Democracy in America: Abridged

Democracy in America: Abridged


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Democracy in America is a monumental study of the life and institutions of the evolving nation. Tocqueville looked to the flourishing democratic system in America as a possible model for post-revolutionary France, believing that the egalitarian ideals it enshrined reflected the spirit of the age and even divine will. His insightful work has become one of the most influential political texts ever written on America and an indispensable authority on democracy.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781463511159
Publisher: CreateSpace Publishing
Publication date: 05/24/2011
Pages: 114
Sales rank: 598,844
Product dimensions: 7.00(w) x 10.00(h) x 0.24(d)

About the Author

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) was born in Verneuil, France. A historian and political scientist, he came to the United States in 1831 to report on the prison system. His experiences would later become the basis for his classic study Democracy in America.

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Democracy in America

By Alexis de Tocqueville, Francis Bowen, Henry Reeve

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2017 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-81559-6



North America divided into two vast Regions, one inclining toward the Pole, the other toward the Equator. — Valley of the Mississippi. — Traces found there of the Revolutions of the Globe. — Shore of the Atlantic Ocean, on which the English Colonies were founded. — Different Aspects of North and of South America at the Time of their Discovery. — Forests of North America. — Prairies. — Wandering Tribes of Natives. — Their outward Appearance, Manners, and Languages. — Traces of an unknown People.

NORTH AMERICA presents in its external form certain general features which it is easy to discriminate at the first glance.

A sort of methodical order seems to have regulated the separation of land and water, mountains and valleys. A simple but grand arrangement is discoverable amidst the confusion of objects and the prodigious variety of scenes.

This continent is divided almost equally into two vast regions, one of which is bounded on the north by the Arctic Pole, and by the two great oceans on the east and west. It stretches toward the south, forming a triangle, whose irregular sides meet at length above the great lakes of Canada. The second region begins where the other terminates, and includes all the remainder of the continent. The one slopes gently toward the Pole, the other toward the Equator.

The territory comprehended in the first region descends toward the north with so imperceptible a slope, that it may almost be said to form a plain. Within the bounds of this immense level tract there are neither high mountains nor deep valleys. Streams meander through it irregularly; great rivers intertwine, separate, and meet again, spread into vast marshes, losing all trace of their channels in the labyrinth of waters they have themselves created, and thus at length, after innumerable windings, fall into the Polar seas. The great lakes which bound this first region are not walled in, like most of those in the Old World, between hills and rocks. Their banks are flat, and rise but a few feet above the level of their waters, — each of them thus forming a vast bowl filled to the brim. The slightest change in the structure of the globe would cause their waters to rush either towards the Pole or to the tropical seas.

The second region has a more broken surface, and is better suited for the habitation of man. Two long chains of mountains divide it, from one extreme to the other: the one, named the Alleghany, follows the direction of the shore of the Atlantic Ocean; the other is parallel with the Pacific.

The space which lies between these two chains of mountains contains 1,341,649 square miles. Its surface is therefore about six times as great as that of France.

This vast territory, however, forms a single valley, one side of which descends from the rounded summits of the Alleghanies, while the other rises in an uninterrupted course to the tops of the Rocky Mountains. At the bottom of the valley flows an immense river, into which the various streams issuing from the mountains fall from all parts. In memory of their native land, the French formerly called this river the St. Louis. The Indians, in their pompous language, have named it the Father of Waters, or the Mississippi.

The Mississippi takes its source at the boundary of the two great regions of which I have spoken, not far from the highest point of the table-land where they unite. Near the same spot rises another river [the Red River of the North], which empties itself into the Polar seas. The course of the Mississippi is at first dubious: it winds several times towards the north, whence it rose; and only at length, after having been delayed in lakes and marshes, does it assume its definite direction, and flow slowly onward to the south.

Sometimes quietly gliding along the argillaceous bed which nature has assigned to it, sometimes swollen by freshets, the Mississippi waters over 2,500 miles in its course. At the distance of 1,364 miles from its mouth, this river attains an average depth of fifteen feet; and it is navigated by vessels of 300 tons burden for a course of nearly 500 miles. Fifty-seven large navigable rivers contribute to swell the waters of the Mississippi; amongst others, the Missouri, which traverses a space of 2,500 miles, the Arkansas, 1,300 miles, the Red River, 1,000 miles, the Ohio, 959 miles; four whose course is from 800 to 1,000 miles in length, viz. the Illinois, the St. Peter's, the St. Francis, and the Des Moines; besides a countless multitude of rivulets which unite from all parts their tributary streams.

The valley which is watered by the Mississippi seems to have been created for it alone, and there, like a god of antiquity, the river dispenses both good and evil. Near the stream, nature displays an inexhaustible fertility; in proportion as you recede from its banks, the powers of vegetation languish, the soil becomes poor, and the plants that survive have a sickly growth. Nowhere have the great convulsions of the globe left more evident traces than in the valley of the Mississippi. The whole aspect of the country shows the powerful effects of water, both by its fertility and its barrenness. The waters of the primeval ocean accumulated enormous beds of vegetable mould in the valley, which they levelled as they retired. Upon the right bank of the river are found immense plains, as smooth as if the husbandman had passed over them with his roller. As you approach the mountains, the soil becomes more and more unequal and sterile; the ground is, as it were, pierced in a thousand places by primitive rocks, which appear like the bones of a skeleton whose flesh has been consumed by time. The surface of the earth is covered with a granitic sand, and huge, irregular masses of stone, among which a few plants force their growth, and give the appearance of a green field covered with the ruins of a vast edifice. These stones and this sand discover, on examination, a perfect analogy with those which compose the arid and broken summits of the Rocky Mountains. The flood of waters which washed the soil to the bottom of the valley, afterwards carried away portions of the rocks themselves; and these, dashed and bruised against the neighboring cliffs, were left scattered like wrecks at their feet.

The valley of the Mississippi is, upon the whole, the most magnificent dwelling-place prepared by God for man's abode; and yet it may be said that at present it is but a mighty desert.

On the eastern side of the Alleghanies, between the base of these mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, there lies a long ridge of rocks and sand, which the sea appears to have left behind as it retired. The mean breadth of this territory does not exceed one hundred miles; but it is about nine hundred miles in length. This part of the American continent has a soil which offers every obstacle to the husbandman, and its vegetation is scanty and unvaried.

Upon this inhospitable coast the first united efforts of human industry were made. This tongue of arid land was the cradle of those English colonies which were destined one day to become the United States of America. The centre of power still remains here; whilst in the rear of it the true elements of the great people to whom the future control of the continent belongs are gathering almost in secrecy together.

When the Europeans first landed on the shores of the West Indies, and afterwards on the coast of South America, they thought themselves transported into those fabulous regions of which poets had sung. The sea sparkled with phosphoric light, and the extraordinary transparency of its waters discovered to the view of the navigator all the depths of the abyss. Here and there appeared little islands perfumed with odoriferous plants, and resembling baskets of flowers floating on the tranquil surface of the ocean. Every object which met the sight, in this enchanting region, seemed prepared to satisfy the wants or contribute to the pleasures of man. Almost all the trees were loaded with nourishing fruits, and those which were useless as food delighted the eye by the brilliancy and variety of their colors. In groves of fragrant lemon-trees, wild figs, flowering myrtles, acacias, and oleanders, which were hung with festoons of various climbing-plants, covered with flowers, a multitude of birds unknown in Europe displayed their bright plumage, glittering with purple and azure, and mingled their warbling with the harmony of a world teeming with life and motion.

Underneath this brilliant exterior, death was concealed. But this fact was not then known, and the air of these climates had so enervating an influence, that man, absorbed by present enjoyment, was rendered regardless of the future.

North America appeared under a very different aspect: there, everything was grave, serious, and solemn; it seemed created to be the domain of intelligence, as the South was that of sensual delight. A turbulent and foggy ocean washed its shores. It was girt round by a belt of granitic rocks, or by wide tracts of sand. The foliage of its woods was dark and gloomy; for they were composed of firs, larches, evergreen oaks, wild olive-trees, and laurels.

Beyond this outer belt lay the thick shades of the central forests, where the largest trees which are produced in the two hemispheres grow side by side. The plane, the catalpa, the sugar-maple, and the Virginian poplar mingled their branches with those of the oak, the beech, and the lime.

In these, as in the forests of the Old World, destruction was perpetually going on. The ruins of vegetation were heaped upon each other; but there was no laboring hand to remove them, and their decay was not rapid enough to make room for the continual work of reproduction. Climbing plants, grasses, and other herbs forced their way through the mass of dying trees; they crept along their bending trunks, found nourishment in their dusty cavities, and a passage beneath the lifeless bark. Thus decay gave its assistance to life, and their respective productions were mingled together. The depths of these forests were gloomy and obscure, and a thousand rivulets, undirected in their course by human industry, preserved in them a constant moisture. It was rare to meet with flowers, wild fruits, or birds, beneath their shades. The fall of a tree overthrown by age, the rushing torrent of a cataract, the lowing of the buffalo, and the howling of the wind, were the only sounds which broke the silence of nature.

To the east of the great river, the woods almost disappeared; in their stead were seen prairies of immense extent. Whether Nature in her infinite variety had denied the germs of trees to these fertile plains, or whether they had once been covered with forests, subsequently destroyed by the hand of man, is a question which neither tradition nor scientific research has been able to answer.

These immense deserts were not, however, wholly untenanted by men. Some wandering tribes had been for ages scattered among the forest shades or the green pastures of the prairie. From the mouth of the St. Lawrence to the Delta of the Mississippi, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, these savages possessed certain points of resemblance which bore witness of their common origin: but at the same time, they differed from all other known races of men; they were neither white like the Europeans, nor yellow like most of the Asiatics, nor black like the negroes. Their skin was reddish brown, their hair long and shining, their lips thin, and their cheekbones very prominent. The languages spoken by the North American tribes were various as far as regarded their words, but they were subject to the same grammatical rules. These rules differed in several points from such as had been observed to govern the origin of language. The idiom of the Americans seemed to be the product of new combinations; and bespoke an effort of the understanding, of which the Indians of our days would be incapable.

The social state of these tribes differed also in many respects from all that was seen in the Old World. They seem to have multiplied freely in the midst of their deserts, without coming in contact with other races more civilized than their own. Accordingly, they exhibited none of those indistinct, incoherent notions of right and wrong, none of that deep corruption of manners, which is usually joined with ignorance and rudeness among nations who, after advancing to civilization, have relapsed into a state of barbarism. The Indian was indebted to no one but himself; his virtues, his vices, and his prejudices were his own work; he had grown up in the wild independence of his nature.

If, in polished countries, the lowest of the people are rude and uncivil, it is not merely because they are poor and ignorant, but that, being so, they are in daily contact with rich and enlightened men. The sight of their own hard lot and their weakness, which is daily contrasted with the happiness and power of some of their fellow-creatures, excites in their hearts at the same time the sentiments of anger and of fear: the consciousness of their inferiority and their dependence irritates while it humiliates them. This state of mind displays itself in their manners and language; they are at once insolent and servile. The truth of this is easily proved by observation: the people are more rude in aristocratic countries than elsewhere; in opulent cities than in rural districts. In those places where the rich and powerful are assembled together, the weak and the indigent feel themselves oppressed by their inferior condition. Unable to perceive a single chance of regaining their equality, they give up to despair, and allow themselves to fall below the dignity of human nature.

This unfortunate effect of the disparity of conditions is not observable in savage life: the Indians, although they are ignorant and poor, are equal and free.

When Europeans first came among them, the natives of North America were ignorant of the value of riches, and indifferent to the enjoyments which civilized man procures to himself by their means. Nevertheless there was nothing coarse in their demeanor; they practised an habitual reserve, and a kind of aristocratic politeness.

Mild and hospitable when at peace, though merciless in war beyond any known degree of human ferocity, the Indian would expose himself to die of hunger in order to succor the stranger who asked admittance by night at the door of his hut; yet he could tear in pieces with his hands the still quivering limbs of his prisoner. The famous republics of antiquity never gave examples of more unshaken courage, more haughty spirit, or more intractable love of independence, than were hidden in former times among the wild forests of the New World. The Europeans produced no great impression when they landed upon the shores of North America; their presence engendered neither envy nor fear. What influence could they possess over such men as we have described? The Indian could live without wants, suffer without complaint, and pour out his death-song at the stake. Like all the other members of the great human family, these savages believed in the existence of a better world, and adored, under different names, God, the Creator of the universe. Their notions on the great intellectual truths were in general simple and philosophical.

Although we have here traced the character of a primitive people, yet it cannot be doubted that another people, more civilized and more advanced in all respects, had preceded it in the same regions.

An obscure tradition which prevailed among the Indians on the borders of the Atlantic, informs us that these very tribes formerly dwelt on the west side of the Mississippi. Along the banks of the Ohio, and throughout the central valley, there are frequently found, at this day, tumuli raised by the hands of men. On exploring these heaps of earth to their centre, it is usual to meet with human bones, strange instruments, arms and utensils of all kinds, made of metal, and destined for purposes unknown to the present race.

The Indians of our time are unable to give any information relative to the history of this unknown people. Neither did those who lived three hundred years ago, when America was first discovered, leave any accounts from which even an hypothesis could be formed. Tradition — that perishable yet ever renewed monument of the pristine world — throws no light upon the subject. It is an undoubted fact, however, that in this part of the globe thousands of our fellow-beings once lived. When they came hither, what was their origin, their destiny, their history, when and how they perished, no one can tell.

How strange does it appear that nations have existed, and afterwards so completely disappeared from the earth that the memory even of their names is effaced! their languages are lost; their glory is vanished like a sound without an echo; though perhaps there is not one which has not left behind it some tomb in memory of its passage. Thus the most durable monument of human labor is that which recalls the wretchedness and nothingness of man.


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Table of Contents

Volume I
I. Exterior Form of North America
II. Origin of the Anglo-Americans, and Importance of this Origin in Relation to Their Future Condition
III. Social Condition of the Anglo-Americans
IV. The Principle of the Sovereignty of the People in America
V. Necessity of Examining the Condition of the States Before That of the Union at Large
VI. Judicial Power in the United States, and its Influence on Political Society
VII. Political Jurisdiction in the United States
VIII. The Federal Constitution
IX. How it Can Be Strictly Said that the People Govern in the United States
X. Parties in the United States
XI. Liberty of the Press in the United States
XII. Political Associations in the United States
XIII. Government of the Democracy in America
XIV. What Are the Real Advantages Which American Society Derives from a Democratic Government
XV. Unlimited Power of the Majority in the United States, and Its Consequences
XVI. Causes Which Mitigate the Tyranny of the Majority in the United States
XVII. Principal Causes Which Tend to Maintain the Democratic Republic in the United States
XVIII. The Present and Probable Future Condition of the Three Races Which Inhabit the Territory of the United States
Volume II
First Book: Influence of Democracy Upon the Action of Intellect in the United States
I. Philosophical Method of the Americans
II. Of the Principal Source of Belief Among Democratic Nations
III. Why the Americans Show More Aptitude and Taste for General Ideas than Their Forefathers, the English
IV. Why the Americans Have Never Been So Eager as the French for General Ideas in Political Affairs
V. How Religion in the United States Avails Itself of Democratic Tendencies
VI. The Progress of Roman Catholicism in the United States
VII. What Causes Democratic Nations to Incline Towards Pantheism
VIII. How Equality Suggests to the Americans the Idea of the Indefinite Perfectibility of Man
IX. The Example of the Americans Does Not Prove That a Democratic People Can Have No Aptitude and No Taste for Science, Literature, and Art
X. Why the Americans are More Addicted to Practical than Theoretical Science
XI. In What Spirit the Americans Cultivate the Arts
XII. Why the Americans Raise Some Insignificant Monuments, and Others That Are Very Grand
XIII. Literary Characteristics of Democratic Times
XIV. The Trade of Literature
XV. The Study of Greek and Latin Literature is Peculiarly Useful in Democratic Communities
XVI. How the American Democracy Has Modified the English Language
XVII. Of Some Sources of Poetry Amongst Democratic Nations
XVIII. Why American Writers and Orators Often Use An Inflated Style
XIX. Some Observations on the Drama Amongst Democratic Nations
XX. Some Characteristics of Historians in Democratic Times
XXI. Of Parliamentary Eloquence in the United States
Second Book: Influence of Democracy on the Feelings of the Americans
I. Why Democratic Nations Show a More Ardent and Enduring Love of Equality than of Liberty
II. Of Individualism in Democratic Countries
III. Individualism Stronger at the Close of a Democratic Revolution than at Other Periods
IV. That the Americans Combat the Effects of Individualism by Free Institutions
V. Of the Use Which the Americans Make of Public Associations in Civil Life
VI. Of the Relation Between Public Associations and the Newspapers
VII. Relation of Civil to Political Associations
VIII. How the Americans Combat Individualism by the Principle of Interest Rightly Understood
IX. That the Americans Apply the Principle of Interest Rightly Understood to Religious Matters
X. Of the Taste for Physical Well-Being in America
XI. Peculiar Effects of the Love of Physical Gratifications in Democratic Times
XII. Why Some Americans Manifest a Sort of Fanatical Spiritualism
XIII. Why the Americans are So Restless in the Midst of Their Prosperity
XIV. How the Taste for Physical Gratifications is United in America to Love of Freedom and Attention to Public Affairs
XV. How Religious Belief Sometimes Turns the Thoughts of the Americans to Immaterial Pleasures
XVI. How Excessive Care for Worldly Welfare May Impair that Welfare
XVII. How, When Conditions Are Equal and Scepticism is Rife, it is Important to Direct Human Actions to Distant Objects
XVIII. Why Amongst the Americans All Honest Callings are Considered Honorable
XIX. What Causes Almost All Americans to Follow Industrial Callings
XX. How An Aristocracy May Be Created by Manufacturers
Third Book: Influence of Democracy on Manners Properly So Called
I. How Manners are Softened as Social Conditions Become More Equal
II. How Democracy Renders the Habitual Intercourse of the Americans Simple and Easy
III. Why the Americans Show So Little Sensitiveness in Their Own Country, and Are So Sensitive in Europe
IV. Consequences of the Three Preceding Chapters
V. How Democracy Affects the Relations of Masters and Servants
VI. How Democratic Institutions and Manners Tend to Raise Rents and Shorten the Terms of Leases
VII. Influence of Democracy on Wages
VIII. Influence of Democracy on the Family
IX. Education of Young Women in the United States
X. The Young Woman in the Character of a Wife
XI. How Equality of Condition Contributes to Maintain Good Morals in America
XII. How the Americans Understand the Equality of the Sexes
XIII. How the Principle of Equality Naturally Divides the Americans Into a Multitude of Small Private Circles
XIV. Some Reflections on American Manners
XV. Of the Gravity of the Americans, and Why it Does Not Prevent Them from Often Doing Inconsiderate Things
XVI. Why the National Vanity of the Americans is More Restless and Captious Than That of the English
XVII. How the Aspect of Society in the United States is At Once Excited and Monotonous
XVIII. On Honor in the United States and in Democratic Communities
XIX. Why So Many Ambitious Men and So Little Lofty Ambitions Are to be Found in the United States
XX. The Trade of Place-Hunting in Certain Democratic Countries
XXI. Why Great Revolutions Will Become More Rare
XXII. Why Democratic Nations are Naturally Desirous of Peace, and Democratic Armies of War
XXIII. Which is the Most Warlike and Most Revolutionary Class in Democratic Armies
XXIV. Causes Which Render Democratic Armies Weaker Than Other armies at the Outset of a Campaign, and More Formidable in Protracted Warfare
XXV. Of Discipline in Democratic Armies
XXVI. Some Considerations on War in Democratic Communities
Fourth Book: Influence of Democratic Ideas and Feelings on Political Society
I. Equality Naturally Gives Men a Taste for Free Institutions
II. That the Opinions of Democratic Nations about Government are Naturally Favorable to the Concentration of Power
III. That the Sentiments of Democratic Nations Accord with Their Opinions in Leading Them to Concentrate Political Power
IV. Of Certain Peculiar and Accidental Causes, which Either Lead a People to Complete the Centralization of Government, or which Divert them From it
V. That Amongst the European Nations or Our Time the Sovereign Power is Increasing, Although the Sovereigns are Less Stable
VI. What Sort of Despotism Democratic Nations Have to Fear
VII. Continuation of the Preceding Chapters
VIII. General Survey of the Subject
Democracy in Switzerland
Speech of M. De Tocqueville in the Chamber of Deputies, January 27, 1848
Biographical Notice of De Tocqueville

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