Front Page Titles (by Subject) V.: Examination of De Tocqueville's Views and Predictions. - The Predictions of Hamilton and Tocqueville
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V.: Examination of De Tocqueville’s Views and Predictions. - 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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Examination of De Tocqueville’s Views and Predictions.
Such were the United States in 1832, such the predictions which an unusually penetrating and philosophic mind formed of their future. I will not attempt to enquire whether his picture is in all respects accurate, because it would be unprofitable to contest his statements without assigning one’s own reasons, while to assign them would lead me into a historical disquisition. A shorter and simpler course will be to enquire in what respects things have changed since his time, for thus we shall be in a position to discern which of the tendencies he noted have proved permanent, what new tendencies have come into being, what are those in whose hands the destinies of the Republic now lie.
I have noted at the end of last section the phenomena which, already existing in De Tocqueville’s time, he omitted to notice or to appraise at their due value. Let us see what time has brought forward since his day to alter the conditions of the problem as he saw it.
The great events that have befallen since 1834, are these:
The annexation of Texas in 1845.
The war with Mexico in 1846, leading to the enlargement of the United States by the vast territories of California, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Arizona and New Mexico.
The making of railways over the whole country culminating with the completion of three great Trans-Continental roads in 1869, 1881 and 1883 respectively.
The establishment of lines of swift ocean steamers between America and Europe.
The immigration from Ireland (immensely increased after the famine of 1846), and from Germany (beginning somewhat later).
The War of Secession, 1861-65.
The laying of submarine cables to Europe, and extension of telegraphic communication over the whole Union.
The settlement of the Alabama claims, an event scarcely less important in American history than in English, because it has immensely diminished the likelihood of a war between the two countries. In De Tocqueville’s time the hatred of Americans to England was rancorous.1
The growth of great cities. In 1830, only two had a population exceeding 100,000. There are now (census of 1880) twenty which exceed that population.
The growth of great fortunes, and of wealthy and powerful trading corporations: the stupendous development of speculation, not to say gambling, in stocks, shares and produce.
The growth of the universities and of many kindred literary and scientific institutions.
These are events which have told directly or indirectly upon politics. I go on to enumerate the political changes themselves of the same fifty years.
The democratization of State Constitutions, total abolition of property qualifications, choice of judges by popular vote and for terms of years, restrictions on the power of State Legislatures, more frequent use of the Referendum.2
Development of the spoils system, consequent degradation of the increasingly large and important civil service, both Federal, State, and Municipal.
Perfection and hierarchical consolidation, on nominally representative, but really oligarchic lines, of party organizations; consequent growth of Rings and Bosses, and demoralization of city government.
Manumission and subsequent enfranchisement of the negroes in the Southern States.
Intensification of the national (as opposed to State) sentiment consequent on the War of Secession; passion for the national flag; rejection of the dogmas of State sovereignty and right of nullification.
To these I add, as powerfully affecting politics, the development not only of literary, scientific and historical studies, but in particular of a new school of publicists, who discuss constitutional and economic questions in a philosophic spirit; closer intellectual relations with Europe, and particularly with England and Germany; increased interest of the best class of citizens in politics; improved literary quality of the newspapers and of periodicals (political and semi-political) generally; growth of a critical and sceptical spirit in matters of religion and philosophy; diminished political influence of the clergy.
We may now ask which of De Tocqueville’s observations have ceased to be true, which of his predictions falsified. I follow the order in which they were presented in last chapter.
Although the powers of the several States remain in point of law precisely what they were (except as regards the Constitutional amendments presently to be noticed) and the citizen depends as much on the State in all that relates to person and property, to the conduct of family and commercial relations, the National or Federal Government has become more important to him than it was then. He watches its proceedings more closely, and, of course, thanks to the telegraph, knows them sooner and more fully. His patriotism is far more national, and in case of a conflict between one or more States and the Federal power, the sympathies of the other States would almost certainly be with the latter.
Local government has been maintained in its completeness, but it seems to excite less interest among the people. In the larger cities it has fallen into the hands of professional politicians, who have perverted it into a grasping and sordid oligarchy.
There is still, as compared with Continental Europe, wonderfully little “administration.” One is seldom reminded of the existence of a government. But the influence of Federal legislation on the business of the country is more considerable, for the tariff and the currency, matters of immense consequence ever since the war, are in its hands.
The dignity of the judicial bench has in most States suffered seriously from the system of popular election for comparatively short terms. In those States where nomination by the Executive has been retained, and in the case of the Federal Judges (nominated by the President) their position is perhaps the highest permanent one open to a citizen.
The President’s authority received a portentous increase during the war, and although it has now returned to its normal condition, the sense of its importance has survived. His election is contested with increasing excitement, for his immense patronage and the magnitude of the issues he may influence by his veto power gives individuals and parties the strongest grounds for hope and fear. Experience has, on the whole, confirmed the view that the re-eligibility of an acting President (i. e., the power of electing him for an immediately succeeding term) might be dispensed with.
The credit of the Supreme Court suffered somewhat from its pro-slavery decisions just before the war, and has suffered slightly since in respect to its treatment of the Legal Tender question. Nevertheless it remains respected and influential.
The State Constitutions, nearly all of which have been reenacted or largely amended since 1834, remain inferior to the Federal Constitution, and the State legislatures are, of course (possibly with a few exceptions in the New England States), still more inferior to Congress.
Two great parties reappeared immediately after De Tocqueville wrote, and except for a brief interval before the war when the Whig party had practically expired before its successor and representative the Republican party had come to maturity, they have continued to divide the country, making minor parties of slight consequence. Now and then an attempt is made to start a new party as a national organization, but it rarely becomes strong enough to maintain itself. The rich and educated renewed their interest in politics under the impulse of the Slavery and Secession struggle. After an interval of subsequent apathy they seem to be again returning to public life. The secret murmurs against democracy, whereof De Tocqueville speaks, are confined to a mere handful of fashionable exquisites less self-complacent now than they were in the days when they learnt luxury and contempt for the people in the Paris of Louis Napoleon.
Although the newspapers are much better written than formerly and those of the great cities travel further over the country, the multitude of discordant voices still prevents the people from being enslaved by the press. The habit of association by voluntary societies continues to grow.
The deficiencies of the professional politicians, a term which now more precisely describes those whom De Tocqueville calls by the inappropriate European name of the governors, continue marked.
So, too, the House of Representatives continues inferior to the Senate, but for other reasons than those which De Tocqueville assigns, and to a less degree than he describes. The Senate has latterly not maintained the character he gives it.
Whether American magistrates did ever in general enjoy the arbitrary power De Tocqueville ascribes to them, may be doubted. They do not enjoy it now, but in municipalities there is a growing tendency to concentrate power in the hands of one or a few officers in order that the people may have some one person on whom responsibility can be fixed. A few minor offices are unsalaried; the salaries of the greater ones have been raised, particularly in the older States.
The methods of administration, especially of Federal administration, have been much improved, but are still behind those of Europe, one or two departments excepted.
Government is far from economical. The war of the Rebellion was conducted in the most lavish way: the high protective tariff raises a vast revenue and direct local taxation takes more from the citizen than in most European countries.
Congress does not pass many statutes, nor do they greatly alter the law. Many legislative experiments are tried in the newer States, but the ordinary private law is in no such condition of mutability as De Tocqueville describes. The law of England suffered more changes between 1868 and 1885 than either the common or statute law of the older States of the Union.
The respect for the rights of others, for the regular course of law, for the civil magistrate, remains strong; nor have the rich (at least till within the last year or two) begun to apprehend any attacks on them, otherwise than as stockholders in great railway and other corporations.
The tyranny of the majority does not strike one as a serious evil in the America of to-day, though to be sure people are always foretelling the mischief it will do. It cannot act through a State legislature so much as it may have done in De Tocqueville’s days, for the wings of these bodies have been generally clipped by the newer State constitutions. Faint are the traces which remain of that intolerance of heterodoxy in politics, religion or social views whereon he dilates. Politicians on the stump still flatter the crowd, but many home truths are told to it nevertheless in other ways and places, and the man who ventures to tell them need no longer fear social proscription in the Northern or Western States, perhaps not even in the Southern.
The Republic has come scatheless out of a great war, and although the laurels of the general who concluded that war twice secured for him the Presidency, they did not make his influence dangerous to freedom. There is indeed no great capital, but there are cities greater than most European capitals, and the Republic has not been imperilled by their growth. The influence of the clergy on public affairs has declined: whether or no that of religion has also been weakened it is more difficult to say. But every body continues to agree that religion gains by its entire detachment from the State.
The negro problem remains, but it has passed into a new and for the moment less threatening phase. Neither De Tocqueville nor any one else could have then foreseen that manumission would come as a war measure, and be followed by the grant of full political rights. It is no impeachment of his judgment that he omitted to contemplate a state of things in which the blacks have been made politically the equals of the whites, while immeasurably inferior in every other respect, and destined, apparently, to remain wholly separate from them. He was right in perceiving that fusion was not possible, and that liberation would not solve the problem, because it would not make the liberated fit for citizenship. His remark that the social repulsion between the races in the South would probably be greater under freedom than under slavery has so far been strikingly verified by the result.
All the forces that made for the maintenance of the Federal Union are now stronger than they were then, while the chief force that opposed it, viz., the difference of character and habits between North and South, largely produced by the existence of slavery, tends to vanish. Nor does the growth of the Union make the retention of its parts in one body more difficult. On the contrary, the United States is a smaller country now when it stretches from the Bay of Fundy to the Gulf of California, with its sixty millions of people, than it was then with its thirteen millions, just as the civilized world was larger in the time of Herodotus than it is now, for it took twice as many months to travel from Persepolis or the Caspian Sea to the Pillars of Hercules as it does now to circumnavigate the globe, one was obliged to use a greater number of languages, and the journey was incomparably more dangerous.
Before steamboats plied on rivers, and trains ran on railways, three or four weeks at least were consumed in reaching Missouri from Maine. Now one goes in seven days of easy travelling from Portland in Maine to Portland in Oregon. Nor has the increased number of States bred more dissensions. The thirty-eight states are not as De Tocqueville assumes, and this is the error which vitiates his reasonings, thirty-eight nations. The differences in their size and wealth have become greater, but they work more harmoniously together than ever heretofore, because neither the lines which divide parties nor the substantial issues which affect men’s minds coincide with State boundaries. The Western States are now, so far as population goes, the dominant section of the Union, and become daily more so. But their interests link them more closely than ever to the North, through which their products pass to Europe, and the notion once entertained of moving the capital from Washington to the Mississippi valley has been quietly dropped.
Before bidding farewell to De Tocqueville, let us summarize his conclusions and his predictions.
He sees in the United States by far the most successful and durable form of democratic government that has yet appeared in the world.
Its merits are the unequalled measure of freedom, as respects action, not thought, which it secures to the ordinary citizen, the material and social benefits it confers on him, the stimulus it gives to all his practical faculties.
These benefits are likely to be permanent, for they rest upon the assured permanence of
Widely diffused education.
It is true that these benefits would not have been attained so quickly nor in such ample measure but for the extraordinary natural advantages of the New World. Nevertheless, these natural advantages are but subsidiary causes. The character of the people, trained to freedom by experience and by religion, is the chief cause, their institutions the second, their material conditions only the third; for what have the Spaniards made of like conditions in Central and South America?
Nevertheless, the horizon is not free from clouds.
What are these clouds?
Besides slavery and the existence of a vast negro population they are:
The conceit and ignorance of the masses, perpetually flattered by their leaders, and therefore slow to correct their faults.
The withdrawal from politics of the rich, and inferior tone of the governors, i. e. the politicians.
The tyranny of the majority, which enslaves not only the legislatures, but individual thought and speech, checking literary progress, preventing the emergence of great men.
The concentration of power in the legislatures (Federal and State), which weakens the Executive, and makes all laws unstable.
The probable dissolution of the Federal Union, either by the secession of recalcitrant States or by the slow decline of Federal authority.
There is therefore warning for France in the example of America. But there is also encouragement—and the encouragement is greater than the warning.
Of these clouds one rose till it covered the whole sky, broke in a thunderstorm and disappeared. Some have silently melted into the blue. Some still hang on the horizon, darkening large parts of the landscape. But how near may be the danger they threaten, and how serious, are questions fitter to be discussed by Americans than by a European.
[1 ]“Il est impossible d’imaginer une haine plus venimeuse que celle des Americains contre les Anglais.”
[2 ]In the form of the amendment of particular provisions of State Constitutions.