Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO N. W. SENIOR, ESQ. - Memoir, Letters, and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville, vol. 2
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TO N. W. SENIOR, ESQ. - Alexis de Tocqueville, Memoir, Letters, and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville, vol. 2 
Memoir, Letters, and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville. Translated from the French by the translator of Napoleon’s Correspondence with King Joseph. With large Additions. In Two Volumes (London: Macamillan, 1861). 2 vols.
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TO N. W. SENIOR, ESQ.
Paris, April 10, 1848.
My dear Mr. Senior,
I was away when your letter came. I found it on my return only three days ago. I immediately went to Mr. Austin’s, to know what had prevented your visit to Paris. I was grieved to hear that your health had forced you to change your plans. I am doubly sorry not to see you, on account of the cause. I had been the more anxious for your arrival as I expected to have derived from your conversation some ideas which would have been of special value at this juncture in our affairs.
It has not escaped your notice that our greatest evils are not the result of fierce political excitement, but of the frightful ignorance of the masses as to the real conditions of production and of social prosperity. Our sufferings are caused less by false ideas on politics properly so called, than by false notions on political economy.
I do not think that a poor-law such as you suggest, would, at least at present, remedy the evil. The Revolution was not brought about by the privations of the working classes. In some districts they certainly suffered from want, but in general, I may say that in no other country or period had the working classes been better off than they then were in France. This was especially true of those that were employed in agriculture. There the labourer did not need work, but work needed labourers. In consequence of the subdivision of landed property, there was a deficiency of hands. The crisis from which the workmen in large manufactories were suffering, lasted a very short time, and though severe, was not unexampled. It was not want, but ideas, that brought about that great revolution; chimerical ideas on the relations between labour and capital, extravagant theories as to the degree in which the Government might interfere between the working-man and the employer, doctrines of ultra-centralization which had at last persuaded large numbers that it depended on the state not only to save them from want, but to place them in easy, comfortable circumstances. You must feel that to these diseased imaginations a poor-law would not be an efficient remedy. I am far, however, from saying that recourse must not be had to it. I even think that the people ought long ago to have obtained one; but this law would not be enough to extricate us from our present difficulties, for, I repeat, we have to contend with ideas rather than with wants.
Three weeks before the revolution, I made a speech which was taken down at the time in short-hand, and reproduced in the Moniteur. I have just had it printed exactly as it stands in the Moniteur. I send you a copy; pray read it; you will see, that though I knew not how or when a revolution would take place, the proximity of such an event was clearly manifest to me. I have often been reminded of this speech, which aroused at the time violent murmurs in the Chamber, from those who are now willing to own that they were wrong, and that I was right. I believe that when I made it, I was on the road to discovering the primary and deeply-seated causes of that revolution. It broke out from accidents strange and violent in themselves, I confess, but still insufficient to produce such an effect. Consider, on the one hand, the causes which I have pointed out, and on the other, our system of centralization, which makes the fate of France depend on a single blow struck in Paris, and you will have the explanation of the Revolution of 1848, such as one day it will appear in history, and as I myself intend to write it if God preserves my life. Will you be so good as to present a copy of my speech to Lord Lansdowne, and remember me particularly to him. I have alluded only to the past in this letter; to treat of the future, more than a letter would be required.
We are in the most extraordinary position that a great nation has ever been thrown into. We are forced to witness great misfortunes; we are surrounded by great dangers. My chief hope is in the lower orders. They are deficient in intelligence, but they have instincts which are worthy of all admiration; I am myself astonished, and a foreigner would be even more surprised, to see how strong a feeling for order and true patriotism prevails; to see their good sense in all things of which they are capable of judging, and in all matters on which they have not been deceived by the ambitious dreamers to whom they were abandoned. Adieu, dear Senior, &c.