Alexis de Tocqueville

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Alexis de Tocqueville
Alexis de tocqueville.jpg
1850 portrait by Théodore Chassériau
Minister of Foreign Affairs
In office
2 June 1849 30 October 1849
Prime Minister Odilon Barrot
Preceded by Édouard Drouyn de Lhuys
Succeeded by Alphonse de Rayneval
Member of the National Assembly
for Manche
In office
25 April 1848 3 December 1851
Preceded by Léonor-Joseph Havin
Succeeded by Hervé de Kergorlay
Constituency Sainte-Mère-Église
Member of the Chamber of Deputies
for Manche
In office
7 March 1839 23 April 1848
Preceded by Jules Polydore Le Marois
Succeeded by Gabriel-Joseph Laumondais
Constituency Valognes
Personal details
Alexis Charles Henri Clérel de Tocqueville

(1805-07-29)29 July 1805
Paris, French Empire
Died16 April 1859(1859-04-16) (aged 53)
Cannes, French Empire
Political party Movement Party [1] [2]
Party of Order
Mary Mottley
(m. 1835;died 1859)
Alma mater University of Paris
Profession Historian, magistrate, jurist

Philosophy career
Notable work
Democracy in America (1835)
The Old Regime and the Revolution (1856)
Era 19th-century philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Liberal conservatism [3]
Main interests
History, political philosophy, sociology
Notable ideas
Voluntary association, mutual liberty, soft despotism

Alexis Charles-Henri-Maurice Clérel, Viscount de Tocqueville ( /ˈtkvɪl, ˈtɒk-/ ; [4] French:  [alɛgzi də tɔkvil] ; 29 July 1805 16 April 1859) was a French diplomat, political scientist and historian. He was best known for his works Democracy in America (appearing in two volumes, 1835 and 1840) and The Old Regime and the Revolution (1856). In both, he analyzed the improved living standards and social conditions of individuals as well as their relationship to the market and state in Western societies. Democracy in America was published after Tocqueville's travels in the United States and is today considered an early work of sociology and political science.

Diplomat person appointed by a state to conduct diplomacy with another state or international organization

A diplomat is a person appointed by a state or an intergovernamental institution such as the United Nations or the European Union to conduct diplomacy with one or more other States or international organizations.

Historian person who studies and writes about the past

A historian is a person who studies and writes about the past, and is regarded as an authority on it. Historians are concerned with the continuous, methodical narrative and research of past events as relating to the human race; as well as the study of all history in time. If the individual is concerned with events preceding written history, the individual is a historian of prehistory. Some historians are recognized by publications or training and experience. "Historian" became a professional occupation in the late nineteenth century as research universities were emerging in Germany and elsewhere.

<i>Democracy in America</i> classic French text by Alexis de Tocqueville

De La Démocratie en Amérique is a classic French text by Alexis de Tocqueville. Its title translates as On Democracy in America, but English translations are usually simply entitled Democracy in America. In the book, Tocqueville examines the democratic revolution that he believed had been occurring over the previous several hundred years.


Tocqueville was active in French politics, first under the July Monarchy (1830–1848) and then during the Second Republic (1849–1851) which succeeded the February 1848 Revolution. He retired from political life after Louis Napoléon Bonaparte's 2 December 1851 coup and thereafter began work on The Old Regime and the Revolution. [5] Tocqueville argued the importance of the French Revolution was to continue the process of modernizing and centralizing the French state which had begun under King Louis XIV. The failure of the Revolution came from the inexperience of the deputies who were too wedded to abstract Enlightenment ideals.

July Monarchy kingdom governing France, 1830-1848

The July Monarchy was a liberal constitutional monarchy in France under Louis Philippe I, starting with the July Revolution of 1830 and ending with the Revolution of 1848. It marks the end of the Bourbon Restoration (1814–1830). It began with the overthrow of the conservative government of Charles X, the last king of the House of Bourbon.

French Revolution of 1848 End of the reign of King Louis Philippe and start of the Second Republic

The 1848 Revolution in France, sometimes known as the February Revolution, was one of a wave of revolutions in 1848 in Europe. In France the revolutionary events ended the July Monarchy (1830–1848) and led to the creation of the French Second Republic.

Napoleon III French emperor, president, and member of the House of Bonaparte

Napoleon III, the nephew of Napoleon I, was the first President of France from 1848 to 1852, and the last French monarch from 1852 to 1870. First elected president of the French Second Republic in 1848, he seized power in 1851, when he could not constitutionally be re-elected, and became the Emperor of the French. He founded the Second French Empire and was its only emperor until the defeat of the French army and his capture by Prussia and its allies in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. He worked to modernize the French economy, rebuilt the center of Paris, expanded the overseas empire, and engaged in the Crimean War and the Second Italian War of Independence.

Tocqueville was a classical liberal and liberal conservative [3] who advocated parliamentary government, but he was skeptical of the extremes of democracy. [5]

Classical liberalism is a political ideology and a branch of liberalism which advocates civil liberties under the rule of law with an emphasis on economic freedom. Closely related to economic liberalism, it developed in the early 19th century, building on ideas from the previous century as a response to urbanisation and to the Industrial Revolution in Europe and the United States. Notable individuals whose ideas contributed to classical liberalism include John Locke, Jean-Baptiste Say, Thomas Robert Malthus and David Ricardo. It drew on the classical economic ideas espoused by Adam Smith in Book One of The Wealth of Nations and on a belief in natural law, utilitarianism and progress. The term classical liberalism has often been applied in retrospect to distinguish earlier 19th-century liberalism from social liberalism.

Liberal conservatism is a political ideology combining conservative policies with liberal stances, especially on economic, social and ethical issues, or a brand of political conservatism strongly influenced by liberalism.

Parliamentary system form of government

A parliamentary system or parliamentary democracy is a system of democratic governance of a state where the executive derives its democratic legitimacy from its ability to command the confidence of the legislature, typically a parliament, and is also held accountable to that parliament. In a parliamentary system, the head of state is usually a person distinct from the head of government. This is in contrast to a presidential system, where the head of state often is also the head of government and, most importantly, the executive does not derive its democratic legitimacy from the legislature.


Tocqueville came from an old Norman aristocratic family. His parents, Hervé Louis François Jean Bonaventure Clérel, Count of Tocqueville, an officer of the Constitutional Guard of King Louis XVI; and Louise Madeleine Le Peletier de Rosanbo narrowly escaped the guillotine due to the fall of Maximilien Robespierre in 1794. [6]

Louis XVI of France King of France and Navarre

Louis XVI, born Louis-Auguste, was the last King of France before the fall of the monarchy during the French Revolution. He was referred to as citizen Louis Capet during the four months before he was guillotined. In 1765, at the death of his father, Louis, son and heir apparent of Louis XV, Louis-Auguste became the new Dauphin of France. Upon his grandfather's death on 10 May 1774, he assumed the title "King of France and Navarre", which he used until 4 September 1791, when he received the title of "King of the French" until the monarchy was abolished on 21 September 1792.

Guillotine Apparatus designed for carrying out executions by beheading

A guillotine is an apparatus designed for efficiently carrying out executions by beheading. The device consists of a tall, upright frame in which a weighted and angled blade is raised to the top and suspended. The condemned person is secured with stocks at the bottom of the frame, positioning the neck directly below the blade. The blade is then released, to quickly fall and forcefully decapitate the victim with a single, clean pass so that the head falls into a basket below.

Maximilien Robespierre French revolutionary lawyer and politician

Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre was a French lawyer and politician who was one of the best known and most influential figures of the French Revolution. As a member of the Constituent Assembly and the Jacobin Club, he campaigned for universal manhood suffrage, and the abolition of both celibacy for the clergy and of slavery. Robespierre was an outspoken advocate for the citizens without a voice, for their unrestricted admission to the National Guard, to public offices, and for the right to carry arms in self-defence. Robespierre played an important part in the agitation which brought about the fall of the French monarchy in August 1792 and the summoning of a National Convention.

Under the Bourbon Restoration, Tocqueville's father became a noble peer and prefect. [6] Tocqueville attended the Lycée Fabert in Metz. [7]

Bourbon Restoration Period of French history, 1814-1830

The Bourbon Restoration was the period of French history following the first fall of Napoleon in 1814, and his final defeat in the Hundred Days in 1815, until the July Revolution of 1830. The brothers of the executed Louis XVI came to power and reigned in highly conservative fashion. Exiled supporters of the monarchy returned to France. They were nonetheless unable to reverse most of the changes made by the French Revolution and Napoleon. At the Congress of Vienna they were treated respectfully, but had to give up nearly all the territorial gains made since 1789.

A peerage is a legal system historically comprising various hereditary titles in a number of countries, and composed of assorted noble ranks.

Prefect Magisterial title

Prefect is a magisterial title of varying definition, but essentially refers to the leader of an administrative area.

The Fabert School in Metz, where Tocqueville was a student between 1817 and 1823 Cloitre sainte Constance (lycee Fabert de Metz).JPG
The Fabert School in Metz, where Tocqueville was a student between 1817 and 1823

Tocqueville, who despised the July Monarchy (1830–1848), began his political career in 1839. From 1839 to 1851, he served as deputy of the Manche department (Valognes). In parliament, he sat on the centre-left, [8] [9] defended abolitionist views and upheld free trade while supporting the colonisation of Algeria carried on by Louis-Philippe's regime. In 1847, he sought to found a Young Left (Jeune Gauche) party which would advocate wage increases, a progressive tax, [10] and other labor concerns in order to undermine the appeal of the socialists. [11] Tocqueville was also elected general counsellor of the Manche in 1842 and became the president of the department's conseil général between 1849 and 1851. According to one account, Tocqueville's political position became untenable during this time in the sense that he was mistrusted by both the left and right and was looking for an excuse to leave France. [12]

Manche Department of France

Manche is a coastal French department in Normandy (Normandie), on the English Channel, which is known as La Manche, literally "the sleeve", in French.

Valognes Commune in Normandy, France

Valognes is a commune in the Manche department in Normandy in north-western France.

Free trade Absence of government restriction on international trade

Free trade is a trade policy that does not restrict imports or exports; it can also be understood as the free market idea applied to international trade. In government, free trade is predominantly advocated by political parties that hold liberal economic positions while economically left-wing and nationalist political parties generally support protectionism, the opposite of free trade.


In 1831, Tocqueville obtained from the July Monarchy a mission to examine prisons and penitentiaries in the United States and proceeded there with his lifelong friend Gustave de Beaumont. While he did visit some prisons, Tocqueville traveled widely in the United States and took extensive notes about his observations and reflections. [12] He returned within nine months and published a report, but the real result of his tour was De la démocratie en Amerique , which appeared in 1835. [13] Beaumont also wrote an account of their travels in Jacksonian America: Marie or Slavery in the United States (1835). [14] During this trip, he made a side trip to Lower Canada to Montreal and Quebec City from mid-August to early September 1831. [15]

Apart from North America, Tocqueville also made an observational tour of England, producing Memoir on Pauperism. In 1841 and 1846, he traveled to Algeria. His first travel inspired his Travail sur l'Algérie in which he criticized the French model of colonisation based on an assimilationist view, preferring instead the British model of indirect rule which avoided mixing different populations together. He went as far as openly advocating racial segregation between the European colonists and the Arabs through the implementation of two different legislative systems (a half century before implementation of the 1881 Indigenous code based on religion).

In 1835, Tocqueville made a journey through Ireland. His observations provide one of the best pictures of how Ireland stood before the Great Famine (1845–1849). The observations chronicle the growing Catholic middle class and the appalling conditions in which most Catholic tenant farmers lived. Tocqueville made clear both his libertarian sympathies and his affinity for his Irish co-religionists. [16]

After the fall of the July Monarchy during the February 1848 Revolution, Tocqueville was elected a member of the Constituent Assembly of 1848, where he became a member of the Commission charged with the drafting of the new Constitution of the Second Republic (1848–1851). He defended bicameralism (two parliamentary chambers) and the election of the President of the Republic by universal suffrage. As the countryside was thought to be more conservative than the labouring population of Paris, universal suffrage was conceived as a means to counteract the revolutionary spirit of Paris.

During the Second Republic, Tocqueville sided with the parti de l'Ordre against the socialists. A few days after the February insurrection, he believed that a violent clash between the Parisian workers' population led by socialists agitating in favor of a "Democratic and Social Republic" and the conservatives, which included the aristocracy and the rural population, was inescapable. As Tocqueville had foreseen, these social tensions eventually exploded during the June Days Uprising of 1848. [17]

Led by General Cavaignac, the suppression was supported by Tocqueville, who advocated the "regularization" of the state of siege declared by Cavaignac and other measures promoting suspension of the constitutional order. [17] Between May and September, Tocqueville participated in the Constitutional Commission which wrote the new Constitution. His proposals underlined the importance of his North American experience as his amendment about the President and his reelection. [18]

Minister of foreign affairs

Tocqueville at the 1851 "Commission de la revision de la Constitution a l'Assemblee nationale" Commission revision Constitution 1851.JPG
Tocqueville at the 1851 "Commission de la révision de la Constitution à l'Assemblée nationale"

A supporter of Cavaignac and of the parti de l'Ordre, Tocqueville accepted an invitation to enter Odilon Barrot's government as Minister of Foreign Affairs from 3 June to 31 October 1849. During the troubled days of June 1849, he pleaded with Interior Minister Jules Dufaure for the reestablishment of the state of siege in the capital and approved the arrest of demonstrators. Tocqueville, who since February 1848 had supported laws restricting political freedoms, approved the two laws voted immediately after the June 1849 days which restricted the liberty of clubs and freedom of the press. [19]

This active support in favor of laws restricting political freedoms stands in contrast of his defense of freedoms in Democracy in America. According to Tocqueville, he favored order as "the sine qua non for the conduct of serious politics. He [hoped] to bring the kind of stability to French political life that would permit the steady growth of liberty unimpeded by the regular rumblings of the earthquakes of revolutionary change″. [19]

Tocqueville had supported Cavaignac against Louis Napoléon Bonaparte for the presidential election of 1848. Opposed to Louis Napoléon Bonaparte's 2 December 1851 coup which followed his election, Tocqueville was among the deputies who gathered at the 10th arrondissement of Paris in an attempt to resist the coup and have Napoleon III judged for "high treason" as he had violated the constitutional limit on terms of office. Detained at Vincennes and then released, Tocqueville, who supported the Restoration of the Bourbons against Napoleon III's Second Empire (1851–1871), quit political life and retreated to his castle (Château de Tocqueville). [20]

Against this image of Tocqueville, biographer Joseph Epstein has concluded: "Tocqueville could never bring himself to serve a man he considered a usurper and despot. He fought as best he could for the political liberty in which he so ardently believed—had given it, in all, thirteen years of his life [....]. He would spend the days remaining to him fighting the same fight, but conducting it now from libraries, archives, and his own desk". [20] There, he began the draft of L'Ancien Régime et la Révolution, publishing the first tome in 1856, but leaving the second one unfinished.


A longtime sufferer from bouts of tuberculosis, Tocqueville would eventually succumb to the disease on 16 April 1859 and was buried in the Tocqueville cemetery in Normandy.

Tocqueville's professed religion was Roman Catholicism. [21] He saw religion as being compatible with both equality and individualism, but felt that religion would be strongest when separated from politics. [12]

Democracy in America

A page from original working manuscript of Democracy in America, c. 1840 Page from original working manuscript of Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville.jpg
A page from original working manuscript of Democracy in America , c.1840

In Democracy in America , published in 1835, Tocqueville wrote of the New World and its burgeoning democratic order. Observing from the perspective of a detached social scientist, Tocqueville wrote of his travels through the United States in the early 19th century when the Market Revolution, Western expansion and Jacksonian democracy were radically transforming the fabric of American life. [12]

According to Joshua Kaplan, one purpose of writing Democracy in America was to help the people of France get a better understanding of their position between a fading aristocratic order and an emerging democratic order and to help them sort out the confusion. [12] Tocqueville saw democracy as an equation that balanced liberty and equality, concern for the individual as well as for the community.

Tocqueville was an ardent supporter of liberty. "I have a passionate love for liberty, law, and respect for rights", he wrote. "I am neither of the revolutionary party nor of the conservative. [...] Liberty is my foremost passion". He wrote of "Political Consequences of the Social State of the Anglo-Americans" by saying: "But one also finds in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to want to bring the strong down to their level, and which reduces men to preferring equality in servitude to inequality in freedom". [22]

The above is often misquoted as a slavery quote because of previous translations of the French text. The most recent translation from Arthur Goldhammer in 2004 translates the meaning to be as stated above. Examples of misquoted sources are numerous on the internet, [23] but the text does not contain the words "Americans were so enamored by equality" anywhere.

His view on government reflects his belief in liberty and the need for individuals to be able to act freely while respecting others' rights. Of centralized government, he wrote that it "excels in preventing, not doing". [24]

Tocqueville continues to comment on equality by saying: "Furthermore, when citizens are all almost equal, it becomes difficult for them to defend their independence against the aggressions of power. As none of them is strong enough to fight alone with advantage, the only guarantee of liberty is for everyone to combine forces. But such a combination is not always in evidence". [25]

Tocqueville explicitly cites inequality as being incentive for the poor to become rich and notes that it is not often that two generations within a family maintain success and that it is inheritance laws that split and eventually break apart someone's estate that cause a constant cycle of churn between the poor and the rich, thereby over generations making the poor rich and the rich poor. He cites protective laws in France at the time that protected an estate from being split apart among heirs, thereby preserving wealth and preventing a churn of wealth such as was perceived by him in 1835 within the United States.

On civil and political society and the individual

Tocqueville's main purpose was to analyze the functioning of political society and various forms of political associations, although he brought some reflections on civil society too (and relations between political and civil society). For Tocqueville, as for Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Karl Marx, civil society was a sphere of private entrepreneurship and civilian affairs regulated by civil code. [26] As a critic of individualism, Tocqueville thought that through associating the coming together of people for mutual purpose, both in public and private, Americans are able to overcome selfish desires, thus making both a self-conscious and active political society and a vibrant civil society functioning according to political and civil laws of the state. [12] [26]

According to political scientist Joshua Kaplan, Tocqueville did not originate the concept of individualism, instead he changed its meaning and saw it as a "calm and considered feeling which deposes each citizen to isolate himself from the mass of his fellows and to withdraw into the circle of family and friends [...]. [W]ith this little society formed to his taste, he gladly leaves the greater society to look for itself". [12] While Tocqueville saw egotism and selfishness as vices, he saw individualism as not a failure of feeling, but as a way of thinking about things which could have either positive consequences such as a willingness to work together, or negative consequences such as isolation and that individualism could be remedied by improved understanding. [12]

When individualism was a positive force and prompted people to work together for common purposes and seen as "self-interest properly understood", then it helped to counterbalance the danger of the tyranny of the majority since people could "take control over their own lives" without government aid. [12] According to Kaplan, Americans have a difficult time accepting Tocqueville's criticism of the stifling intellectual effect of the "omnipotence of the majority" and that Americans tend to deny that there is a problem in this regard. [12]

Others such as the Catholic writer Daniel Schwindt disagree with Kaplan's interpretation, arguing instead that Tocqueville saw individualism as just another form of egotism and not an improvement over it. [27] To make his case, Schwindt provides citations such as the following:

Egoism springs from a blind instinct; individualism from wrong-headed thinking rather than from depraved feelings. It originates as much from defects of intelligence as from the mistakes of the heart. Egoism blights the seeds of every virtue; individualism at first dries up only the source of public virtue. In the longer term it attacks and destroys all the others and will finally merge with egoism. [27]

On democracy and new forms of tyranny

Tocqueville warned that modern democracy may be adept at inventing new forms of tyranny because radical equality could lead to the materialism of an expanding bourgeoisie and to the selfishness of individualism. "In such conditions, we might become so enamored with 'a relaxed love of present enjoyments' that we lose interest in the future of our descendants...and meekly allow ourselves to be led in ignorance by a despotic force all the more powerful because it does not resemble one", wrote The New Yorker's James Wood. [28] Tocqueville worried that if despotism were to take root in a modern democracy, it would be a much more dangerous version than the oppression under the Roman emperors or tyrants of the past who could only exert a pernicious influence on a small group of people at a time. [12]

In contrast, a despotism under a democracy could see "a multitude of men", uniformly alike, equal, "constantly circling for petty pleasures", unaware of fellow citizens and subject to the will of a powerful state which exerted an "immense protective power". [12] Tocqueville compared a potentially despotic democratic government to a protective parent who wants to keep its citizens (children) as "perpetual children" and which does not break men's wills, but rather guides it and presides over people in the same way as a shepherd looking after a "flock of timid animals". [12]

On American social contract

Tocqueville's penetrating analysis sought to understand the peculiar nature of American political life. In describing the American, he agreed with thinkers such as Aristotle and Montesquieu that the balance of property determined the balance of political power, but his conclusions after that differed radically from those of his predecessors. Tocqueville tried to understand why the United States was so different from Europe in the last throes of aristocracy. In contrast to the aristocratic ethic, the United States was a society where hard work and money-making was the dominant ethic, where the common man enjoyed a level of dignity which was unprecedented, where commoners never deferred to elites and where what he described as crass individualism and market capitalism had taken root to an extraordinary degree.

Tocqueville writes: "Among a democratic people, where there is no hereditary wealth, every man works to earn a living. [...] Labor is held in honor; the prejudice is not against but in its favor". [29] Tocqueville asserted that the values that had triumphed in the North and were present in the South had begun to suffocate old-world ethics and social arrangements. Legislatures abolished primogeniture and entails, resulting in more widely distributed land holdings. This was a contrast to the general aristocratic pattern in which only the eldest child, usually a man, inherited the estate, which had the effect of keeping large estates intact from generation to generation. [12]

In contrast, landed elites in the United States were less likely to pass on fortunes to a single child by the action of primogeniture, which meant that as time went by large estates became broken up within a few generations which in turn made the children more equal overall. [12] According to Joshua Kaplan's Tocqueville, it was not always a negative development since bonds of affection and shared experience between children often replaced the more formal relation between the eldest child and the siblings, characteristic of the previous aristocratic pattern. [12] Overall, hereditary fortunes in the new democracies became exceedingly difficult to secure and more people were forced to struggle for their own living.

A sketch of Tocqueville Alexis de Tocqueville.jpg
A sketch of Tocqueville

As Tocqueville understood it, this rapidly democratizing society had a population devoted to "middling" values which wanted to amass through hard work vast fortunes. In Tocqueville's mind, this explained why the United States was so different from Europe. In Europe, he claimed, nobody cared about making money. The lower classes had no hope of gaining more than minimal wealth while the upper classes found it crass, vulgar and unbecoming of their sort to care about something as unseemly as money and many were virtually guaranteed wealth and took it for granted. At the same time in the United States, workers would see people fashioned in exquisite attire and merely proclaim that through hard work they too would soon possess the fortune necessary to enjoy such luxuries.

Despite maintaining that the balance of property determined the balance of power, Tocqueville argued that as the United States showed, equitable property holdings did not ensure the rule of the best men. In fact, it did quite the opposite as the widespread, relatively equitable property ownership which distinguished the United States and determined its mores and values also explained why the United States masses held elites in such contempt. [30]

On majority rule and mediocrity

Beyond the eradication of old-world aristocracy, ordinary Americans also refused to defer to those possessing, as Tocqueville put it, superior talent and intelligence and these natural elites could not enjoy much share in political power as a result. Ordinary Americans enjoyed too much power and claimed too great a voice in the public sphere to defer to intellectual superiors. This culture promoted a relatively pronounced equality, Tocqueville argued, but the same mores and opinions that ensured such equality also promoted mediocrity. Those who possessed true virtue and talent were left with limited choices. [12]

Tocqueville said that those with the most education and intelligence were left with two choices. They could join limited intellectual circles to explore the weighty and complex problems facing society, or they could use their superior talents to amass vast fortunes in the private sector. He wrote that he did not know of any country where there was "less independence of mind, and true freedom of discussion, than in America". [12]

Tocqueville blamed the omnipotence of majority rule as a chief factor in stifling thinking: "The majority has enclosed thought within a formidable fence. A writer is free inside that area, but woe to the man who goes beyond it, not that he stands in fear of an inquisition, but he must face all kinds of unpleasantness in every day persecution. A career in politics is closed to him for he has offended the only power that holds the keys". [12] According to Kaplan's interpretation of Tocqueville, he argued in contrast to previous political thinkers that a serious problem in political life was not that people were too strong, but that people were "too weak" and felt powerless as the danger is that people felt "swept up in something that they could not control". [12]

On slavery, blacks and Indians

Uniquely positioned at a crossroads in American history, Tocqueville's Democracy in America attempted to capture the essence of American culture and values. Though a supporter of colonialism, Tocqueville could clearly perceive the evils that black people and natives had been subjected to in the United States. Tocqueville devoted the last chapter of the first volume of Democracy in America to the question while his travel companion Gustave de Beaumont wholly focused on slavery and its fallouts for the American nation in Marie or Slavery in America. Tocqueville notes among the American races:

The first who attracts the eye, the first in enlightenment, in power and in happiness, is the white man, the European, man par excellence; below him appear the Negro and the Indian. These two unfortunate races have neither birth, nor face, nor language, nor mores in common; only their misfortunes look alike. Both occupy an equally inferior position in the country that they inhabit; both experience the effects of tyranny; and if their miseries are different, they can accuse the same author for them. [31]

Tocqueville contrasted the settlers of Virginia with the middle class, religious Puritans who founded New England and analyzed the debasing influence of slavery:

The men sent to Virginia were seekers of gold, adventurers without resources and without character, whose turbulent and restless spirit endangered the infant colony. [...] Artisans and agriculturalists arrived afterwards[,] [...] hardly in any respect above the level of the inferior classes in England. No lofty views, no spiritual conception presided over the foundation of these new settlements. The colony was scarcely established when slavery was introduced; this was the capital fact which was to exercise an immense influence on the character, the laws and the whole future of the South. Slavery [...] dishonors labor; it introduces idleness into society, and with idleness, ignorance and pride, luxury and distress. It enervates the powers of the mind and benumbs the activity of man. On this same English foundation there developed in the North very different characteristics. [32]

Tocqueville concluded that return of the Negro population to Africa could not resolve the problem as he writes at the end of Democracy in America:

If the colony of Liberia were able to receive thousands of new inhabitants every year, and if the Negroes were in a state to be sent thither with advantage; if the Union were to supply the society with annual subsidies, and to transport the Negroes to Africa in government vessels, it would still be unable to counterpoise the natural increase of population among the blacks; and as it could not remove as many men in a year as are born upon its territory within that time, it could not prevent the growth of the evil which is daily increasing in the states. The Negro race will never leave those shores of the American continent to which it was brought by the passions and the vices of Europeans; and it will not disappear from the New World as long as it continues to exist. The inhabitants of the United States may retard the calamities which they apprehend, but they cannot now destroy their efficient cause.

In 1855, Tocqueville wrote the following text published by Maria Weston Chapman in the Liberty Bell: Testimony against Slavery:

I do not think it is for me, a foreigner, to indicate to the United States the time, the measures, or the men by whom Slavery shall be abolished. Still, as the persevering enemy of despotism everywhere, and under all its forms, I am pained and astonished by the fact that the freest people in the world is, at the present time, almost the only one among civilized and Christian nations which yet maintains personal servitude; and this while serfdom itself is about disappearing, where it has not already disappeared, from the most degraded nations of Europe.

An old and sincere friend of America, I am uneasy at seeing Slavery retard her progress, tarnish her glory, furnish arms to her detractors, compromise the future career of the Union which is the guaranty of her safety and greatness, and point out beforehand to her, to all her enemies, the spot where they are to strike. As a man, too, I am moved at the spectacle of man's degradation by man, and I hope to see the day when the law will grant equal civil liberty to all the inhabitants of the same empire, as God accords the freedom of the will, without distinction, to the dwellers upon earth. [33]

On policies of assimilation

According to Tocqueville, assimilation of black people would be almost impossible and this was already being demonstrated in the Northern states. As Tocqueville predicted, formal freedom and equality and segregation would become this population's reality after the Civil War and during Reconstruction as would the bumpy road to true integration of black people.

However, assimilation was the best solution for Native Americans, and since they were too proud to assimilate, they would inevitably become extinct. Displacement was another part of America's Indian policy. Both populations were "undemocratic", or without the qualities, intellectual and otherwise needed to live in a democracy. Tocqueville shared many views on assimilation and segregation of his and the coming epochs, but he opposed Arthur de Gobineau's theories as found in The Inequality of Human Races (1853–1855). [34]

On the United States and Russia as future global powers

In his Democracy in America, Tocqueville also forecast the preeminence of the United States and Russia as the two main global powers. In his book, he stated: "There are now two great nations in the world, which starting from different points, seem to be advancing toward the same goal: the Russians and the Anglo-Americans. [...] Each seems called by some secret design of Providence one day to hold in its hands the destinies of half the world". [35]

On civil jury service

Tocqueville believed that the American jury system was particularly important in educating citizens in self-government and rule of law. [36] He often expressed how the civil jury system was one of the most effective showcases of democracy because it connected citizens with the true spirit of the justice system. In his 1835 treatise Democracy in America, he explained: "The jury, and more especially the civil jury, serves to communicate the spirit of the judges to the minds of all the citizens; and this spirit, with the habits which attend it, is the soundest preparation for free institutions. [...] It invests each citizen with a kind of magistracy; it makes them all feel the duties which they are bound to discharge toward society; and the part which they take in the Government". [37]

Tocqueville believed that jury service not only benefited the society as a whole, but enhanced jurors' qualities as citizens. Because of the jury system, "they were better informed about the rule of law, and they were more closely connected to the state. Thus, quite independently of what the jury contributed to dispute resolution, participation on the jury had salutary effects on the jurors themselves". [36]

1841 discourse on the Conquest of Algeria

French historian of colonialism Olivier LeCour Grandmaison has underlined how Tocqueville (as well as Jules Michelet) used the term "extermination" to describe what was happening during the colonization of Western United States and the Indian removal period. [38] Tocqueville thus expressed himself in 1841 concerning the conquest of Algeria:

As far as I am concerned, I came back from Africa with the pathetic notion that at present in our way of waging war we are far more barbaric than the Arabs themselves. These days, they represent civilization, we do not. This way of waging war seems to me as stupid as it is cruel. It can only be found in the head of a coarse and brutal soldier. Indeed, it was pointless to replace the Turks only to reproduce what the world rightly found so hateful in them. This, even for the sake of interest is more noxious than useful; for, as another officer was telling me, if our sole aim is to equal the Turks, in fact we shall be in a far lower position than theirs: barbarians for barbarians, the Turks will always outdo us because they are Muslim barbarians. In France, I have often heard men I respect but do not approve of, deplore that crops should be burnt and granaries emptied and finally that unarmed men, women, and children should be seized. In my view these are unfortunate circumstances that any people wishing to wage war against the Arabs must accept. I think that all the means available to wreck tribes must be used, barring those that the human kind and the right of nations condemn. I personally believe that the laws of war enable us to ravage the country and that we must do so either by destroying the crops at harvest time or any time by making fast forays also known as raids the aim of which it to get hold of men or flocks. [39] [40]

Whatever the case, we may say in a general manner that all political freedoms must be suspended in Algeria. [41]

Tocqueville thought the conquest of Algeria was important for two reasons: first, his understanding of the international situation and France's position in the world; and second, changes in French society. [42] Tocqueville believed that war and colonization would "restore national pride, threatened", he believed, by "the gradual softening of social mores" in the middle classes. Their taste for "material pleasures" was spreading to the whole of society, giving it "an example of weakness and egotism". [43]

Applauding the methods of General Bugeaud, Tocqueville went so far to claim that "war in Africa is a science. Everyone is familiar with its rules and everyone can apply those rules with almost complete certainty of success. One of the greatest services that Field Marshal Bugeaud has rendered his country is to have spread, perfected and made everyone aware of this new science". [43]

Tocqueville advocated racial segregation in Algeria with two distinct legislations, one for European colonists and one for the Arab population. [44] Such a two-tier arrangement would be fully realised with the 1870 Crémieux decree and the Indigenousness Code, which extended French citizenship to European settlers and Algerian Jews whereas Muslim Algerians would be governed by Muslim law and restricted to a second-class citizenship.

Tocqueville's opposition to the invasion of Kabylie

1849 caricature by Honore Daumier Tocqueville by Daumier.jpg
1849 caricature by Honoré Daumier

In opposition to Olivier Le Cour Grandmaison, Jean-Louis Benoît said that given the extent of racial prejudices during the colonization of Algeria, Tocqueville was one of its "most moderate supporters". Benoît said that it was wrong to assume Tocqueville was a supporter of Bugeaud despite his 1841 apologetic discourse. It seems that Tocqueville modified his views after his second visit to Algeria in 1846 as he criticized Bugeaud's desire to invade Kabylie in an 1847 speech to the Assembly.

Although Tocqueville had favoured retention of distinct traditional law, administrators, schools and so on for Arabs who had come under French control, he judged the Berber tribes of Kabylie (in his second of Two Letters on Algeria, 1837) as "savages" not suited for this arrangement because he argued they would best be managed not by force of arms, but by the pacifying influences of commerce and cultural interaction. [45]

Tocqueville's views on the matter were complex. Although in his 1841 report on Algeria he applauded Bugeaud for making war in a way that defeated Abd-el-Kader's resistance, he had advocated in the Two Letters that the French military advance leave Kabylie undisturbed and in subsequent speeches and writings he continued to oppose intrusion into Kabylie.[ citation needed ]

In the debate about the 1846 extraordinary funds, Tocqueville denounced Bugeaud's conduct of military operations and succeeded in convincing the Assembly not to vote funds in support of Bugeaud's military columns. [46] Tocqueville considered Bugeaud's plan to invade Kabylie despite the opposition of the Assembly as a seditious act in the face of which the government was opting for cowardice. [47] [48]

1847 "Report on Algeria"

In his 1847 "Report on Algeria", Tocqueville declared that Europe should avoid making the same mistake they made with the European colonization of the Americas in order to avoid the bloody consequences. [49] More particularly he reminds his countrymen of a solemn caution whereby he warns them that if the methods used towards the Algerian people remain unchanged, colonization will end in a blood bath.

Tocqueville includes in his report on Algeria that the fate of their soldiers and finances depended on how the French government treats the various native populations of Algeria, including the various Arab tribes, independent Kabyles living in the Atlas Mountains and the powerful political leader Abd-el-Kader. In his various letters and essays on Algeria, Tocqueville discusses contrasting strategies by which a European country can approach imperialism. In particular, the author differentiates between what he terms "dominance" and a particular version of "colonization". [50]

The latter stresses the obtainment and protection of land and passageways that promise commercial wealth. In the case of Algeria, the Port of Algiers and the control over the Strait of Gibraltar were considered by Tocqueville to be particularly valuable whereas direct control of the political operations of the entirety of Algeria was not. Thus, the author stresses domination over only certain points of political influence as a means to colonization of commercially valuable areas. [50]

Tocqueville argued that though unpleasant, domination via violent means is necessary for colonization and justified by the laws of war. Such laws are not discussed in detail, but given that the goal of the French mission in Algeria was to obtain commercial and military interest as opposed to self-defense, it can be deduced that Tocqueville would not concur with just war theory's jus ad bellum criteria of just cause. Further, given that Tocqueville approved of the use of force to eliminate civilian housing in enemy territory, his approach does not accord with just war theory's jus in bello criteria of proportionality and discrimination. [51]

The Old Regime and the Revolution

In 1856, Tocqueville published The Old Regime and the Revolution. The book analyzes French society before the French Revolution—the so-called Ancien Régime—and investigates the forces that caused the Revolution.

Tocqueville was quoted in several chapters of Toby Young's memoirs How to Lose Friends and Alienate People to explain his observation of widespread homogeneity of thought even amongst intellectual elites at Harvard University during his time spent there. He is frequently quoted and studied in American history classes. Tocqueville is the inspiration for Australian novelist Peter Carey in his 2009 novel Parrot and Olivier in America . [52]


See also


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  16. Alexis de Tocqueville (1990). Journey in Ireland, July–August 1835. Catholic University of America Press: Washington, D.C.
  17. 1 2 "Regularization" is a term used by Tocqueville himself, see Souvenirs, Third part, pp. 289–290 French ed. (Paris, Gallimard, 1999).
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  31. Beginning of chapter 18 of Democracy in America, "The Present and Probably Future Condition of the Three Races that Inhabit the Territory of the United States".
  32. Democracy in America, Vintage Books, 1945, pp. 31–32.
  33. In Oeuvres completes, Gallimard, T. VII, pp. 1663–1664.
  34. See Correspondence avec Arthur de Gobineau as quoted by Jean-Louis Benoît. Archived 16 February 2006 at the Wayback Machine
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  41. Olivier LeCour Grandmaison (2001). "Tocqueville et la conquête de l'Algérie" (in French). La Mazarine.
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  43. 1 2 Alexis de Tocqueville, "Rapports sur l'Algérie", in Œuvres complètes, Paris, Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1991, p. 806, quoted in Olivier LeCour Grandmaison (June 2001). "Torture in Algeria: Past Acts That Haunt France – Liberty, Equality and Colony". Le Monde diplomatique.
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  45. Brian Keith Axel (17 May 2002). From the Margins: Historical Anthropology and Its Futures. Duke University Press. p. 135. ISBN   0-8223-8334-9. Given these cultural resemblances and "frequent, peaceful relations", Tocqueville concluded that however impenetrable their territory may be, the Kabyles would likely assimilate to French "mores and ideas" due to the "almost invincible attraction that brings savages towards civilized men."
  46. Tocqueville, Oeuvres completes, III, 1, Gallimard, 1962, pp. 299–300.
  47. Tocqueville, Oeuvres completes, III, 1, Gallimard, 1962, p. 303.
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  51. De Tocqueville. Writings on Empire and Slavery, ed. Jennifer Pitts (2001), pp. 57–64, 70–78.
  52. "Parrot and Olivier in America". Retrieved 23 June 2012.

Further reading

Political offices
Preceded by
Édouard Drouyn de Lhuys
Minister of Foreign Affairs
2 June 1849 31 October 1849
Succeeded by
Alphonse de Rayneval