ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE is best known for having written a brilliant and prescient study of the emerging American democracy, its politics and form of government, its economics, demographics, and attitudes, in short, almost everything that could be known about this new country and the character of the new man, the 'American.'
His book is, of course, Democracy in America, the first volume of which was published in France in 1835. Arguably, few have ever seen America and the Americans with quite so much insight. Tocqueville gained his understanding of the new country and its inhabitants through the experience of a nine-month trip to North America in 1831, when the American republic was about fifty years old. Tocqueville was just twenty-five when he made this trip, a fact that makes his great intellectual accomplishment, Democracy in America, all the more impressive. Fifteen Days in the Wilderness is a journal that he kept during a two-week side trip to the Lower Michigan peninsula. It is a charming, ironic, and vivid picture of America before it was the country we know today: an America of virgin forests and of Native American culture, both at the point of being overwhelmed by the steady advance of European 'civilization.' It was Tocqueville's understanding of the precarious condition of both the wilderness and its native inhabitants that inspired him to undertake his journey to Saginaw.