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Influence That American Democracy Has Exercised on Electoral Laws m - Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition, vol. 2 
Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition of De la démocratie en Amérique, ed. Eduardo Nolla, translated from the French by James T. Schleifer. A Bilingual French-English editions, (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2010). Vol. 2.
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This bilingual edition of Tocqueville’s work contains a new English translation of the French critical edition published in 1990. The copyright to the French version is held by J. Vrin and it is not available online. The copyright to the English translation, the translator’s note, and index is held by Liberty Fund.
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Influence That American Democracy Has Exercised on Electoral Lawsm
The rarity of elections exposes the State to great crises.—Their frequency keeps it in a feverish agitation.—The Americans have chosen the second of these two evils.— Variableness of the law.—Opinion of Hamilton, Madison and Jefferson on this subject.
When election recurs only at long intervals, the State runs the risk of upheaval at each election.
Partiesn then make prodigious efforts to grasp a fortune that comes so rarely within reach; and since the evil is almost without remedy for candidates who fail, everything must be feared from their ambition driven to despair. If, in contrast, the legal struggle must soon be renewed, those who are defeated wait.
When elections follow one another rapidly, their frequency maintains a feverish movement in society and keeps public affairs in a state of constant change.
Thus, on the one hand, there is a chance of uneasiness for the State; on the other, a chance of revolution; the first system harms the goodness of government, the second threatens its existence.
The Americans have preferred to expose themselves to the first evil rather than to the second. In that, they have been guided by instinct much more than by reasoning, since democracy drives the taste for variety to a passion. The result is a singular mutability in legislation.
Many Americans consider the instability of the laws as a necessary consequence of a system whose general effects are useful.o But there is no one in the United States, I believe, who pretends to deny that this instability exists or who does not regard it as a great evil.
Hamilton, after having demonstrated the utility of a power that could prevent or at least slow the promulgation of bad laws, adds: “It may perhaps be said that the power of preventing bad laws includes that of preventing good ones. . . . But this objection will have little weight with those who can properly estimate the mischiefs of that inconstancy and mutability in the laws, which form the greatest blemish in the character and genius of our governments” (Federalist, No. 73.)p
“[The] facility and excess of lawmaking,” says Madison, “seem to be the diseases to which our governments are most liable” (Federalist, No. 62).
Jefferson himself, the greatest democrat who has yet emerged from within the American democracy, pointed out the same perils.
The instability of our laws is really a very serious disadvantage, he says. I think that we will have to deal with that by deciding that there would always be an interval of a year between the proposal of a law and the definitive vote. It would then be discussed and voted, without being able to change a word, and if circumstances seemed to require a more prompt resolution, the proposed law could not be adopted by a simple majority, but by a two-thirds majority of both houses.1
Of Public Officials under the Dominion of American Democracy
Simplicity of American officials.—Lack of official dress.—All officials are paid.—Political consequences of this fact.—In America, there is no public career.—What results from that.
Public officials in the United States remain mixed within the crowd of citizens; they have neither palaces, nor guards, nor ceremonial dress [but they are all paid]. This simplicity of those who govern is due not only to a particular turn of the American spirit, but also to the fundamental principles of the society.
In the eyes of the democracy, government is not a good, but a necessary evil. A certain power must be accorded to officials; for, without this power, what purpose would they serve? But the external appearances of power are not indispensable to the course of public affairs; they needlessly offend the sight of the public.
Officials themselves are perfectly aware that, by their power, they have not obtained the right to put themselves above others, except on the condition of descending, by their manners, to the level of all.
I can imagine nothing plainer in his ways of acting, more accessible to all, more attentive to demands, and more civil in his responses, than a public figure in the United States.
I like this natural look of the government of democracy;r in this internal strength that is attached more to the office than to the official, more to the man than to the external signs of power, I see something manly that I admire.
As for the influence that official dress can exercise, I believe that the importance that it must have in a century such as ours is greatly exaggerated. I have not noticed that in America the official, by being reduced solely to his own merit, was greeted with less regard and respect in the exercise of his power.s
From another perspective, I strongly doubt that a particular garment leads public men to respect themselves when they are not naturally disposed to do so; for I cannot believe that they have more regard for their outfit than for their person.
When, among us, I see certain magistrates treat parties brusquely or address them with false courtesy, shrug their shoulders at the means of defense and smile with complacency at the enumeration of charges, I would like someone to try to remove their robe, in order to discover if, finding themselves dressed as simple citizens, they would not be reminded of the natural dignity of the human species.t
No public official in the United States has an official dress, but all receive a salary.u
Still more naturally than what precedes, this follows from democratic principles. A democracy can surround its magistrates with pomp and cover them with silk and gold without directly attacking the principle of its existence. Such privileges are temporary; they are attached to the position, and not to the man. But to establish unpaid offices is to create a class of rich and independent officials, to form the kernel of an aristocracy. If the people still retain the right to choose, the exercise of the right then has necessary limits.
When you see a democratic republic make paid officials unsalaried, I believe that you can conclude that it is moving toward monarchy. And when a monarchy begins to pay unsalaried offices, it is the sure sign that you are advancing toward a despotic state or toward a republican state.v
So the substitution of salaried offices for unpaid offices seems to me to constitute, in itself alone, a true revolution.
I regard the complete absence of unpaid offices as one of the most visible signs of the absolute dominion that democracy exercises in America. Services rendered to the public, whatever they may be, are paid there; moreover, each person has, not only the right, but also the possibility of rendering them.
If, in democratic States, all citizens can gain positions, not all are tempted to try to obtain them. It is not the conditions of candidacy, but the number and the capacity of the candidates that often limit the choice of the voters.w
For peoples among whom the principle of election extends to everything, there is no public career strictly speaking. In a way men reach offices only by chance, and they have no assurance of remaining there. That is true above all when elections are annual. As a result, in times of calm, public offices offer little lure to ambition. In the United States, it is men of moderate desires who commit themselves to the twists and turns of politics. Great talents and great passions generally move away from power, in order to pursue wealth; and often someone takes charge of leading the fortune of the State only when he feels little capable of conducting his own affairs.
The great number of vulgar men who occupy public offices must be attributed to these causes as much as to the bad choices of democracy. In the United States, I do not know if the people would choose superior men who bid for their votes, but it is certain that the latter do not bid for them.
[m. ] In the margin: “I believe this small chapter decidedly bad. Hackneyed ideas.”
[n. ] “Political men” in the manuscript. The change was suggested by Beaumont (YTC, CIIIb, 2, p. 30).
[o. ] Democracy-Aristocracy./
Legislative instability in America./
I have just found one of the strongest proofs of this instability in the laws of Massachusetts (the most stable state in the Union).
From 1803 to 1827, the administrative attributions of the Court of Sessions were changed many times in order to convey them to the Court of Common Pleas. See Laws of Massachusetts, vol. II, p. 98 (YTC, CVb, p. 24). The quotations included in the text follow.
[p. ] This paragraph and the one preceding belonged to chapter VII of this second part (p. 407).
[r. ] In the manuscript: “I like this simple look . . .”
Hervé de Tocqueville:
I am afraid that a bit of the enthusiasm of a young man may be seen in this admiration for American simplicity. In our old Europe, there is often a need to catch the imagination by a certain pomp, and the simplicities of Louis-Philippe have attracted as much scorn as his villainies. The author is bold to pronounce himself categorically against one of the most general ideas. When you have this boldness, you must at least try to justify your opinion by an example whose truth is striking and perceptible to everyone. At the end of the second paragraph, which finishes with the words solely to his own merit, the example would have to be cited of jurors in tail coats who are more imposing than magistrates in red robes (YTC, CIIIb, 2, pp. 24-25).
[s. ] In the margin: “≠I do not even know if a particular costume does not make what is lacking in the one wearing it, more salient in the eyes of the public.≠”
[t. ] Hervé de Tocqueville: “I believe this paragraph should be removed. It would be good if the book were to be read only by the French; but as it will probably be sought out by foreigners, I do not know if it is suitable to expose our base acts to them” (YTC, CIIIb, 2, p. 25).
[u. ] This paragraph is missing in the 1835 edition. It appears in the manuscript, but the wording is a bit different.
[v. ] Public offices./
Little power of officials, their large number, their dependence on the people, little stability in their position, the mediocrity of their emoluments, the ease of making a fortune in another way, fact that few capable persons aspire to the leadership of society, except in times of crisis.
Disposition that tends to make government less skillful, but that assures liberty./
Every position that demands a certain apprenticeship and a special knowledge must usually be poorly filled in America. Who would want to prepare at length to gain what a caprice or even the ordinary order of things can take away from you from one moment to another?” (YTC, CVh, 1, pp. 4-5).
[w. ] This paragraph does not appear in the manuscript. The following note is found in the margin: “≠Influence of election and of repeated election on the personnel of officials. More public careers in ordinary times. Example of the Romans ready for anything because elected.≠”