Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter 6 a: How Democratic Institutions and Mores Tend to Raise the Cost and Shorten the Length of Leases - Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition, vol. 4
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
chapter 6 a: How Democratic Institutions and Mores Tend to Raise the Cost and Shorten the Length of Leases - Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition, vol. 4 
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. 4.
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.
How Democratic Institutions and Mores Tend to Raise the Cost and Shorten the Length of Leases
What I said about servants and masters applies to a certain point to landowners and tenant farmers. The subject merits, however, to be considered separately.
In America, there are, so to speak, no tenant farmers; every man owns the field that he cultivates.
It must be recognized that democratic laws tend powerfully to increase the number of landowners and to decrease that of tenant farmers. Nonetheless, what is happening in the United States must be attributed much less to the new institutions of the country than to the country itself. In America land costs little, and everyone becomes a landowner easily. The land yields little, and its products can be shared by a landowner and a tenant farmer only with difficulty.
So America is unique in this as in other things; and it would be an error to take it as an example.
I think that in democratic countries as well as in aristocracies, landowners and tenant farmers will be found; but landowners and tenant farmers will not be bound together in the same way.
In aristocracies, farm rents are paid not only in money, but also in respect, in affection and in services. In democratic countries, they are paid only in money.b When patrimonies divide and change hands, and when the permanent relationship that existed between families and the land disappears, it is no longer anything except chance that puts the landowner and the tenant farmer in contact. They join together for a moment to debate the conditions of the contract, and afterward lose sight of each other. They are two strangers brought together by interest who rigorously discuss a matter that concerns only money.
As property is divided and wealth is dispersed here and there over the whole surface of the country, the State fills with men whose old wealth is in decline and with the newly rich whose needs increase faster than their resources. For all of them, the least profit is of consequence, and no one among them feels disposed to allow any one of his advantages to escape, or to lose any portion whatsoever of his income.
Since ranks are mingling and the very greatest as well as the very smallest fortunes are becoming rarer, there is less distance every day between the social condition of the landowner and that of the tenant farmer; the one does not naturally have an undisputed superiority over the other. Now, between two equal men in straitened circumstances, what can the subject of a rental contract be, if not money?c
A man whose property is an entire district and who owns one hundred small farms understands that it is a matter of winning the hearts of several thousand men at the same time; this seems to him to merit his efforts. To attain such a great objective, he easily makes sacrifices.
The one who owns a hundred acres is not burdened by such concerns; it is hardly important for him to win the particular goodwill of his tenant.
An aristocracy does not die like a man, in a day. Its principle is destroyed slowly deep within souls, before being attacked in the laws. So a long time before war breaks out against an aristocracy, you see the bond that until then united the upper classes to the lower loosen little by little. Indifference and scorn betray one side; jealousy and hate, the other. Relations between the poor and the rich become rarer and less mild; the cost of leases rises. It is not yet the result of the democratic revolution, but it is the sure sign of it. For an aristocracy that has allowed the heart of the people to escape definitively from its hands, is like a tree with dead roots; the higher it is, the more easily is it toppled by the winds.
For fifty years, the cost of farm rents has grown prodigiously, not only in France, but in most of Europe. The singular progress made by agriculture and industry during the same period is not enough, in my mind, to explain this phenomenon. You must resort to some other more powerful and more hidden cause. I think that this cause must be sought in the democratic institutions that several European peoples have adopted and in the democratic passions that more or less agitate all the others.
I have often heard great English landowners congratulate themselves that, in our times, they draw much more money from their estates than their fathers did.d
Perhaps they are right to be pleased; but certainly they do not know what they are pleased about. They think they are making a clear profit, and they are only making an exchange. It is their influence that they are giving up for cash; and what they gain in money, they are soon going to lose in power.
There is still another sign by which you can easily recognize that a great democratic revolution is being accomplished or is being prepared.
In the Middle Ages, nearly all the land was rented in perpetuity, or at least at very long term. When you study the domestic economy of that time, you see that leases of ninety-nine years were more frequent than those of twelve years are today.
Everyone believed then in the immortality of families; conditions seemed fixed forever, and the whole society appeared so immobile that no one imagined that anything ever had to move within it.
In centuries of equality, the human mind takes a different turn. It easily believes that nothing is unchanging. The idea of instability possesses it.
In this frame of mind, the landowner and the tenant himself feel a sort of instinctive horror for long-term obligations; they fear being limited one day by an agreement that they profit from today. They vaguely expect some sudden and unforeseen change in their condition. They are afraid of themselves; they fear that, when their taste changes, they will be distressed by not being able to leave what was the object of their desires, and they are right to fear it; for in democratic centuries, what is most changeable, amid the movement of things, is the heart of man.
[a. ] In aristocracies farm rents are paid not only in money, but in respect, in affection, in services. Under democracy they are paid only in money.
Since a permanent bond no longer exists between families and the land, the landowner and the tenant farmer are strangers who meet by chance to discuss a matter.
Since fortunes are becoming divided, the landowner always has a desire to acquire and fears losing. He rigorously stipulates everything to which he has a right.
The landowner and the tenant farmer have analogous habits of mind and an analogous social situation. Between two equal citizens in straitened circumstances, the object of a rental contract cannot be anything other than money.
When you have one hundred tenant farmers, you readily make pecuniary sacrifices to gain their goodwill. You do not care about the goodwill of a single tenant farmer.
When democracy has made the idea of instability penetrate all minds, you have an instinctive horror for a contract, even an advantageous one, that has to last a long time (YTC, CVf, pp. 40-41).
[b. ] There are no drafts of this chapter in the Rubish. In the manuscript, on the other hand, you find a jacket with various notes and fragments. The first page specifies:
“Pieces that began the chapter and that I believe must be deleted; they had the purpose of explaining what happened under aristocracy. I was afraid that this perpetual return to two social states was monotonous.
“To review one last time.” This jacket contains another version of the chapter, identical enough, except for the beginning:
In aristocracies in which great estates exist and in which custom and law fix the ownership of these estates in the same families, the landowner, by renting his fields, does not have as his only goal, or even sometimes as his principal goal, to enrich himself. Several other concerns share his soul. The tenant farmers with whom he deals are not strangers in his eyes. Their ancestors lived with his; his children will grow up amid theirs. They are tied to him and he to them by a long chain of memories and hopes. So the landowner wants to have his rights not only to the rent that they promised him, but also to their respect and their love; and he thinks that he owes it to himself not to impose obligations which are too hard on these men among whom he lives every day and whose well-being or miseries are necessarily before his eyes; and he is able to do so, for he enjoys an immense superfluity.
The richest and most powerful landowner of an aristocratic country cannot do without zealous friends and faithful servants, tenants ready to serve him. All those men are like instruments by the aid of which he seizes the surrounding population and handles it as he wills. It is through them that he succeeds in enjoying the greatest non-material advantages that wealth assures. Thus their support must be bought.
So in an aristocratic country the price of lands [v: tenant farms] is not paid only in money, but in respect, in affection, in services.
It ceases to be so as patrimonies are divided, as fortunes become equal, as the bond that united the upper and the lower classes comes to loosen <and as the relationship that existed between political power and possession of the land comes to disappear.>
When patrimonies . . .
[c. ] “In the work of Candolle on the subjects of gold and silver, there are on the long leases of feudal times curious remarks that prove that leases rise and become shorter as equality increases. As conditions become equal, the costs of leases rise” (YTC, CVa, p. 31).
[d. ] Inside the jacket of the manuscript that contains the drafts:
In aristocracies, the clauses of the lease are generally debated between a poor man to whom necessity has taught the importance of the smallest details, and a rich man who is accustomed to seeing everything broadly and to scorning small gains. The one treats the affair with all the fierceness given by need, and the other with the nonchalance suggested in such matters by a great superfluity. It is easy to foresee that the interest of the rich man must succumb in this unequal struggle.
In democracy, on the contrary, the landowner and the tenant bring the same needs and same desires.