Alexis de Tocqueville, known throughout Europe as the author of Democracy in America and for a brief period foreign minister of France, was childless--a matter of deep concern to someone so proud of his ancestry. In his later years he partly made up for this gap in his life by attention to his nephews and nieces. Pride of place went to his nephew Hubert, who was nineteen years old when Louis Napoleon's coup d'Žtat ended Tocqueville's public career. After some hesitation, Hubert opted for a diplomatic career and, with some assistance from his uncle, was posted first to the embassy in Vienna and then to Berlin.
At both capitals, but particularly Berlin, Tocqueville's contacts, whether personal or through correspondence, assured the young man an entrŽe into the most important social and intellectual circles. In writing to Hubert, Tocqueville welcomed the latter's determination to pursue the study of the German language and the history of the German-speaking peoples. While the Bismarckian Reich was still in the future, the German confederation was already the scene of important economic and demographic growth, and, despite the setback to its unity in the failed Revolutions of 1848, was obviously destined to play an increasingly important role in European politics. Tocqueville believed that the Germans should have been the natural partners of the French but that the Napoleonic conquests and occupation had permanently alienated them and made an alliance impossible. This legacy left France with the option of choosing an alignment with Britain, of which the price would be allowing that country to expand into all quarters of the habitable world, or else with Russia, which always carried with it the risk of general war.