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"Backgrounds" includes related letters from Tocqueville to Ernest de Chabrol, Henry Reeve, and John Quincy Adams, among others, in which he shares impressions of his nine-and-a-half-month journey through the United States. A collection of nine European and American reviews-including those by Sainte-Beuve. Pellegrino Rossi, John C. Spencer, and John Stuart Mill-allows readers to assess Democracy in America's contemporary reception. Recent interpretations by David Riesman, Max Lerner, Robert Nisbet, James T. Schleifer, Catherine Zuckert, Sheldon S. Wolin, Edward C. Banfield, Daniel T. Rodgers, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Sean Wilentz, Henry Steele Commager, James T. Kloppenberg, and Tamara M. Teale explore Tocqueville's influence on American political thought and on democracy's legacy. A Selected Bibliography is also included.
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.
— Gordon S. Wood
— Roger Kimball
— Thomas Pavel
— Robert J. Samuelson
— Adam Gopnik
Praise for the work of Joseph Epstein:
"Epstein is one of the premier contemporary American essayists...What is so remarkable about Epstein as an essay writer is that he'll begin a discussion at some personal place...and end up in another place relevant to us all. He enjoys making language work, not making it jump through hoops for show." —Booklist
"Joseph Epstein is an essayist in the brilliant tradition of Charles Lamb. He moves so effortlessly from the amusingly personal to the broadly philosophical that it takes a moment before you realize how far out into the intellectual cosmos you've been taken."
"Joseph Epstein's essays no more need his identifying byline than Van Gogh's paintings need his signature. Epstein's style—call it learned whimsy—is unmistakable; for Epstein addicts, indispensable."
"Joseph Epstein is the liveliest, most erudite and engaging essayist we have." —James Atlas
"If Epstein's ultimate ancestor is Montaigne, his more immediate master is Mencken. Like Mencken, he has fashioned a style that successfully combines elegance and even bookishness with street-smart colloquial directness. And there is nothing remote or aloof about him."
—John Gross, Chicago Tribune
North America divided into two vast regions, one sloping toward the pole, the other toward the equator. Mississippi valley and its geology. The Atlantic coast and the foundation of the English colonies. Contrast between North and South America at the time of discovery. North American forests and prairies. Nomadic native tribes and their appearance, mores, and languages. Traces of an unknown people.
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 lands to the north of the first region slope so imperceptibly that they may almost be described as plains, and there are no high mountains or deep valleys in the whole of this vast level expanse.
Chance seems to trace the serpentine courses of the streams; great rivers mingle, separate, and meet again; they get lost in a thousand marshes, meandering continually through the watery labyrinth they have formed, and only after innumerable detours do they finally reach the Arctic sea.The Great Lakes, which bring this region to an end, are not framed, as are most lakes in the Old World, by hills or rocks; their banks are level, hardly rising more than a few feet above the water. So each is like a huge cup filled to the brim. The slightest change of global structure would tilt their waters to the pole or to the tropics.
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 square 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.
The Mississippi rises in the borderland between our two regions, not far from the highest point in the plain which links them.
Another river which rises nearby flows down into the polar seas. The Mississippi itself sometimes seems in doubt which way to go; it twists backward several times, and only after slowing down in lakes and marshes seems finally to make up its mind and meander on toward the south.
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 square miles.
Thirteen hundred and sixty-four miles above its mouth, the river already has a mean depth of fifteen feet, and ships of three hundred tons can go over four hundred and fifty miles up it.
Fifty-seven large navigable rivers flow into it. Among the tributaries of the Mississippi are one river thirteen hundred leagues long, another of nine hundred leagues," another of six hundred, another of five hundred; there are four other rivers of two hundred leagues, not to mention the innumerable small stream on every side which augment its flood.
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 further you go from its banks, the sparser the vegetation and the poorer becomes the soil, and everything wilts or dies. Nowhere have the great convulsions of the world left more evident traces than in the valley of the Mississippi. The aspect of 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. The surface of the earth is covered with granitic sand and irregularly shaped stones, through which a few plants just manage to force their way; it looks like a fertile field covered by the ruins of some vast structure. Analysis of this sand and these rocks easily demonstrates that they are exactly like those on the bare and jagged peaks of the Rocky Mountains. No doubt the rains which washed all the soil down to the bottom of the valley, in the end brought portions of the rocks too; they were rolled down the neighboring slopes, and after they had been dashed one against another, were scattered at the base of the mountains from which they had fallen. (See Appendix I, A.)
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 forty-eight leagues broad on the average, but three hundred and ninety leagues long. The soil in this part of the American continent can be cultivated only with difficulty. The vegetation is scanty and uniform.
It was on that inhospital shore that the first efforts of human...
|Note on this Reeve Edition|
|Preface to this Edition|
|Ch. I||Exterior form of North America||14|
|Ch. II||Origin of the Anglo-Americans, and its importance in relation to their future condition||20|
|Ch. III||Social condition of the Anglo-Americans||35|
|Ch. IV||The principle of the sovereignty of the people in America||41|
|Ch. V||Necessity of examining the condition of the States before that of the Union at Large||44|
|Ch. VI||Judicial power in the United States, and its influence on political society||73|
|Ch. VII||Political jurisdiction in the United States||79|
|Ch. VIII||The Federal Constitution||84|
|Ch. IX||Why the people may strictly be said to govern in the United States||133|
|Ch. X||Parties in the United States||134|
|Ch. XI||Liberty of the Press in the United States||140|
|Ch. XII||Political associations in the United States||147|
|Ch. XIII||Government of the Democracy in America||154|
|Ch. XIV||What the real advantages are which American Society derives from the Government of the Democracy||186|
|Ch. XV||Unlimited power of the majority in the United States, and its consequences||201|
|Ch. XVI||Causes which mitigate the tyranny of the majority in the United States||215|
|Ch. XVII||Principal causes which tend to maintain the Democratic Republic in the United States||228|
|Ch. XVIII||The present and probable future condition of the three Races which inhabit the territory of the United States||264|
|Opinions of the Present Work||344|
Posted February 20, 2014
Democracy in America is a difficult read due to its political nature, but it is very rewarding. Tocqueville had excellent insight on the American political system and suggested that a similar style be used in post revolutionary France. His predictions from the novel didn't exactly come true, but history is still in the making. After the American revolution ended and the colonies were free questions arose as to how the new states would be run without the need for a supreme ruler or king, and democracy was born. Shortly after the United States gained their independence , France began fighting for their own freedom. Eventually the too won. To gain insight about how they're new country should be ran Tocqueville spent 9 months in the "new" United States and studied their government and social systems. He was very surprised that the new states were doing so well and this left him with a optimistic view on the future of France. There was a part of the book that specifically discussed the constitution or the single document that governs the States. This part was interesting to me because in our modern government there has been significant debate as to whether or not the constitutions has become out dated. Specifically the second and fourth amendment which republicans have said that the Obama administration violated. Because of my own political beliefs I found this section the most interesting and rewarding because it summed up the fact that the constitution was created for future generations and could not be altered. I found this part so important because it tells us direct that our rights had been violated. I definitely recommend "Democracy in America to anyone, who is willing to read more about the political system of the United States. The material is very thought provoking and forces readers to think, about how the future of America will be because of current and past events.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.