Front Page Titles (by Subject) INTRODUCTION. - Society, Manners and Politics in the United States
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
INTRODUCTION. - Michel Chevalier, Society, Manners and Politics in the United States 
Society, Manners and Politics in the United States: Being a Series of Letters on North America, translated from the third Paris edition (Boston: Weeks, Jordan & Co., 1839).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
1.That form of civilization which has prevailed among the European nations, has moved, in its march over the globe, from east to west. From its cradles in the depths of old Asia and Upper Egypt, it advanced, by successive stages, to the shores of the Atlantic, along which it spread itself from the southern point of Spain to the northern extremity of the British Isles and the Scandinavian peninsula. It seemed to have here reached its goal when Christopher Columbus showed it the way to the New World. At each stage it has taken up a new faith, new manners, new laws, new customs, a different language, dress, and food, different modes of life, public and private. The great questions touching the relation of man to God, to his fellows, and to the universe, and domestic, social, and political order, which had all been solved at the beginning of the halt, were, after a while, brought again into discussion, and then civilization, starting again on her march, has moved onward toward the west, to give them a new solution.
This stream, setting from the east toward the west, is formed by the junction of two others flowing from the two great Bible races of Japhet and Shem; which, coming from the north and the south, meet and mingle together, and are replenished from their respective sources, during each period of our civilization, through all the episodes, which obstruct and chequer this majestic pilgrimage. By turns, each of these forces, whose combined action constitutes the motive power that carries mankind forward in its course, has been overborne by the other. Thence it is, that our civilization, instead of advancing in a straight line from east to west, has swerved in its march, either from the north toward the south, or from the south toward the north, taking a winding and devious course, and gathering up, by turns, purer drops from the blood of Shem or of Japhet. There has been, however, this difference between the North and the South; that the South has most often acted upon the North by sending to it the germs of civilization, without overrunning it with a new race; while the North has awakened the slumbering civilization of the South by pouring over it swarms of hardy barbarians, audax Japeti genus. Thus is fulfilled the great prophecy concerning Japhet, that “he shall dwell in the tents of Shem.”
2. Independent of our civilization and distinct from it, there is another in the furthest East, whose centre is China, and whose outposts are Japan, and which embraces its hundreds of millions of men. It moves in a direction contrary to our own, from west to east, and its locomotive powers are slight; we might compare the respective speed of these two civilizations to the two great revolutions of the globe, the annual revolution in its orbit, and that which gives rise to the precession of the equinoxes. This oriental civilization, like that of the west, has repeatedly regenerated itself by a new mixture of the man of the North with the man of the South. The race of Japhet, which gave us our Barbarians, and, before the Barbarians, had given us the Pelasgians, Scythians, Celts, and Thracians, and has since given us the Turks and Sclavonians, has also furnished the East with its Mongols and Manchoos. The family of Gengis Khan, which conquered the East, also pushed its victorious hordes, at the same time, to the Rhine.
The Eastern civilization, less active and less easily set in motion than the Western, probably because it has not enough of the blood of Shem, and has too much of that of the inferior races, has not risen to the same degree of improvement with its sister. But we must do it the justice to confess, that to it belongs the honor of several capital inventions and discoveries, such as the mariners’ compass, printing, and gun-powder, on which we pride ourselves; and we must moreover acknowledge that it has solved the problem, to keep under one law, for an indefinite number of ages, a population greater than that of all Europe. The Roman empire, whose population was less than that of China, stood whole only three hundred years. The spiritual authority of the Pope extended over less territory than that of the Roman empire, and was absolutely acknowledged only from Charlemagne to Luther.
3. The two civilizations, thus gathered together at the two extremities of the old continent, and turning their backs upon each other, were separated by an immense space before the western had fixed itself in America; now, more than half the intervening distance is passed; Mexico and South America are covered with offsets from the latter, on the side which looks toward Asia, as well as on that which fronts us: the United States cannot long delay to extend themselves from sea to sea; the Islands of the South Sea are beginning to be peopled by Europeans. From this point of view, it is clear that America, placed between the two civilizations, is reserved for high destinies, and that the progress of population in the New World is a matter of the deepest interest to the whole human race.
The connecting of the two civilizations is certainly the broadest subject that can occupy the human mind; it is, in the eyes of the friend of man, an event of all others most big with hope. It embraces, politically, the association of all peoples, the balance of the world, of which the balance of Europe is only a part; in religion, the whole law of the human family, the true catholicism: morally, the most harmonious reciprocal action of the two opposite natures, which divide each race, each sex, each people, and each family, and which are typified in the Bible by Cain and Abel; intellectually, the complete encyclopædia and the universal language; industrially, a definite plan for developing the resources of the globe. In our time this question is no longer merely speculative; it is now something more than merely food for the dreams of philosophers; it should be the subject of the meditations of statesmen.
Since the age of Louis XIV., the merchants, who are the pioneers of state policy, have striven with a constantly increasing ardor, to open relations with China, because they have felt the importance of a regular system of exchanges between Europe and a mass of two hundred million of producers and consumers. The emancipation of North America, and quite lately the abolition of the English East India Company’s monopoly, have given to the efforts of commerce an irresistible force; before this power, the laws which close up the celestial empire are nothing. China is encircled, on the south, by the English and their tributaries; on the north, by the Cossacks, the van-guard of Russia; British and American fleets prowl along her coasts; the sleepy Spaniards of Mexico and the Philippines think of the days of the galleons, and keep their half-opened eyes fixed upon her. The human race has just come into possession of new means of communication, which shorten distance in an unexpected degree. The two civilizations will soon reach each other and mingle together; it will be the greatest event in the history of man.
4. Before the art of navigation was brought to perfection, before Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama, Europe had had communications with China through the medium of the Arabs, independently of the cavarans which traversed Central Asia. The Arabs, conquerors and missionaries placed between the two civilizations, had spread themselves by turns toward the East and the West. That people, so active by starts, has been to the East the messenger of the West, and to the West, the courier and factor of the East. Unhappily since the Western civilization has shone with the greatest brilliancy in Europe, Arabia has flung out but feeble gleams of light; since Providence has filled us with a devouring activity, the Arabians are fallen into a deep lethargy; on that side, therefore, the intercourse, which was never complete nor speedy, has almost ceased. But if, as some suppose, the Arab race is about to rouse itself from its long stupor, at the voice and by the aid of Europe, the latter will then have a powerful ally in its efforts to seize and hold Asia, or to transmit to her the means of working out her own restoration, and this illustrious race will thus contribute essentially to the marriage of the two civilizations.
5. Our civilization, in its march westward, has sometimes turned back towards the East; thus it has had its Argonauts, its Agamemnons, and its Alexanders, and more lately its heroes of the crusades and its Portuguese captains. These partial movements were but temporary interruptions of its solemn march toward the West; they were merely countercurrents, resembling the eddies which always exist in the currents of rivers. Until our own time, Europe has founded no durable and important establishment in Asia; in proportion as our civilization advanced westwards, the countries which it left behind escaped from its influence, and the distance between it and the oriental civilization, became greater. Alexander is the only person of whom China could feel any fear, and he passed away like the lightning flash. The Parthians, the Saracens, or the Turks, were the impregnable bulwarks of eastern Asia. The mission of Europe was, above all things, to reach and settle a new hemisphere.
At present, the incontestible superiority of the western nations in wealth, in mechanical skill, in means of transportation, in government, in the art of war, enables them to make their way across the Old World toward the remotest recesses of Asia. The nations whom we are accustomed to call oriental, but who are only inhabitants of the Lesser East, have ceased to be formidable adversaries to Europe; they delivered up their swords, at Heliopolis, Navarino, and Adrianople. The colonization of America is now at length completed from Hudson’s Bay to Cape Horn, but Europe can and ought to move towards the East as well as towards the West; the isthmus of Suez has as good a chance as the isthmus of Panama, to become the route of western civilization to the Greater East.
6. Our European civilization has a twofold source, the Romans and the Teutonic nations. Setting aside for the present Russia, who is a new comer, and who already, however, equals the most powerful of the elder states, it is subdivided into two families, each of which is marked by its strong likeness to one of the mother nations, which have contributed to give birth to both. Thus there is the Latin Europe, and the Teutonic Europe; the former comprises the south, the latter the people of the north; the former is Roman Catholic, the latter Protestant; the one speaks Teutonic languages, and the other, idioms, in which Latin is predominant. These two branches, Latin and German, re-appear in the New World; South America, like southern Europe, is Roman Catholic and Latin; North America belongs to the Protestant Anglo-Saxon population.
In the great enterprise of bringing together European and Asiatic civilization, the Teutonic and Latin nations may both find a field of action; both occupy in Europe and America, by land and sea, admirable outposts and excellent positions round that imperturbable Asia, into which it is their object to force their way. But, during the last age, the superiority which formerly belonged to the Latin family, has passed into the hands of the Teutonic race, owing partly to the energy of England in the Old World, and that of her sons in the New, and partly to the loosening of the old religious and moral ties among the Latin nations. The Sclavonic race, which has lately shown itself, and which now forms a third group of nations in Europe, seems ready to contest with the Latin race even the possession of the second rank; it is only the Russians and Anglo-Saxons that interest themselves about Further Asia, and press upon its frontiers by land and by sea. The people of the Latin stock must not, however, stand idle in the coming struggle, or the case will go against them by default; an excellent opportunity is now offered to regain their lost rank.
7. In our three-headed Europe, Teutonic, Latin, and Sclavonic, two nations, France and Austria, present themselves under less distinct features, and with less exclusive characters than the others. France shares in the Teutonic and Latin natures; in religion, she is Catholic in feeling, but Protestant out of caprice; she unites the nervous understanding of the Germans with the elegant taste of the southern nations. Austria, by the education and origin of the people of her different states, is half Sclavonic, half Teutonic, and she is connected with the Latin family by her religion. France and Austria are, then, the natural mediums of communication, the one between the Germans and Latins, and the other between the Germans and Sclavonians; Austria is chiefly Teutonic, as France is essentially Latin. From this mixed character of France and Austria, we may conclude, that whenever the balance of Europe, or the harmonious combination of all European nations in one common object, shall become subjects of discussion, both will exercise a decisive influence, and their hearty co-operation in a common cause will make them irresistible. Austria has a more central position than France; she has a greater number of points of contact with the different types of western civilization; but France combines the invaluable advantages of a more homogeneous constitution, and a more flexible temperament; she has a physiognomy more strongly marked, a mission more clearly defined, and above all, she has more of the social spirit. She is at the head of the Latin group; she is its protectress.
8. In the events which seem about to dawn upon us, France may, then, take a most important share; she is the depositary of the destinies of all the Latin nations of both continents. She alone can save the whole family from being swallowed up by a double flood of Sclavonians and Germans. To her it belongs to rouse them from the lethargy into which they are plunged in both hemispheres, to raise them to the level of other nations, and to enable them again to take a stand in the world; she also is called upon, perhaps more than any other power, to encourage the new spirit, which seems to be re-animating the Arabians, and through them to shake the East. Thus the political theatre, seen from a French point of view, shows, in a distant back-ground, the meeting of the Oriental and the Western civilizations, in which we are called upon to act as mediators, and in the fore-ground, the education, by France, of all the Latin nations, and of many of the Arab tribes living around the Mediterranean.
There may be a difference of opinion as to the time when these revolutions, which are to agitate the depths of Asia, will take place; I am one of those who think it not far off. I can easily conceive, also, that some persons should wish to lessen the circle of French influence, and confine it to the southern countries of Europe; although to me France seems called upon to exercise a benevolent and wholesome care over the people of South America, who are not yet fit to take care of themselves, and although the old traditions of the crusades, the conquest of Algiers, and the recollection of the expedition into Egypt, seem to promise us one of the first parts in the drama which will be acted on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean.
As for the European nations of the Latin family, no one, I suppose, can have any doubts concerning our supremacy over them, or concerning our duties, both to them and to ourselves, in relation to them. We have been notoriously the head of the family since the time of Louis XIV., and we can neither shrink from the burdens, nor from the privileges of our situation. Our superiority is acknowledged by all its members, our protection has been accepted by all, whenever it has been offered without selfish views. Happy would it have been for France, if, content with this high prerogative, her princes, and above all he who has added new lustre to the name of Emperor, had not been obstinately bent on the unnatural purpose of extending their authority over the members of the Teutonic family!
9. Since the weight has been thrown into the Saxon scale, since the English race has overborne France and Spain in Asia, in America, and in Europe, new institutions, new rules of government, new ideas, new modes of action, in social, political, and individual life, have sprung up among the English, and more especially among their successors in the New World; everything connected with labor and the condition of the greater number of working men, has been carried to a degree of perfection before unheard of. It seems as if, by the aid of these improvements, the superiority of the Anglo-Saxons over the Latin family, must go on constantly increasing. The French, of all the Latin nations, are most favorably placed, and the only one well placed, to avail themselves of these improvements by adapting them to their own exigencies. We are full of energy; never has our mind been more fairly thrown open; never were our hearts more ready to throb for noble enterprises.
But we must set ourselves at work without delay; we must do this, setting aside all considerations of general policy, and of the contact, whether more or less remote, of the two civilizations. It is a matter of the last necessity in regard to ourselves, even supposing that we have not to transmit to the southern nations of Europe, of whom we are the eldest, and to the inhabitants of the Levant, those improvements which their situation demands, and which they are ready to receive at our hands; our own welfare, our own existence is at stake. How, and under what form shall we be able to make the innovations of the English race our own? This difficult and complicated question has been the chief object of my attention during my residence in the New World; I do not claim the honor of having even partially solved it. But I shall feel satisfied, if the thoughts suggested to me by the sight of an order of things so unlike our own, falling under the eyes of one more far-sighted than myself, shall put him in the way of its solution.