Front Page Titles (by Subject) (O) Page 276 - Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition, vol. 2
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
(O) Page 276 - 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.
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.
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.
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.
Concerning the great American desert, Mr. Long says notably that a line must be drawn about parallel to the 20th degree of longitude (meridian of Washington),1 beginning at the Red River and ending at the Platte River. Extending from this imaginary line to the Rocky Mountains, which border the Mississippi Valley in the west, are immense plains, generally covered with sand which is unsuitable for agriculture, or strewn with granite stones. They are deprived of water in the summer. There only great herds of buffalo and wild horses are found. Some Indian hordes are seen as well, but only a small number.
Among the most graceful of these bushes is the grenadilla. Descourtiz,a in his description of the plant kingdom of the Antilles, says that this lovely plant attaches itself to trees by means of its tendrils, and forms moving arcades and colonnades, made rich and elegant by the beauty of the crimson flowers, variegated with blue, that decorate them and that delight the sense of smell with the scent they give off; vol. I, p. 265.
Those who would like to examine in more detail this subject that I myself have only touched on very superficially, should read:
“After having done eight leagues,” he says, “our allies stopped, and, taking one of their captives, they reproached him for all the cruelties that he had exercised on the warriors of their nation who had fallen into his hands, and they declared to him that he must expect to be treated in the same manner, adding that, if he had courage, he would display it by singing. He soon started to sing his song [of death, then his song (ed.)] of war, and all those that he knew, but with a very sad tone, says Champlain, who had not yet had the time to know that all of the music of the savages is somewhat lugubrious. His torture, accompanied by all the horrors that we will speak of later, frightened the French who in vain did their utmost to put an end to it.c The following night, because a Huron dreamed that they were being pursued, the retreat changed into a veritable flight, and the savages did not stop anywhere again until they were out of any danger.
In 1792, at the very period when the anti-Christian republic of France began its ephemeral existence, the legislative body of Massachusetts promulgated the law that you are about to read, in order to force citizens to observe Sunday. Here are the preamble and the principal provisions of this law, which deserves to attract all the reader’s attention:
Whereas, says the legislator, Sunday observance is in the public interest; that it produces a useful suspension of work; that it leads men to reflect upon the duties of life and the errors to which humanity is so prone; that it allows us in private and in public to honor God, creator and governor of the universe, and allows us to devote ourselves to those acts of charity that are the adornment and the relief of Christian societies;
Whereas some irreligious or thoughtless persons, forgetting the duties imposed by Sunday and the benefits that society gains from them, profane the Holy Day in pursuit of their pleasures or their work; that this behavior is contrary to their own interests as Christians; that, in addition, it is of a nature to disturb those who do not follow their example, and brings real harm to the entire society by introducing the taste for dissipation and dissolute habits;
The Senate and the House of Representatives order the following:
The tythingmen must stop travelers and inquire after the reason that has forced them to be on the road on Sunday. Whoever refuses to answer will be condemned to a fine that could be 5 pounds sterling.
If the reason given by the traveler does not seem sufficient to the tythingman, he will bring the said traveler before the justice of the peace of the district (Law of 8 March 1792. General Laws of Massachusetts, vol. I, p. 410).
The laws that we have just cited are very recent; but who could comprehend them without going back to the very origin of the colonies? I do not doubt that today the penal portion of this legislation is only very rarely applied; the laws retain their inflexibility when the mores have already bent before the movement of the times. Sunday observance in America, however, is still what most strikes the foreigner.d
Mr. Kent, in the same work, vol. IV, pp. 1-22, reviews American legislation relative to entail. The outcome is that before the American Revolution the English laws on entail formed the common law in the colonies. Entail strictly speaking (Estates’ tail) was abolished in Virginia in 1776 (this abolition took place on the motion of Jefferson; see Jefferson’s Memoirs), in the state of New York in 1786. The same abolition has taken place since in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Missouri. In Vermont, the states of Indiana, Illinois, South Carolina and Louisiana, entail has always been unusual. The states that believed they had to keep English legislation relative to entail modified it in a way to remove its principal aristocratic characteristics. “Our general principles in matters of government,” says Mr. Kent, “tend to favor the free circulation of property.”e
French law allows entail in no case.f
It is not correct to say that centralization was born out of the French Revolution; the French Revolution perfected it, but did not create it. The taste for centralization and the mania for regulation go back in France to the period when the jurists entered into the government; which takes us back to the time of Philippe le Bel [the Fair]. Since that time, these two things have never ceased to increase. Here is what M. de Malesherbes, speaking in the name of the Cour des aides, said to King Louis XVI in 1775:3
There remained to each body, to each community of citizens the right to administer its own affairs; a right that we do not say was part of the original constitution of the kingdom, for it goes back much further: it is natural law, it is the law of reason. But it has been taken away from your subjects, Sire, and we will not be afraid to say that the administration has fallen in this respect into excesses that can be called childish.
Since powerful ministers made it a political principle not to allow the national assembly to be convoked, we have gone step by step to the point of declaring null and void deliberations of the inhabitants of a village when they are not authorized by an intendant; so that, if this community has an expenditure to make, the assent of the subdelegate of the intendant must be gained, consequently the plan that he adopted must be followed, the workers that he favors must be used, they must be paid as he sees fit; and if the community has a court case to sustain, it must also be authorized to do so by the intendant; the case must be argued before this first tribunal before being brought before the courts. And if the opinion of the intendant is against the inhabitants, or if their adversary has the ear of the intendant, the community is deprived of the ability to defend its rights. Here, Sire, are the means by which some have worked to smother in France all municipal spirit, to extinguish, if it could be done, even the sentiments of citizens; the entire nation has been so to speak prohibited and it has been given guardians.g
(O) Page 276
It is true that the powers of Europe can wage great maritime wars against the Union; but it is always easier and less dangerous to sustain a maritime war than a continental war. Maritime war requires only a single kind of effort. A commercial people that consents to give its government the money needed is always sure to have fleets. Now, sacrifices of money can be concealed from nations much more easily than sacrifices of men and personal efforts. Defeats at sea, moreover, rarely compromise the existence or the independence of the people who experience them.
As for continental wars, it is clear that the peoples of Europe cannot wage dangerous wars against the American Union.
It is very difficult to transport to and to maintain in America more than 25,000 soldiers; this represents a nation of about 2,000,000 people. The greatest European nation fighting against the Union in this way is in the same position as a nation of 2,000,000 inhabitants would be in a war against one of 12,000,000. Add to this that the American has all of his resources at hand and the European is 1,500 leagues from his, and that the immensity of the territory of the United States alone would present an insurmountable obstacle to conquest.
[1. ] The 20th degree of longitude, following the meridian of Washington, is approximately the equivalent of the 99th degree following the meridian of Paris.
[a. ] M. E. Descourtiz, Voyages d’un naturaliste et ses observations, Dufart Père, 1809, 3 vols.
[b. ] David Zeisberger, “A Grammar of the Language of the Lenni Lanâpé,” translated by P. S. Duponceau, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, III, 1827, pp. 65-250.
[c. ] Tocqueville omits here the details of the dismemberment and death of the Indian.
[2. ] These are officials elected each year who, by their functions, are at the very same time close to the rural guard and to the officer of the criminal investigation department.
[d. ] See the appendix sects in america.
[e. ] The quoted text reads: “The general policy of this country does not encourage restraints upon the power of alienation of land.” Kent’s Commentaries, volume IV, p. 17.
[f. ] Hervé de Tocqueville: “I read that with surprise. The law authorizes the father testator to favor one of his children. In collateral line it leaves a very much greater latitude” (YTC, CIIIb, 2, p. 99).
[3. ] See Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire du droit public de la France en matière d’impôts, p. 654, printed in Brussels in 1779.
[g. ] Count de Boissy d’Anglas, Essais sur la vie, les écrits et les opinions de M. de Malesherbes (Paris: Treuttel and Würtz, 1819), I, pp. 305-6 (quoted in YTC, CVh, 5, p. 3). We know that this idea that the process of centralization predates the Revolution is the principal thesis of the Old Regime and the Revolution.
Also see Luis Díez del Corral, El pensamiento político de Tocqueville (Madrid: Alianza Universidad, 1989), pp. 137-80.
[1. ] Judicial power, above all that of the Union, in that it prevents retroactive laws. Lack of administrative centralization.≠
[q. ] The second sentence reads differently in the French translation of Conseil (volume I, pp. 310-18; the citation is found on page 318).
[n. ] Hervé de Tocqueville:The poor must be deleted everywhere; on the one hand, it does not present a sufficiently clear idea and, on the other hand, does not agree with the condition in America of the class that the author wants to indicate. He says further along that this class lives in affluence, and an effort must always be made to connect ideas to America. Without that, there would be no unity in the composition. I would put here in place of poor, the country in which the last class that I named, etc.
To the side, in the handwriting of Alexis de Tocqueville according to the copyist: “The word poor has a relative, not an absolute meaning. The American poor could often appear rich compared to those of Europe. But they [above: count as] are always the poor [above: the class of the poor] if you compare them to those of their fellow citizens who are richer than they” (YTC, CIIIb, 2, p. 12).
[u. ] In various articles about public expenditures in the United States and in France, which we will speak about later (see note j for p. 349), comparisons of this type abound.
[v. ] “Ask Mr. Livingston if apart from the clerks in the American Treasury Department, there are still lower paid employees” (YTC, CVh, 3, p. 11).
[m. ] The word “former” appears only after the first editions.
[n. ] The budget of the American navy is found on pages 290-91. On page 228, the list of warships is found; the total is 53 (Tocqueville seems to have eliminated from the list a barge, a small unarmed galley with about twenty oars aboard).
[1. ] Mr. Story says, p. 558: “The Senate has very rarely, if ever, been consulted before the clauses of the treaty were settled; the treaty was then submitted to the Senate for ratification.”
[2. ] See Kent’s Commentaries, vol. I, p. 267.
With the kind permission of the Pennsylvania Historical Society.
[b. ] See chapter V of this part (p. 365) and Écrits sur le système pénitentiaire en France et à l’étranger (OC, IV, 1), pp. 327-28, appendix VII of Système pénitentiaire.
[c. ] Probably in Considérations sur les causes de la grandeur des Romains et de leur décadence, chapter XI, in Œuvres complètes, Paris: Pléiade, 1951, II, p. 131.≠So in democratic republics the majority forms a true power. And after it, the body that represents it. The political body that best represents the majority is the legislature. To augment the prerogatives of this body is to augment the power of the majority.Nonetheless, this power of the majority can be moderated in its exercise by the efforts of the law-maker. The authors of the federal Constitution worked in this direction. They sought to hinder the march of the majority. In the individual states, one tried hard, in contrast, to make the march of the majority more rapid and more irresistible≠ (YTC, CVh, 5, p. 14).
[v. ] Mr. Cruse, editor of a newspaper in Baltimore, told this anecdote to Tocqueville(note of 4 November 1831, pocket notebook 3, YTC, BIIa, and Voyage, OC, V, 1, pp. 187-88). The interlocutor of the other conversation is George Washington Smith (conversation of 24 October 1831, alphabetic notebook B, YTC, BIIa, and Voyage, OC, V, 1, pp. 246-47).
[h. ] In Conseil’s edition, vol. I, pp. 340-41. Tocqueville quotes correctly from the French, but in the English Jefferson speaks about the “tyranny of the legislatures,” not of the “legislators.”
[s. ] The first part of the book, as the reader remembers, was published in two volumes.
[1. ] I do not know if that is true in as absolute a way as I indicate. To research. See notably Story, p. 498 (YTC, CVh, 5, pp. 22-23).
[d. ] “It is now a matter of comparing this to France, but for that it would be necessary to have the budget and even statistical details that probably are not to be found [in the National Calendar (ed.)]. Ask D’Aunay and N. [sic] Roger of the French Academy” (YTC, CVh, 1, p. 16). It undoubtedly concerns Félix Le Peletier d’Aunay and Jean-François Roger.
[f. ] It certainly concerns the War of 1812. The person Tocqueville was speaking to was Major Lamard (non-alphabetic notebook 1, YTC, BIIa, and Voyage, OC, V, 1, pp. 75-78).
[k. ] This citation is also found in Marie, II, pp. 291-92.
[q. ] John C. Spencer, on the occasion of a long conversation, provided Tocqueville with information on Red Jacket (alphabetic notebook A, YTC, BIIIa, and Voyage, OC, V, 1, pp. 221-23). Edward Everett, for his part, had sent Beaumont several documents on the Indians, including his speech of 1830 to the House of Representatives. Cf. two letters from Beaumont to Edward Everett dated 18 February and 1 May 1832, YTC, BIc.
[v. ] In the first edition: “of Tanner and will publish them in the course of the year about to begin.”
George W. Pierson (Tocqueville and Beaumont in America, p. 235) indicates that the travelers met Tanner on the steamboat Ohio, on the way to Detroit, 19 July 1831, and that the latter offered them his book. Beaumont gives the following account of a conversation with Tanner, that he places on the Mississippi:The Choctaws were being escorted by an agent of the American government charged with implementing their removal. This man, who did not know the language of the Indians, had an interpreter close to them, an inhabitant of the United States named Tanner, who is famous in America for having spent more than thirty years among the savage tribes of the north. I congratulated myself all the more about meeting him because I had often desired to do so; this circumstance, joined with the interest that the misfortune of the Indians inspired in me, suggested to me the thought of crossing the Mississippi with them and accompanying them to their new territory. ≠I shared this idea with my traveling companion who very much approved it.≠ As soon as I had resolved to do so, I felt a burst of joy and enthusiasm thinking that I was going to see the beautiful forests dreamed of in my imagination, the vast prairies described by Cooper, and the profound solitudes unknown in the Old World.The signal for the departure was given and Tanner, with whom I soon began to converse, assured me that in less than a day we would reach the mouth of the Arkansas and that one day more would be enough for us to move up the river a distance of more than 150 miles. While we descended the Mississippi, I did not cease questioning Tanner about the mores of the Indians and about the causes for their misfortune. He gave me notions full of interest about them that I would like one day to be able to make known in all their scope.—“You, who sympathize with their misfortunes,” he says to me, “hurry to know them!, for soon they will have disappeared from the earth. The forests of Arkansas are given forever to them! These are, it is true, the terms of the treaty! But what mockery! The lands that they occupied in Georgia had also been given to them, thirty years ago, forever! They will be left in this new country that is abandoned to them as long as their lands are not needed. But as soon as the American population finds itself too squeezed together on the left bank of the Mississippi, it will sweep into the fertile countries of the other bank and the Indian will again undergo the fate that was reserved for him, that of retreating before European civilization. Note,” Tanner also said to me, “that it is, to a certain point, in the interest of the Indian to act in this way at the approach of whites; in fact he lives almost exclusively on game, and the game itself moves away as soon as civilized society approaches it. It is enough to put a large road through a country to chase away all the wild buffaloes. The Indian who goes closely along with them is only following his means of existence, but by constantly advancing toward the west, he will meet the Pacific Ocean.—This will be the end of his journey and of his life. How many years will pass before his ruin? You could not say. Each vessel from Europe that brings to America new inhabitants accelerates the destruction of the Indians. After halting in Arkansas, the Choctaws will be pushed back beyond the Rocky Mountains; this will be their second stage; and when the wave of the American population arrives, they will not be able either to remain or to go beyond. Their destiny will be fulfilled.” While Tanner thus spoke to me, I felt penetrated by a profound sadness.
This conversation belongs to the notes and drafts of Marie (YTC, Beaumont, CIX). The details that precede and follow this conversation appear in Marie, II, pp. 48-55 and 292-93.
[b. ] This note does not exist in the manuscript.
[e. ] In the work of Thomas Clarkson An Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species (London: J. Phillips, 1788, pp. 13-16), you find reflections very similar to those of Tocqueville on the difference between modern and ancient slavery; the author likewise cites Aesop and Terence as examples of civilized slaves. Beaumont possessed a French edition of this book in his library (Cf. Marie, I, pp. 296-301), as well as the following works on slavery: Brissot de Warville, Examen critique des “Voyages dans l’Amérique septentrionale” de M. le marquis de Chastellux; Marquis de Condorcet, Réflexions sur l’esclavage des Noirs; Thomas Clarkson, Essai sur les désavantages de la traite; Benjamin S. Frossard, La cause des esclaves nègres et des habitants de la Guinée, portée au tribunal de la justice, de la religion, de la politique; Daniel Lescallier, Réflexions sur le sort des noirs dans nos colonies; Théophile Mandar, Discours sur le commerce et l’esclavage des nègres (this information is contained in the thesis of Alvis Lee Tinnin, Gustave de Beaumont, Prophet of the American Dilemma, New Haven, Yale University, 1961).
[1. ] ≠This is clearly seen. The south, which has the greatest need to remain united, gives signs of impatience. The north and the west, which could by themselves alone form an immense republic, most want the union.
If interests alone were sufficient to maintain the Americans in the Union, there would be no portion of the United States where the federal Constitution had warmer adherents than in the south.
The south needs the north not only to guarantee the importation of its products, but also to defend it from the Negroes who live in its bosom.
The Americans of the south are, however, the only ones who threaten to break the federal bond.
So you must seek reasons other than those taken from interests properly speaking.≠
[d. ] It concerns the American Almanac for 1832, p. 162. The National Calendar also contains figures on the census, but the percentages given by Tocqueville belong to the American Almanac.
[e. ] Draft of the note in the manuscript: “The population grew by 145,000 inhabitants or 13.7 percent in ten years. See fifth census. It seems to me that by following this progression the population of Virginia would take about 75 years to double.”
[q. ] A note in another place of the chapter points out: “On all that see the language of the President in 1833, National Calendar, p. 27.”
[g. ] Tocqueville obtained this information from the American Almanac for 1834, pp. 141-42.
[1. ] ≠They would not serve as well as white sailors and would desert in foreign countries.≠
[“1. ] ≠View of the United States, by Darby, p. 57.≠”
[h. ] In the first edition: “Courant (which was written by the celebrated Franklin) . . .” The error was corrected in the following editions.