Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter 9 a: Education of Young Girls in the United States b - Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition, vol. 4
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chapter 9 a: Education of Young Girls in the United States b - 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.
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Education of Young Girls in the United Statesb
There have never been free societies without morals, and as I said in the first part of this work, it is the woman who molds the morals. So everything that influences the condition of women, their habits and their opinions, has a great political interest in my view.c
Among nearly all the Protestant nations, young girls are infinitely more in control of their actions than among Catholic peoples.
This independence is still greater in Protestant countries that, like England, have kept or acquired the right to govern themselves. Liberty then penetrates the family by political habits and by religious beliefs.
In the United States, the doctrines of Protestantism come to combine with a very free constitution and a very democratic social state; and nowhere is the young girl more quickly or more completely left to herself.
A long time before the young American girl has reached nubile age, she begins to be freed little by little from maternal protection; she has not yet entirely left childhood when already she thinks by herself, speaks freely and acts alone; the great world scene is exposed constantly before her; far from trying to hide it from her view, it is laid bare more and more every day before her sight, and she is taught to consider it with a firm and calm eye. Thus, the vices and perils presented by society do not take long to be revealed to her; she sees them clearly, judges them without illusion and faces them without fear; for she is full of confidence in her strength, and her confidence seems shared by all those who surround her.
So you must almost never expect to find with the American young girl this virginal guilelessness amid awakening desires, anymore than these **naı¨ve and ingenuous graces that usually accompany the European girl in the passage from childhood to youth. It is rare that the American, whatever her age, shows puerile timidity and ignorance. Like the European young girl, she wants to please, but she knows the cost precisely. If she does not give herself to evil, at least she knows about it; she has pure morals, rather than a chaste mind.
I was often surprised and almost frightened by seeing the singular dexterity and happy boldness with which the American young girls knew how to direct their thoughts and their words amid the pitfalls of a lively conversation; a philosopher would have stumbled a hundred times on the narrow path that they traveled without accident and without difficulty.
It is easy in fact to recognize that, even amid the independence of her earliest youth, the American girl never entirely ceases to be in control of herself; she enjoys all permitted pleasures without abandoning herself to any one of them, and her reason never relinquishes the reins, although it often seems to let them hang loosely.d
In France, where we still mix in such a strange way the debris of all the ages in our opinions and in our tastes, it often happens that we give women a timid, secluded and almost monastic education, as in the time of aristocracy; and we then abandon them suddenly, without guide and without help, amid the disorders inseparable from a democratic society.
The Americans are in better harmony with themselves.
They have seen that, within a democracy, individual independence could not fail to be very great, youth precocious, tastes badly restrained, custom changeable, public opinion often uncertain or powerless, paternal authority weak and marital power in question.e
In this state of things, they judged that there was little chance of being able to repress in the woman the most tyrannical passions of the human heart, and that it was surer to teach her the art of combatting them herself. As they could not prevent her virtue from often being in danger, they wanted her to know how to defend her virtue, and they counted more on the free effort of her will than on weakened or destroyed barriers. So instead of keeping her distrustful of herself, they try constantly to increase her confidence in her own strength. Having neither the possibility nor the desire to keep the young girl in a perpetual and complete ignorance, they hastened to give her a precocious knowledge of everything. Far from hiding the corrupt things of the world from her, they wanted her to see them first and train herself to flee them, and they preferred to guarantee her honesty than to respect her innocence too much.f
Although the Americans are a strongly religious people, they did not rely on religion alone to defend the virtue of the woman; they sought to arm her reason. In this, as in many other circumstances, they followed the same method. They first made incredible efforts to get individual independence to regulate itself, and it is only after arriving at the farthest limits of human strength, that they finally called religion to their help [and made it sustain them in its arms].g
I know that such an education is not without danger; nor am I unaware that it tends to develop judgment at the expense of imagination, and to make honest and cold women rather than tender wives and amiable companions to man. If society is more tranquil and better ordered because of it, private life often has fewer charms. But those are secondary evils that must be faced because of a larger interest. Having come to the point where we are, we are no longer allowed to make a choice. A democratic education is needed to protect the woman from the perils with which the institutions and mores of democracy surround her.
[Fragment of rubish that was to have served to link this chapter to the one following.
[The beginning is missing (ed.)] her family? To each she addresses a word, a smile, a look. Young men who met her in a public gathering approach her; and while walking, she converses familiarly with them. By the freedom of all her movements, you easily find that nothing in her actions should surprise those who see her or trouble herself. Liberty and at the same time the discreet reserve of her words show that, despite her young age, she has already ceased to see the world through the virginal veil of first innocence and that, if she has not yet learned at her expense to know human perversity, the example of others has at least been enough to teach her about it. Do not be afraid that the flow of a lively conversation will lead her beyond the limits of propriety; she is the mistress of her thought like all the rest, and she knows how to hold herself easily within the narrow space that separates innocent banter from licentious speech. Philosophers have argued among themselves for six thousand years to determine the precise point where virtue ends and vice begins, but here is a young girl who seems to have known how to separate them at first glance. Constantly, you see her approach with assurance these formidable limits that she almost never crosses.
Do you want more? Do you desire to know her better still? Follow her in these brilliant circles where, perhaps alone, she is going this evening. There you will be able to contemplate her in the full use of her independence and in all the splendor of triumph. That is where she enjoys beyond measure, you could almost say that she abuses without regret, the triple dominion given by spirit, youth and beauty. She carries along in her wake, she enlivens those around her. You say to her that she is beautiful, and she does not try to hide that she is pleased to receive these tributes that admiration lavishes on her. Some come forward to listen to her, others draw her aside in order to enjoy alone the pleasure of hearing her. She speaks about literature, politics, clothes, morals, love, religion, the fine arts, following the occasion of the moment and her desires. Sometimes she herself seems intoxicated by her own words.
But then where is her father? Enclosed in a dusty corner of his house, he is calculating . . . [large blank (ed.)]
And her mother? Her mother consecrates every instant to the care of a still young family; perhaps at this moment she is breast-feeding a twelfth infant just sent to her by Providence. The one, like the other, is little concerned about the actions of their daughter. Do not conclude that they are indifferent to her fate; they trust more in her precocious reason than in their surveillance.
<I am in truth sorry to find fortuitously a connection between something as gracious and as light as the emerging coquetry [v: innocent liberty] of a young girl and a matter as grave and as austere as philosophy, but the necessity of my subject forces me.
So I think, since it must be said, that it is in the philosophical method of the Americans that you must seek one of the first causes of this great liberty left to youth by a common [v: tacit] agreement.
The inhabitants of the United States have accepted in a general manner that it was good not to chain the human mind by precedents and customs, that you must not bind the mind to form or enslave it to means, but that to a certain point it must be left to its natural independence, and you must allow each person to march toward truth by his own path.
Starting from this doctrine, they are not afraid to base society on foundations unknown to their predecessors. They have imposed new rules on comm[erce (ed.)] and uncovered new resources for human industry.
It is by virtue of this same doctrine that young American girls remain themselves and can without shame obey the free impulses of their nature in everything that is not criminal.>
It is true that in America the independence of the woman becomes lost . . . (In the jacket entitled to profit from the ideas of this chapter (if i have not already done it) by seeing again the chapters on the woman,Rubish, 2).]
[a. ] “Liberty of young girls in the United States.
“Firmness and coldness of their reason. They have pure morals rather than chaste minds.
“The Americans wanted them to regulate themselves. They made a constant appeal to their individual reason.
“Democratic education necessary to keep women from the dangers that arise from democratic mores” (YTC, CVf, p. 42). The ideas of this chapter appear almost literally in Marie (I, pp. 18-32). Tocqueville had already sketched the general features of the chapter on American women in a letter of 28 November 1831 to his sister-in-law,Émilie(YTC, BIa2). The question had been considered as well at the time of his conversations with Lieber and Gallatin (non-alphabetic notebooks 1, 2 and 3, YTC, BIIa, and Voyage, OC,V, 1, pp. 61 and 93).
[b. ] On the jacket which contains the manuscript: “Perhaps join 43 and 44 in the same chapter.” This chapter bears number 43 in the manuscript. Number 44 corresponds to the following chapter. The notes and drafts of this chapter and the following ones are scattered in several jackets of the Rubish.
[c. ] At first this chapter began thus:
Nothing struck me more [v: I was strongly] [In the margin: <I have already said that several times.>] in America than the condition of women and I ask permission of the reader to stop a few moments at this subject. There have never been free societies without morals, and, as I said in the first part of this work, it is the woman who molds the morals. So everything that influences the condition of women, their habits and their opinions, has a great political interest in my view.
The Protestant religion professes higher esteem for the wisdom of man than Catholicism does. It shows a much greater confidence in the light of individual reason.
Protestantism is a democratic doctrine that preceded and facilitated the establishment of social and political equality. Men have, if I can say so, made democracy pass by heaven before establishing it on earth.
The practical differences of these different religious theories make themselves seen principally by the way in which the education of women is directed. For it is always in the circle of the family and domestic affairs that religion exercises the most dominion.
[In the margin, with a bracket that includes the last three paragraphs and the following three: <Probably delete this. It is dangerous ground on which I should go only by necessity.>]
Among nearly all . . .
[d. ] In the margin, beside an earlier version: “<≠Philosophers have argued among themselves for six thousand years to determine the precise limits that separate licentiousness from an innocent liberty, but here is a young girl who seems to have discovered this precise [v: delicate] point by herself and who settles herself there.≠>”
[e. ] In the manuscript you find the word “limited.”
[f. ] On a sheet of the manuscript which bears the title “Rubish”:
≠Moreover you would be wrong to believe that in the United States reason alone is relied on to guide and assure the first steps of the young girl [in the margin: the general independence of the mind and the Christian faith on certain specific dogmas].
I said elsewhere how in democracies the spirit of religion and the spirit of liberty were marvelously combined. This idea constantly presents itself to me without my seeking it, and I find it at each turn of my subject.
In America religious belief has for a long time become a public opinion. It reigns despotically on the mind [v: intelligence] of the majority and uses democracy itself to limit the errors of democratic liberty in the moral world.
The Americans have made incredible efforts to get individual independence to regulate itself and it is only when they have finally arrived at the farthest limits of human strength that they have finally called religion to their aid and have had themselves sustained in its arms.≠
[In the margin: This entire page seems to me of the sort to be deleted. I have already spoken many times about the effects of religion. I will speak yet again about it when it concerns mores. ≠This last idea, moreover, makes the mind suddenly and disagreeably enter a path for which it is not prepared.≠]
In a rough draft of the Rubish the fragment continues in this way:
Thus, in whatever direction I turn my subject, I always notice the same objects at the end of the course that I want to follow. Always I see American liberty relying on faith and marching in concert with it. Thus I arrive by a new road at the point that I had already reached in another part of this work, and I conclude at this time as then that if nations subjected to an aristocracy or to a despot can, if need be, do without religious beliefs without ceasing to form a society, it cannot be the same for republican and democratic peoples; and that if the first must want to believe in order to find an alleviation for their miseries, the second need to believe in order to exist (rubish of the chapter on the regularity of mores,Rubish, 2).
[g. ] In the margin: “<Must that be left?>”