Front Page Titles (by Subject) appendix 3: Sects in America a - Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition, vol. 4
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appendix 3: Sects in America a - 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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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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Sects in Americaa
Piece that could perhaps be introduced by modifying it, by making it shorter and more striking, into the place where I will explain the type of influence that democracy exercises on the Christian religion, but [even? (ed.)] when contrary to its habits democracy accepts the principle of religion [v: some sects in America] without discussion.
* * * * *
It was Sunday. The city was as deserted as if it had been threatened by an attack that very morning and all of the people had gone to the defense of the walls. The streets were stretched with chains and the shutters of the houses were closed with so much care that you would have said that the inhabitants feared that the sun would commit some base act by coming within.
I wandered for a long time in this desert without finding anyone who could point out my route. I finally met a man whose mild and venerable appearance first attracted me. Although he was of middle age, his dress preserved a certain old-fashioned air that struck me. He wore a jacket in the French style and a hat with a wide flat brim, short trousers and flat shoes; he had neither a ruffle on his shirt nor buckles on his shoes, but his jacket was of very fine cloth, and you noticed over his whole person such an extreme neatness that you would have almost taken it for elegance.
“Sir,” I said to him, “could you point out to me a place in this city where I can pray to God?” He considered me with kindness and answered, without even putting his hand to his hat: “Thou art right, my friend. Come with me, but let us hurry, for the congregation must already be gathered.”
So we quickened our pace, and soon we were opposite a large building that I had already passed by without noticing that it was a church. My guide made me enter and entered himself, walking on his tiptoes while sliding along in silence, like a man who regrets not being a pure spirit in order to make still less noise. Having reached his pew, he finally sat down, discreetly removed his gloves and, having carefully rolled them up, seemed to fall suddenly into a profound meditation. When we were seated, I noticed that the church was full which I never would have suspected, so profound was the silence [v: the tranquillity and the immobility] that reigned there. All those around me wore the costume of my guide, even the smallest children who sat gravely in their pews, dressed in the same jacket in the French style and covered by a wide-brimmed hat.
I remained there one hour and forty minutes in the same silence and the same immobility. I finally turned toward the man who brought me and said to him: “Sir, I wanted to attend a church service and it seems to me that you have led me to a gathering of the deaf and dumb.” My guide, without seeming offended by my question, looked at me with the same kindness and said: “Dost thou not see that each of us is waiting for the Holy Spirit to illumine him; learn to moderate thine impatience in a holy place.” I kept quiet, and soon in fact one of those attending got up and began to speak. His accents were plaintive, and each of the words that he uttered was as if isolated between two long silences; and with a very pitiful voice he said some very consoling things, for he spoke about the inexhaustible goodness of God and about the obligation that men have to help each other, whatever their belief and the color of their skin.
When he was quiet, the gathering began to flow out peacefully. As I left, still moved by the language that I had just heard, I found myself near the man who had brought me and I said to him: “It seems to me that I have just heard spoken here the word of the Gospel. But my soul is troubled; let me know, I beg of you, if grace can be produced in a man only if he wears a cut-away jacket and uses ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ with his neighbor.” My new friend reflected at length and answered: “The majority of our brothers think that is not absolutely necessary.”
Content to see that no indispensable connection existed between my soul and my jacket, I regained the street with a lighter step.
A little distance from there, I noticed another church. But far from praying to God so tranquilly there,b on the contrary, such a great tumult was produced and such a strange clamor arose that I could not repress a curious desire, and to satisfy it I entered. It was a Methodist church. I first saw in an elevated place, a young man whose thundering voice made the vaults of the building reverberate. His hair was standing on end, his eyes seemed to shoot flames, his lips were pale and trembling, his entire body seemed agitated by a universal trembling [v: prey to an anguish]. I wanted to break through the crowd in order to go to the aid of this unfortunate man, but stopped upon discovering that he was a preacher. He spoke of the perversity of man and of the inexhaustible treasures of divine vengeance. He probed one by one all the formidable mysteries of the other life. He portrayed the Creator as constantly busy heaping up the generations in the pits of hell and as indefatigable in creating sinners as in inventing punishments. I stopped completely troubled; the congregation was even more so than I. Terror showed itself in a thousand ways on all the faces, and repentance took on at every instant the appearance of despair and fury.c Women lifted their children in their arms and let out lamentable cries, others struck their forehead against the earth, men convulsed in their pews while accusing themselves of their sins in a loud voice, or rolled in the dust. As the movements of the minister became more rapid and his portraits more vivid, the passions of the assembly seemed to grow, and often it was difficult not to believe yourself in one of those infernal dwellings that the preacher depicted.
I fled full of disgust and penetrated by a profound terror. Author and preserver of all things, I said to myself, is it possible that you recognize yourself in the horrible portrait that your creations make of you here? Must man be degraded by fear in order to raise him up to you, and can he climb to the ranks of your saints only by delivering himself to transports that make him descend below beasts?
Full of these thoughts, I walked rapidly without looking around myself, so much so that when I came to consider the place where I was, I noticed that I had left the city and walked into the middle of the woods that surround it. Nothing prompted me to retrace my steps, and I resolved to continue my route to see if I would not arrive at an inhabited place. At the end of two hours, I in fact reached a new clearing, and soon I noticed the first houses of a beautiful village.d A traveler just passing informed me that these (illegible word) were the property of a small religious sect called dansarse [sic ]. It was obvious in fact that the houses of the village had been built on a common plan and by a single association. They had cost the same amount; the same air of comfort reigned. At the center of the works arose a vast hall that served as the church. I was told that the divine service was going to be celebrated there, and curiosity led me to it.
At the end of the room already drawn up were about fifty men of different ages, but all wore the same dress. It was that of European peasants of the Middle Ages. Facing them was a more or less equal number of women enveloped in white clothes like great shrouds, from head to toe. Moreover, you saw neither pulpit, nor altar, nor anything that recalled a place consecrated by Christians to the worship of the Divinity. These men and women sang songs of a lugubrious and plaintive tone. From time to time, they accompanied themselves by clapping their hands. Other times, they began to move and made a thousand rotations without losing the beat, sometimes marching in columns, sometimes gathering in a circle. Other times, they advanced toward each other as if to fight and then withdrew without touching. I was witnessing this spectacle with astonishment, when suddenly at a given signal the whole congregation began to dance. Women and men, old people and children began to jump to the point of breathlessness. They danced so long in this way that sweat ran down their faces. They finally stopped; and one of the oldest men of the company, after wiping his brow, began with a broken voice: “My brothers, let us give thanks to the Almighty who, amid all the various superstitions that disfigure humanity, has deigned finally to show us the way of salvation, and let us pray that he opens the eyes of this crowd of unfortunates who are still plunged into the darkness of error, and saves them from the eternal torments which perhaps await them.”
[a. ] This account condenses events that Tocqueville witnessed at different moments of his journey. This survey of American sects could have accompanied no matter which chapter on religion and particularly chapter 12 of the second part of the third volume. The account is on pages 9 to 15 of notebook CVa (it is a copy by Bonnel). It was published for the first time in English by James T. Schleifer in “Alexis de Tocqueville Describes the American Character: Two Previously Unpublished Portraits,” South Atlantic Quarterly74, no. 2 (1975): 244-58.
[b. ] In the margin: “As in the house of the Quakers.”
[c. ] The margins contain various stylistic variants of these sentences.
[d. ] On various occasions, Beaumont gave the account of a visit to the Quaker community of Nisquayuna, not far from Albany. See the letter to Samuel R. Wood of 24 November 1831, in the Quaker Collection of Haverford College, Pennsylvania; the letter to his sister, Eugénie, of 14 July 1831 (Lettres d’Amérique, pp. 86-90); and Marie, II, pp. 205-9. Beaumont gives a general survey of American sects in Marie, I, pp. 258-59, and in the appendix “Notes on Religious Movements in the United States” (II, pp. 181-225).
[e. ] Shakers.