Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-59) came to America in 1831 to see what a great republic was like. What struck him most was the country's equality of conditions, its democracy. The book he wrote on his return to France, Democracy in America, is both the best ever written on democracy and the best ever written on America. It remains the most often quoted book about the United States, not only because it has something to interest and please everyone, but also because it has something to teach everyone.
When it was published in 2000, Harvey Mansfield and Delba Winthrop's new translation of Democracy in America—only the third since the original two-volume work was published in 1835 and 1840—was lauded in all quarters as the finest and most definitive edition of Tocqueville's classic thus far. Mansfield and Winthrop have restored the nuances of Tocqueville's language, with the expressed goal "to convey Tocqueville's thought as he held it rather than to restate it in comparable terms of today." The result is a translation with minimal interpretation, but with impeccable annotations of unfamiliar references and a masterful introduction placing the work and its author in the broader contexts of political philosophy and statesmanship.
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...
Introduction Author's Introduction Part One 1. Origin of the Anglo-Americans (II) 2. Democratic Social Condition (III) 3. The Sovereignty of the People in America (IV) 4. Local Government (V) 5. Decentralization in America—Its Effects (V) 6. Judicial Power in the United States, and Its Influence on Political Society (VI) 7. Aspects of the Federal Constitution (VIII) 8. Political Parties (IX, X) 9. Liberty of the Press in the United States (XI) 10. Political Associations in the United States (XII) 11. Advantages of Democracy in the United States (XIV) 12. Unlimited Power of the Majority in the United States and Its Consequences (XV) 13. Causes Which Mitigate the Tyranny of the Majority in the United States (XVI) 14. Causes Which Tend to Maintain Democracy (XVII) 15. Future Prospects of the United States (XVIII) Part Two: Book I - Influence of Democracy Upon the Action of Intellect in the United States 16. Philosophical Method of the Americans (I, II) 17. Influence of Democracy on Religion (V, VI) 18. Equality Suggests to the Americans the Idea of the Indefinite Perfectibility of Man (VIII) 19. The Example of the Americans Does Not Prove That a Democratic People Can Have No Aptitude and No Taste for Science, Literature, or Art (IX) 20. Why the Americans Are More Addicted to Practical than to Theoretical Science (X) 21. In What Spirit the Americans Cultivate the Arts (XI) 22. Literary Characteristics of Democratic Times (XIII) 23. Of Some Sources of Poetry Amongst Democratic Nations (XVII) 24. Why American Writers and Orators Often Use an Inflated Style (XVIII) 25. Some Characteristics of Historians in Democratic Times (XX) Book II - Influence of Democracy on the Feelings of the Americans 26. Why Democratic Nations Show a More Ardent and Enduring Love of Equality than of Liberty (I) 27. Of Individualism in Democratic Countries (II) 28. That the Americans Combat the Effects of Individualism by Free Institutions (IV) 29. Of the Use Which the Americans Make of Public Associations in Civil Life (V) 30. Of the Relation Between Public Associations and the Newspapers (VI) 31. Relation of Civil to Political Associations (VII) 32. Of the Taste for Physical Well-Being in America (XI) 33. What Causes Almost All Americans to Follow Industrial Callings (XIX) 34. How an Aristocracy May Be Created by Manufactures (XX) Book III - Influence of Democracy on Manners Properly So Called 35. How Democracy Renders the Habitual Intercourse of the Americans Simple and Easy (II) 36. Why the Americans Show So Little Sensitiveness in Their Own Country, and Are So Sensitive in Europe (III) 37. Influence of Democracy on Wages (VII) 38. Influence of Democracy on the Family (VIII) 39. Young Women in a Democracy (IX, X) 40. How Equality of Condition Contributes to Maintain Good Morals in America (XI) 41. How the Americans Understand the Equality of the Sexes (XII) 42. How the Principle of Equality Naturally Divides the Americans into a Multitude of Small Private Circles (XIII) 43. Some Reflections on American Manners (XIV) 44. Why the National Vanity of the Americans Is More Restless and Captious than that of the English (XVI) 45. How the Aspect of Society in the United States Is at Once Excited and Monotonous (XVII) 46. Why So Many Ambitious Men and So Little Lofty Ambition Are to Be Found in the United States (XIX) 47. The Trade of Place-Hunting in Certain Democratic Countries (XX) 48. Why Great Revolutions Will Become More Rare (XXI) 49. Why Democratic Nations Are Naturally Desirous of Peace, and Democratic Armies of War (XXII) 50. Causes Which Render Democratic Armies Weaker than Other Armies at the Outset of a Campaign, and More Formidable in Protracted Warfare (XXIV) 51. Some Considerations on War in Democratic Communities (XXVI) Book IV - Influence of Democratic Ideas and Feelings on Political Society 52. Equality Naturally Gives Men a Taste for Free Institutions (I) 53. That the Opinions of Democratic Nations About Government Are Naturally Favorable to the Concentration of Power (II) 54. That the Sentiments of Democratic Nations Accord with Their Opinions in Leading Them to Concentrate Political Power (III) 55. Of Certain Peculiar and Accidental Causes, Which Either Lead a People to Complete the Centralization of Government, or Which Divert Them from It (IV) 56. What Sort of Despotism Democratic Nations Have to Fear (VI) 57. General Survey of the Subject (VIII)
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