Democracy in America

Play Audio | Get the Book | Del.icio.us

A French aristocrat of the purest strain of blood and of the most honorable lineage, whose family influence was coveted by crowned heads; who had no quarrel with the rulers of the nation, and was secure against want by his inherited estates; was moved by the agitations that compelled France to attempt to grasp suddenly the liberties and happiness we had gained in our revolution and, by his devout love of France, to search out and subject to the test of reason the basic principles of free government that had been embodied in our Constitution. This was the mission of De Tocqueville, and no mission was ever more honorably or justly conducted, or concluded with greater eclat, or better results for the welfare of mankind.

His researches were logical and exhaustive. They included every phase of every question that then seemed to be apposite to the great inquiry he was making.

The judgment of all who have studied his commentaries seems to have been unanimous, that his talents and learning were fully equal to his task. He began with the physical geography of this country, and examined the characteristics of the people, of all races and conditions, their social and religious sentiments, their education and tastes; their industries, their commerce, their local governments, their passions and prejudices, and their ethics and literature; leaving nothing unnoticed that might afford an argument to prove that our plan and form of government was or was not adapted especially to a peculiar people, or that it would be impracticable in any different country, or among any different people.

The pride and comfort that the American people enjoy in the great commentaries of De Tocqueville are far removed from the selfish adulation that comes from a great and singular success. It is the consciousness of victory over a false theory of government which has afflicted mankind for many ages, that gives joy to the true American, as it did to De Tocqueville in his great triumph.

When De Tocqueville wrote, we had lived less than fifty years under our Constitution. In that time no great national commotion had occurred that tested its strength, or its power of resistance to internal strife, such as had converted his beloved France into fields of slaughter torn by tempests of wrath.

He had a strong conviction that no government could be ordained that could resist these internal forces, when, they are directed to its destruction by bad men, or unreasoning mobs, and many then believed, as some yet believe, that our government is unequal to such pressure, when the assault is thoroughly desperate.

Had De Tocqueville lived to examine the history of the United States from 1860 to 1870, his misgivings as to this power of self-preservation would, probably, have been cleared off. He would have seen that, at the end of the most destructive civil war that ever occurred, when animosities of the bitterest sort had banished all good feeling from the hearts of our people, the States of the American Union, still in complete organization and equipped with all their official entourage, aligned themselves in their places and took up the powers and duties of local government in perfect order and without embarrassment. This would have dispelled his apprehensions, if he had any, about the power of the United States to withstand the severest shocks of civil war. Could he have traced the further course of events until they open the portals of the twentieth century, he would have cast away his fears of our ability to restore peace, order, and prosperity, in the face of any difficulties, and would have rejoiced to find in the Constitution of the United States the remedy that is provided for the healing of the nation.

Next Page