Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter 6 a: Of the Progress of Catholicism in the United States - Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition, vol. 3
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
chapter 6 a: Of the Progress of Catholicism in the United States - Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition, vol. 3 
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. 3.
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.
Of the Progress of Catholicism in the United States
America is the most democratic country on earth, and at the same time the country where, according to trustworthy reports,b the Catholic religion is making the most progress. This is surprising at first view.
Two things must be clearly distinguished. Equality disposes men to want to judge by themselves; but, from another side, it gives them the taste and the idea of a single social power, simple and the same for all. So men who live in democratic centuries are very inclined to avoid all religious authority. But, if they consent to submit to such an authority, they at least want it to be unitary and uniform; religious powers that do not all lead to the same center [or in other words national churches] are naturally shocking to their intelligence, and they imagine almost as easily that there is no religion as that there are several.c
You see today, more than in earlier periods, Catholics who become unbelievers and Protestants who turn into Catholics. If you consider Catholicism internally, it seems to lose; if you look at it from the outside, it gains. That can be explained.
Men today are naturally little disposed to believe; but as soon as they have a religion, they find a hidden instinct within themselves that pushes them without their knowing toward Catholicism. Several of the doctrines and practices of the Roman Church astonish them;d but they experience a secret admiration for its government, and its great unity attracts them.
If Catholicism succeeded finally in escaping from the political hatreds to which it gave birth, I hardly doubt that this very spirit of the century, which seems so contrary to it, would become very favorable to it,e and that it would suddenly make great conquests.
It is one of the most familiar weaknesses of human intelligence to want to reconcile contrary principles and to buy peace at the expense of logic. So there have always been and will always be men who, after submitting a few of their religious beliefs to an authority, will want some other religious beliefs to elude it, and will allow their minds to float haphazardly between obedience and liberty. But I am led to believe that the number of the latter will be fewer in democratic centuries than in other centuries, and that our descendants will tend more and more to divide into only two parts, some leaving Christianity entirely, others going into the Roman Church.
[a. ] This chapter, which bears the number Vbis in the manuscript, as well as the one that follows, are not included in the list of notebook CVf. In the manuscript the first title is: how the progress of equality has favored the progress of catholicism.
On the jacket of the manuscript you find this note: “Ask for some figures from Mr. Wash perhaps.” Probably this concerns Robert Walsh, American journalist, founder of the National Gazette. Tocqueville and Beaumont met him in Philadelphia (George W. Pierson, Tocqueville and Beaumont in America, pp. 475–76, 537).
[b. ] Several conversations with Americans had persuaded Tocqueville of the rapid increase of Catholicism in the United States. This fact has been contested by certain American critics. On this subject, it can be recalled that, in his first letters from America, Tocqueville noted that if the lower classes tended toward Catholicism, the upper classes converted instead to Unitarianism (cf. alphabetic notebook A, YTC, BIIa, and Voyage, OC, V, 1, pp. 230–32. YTC, BIIa contains a note on conversions in India copied from the Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register, 4, April 1831, p. 316. It is not reproduced in Voyage).
[c. ] “Two very curious conversations could be done, one with a Protestant minister, the other with a Catholic priest. They would be made to uphold on all points opposed [sic] to what they are in the custom of upholding elsewhere.
“These conversations would have to be preceded by a portrait of these two men and of their institutions. Very piquant details would result from all of that for the French public above all” (YTC, CVa, p. 55. See the appendix bearing the title sects in america).
[d. ] The manuscript says: “repulse them.”
[e. ] The chapter finishes in this way in the manuscript:
“and that it would end by being the only religion of all those who would have a religion.
“I think that it is possible that all men who make up the Christian nations will in the long run come to be no longer divided except into two parts. Some will leave Christianity entirely and others will go into the Roman Church.”
In 1843, Tocqueville had a very different secret opinion about the relation between Catholicism and democracy.
“Catholicism,” he wrote to Francisque de Corcelle, “which produces such admirable effects in certain cases, which must be upheld with all one’s power because in France religious spirit can exist only with it, Catholicism, I am very afraid, will never adopt the new society. It will never forget the position that it had in the old one and every time that [it] is given some powers, it will hasten to abuse them. I will say that only to you. But I say it to you, because I want to have you enter into my most secret thought” Correspondance avec Corcelle, OC, XV, 1, p. 174.