Front Page Titles (by Subject) III.: De Tocqueville's View of the United States. - The Predictions of Hamilton and Tocqueville
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III.: De Tocqueville’s View of the United States. - Viscount James Bryce, The Predictions of Hamilton and Tocqueville 
The Predictions of Hamilton and Tocqueville. John Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science, ed. Herbert B. Adams. 5th Series, no. IX (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 1887).
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De Tocqueville’s View of the United States.
Before we examine the picture of the social and political phenomena of America which De Tocqueville has drawn, let us see what were the chief changes that had passed on the territory of the Union, on its material resources, on the habits and ideas of the people during the forty-six years that elapsed from the publication of the Federalist to that of the Democracy in America.
The territory of the United States had been extended to include the whole valley of the Mississippi, while to the northwest it stretched across the Rocky Mountains as far as the Pacific. All beyond the Missouri was still wilderness, much of it wholly unexplored, but to the east of the Mississippi there were now twenty-four States with an area of 2,059,043 square miles and a population of fourteen millions. The new Western States, though rapidly increasing, were still so raw as to exercise little influence on the balance of national power, which vibrated between the free Northern and the Southern Slave States. Slavery was not an immediately menacing question, for the first wound it made had been skinned over, so to speak, by the Missouri Compromise of 1820, but it was evidently pregnant with future trouble, for the number of slaves was rapidly increasing, and the slaveholders were already resolved to retain their political influence by the creation of new slave States. The great Federalist party had vanished, and the Republican-Democratic party, which had triumphed over it, had just been split up into several bitterly hostile factions. Questions of foreign policy were no longer urgent, for Europe had ceased to menace America, who had now no neighbors on her own continent except the British Crown on the north and the Mexican Republic on the south. The protective tariff and the existence of the United States Bank were the questions most agitated, but the main dividing party lines were still those which connected themselves with the stricter or looser interpretation of the Federal Constitution—that is to say, they were questions as to the extent of Federal power on the one hand, of the rights of the States on the other. New England was still Puritan and commercial, with a bias towards Protection, the South still agricultural, and in favor of free trade. The rule of the masses had made its greatest strides in New York, the first among the other States which introduced the new methods of party organization and which thoroughly democratized (in 1846) her Constitution. Everywhere property qualifications for office or the electoral franchise were being abolished, and even the judges formerly nominated by the State Governor or chosen by the State Legislature, were beginning to be elected by universal popular suffrage and for terms of years. In fact a great democratic wave was passing over the country, sweeping away the old landmarks, destroying the respect for authority, casting office and power more and more into the hands of the humbler classes, and causing the withdrawal from public life of men of education and refinement. State feeling was still strong, especially in the South, and perhaps stronger than national feeling, but the activity of commerce and the westward movement of population were breaking down the old local exclusiveness, and those who saw steamboats plying on the Hudson and heard that locomotive engines were beginning to be run in England, might have foreseen that the creation of more easy, cheap and rapid communications would bind the sections of the country together with a new and irresistible power. The time was one of great commercial activity and great apparent prosperity; but large fortunes were still few, while in the general pursuit of material objects science, learning and literature had fallen into the background. Emerson was still a young Unitarian minister, known only to the circle of his own friends. Channing was just rising into note; Longfellow and Hawthorne, Prescott and Ticknor had not begun to write. Washington Irving was probably the only author whose name had reached Europe. How disagreeable the manners of ordinary people (for one must of course except the cultivated circles of Boston and Philadelphia) seemed to the European visitor may be gathered from the diaries of Richard Cobden and Sir Charles Lyell, who travelled in America a year or two after De Tocqueville. There was a good deal of ability among the ruling generation of statesmen—the generation of 1787 was just dying out with Madison—but only three names can be said to have survived in the world’s memory, the names of three party leaders who were also great orators, Clay, Calhoun and Webster.1
In those days America was a month from Europe and comparatively little affected by Europe. Her people walked in a vain conceit of their own greatness and freedom, and scorned instruction from the effete monarchies of the Old World, which in turn repaid them with contemptuous indifference. Neither continent had realized how closely its fortunes were to be interwoven with those of the other by trade and the movements of population. No wheat, no cattle were sent across the Atlantic, nor had the flow of immigration from Ireland, much less from Germany, as yet begun.
The United States of 1834 had made enormous advances in material prosperity from those of 1789. They had become a great nation, and could become a great power as soon as they cared to spend money on fleets and armies. Their Federal government had stood the test of time and of not a few storms. Its component parts knew their respective functions, and worked with less friction than might have been expected. The sense of national unity, powerfully stimulated by the war of 1812,2 was still growing. But the level of public life had not risen. It was now rather below than above that of average private society. Even in the realm of morality there were strange contrasts. A puritan strictness in some departments of conduct and a universal recognition of the sanctions of religion co-existed in the North with great commercial laxity, while the semi-civilized South, not less religious and valuing itself on its high code of honor, was disgraced by the tolerance accorded to duels and acts of murderous violence, not to speak of the darker evils which slavery brought in its train. As respects the government of States and cities, democratic doctrines had triumphed all along the line. The masses of the people had now realized their power, and entered into the full fruition of it.1 They had unlimited confidence in their wisdom and virtue, and had not yet discovered the dangers incidental to popular government. The wise elders, or the philosophic minds who looked on with distrust, were either afraid to speak out, or deemed it hopeless to stem the flowing tide. They stood aside (as Plato says) under the wall out of the storm. The party organizations had just begun to spread their tough yet flexible network over the whole country; and the class of professional politicians, at once the creator and the creature of such organizations, was already formed. The spoils of office had, three years before, been proclaimed to belong to the victors, but few saw to what consequences this doctrine was to lead. I will not say that it was a period of transition, for that is true of every period in America, so fast do events move even in the quietest times. But it was a period when that which had been democratic theory was passing swiftly into democratic practice, when the seeds sown long ago by Jefferson had ripened into a waving crop, when the forces which in every society react against extreme democracy were unusually weak, some not yet developed, some afraid to resist the stream.
[1 ]To none of whom, oddly enough, does De Tocqueville refer. He is singularly sparing in his references to individuals, mentioning no one except Jackson for blame, and Livingston (of the Louisiana Code and Secretary of State, 1831-33) for praise.
[2 ]An interesting discussion of the effects in this respect of the War of 1812 is contained in Mr. N. M. Butler’s paper in the Johns Hopkins University Studies, No. VII of the Fifth Series.
[1 ]Dr. Von Holst gives at the beginning of the second part of his Constitutional History a powerful picture of the democratic revolution, and inswarming of a new class of men, which accompanied the election and installation of Andrew Jackson.