploring Democracy in America. http://www.tocqueville.org (accessed on August 15, 2004).

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law