Front Page Titles (by Subject) Of Religion Considered as a Political Institution, How It Serves Powerfully to Maintain the Democratic Republic among the Americans [*] - Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition, vol. 2
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Of Religion Considered as a Political Institution, How It Serves Powerfully to Maintain the Democratic Republic among the Americans [*] - 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 Religion Considered as a Political Institution, How It Serves Powerfully to Maintain the Democratic Republic among the Americans[*]
North America populated by men who professed a democratic and republican Christianity.—Arrival of Catholics.—Why today Catholics form the most democratic and the most republican class.
Alongside each religion is found a political opinion that is joined to it by affinity.w
Allow the human spirit to follow its tendency, and it will regulate in a uniform way political society and the holy city; it will seek, if I dare say so, to harmonize earth with heaven.x
Most of English America was populated by men who, after escaping from the authority of the Pope, submitted to no religious supremacy; so they brought to the New World a Christianity that I cannot portray better than by calling it democratic and republican: this will singularly favor the establishment of the republic and of democracy in public affairs. From the onset, politics and religion found themselves in accord, and they have not ceased to be so since.
About fifty years ago Ireland began to pour a Catholic population into the United States. For its part, American Catholicism made converts.y Today in the Union you find more than a million Christians who profess the truths of the Roman Church.
These Catholics show a great fidelity to the observances of their religion, and are full of ardor and zeal for their beliefs; however, they form the most republican and most democratic class that exists in the United States. This fact is a surprise at first glance, but reflection easily discloses the hidden causes.
[Christianity, even when it demands passive obedience in matters of dogma, is still of all religious doctrines the one most favorable to liberty, because it appeals only to the mind and heart of those whom it wants to bring into subjection.z No religion has so disdained the use of physical force as the religion of J[esus (ed.)]. C[hrist (ed.)]. Now, wherever physical force is not honored, tyranny cannot endure. Therefore you see that despotism has never been able to be established among Christians.a It has always lived there from day to day and in a state of alarm. When we say that a Christian nation is enslaved, it is in comparison to a Christian people that we judge. If we compare it to an infidel people, the Christian nation would seem free to us.
I will say something analogous concerning equality.
Of all religious doctrines, Christianity, whatever interpretation you give it, is also the one most favorable to equality. Only the religion of J[esus (ed.)]. C[hrist (ed.)]. has placed the sole grandeur of man in the accomplishment of duties, where each person can attain it; and has been pleased to consecrate poverty and hardship, as something nearly divine.
I will add that among the different Christian doctrines, Catholicism seems to me one of the least contrary to the leveling of conditions.]
I think that it is wrong to regard the Catholic religion as a natural enemy of democracy. Among the different Christian doctrines, Catholicism seems to me on the contrary one of the most favorable to equality of conditions. Among Catholics, religious society is composed of only two elements: priest and people. The priest alone rises above the faithful; everything is equal below him.b
In matters of dogma, Catholicism places all minds on the same level; it subjects to the details of the same beliefs the learned as well as the ignorant, the man of genius as well as the common man; it imposes the same observances on the rich as on the poor, inflicts the same austerities on the powerful as on the weak; it compromises with no mortal, and by applying the same measure to each human being, it loves to mix all classes of society together at the foot of the same altar, as they are mixed together in the eyes of God.
So, if Catholicism disposes the faithful to obedience, it does not prepare them for inequality. I will say the opposite about Protestantism,c which, in general, carries men much less toward equality than toward independence.d
Catholicism is like an absolute monarchy. Remove the prince, and conditions there are more equal than in republics.e
The Catholic priest has often come out of the sanctuary to enter into society as a power, and he has come to take a seat amid the social hierarchy; sometimes he then used his religious influence to assure the lasting existence of a political order of which he is part. Then you could see Catholics as partisans of aristocracy by spirit of religion.
But once priests are excluded or withdraw from government, as they are in the United States, there are no men who, by their beliefs, are more disposed than Catholics to carry the idea of equality of conditions into the political world.
So if Catholics in the United States are not strongly led by the nature of their beliefs toward democratic and republican opinions, at least they are not naturally against them, and their social position, as well as their small number, makes it a rule for them to embrace those opinions.f
Most Catholics are poor, and they need all citizens to govern in order to reach the government themselves. Catholics are in the minority, and they need all rights to be respected in order to be assured of the free exercise of theirs. These two causes push them, even without their knowledge, toward political doctrines that they would perhaps adopt with less ardor if they were rich and predominant.
The Catholic clergy in the United States have not tried to struggle against this political tendency; they seek instead to justify it. Catholic priests in America have divided the intellectual world into two parts: in one, they left revealed dogmas, and there they submit without discussion; in the other, they put political truth, and there they think that God abandoned political truth to the free search of men. Thus, Catholics in the United States are simultaneously the most submissive faithful and the most independent citizens [that there are in the world].
So you can say that in the United States not a single religious doctrine shows itself hostile to democratic and republican institutions. All the clergy there use the same language; [≠and while American publicists make all the miseries of society flow from despotism and inequality of conditions, priests represent despotism and inequality of conditions as the most fertile sources of moral evil≠] opinions there are in agreement with laws, and only one current so to speak rules the human mind.
I was living for a short while in one of the largest cities of the Union when I was invited to attend a political meeting the goal of which was to come to the aid of the Poles, and to send them arms and money.
I found two or three thousand persons gathered in a vast room that had been prepared to receive them. Soon after, a priest, dressed in his ecclesiastical robes, came forward to the edge of the platform intended for the speakers. Those attending, after removing their hats, stood in silence, and he spoke in these terms:
God all-powerful! God of armies! Thou who sustained the hearts and guided the arms of our fathers when they upheld the sacred rights of their national independence; Thou who made them triumph over an odious oppression, and who granted to our people the benefits of peace and liberty; oh Lord! turn a favorable eye toward the other hemisphere; look with pity upon a heroic people who today struggle as we once did and for the defense of the same rights! Lord, who created all men on the same model, do not allow despotism to come to distort Thy work and to maintain inequality on earth. God all-powerful! watch over the destiny of the Poles, make them worthy to be free; may Thy wisdom rule in their councils, may Thy strength be in their arms; spread terror among their enemies, divide the powers that plot their ruin, and do not allow the injustice that the world witnessed fifty years ago to be consummated today. Lord, who holds in Thy powerful hand the hearts of peoples as well as those of men, raise up allies for the sacred cause of right; make the French nation arise finally and, emerging from the sleep in which its leaders hold it, come to fight once again for the liberty of the world.
O Lord! never turn Thy face from us; allow us always to be the most religious people, as well as the most free.
God all-powerful, grant our prayer today; save the Poles. We ask Thee in the name of Thy beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the salvation of all men. Amen.
The entire assembly repeated Amen with reverence.
[[*]. ] ≠I will examine in the second volume the state of religion in the United States, the sects, the religious mores. Here I am considering it only from the political point of view.≠
[w. ] “Who could deny the fortunate influence of religion on mores and the influence of mores on the government of society?/
“The people see in religion the safeguard and the divine origin of liberty; the rich, the guarantee of their fortune and their life; the statesmen, the safeguard of society; the pioneer, something like his companion in the wilderness” (YTC, CVh, 3, p. 57).
[x. ] In the margin in the first version: “≠Despotism can do without religion, but not liberty.
“Unanimity of statesmen on the utility of religion.≠”
[y. ] In the manuscript: “American Catholicism spread for its part by numerous conversions.”
[z. ] In a first version of the drafts, this sentence is also found: “. . . wants to bring into subjection. If it loves to rule despotically over the will of man, it is after the will has by itself bent to its yoke. No religion . . .” (YTC, CVh, 3, p. 49).
[a. ] Hervé de Tocqueville:
Édouard’s advice is to delete this piece up to the words among the different Christian doctrines.
I share his opinion concerning only the first paragraph. It is not useful and besides many claims can be challenged. The author says: no religion has so disdained the use of physical force as much as the religion of Jesus Christ. Someone will put forward the Albigensians, the Inquisition, the massacre of the Cévennes, etc. Later despotism has never been able to be established among Christians is found. Someone will reply by citing Spain since Philip II.
The paragraph on equality, which goes straight to the point and serves as a transition, must be kept here (YTC, CIIIb, 1, pp. 50-51).
[b. ] In the margin: “≠Catholicism favors the spirit of equality in the manner of absolute power. It places one man beyond all rank and leaves all the others mingled together in the crowd.≠”
[c. ] “Protestantism is the government of the middle classes applied to the religious world” (YTC, CVh, 2, p. 85).
[d. ] Hervé de Tocqueville: “I would delete this sentence for three reasons: 1. It implies a sort of contradiction with the beginning of the chapter where the author attributes to Protestantism the calm and regular establishment of democracy. 2. The thought is little developed. 3. The sentence is not useful here” (YTC, CIIIb, 1, pp. 51-52).
[e. ] ≠I do not doubt that Protestantism, which places all religious authority in the universality of the faithful acting by themselves, is very favorable to the establishment of [v: indirectly supports the political dogma of the sovereignty of the people and thus serves] republican government. And Catholicism, subject to the intellectual authority of the Pope and Councils, seems to me to have more natural affinity with limited monarchy than with any other government≠ (YTC, CVh, 4, p. 71).
[f. ] Hervé de Tocqueville:
This paragraph is badly written. I would put it this way: If, moreover, Catholics in the United States were not led by the nature of their belief toward democratic and republican opinions, their social position as well as their small number would make it a rule for them to embrace those opinions. Delete all the rest. This turn of phrase seems to me to present ideas in a more logical way and to serve as a natural transition to the true reason why Catholics in the United States love the republic. For at bottom you cannot close your eyes to the fact that the ecclesiastical hierarchy of Catholics is much more an image of monarchical government than of republican institutions. Not a word of the prayer must be omitted (YTC, CIIIb, 1, pp. 52-53).