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To N. W. Senior, Esq. - Alexis de Tocqueville, Correspondence and Conversations of Alexis de Tocqueville with Nassau William Senior from 1834-1859, vol. 1 (1834-1851) 
Correspondence and Conversations of Alexis de Tocqueville with Nassau William Senior from 1834-1859, ed. M.C.M. Simpson, in Two Volumes (London: Henry S. King & Co., 1872). Vol. I.
Part of: Correspondence and Conversations of Alexis de Tocqueville with Nassau William Senior from 1834-1859, 2 vols.
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To N. W. Senior, Esq.
Tocqueville, August 25, 1847.
Many thanks for your route; not that I hope to fall in with you in Italy, but because I hope to be able to meet you in Paris. I shall be delighted to see you again after so long an absence, and to talk over with you all that has been going on, and is going on in the world. You will find France calm and not unprosperous, but anxious. Men’s minds have been subject for some time to a strange uneasiness. In the midst of tranquillity more profound than any that we have enjoyed for a very long time, the idea that our present position is unstable besets them. As for myself, though not without alarm, I am less anxious; I do not exaggerate our danger. I believe that our social edifice will continue to rest on its present basis, because no one, even if he wish to change its foundation, can point out another. But yet the state of public feeling disturbs me.
The middle classes, cajoled and bribed for the last seventeen years by the Government, have gradually assumed towards the rest of the nation the position of a little aristocracy, and without its higher feelings: one feels ashamed of being led by such a vulgar and corrupt aristocracy, and if this feeling should prevail among the lower classes it may produce great calamities.
And yet how can a Government be prevented from using corruption, when the nature of our constituencies makes corruption so convenient, and our centralisation makes it so easy? The fact is that we are trying an experiment of which I cannot foresee the result. We are trying to employ at the same time two instruments which, I believe, have never been combined before: an elected Assembly and a highly centralised Executive. It is the greatest problem of modern times. We have proposed it to the world, but it has not yet been solved.
I am anxious for your inferences from what you have seen in Germany, and are now seeing in Italy. Kind and affectionate regards.
A. de Tocqueville.
Splügen, September 30, 1847.
My dear M. de Tocqueville,—
I have not ventured to write to you while I was on the other side of the Alps, as I know from experience that it is not safe to form plans depending on their being passable—but now, having left the formidable Splügen behind me, I can say that we shall be in Paris on October 12. I have written to engage rooms at the Hôtel Wagram, Rue de Rivoli. We take the route of the Rhine and Brussels, and certainly the first thing I do in Paris will be to go to the Rue de la Madeleine.
I must own that the great difficulty in France appears to me the weakness, almost the want, of the aristocratic element in your Government. We perhaps have too much of it—though it is so rapidly diminishing that perhaps I ought rather to say we had too much.
On the other hand, you seem to me to have too much of the monarchical element. We have succeeded in reducing the Crown to a mere ceremony. Our queen is a phantom, put there not to act, but merely to fill space; to prevent anyone else from being there.
We have spent a month in the north of Italy, in the Austrian dominions. It is a melancholy country. Everywhere there are the traces of a civilisation which exceeded what now exists. I am glad to get out of it, and leave behind me fine bad inns, begging children, and a peasantry in rags, but handsomer than the higher orders.
N. W. Senior.
[We spent a pleasant fortnight in Paris in October, enjoying the society of M. de Tocqueville and of some of our other friends; but at that time Mr. Senior kept no notes of his travels.
In the following February the Revolution took place. Mr. Senior’s account of the events which led to it and of the crisis itself precedes the journals kept in France and Italy. The letter to which the following is an answer is not among those returned to me.—Ed.]
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 were in France. This was especially true of those who were employed in agriculture. There the labourer did not need work, but work needed labourers. In consequence of the sub-division 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 violent subversion; 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-centralisation 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 speech1 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 believed that I pointed out, as much as was possible in half an hour, the primary and deeply seated causes of that revolution. All my recent experience has had the effect of confirming me in the same opinions.
The great and real cause of the Revolution was the detestable spirit which animated the Government during this long reign; a spirit of trickery, of baseness, and of bribery, which has enervated and degraded the middle classes, destroyed their public spirit, and filled them with a selfishness so blind as to induce them to separate their interests entirely from those of the lower classes whence they sprang, which consequently have been abandoned to the counsels of men who, under pretence of serving the lower orders, have filled their heads with false ideas.
This is the root of the matter, all the rest were accidents, strange and violent in themselves, I confess, but still insufficient to produce alone such an effect. Consider, on the one hand, the causes which I have pointed out, and on the other our system of centralisation, 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.
A. de Tocqueville.
Paris, April 17, 1848.
My dear Mr. Senior,—
I received with great pleasure the papers you sent to me. They are very valuable to me, as indeed everything is which comes from you.
I have not yet been able to call upon Mr. Rogers. In these troubled times one cannot command a moment. During the whole of yesterday I had a musket instead of a pen in my hand. However, the day went off capitally, and would have been decisive if the moderate party had a man of action at its head. The violent party tried to get up an insurrection. The news which reached them from the departments announcing the certain triumph of the moderate party in the elections showed the necessity for striking a blow in Paris.
Yesterday, therefore, an experiment was tried for overturning the Provisional Government. 30,000 or 40,000 workmen assembled in the Champs de Mars. The drum was immediately beaten in Paris.
In half an hour more than 100,000 National Guards were under arms. Battalions were formed in an instant and ran to the Hôtel de Ville crying, ‘Long live the Provisional Government!’ ‘Down with the Communists!’ At the end of an hour Paris was in their hands, and the mob, after vainly attempting to enter the Hôtel de Ville, dispersed.
This is the first decisive victory which has been gained by the moderate party for the last two months. God grant that they may understand how to derive from it all the advantages which it may afford!
I am glad to hear that you have resumed your project of visiting us. All who, like you, are interested in witnessing the great dramas presented from time to time by human affairs, should come to Paris. I shall be much obliged if you will bring me some documents which I think will be very useful at this juncture.
1. First, relating to the regulation of the House of Commons, i.e. all the rules followed by the House in conducting its business.
We probably could learn much from it for the regulation of our Assembly.
2. In the second place, I want some papers containing information as to your income tax.
We shall not be able to avoid a similar tax, and we are anxious to know how it is imposed and collected in your country.
To explain: I wish to know how it is imposed, according to what rules, what is the cost of collection, how much it has lately produced, what effects, economical or others, it has caused, and what are the exemptions?
I shall write no more as I am extremely busy I leave Paris to-day for Normandy for the elections. I shall be back in ten days.
A. de Tocqueville.
[A proposal made by M. Wolowski in the Chamber of Deputies to consider the prayer of the Polish delegates asking the assistance of France in restoring the independence of their country, had an effect which had never been anticipated by the distinguished speaker.
It was the pretext for a Red conspiracy. On May 15, a violent attack was made on the Assembly. A body of workmen marched along the Boulevards towards the Place de la Concorde, where they were met by a small detachment of National Guards quite inadequate to resist them. Nor was any opposition offered to their progress by a body of 1,000 Gardes Mobiles posted in front of the Assembly. The rioters rushed into the Chamber, imposed the reading of their petition on the members, and carried everything in their own way till a large detachment of National Guards under the command of General Clément Thomas came to the rescue.
Barbès and the other ringleaders marched to the Hôtel de Ville, where they proclaimed themselves a provisional government. Towards six o’clock Lamartine, accompanied by a strong body of National Guards, penetrated into the Hôtel de Ville, arrested Barbès, Albert, and their colleagues, and consigned them to Vincennes.
These were the events which induced Mr. Senior to write his first journal in May, 1848.—Ed.]
This was the passage in M. de Tocqueville’s speech on January 27, 1848:—‘It is supposed,’ said he, ‘that there is no danger because there is no collision. It is said, that as there is no actual disturbance of the surface of society, revolution is far off.