America in the 1850s


What did the American family look like in 1850?

This question is more difficult to answer numerically and statistically because the census takers were much more interested in individual and national statistics than family ones. We can, however, take a stab at it by turning to the anecdotal record, in this case the words of Alexis de Tocqueville.

“In America, the family, in the Roman and aristocratic signification of the word, does not exist,” de Tocqueville began. “All that remains of it are a few vestiges in the first years of childhood, when the father exercises, without opposition, that absolute domestic authority, which the feebleness of his children renders necessary.… As soon as the young American approaches manhood, the ties of filial obedience are relaxed day by day: master of his thoughts, he is soon master of his conduct. In America, there is, strictly speaking, no adolescence: at the close of boyhood the man appears, and begins to trace out his own path.”


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