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Out of Alexis de Toqueville's travels through the U.S. in the 1830's came an insightful study of a young democracy and its institutions.
A Note on the Text
The Text of Democracy in America 1
Tocqueville Letters 621
To Ernest de Chabrol, New York, 9 June 1831 621
To M. Louis de Kergolay, Yonkers, 20 June 1831 622
To Ernest de Chabrol, Hartford, 7 October 1831 626
To the Countess de Tocqueville, On the Mississippi, 25 December 1831 627
To Eugene Stoffels, Paris, 21 February 1835 628
To Henry Reeve, Paris, 22 March 1837 629
To John Quincy Adams, Paris, 4 December 1837 630
Reviews of Democracy in America 632
Le Temps, Paris, April 1835 Sainte-Beuve 632
Revue des deux mondes, July-September 1840 Pellegrino Rossi Rossi, Pellegrino 636
Preface to 1838 American Edition of Democracy in America John C. Spencer Spencer, John C. 643
Preface to 1841 American Edition of Democracy in America 646
The North American Review, July 1836 650
The United States Democratic Review, October 1837 659
The Knickerbocker; or The New York Monthly Magazine, September 1838 670
London Review, October 1835 John Stuart Mill Mill, John Stuart 673
Edinburgh Review, October 1840 683
Tocqueville as Ethnographer David Riesman Riesman, David 707
Tocqueville and American Civilization Max Lerner Lerner, Max 717
Many Tocquevilles Robert Nisbet Nisbet, Robert 724
From Egoism to Individualism James T. Schleifer Schleifer, James T. 739
Not by Preaching: Tocqueville on the Role of Religion in American Democracy Catherine Zuckert Zuckert, Catherine 750
Archaism and Modernity Sheldon S. Wolin Wolin, Sheldon S. 767
The Illiberal Tocqueville Edward C. Banfield Banfield, Edward C. 777
Of Prophets and Prophecy Daniel T. Rodgers Rodgers, Daniel T. 788
Individualismand Apathy in Tocqueville's Democracy Arthur Schlesinger Jr. Schlesinger, Arthur, Jr. 799
Many Democracies: On Tocqueville and Jacksonian America Sean Wilentz Wilentz, Sean 809
Democracy and the Tyranny of the Majority Henry Steele Commager Commager, Henry Steele 825
Life Everlasting: Tocqueville in America James T. Kloppenberg Kloppenberg, James T. 834
Tocqueville and American Legal Studies: The Paradox of Liberty and Destruction Tamara M. Teale Teale, Tamara M. 848
Selected Bibliography 855
Physical Configuration of North America
North America has striking geographical features which can be appreciated at first glance.
Land and water, mountains and valleys, seem to have been separated with systematic method, and the simple majesty of this design stands out amid the confusion and immense variety of the scene.
The continent is divided into two vast and almost equal regions.
One region is bounded by the North Pole and the great oceans to east and west, while to the south it stretches down in an irregular triangle to the Great Lakes of Canada.
The second starts where the other ends and covers the rest of the continent.
One region slopes gently toward the pole, the other toward the equator.
The second region is broken up more and is better suited as a permanent home for man. Two mountain chains run right across it; the Alleghenies parallel to the Atlantic, and the Rockies to the Pacific.
The area between these two mountain chains is 1,341,649 miles, or about six times that of France.
But the whole of this vast territory is a single valley sloping down from the smooth summits of the Alleghenies and stretching up to the peaks of the Rocky Mountains, with no obstacles in the way.
An immense river flows along the bottom of this valley, and all the waters falling on the mountains on every side drain into it.
Formerly the French called it the St. Louis River, in memory of their distant fatherland, and the Indians in their grandiloquent tongue named it the Father of Waters, the Mississippi.
Sometimes gently flowing along the clay bed which nature has carved out for it, and sometimes swollen by storms, the Mississippi waters some twenty-five hundred miles.
The valley watered by the Mississippi seems created for it alone; it dispenses good and evil at will like a local god. Near the river nature displays an inexhaustible fertility; the farther you go from its banks, the sparser the vegetation and the poorer becomes the soil. Nowhere have the great convulsions of the world left more evident traces than in the valley of the Mississippi. The whole countryside bears witness to the waters' work. Its sterility as well as its abundance is their work. Deep layers of fertile soil accumulated under the primeval ocean and had time to level out. On the right bank of the river there are huge plains as level as a rolled lawn. But nearer the mountains the land becomes more and more uneven and sterile; the soil is punctured in a thousand places by primitive rocks sticking out here and there like the bones of a skeleton when sinews and flesh have perished.
All things considered, the valley of the Mississippi is the most magnificent habitation ever prepared by God for man, and yet one may say that it is still only a vast wilderness.
On the eastern slopes of the Alleghenies, between the mountains and the Atlantic, there is a long strip of rock and sand which seems to have been left behind by the retreating ocean. This strip is only 48 leagues broad on the average,1 390 leagues long.2 The soil in this part of the American continent can be cultivated only with difficulty.
That inhospital shore was the cradle of those English colonies which were one day to become the United States of America. The center of power still remains there, while in the land behind them are assembling, almost in secret, the real elements of the great people to whom the future of the continent doubtless belongs.
When the Europeans landed on the shores of the West Indies, and later of South America, they thought themselves transported to the fabled lands of the poets. Here and there little scented islands float like baskets of flowers on the calm sea. Everything seen in these enchanted islands seems devised to meet man's needs or serve his pleasures.
North America seemed very different; everything there was grave and serious and solemn; one might say that it had been created to be the domain of the intelligence, as the other was that of the senses.
However, these vast wildernesses were not completely unvisited by man; for centuries some nomads had lived under the dark forests or on the meadows of the prairies. From the mouth of the St. Lawrence to the Mississippi Delta, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the savages had some points of resemblance testifying to a common origin. But, apart from that they were different from all known races of men;3 they were neither white like Europeans nor yellow like most Asiatics nor black like the Negroes; their skin was reddish, their hair long and glossy, their lips thin, and their cheekbones very high. The words of the various languages of the savage peoples of America were different, but they all had the same rules of grammar. The rules differed in several respects from those previously supposed to shape the formation of language among men.
These American languages seem to be the product of new combinations; those who invented them must have possessed an intellectual drive of which present-day Indians hardly seem capable.
The social state of these tribes was also different from anything known in the Old World. They would seem to have multiplied freely in their wilderness without contact with races more civilized than themselves. Hence they were untroubled by those muddled concepts of good and evil and by that deep corruption generally seen among once civilized peoples relapsed into barbarism. The Indian owed nothing to anybody but himself; his virtues, vices, and prejudices were all his own; his nature had matured in wild freedom.
In well-organized countries the coarseness of the common people is not due solely to ignorance and poverty, but is also affected by the fact that, being poor and ignorant, they are in daily contact with the wealthy and educated. The poor and weak feel themselves weighed down by their inferiority; seeing no prospect of regaining equality, they quite give up hope and allow themselves to fall below the proper dignity of mankind.Democracy in America: Abridged Edition. Copyright © by Alexis de Tocqueville. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Posted May 8, 2010
This book is one of the great pieces of writing from the first half of the 19th century and still worth reading today. De Tocqueville was a Frenchman, who came to the United States to study our prison system, but actually looked at our whole society. The introduction is excellent. Worth having for your own book collection.
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