Front Page Titles (by Subject) Of the Respect for the Law in the United States x - Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition, vol. 2
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Of the Respect for the Law in the United States x - 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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Of the Respect for the Law in the United Statesx
Respect of the Americans for the law.—Paternal love that they feel for it.—Personal interest that each one finds in increasing the power of the law.
It is not always possible to call the whole people, either directly or indirectly, to the making of the law; but it cannot be denied that, when it is practicable, the law thereby acquires a great authority. This popular origin, which often harms the goodness and wisdom of the legislation, contributes singularly to its power.y
In the expression of the will of an entire people, there is a prodigious strength. When it comes clearly to light, even the imagination of those who would like to fight against it is as though overwhelmed.
The truth of this is well known by parties.
Consequently, you see them contest the majority wherever they can. When they lack the majority of those who voted, they place it among those who have abstained from voting; and when, even there, the majority escapes them, they find it among those who do not have the right to vote.
In the United States, except for slaves, servants, and the poor provided for by the towns, there is no one who is not a voter and who, as such, does not indirectly contribute to the law. So those who want to attack the laws are reduced to doing conspicuously one of two things; they must either change the opinion of the nation, or trample its will underfoot.
Add to this first reason another more direct and more powerful, that in the United States each person finds a kind of personal interest in having everyone obey the laws; for the one who is not part of the majority today will perhaps be among its ranks tomorrow; and this respect that he now professes for the will of the legislator, he will soon have the occasion to demand for his own will. So, however annoying the law, the inhabitant of the United States submits without trouble, not only as a work of the greatest number, but also as his own; he considers it from the point of view of a contract to which he would have been a party.
So in the United States, you do not see a numerous and always turbulent crowd who, seeing the law as a natural enemy, only looks upon it with fear and suspicion. On the contrary, it is impossible not to see that all classes show a great confidence in the legislation that governs the country and feel a kind of paternal love for it.
I am wrong in saying all classes. In America, since the European scale of powers is reversed, the rich find themselves in a position analogous to that of the poor in Europe; they are the ones who often distrust the law. I have said it elsewhere: the real advantage of democratic government is not to guarantee the interests of all, as has sometimes been claimed, but only to protect those of the greatest number. In the United States, where the poor man governs, the rich have always to fear that he will abuse his power against them.
This disposition of the mind of the rich can produce a muted discontent; but society is not violently troubled by it; for the same reason that prevents the rich man from giving his confidence to the legislator prevents him from defying his commands. He does not make the law, because he is rich; and he does not dare to violate it, because of his wealth. In general, among civilized nations, only those who have nothing to lose revolt. Therefore, if the laws of democracy are not always respectable, they are nearly always respected; for those who generally violate the laws cannot fail to obey the laws that they have made and from which they profit, and the citizens who could have an interest in breaking them are led by character and by position to submit to whatever the will of the legislator is. Moreover, the people, in America, not only obey the law because it is their work, but also because they can change it when by chance it injures them; they submit to it first as an evil that they imposed on themselves, and then as a temporary evil.
[x. ] Title in the manuscript: of the point of view from which the people consider the law in the united states.
[y. ] In the margin: “≠There are two types of moral force:
“The one because the law conforms to justice and to reason.
“The other because it conforms to the will of the greatest number./
“The law draws its moral force from two sources.
“The one is reason; the other is the consent of the greatest number.≠”