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CHAPTER 3: An Hypothesis Weighed and Rejected - James T. Schleifer, The Making of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America 
The Making of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, Foreword by George W. Pierson (2nd edition) (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000).
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An Hypothesis Weighed and Rejected
During the first fifty years of American independence many Europeans admired and envied the prosperity and tranquility of the American republic but differed over the reasons for such success. In 1803 C. F. Volney repeated one of the most common explanations. After apologizing in the preface of his Tableau du climat et du sol des Etats-Unis for the work’s limited scope, he recalled his original intention to present a more general analysis of the American nation, which would have proven “by incontestable facts ... that the United States have owed their public prosperity, their civil and individual ease, much more to their isolated position, to their distance from any powerful neighbor, from any theater of war, finally to the general facility of their circumstances, than to the essential goodness of their laws or to the wisdom of their administration.”1
Much to his own regret, Volney fell far short of the broad study he had once envisioned. His text failed even to address the puzzle of America’s success, much less to provide the “faits incontestables” necessary to prove the author’s contention. But his idea did not languish; apparently it was standard furniture for the European mind, for so many later commentators offered the same opinion to their readers that in 1833, two years before the first part of Tocqueville’s Democracy appeared, the North American Review denounced the prevailing attitude:
When we venture to assign [as one of the causes of our prosperity], the character of our Government, the sages of Europe smile in conscious superiority at our simplicity, and assure us that we have become what we are in spite of our institutions, and not in consequence of them. When we hint at the fixed religious principles, the stern morality, the persevering industry of the pilgrim fathers of New England, who have formed the kernel of the whole population of the Union, we are scornfully told that the mass of the original settlers were, after all, the refuse of the British jails. The only principle of our success, which is readily admitted by our friends abroad as real, (it being one which confers no credit upon us) is the immense extent of our territory.
The Review urged the sages of Europe to reconsider their choice: “If this circumstance alone could make a people prosperous, it is not easy to see why civilization should not be as active on the vast central plateaux of Tartary and Mexico, as it is in the valley of the Mississippi.”2
Tocqueville, like his predecessors, would not escape the hard choices involved in this controversy. Eight days after he and Beaumont arrived in the New World, he wrote to Ernest de Chabrol and requested a lengthy description of his friend’s ideas about America. Hoping to lighten the imposed task, he also suggested several possible topics for reflection, among them: “To what cause do you attribute the prosperity of this nation?”3 The old riddle was clearly on his mind.
In October 1829, Tocqueville had explained to his new friend, Gustave de Beaumont: “There is a science that I have long disdained and that I now recognize not as useful, but as absolutely essential: it is geography. Not the knowledge of the exact meridian of some city, but ... for example, to get very clearly in one’s head the configuration of our globe in so far as it influences the political divisions of peoples and their resources; there is such and such a country which, by its solitary geographic position (position géographique) is called almost inevitably to enter into such and such an aggregation, to exercise such and such an influence, to have such and such a destiny. I admit that this is not the geography which one learns at college, but I imagine that it is the only one which we are capable of understanding and retaining.”4
So it was not only the challenge of a time-honored puzzle, but also his own expectations about the influence of géographie that led Tocqueville to devote much of his attention during his American visit to the ressources and the position géographique of the United States.
Like most travelers, Tocqueville found his first glimpse of land after a long ocean voyage “a delightful spectacle.”5 But on 10 May, a more prolonged view of the American coastline between Newport and New York gave him quite a different impression. From Long Island Sound the country seemed “not very attractive.” “All this coast of America,” he wrote, “is low and not very picturesque,”6 and another letter described the coast as low and sterile.7
So strong was this first reaction to the North American continent that in 1835 the author of the Democracy would observe: “On the eastern slopes of the Alleghenies, between the mountains and the Atlantic, there is a long strip of rock and sand which seems to have been left behind by the retreating ocean.... It was on that inhospitable shore that the first efforts of human industry were concentrated. That tongue of arid land was the cradle of those English colonies which were one day to become the United States of America.”8
Yet the trip from Rhode Island also had a more pleasant result. The steamboat rumbling under his feet, the immense distances, and especially a very peculiar American attitude caught hold of Tocqueville’s imagination. “In this country people have an incredible disdain for distances. Immense rivers ... and the canals that have been created to connect them allow traveling while doing four leagues [ten miles] an hour night and day, all in a superb structure which proceeds all by itself without jostling you in the least.... Thus people do not say that we are a hundred leagues from a country, but 25 hours.”9 Here was a people who thought not in terms of distance, but of time, and who made all possible efforts to whittle time into insignificance.
On 11 May, the travelers took rooms at a boardinghouse on Broadway. New York struck Tocqueville as “odd for a Frenchman and not very agreeable,” but the city’s surroundings elicited cries of admiration. “Imagine shores indented most fortunately, slopes covered with lawns and flowering trees and descending to the sea ... —add to that if you can—a sea covered with sails.”10
Soon more thoughtful consideration—no doubt inspired to some degree by talk with his many new friends in the city11 —replaced these initial emotional reactions to America’s géographie. And on 18 May, Tocqueville recorded some additional observations. In a diary note he first announced his recognition of several basic facts about the American continent: its immensity, its abundance, and the still (relatively) untouched condition of its interior. Here he also hinted about several broader effects of “accidental circumstance”: these republicans were an incredibly busy people who made the most of a physical situation that encouraged the full and free use of human energies.12
Tocqueville soon learned that the available opportunities even remedied some problems which had long tormented Europe. Schooling, for example, ceased to be a threat. “There is less to fear here than anywhere else from the malaise caused to a State by a great number of people whose education lifts them above their standing and whose restlessness could disturb society. Here nature provides resources which are still so far beyond all human efforts to exhaust them, that there is no moral energy and no intellectual activity but finds ready fuel for its flames.”13
Two weeks later he returned to these and other themes in a long letter to his father:
“Up to now I am full of two ideas: the first, that this people is one of the happiest in the world; the second, that it owes its immense prosperity much less to its peculiar virtues, less to a form of government of itself superior to other forms, than to the particular circumstances in which it finds itself, which are peculiar to it and which make its political constitution to be perfectly in accord with its needs and its social condition. [How closely the first part of this statement resembled Volney’s thesis of 1803.]
“... To sum up: the more I see this country the more I admit myself penetrated with this truth: that there is nothing absolute in the theoretical value of political institutions, and that their efficiency depends almost always on the original circumstances and the social condition of the people to whom they are applied. I see institutions succeed here which would infallibly turn France upside down; others which suit us would obviously do harm in America; and yet, either I am much mistaken, or a man is neither other nor better here than with us. Only he is otherwise placed.”14
Who or what might have suggested this relativistic hypothesis to Tocqueville? In one of his drafts for the 1835 Democracy, he would write: “Ideas for the preface. Irresistible movement of Democracy. Great fact of the modern world.... Aim of the work: to give some fair and accurate notions about this fact; beyond that I do not judge this fact. I do not even believe that there is anything in institutions of an absolute good. Montesquieu.”15
So possibly by a combination of observation and remembered reading, the young inquirer had deepened his analysis of the environment’s influence on the character of both the Americans themselves and their institutions. But even more important, he had judged the various reasons for the Union’s success and awarded primary importance to “particular” or “original circumstances,” a loosely defined term that apparently included both America’s physical and historical settings.
Scarcely a week later, Tocqueville composed yet another preliminary synthesis of his early impressions about the effects of America’s circonstances.
Picture ... a society formed of all the nations of the earth ... in a word a society without roots, without memories, without prejudices, without habits, without common ideas, without national character; ... What serves as a tie to those diverse elements? What makes of them a people? L’intérêt. That’s the secret. Individual intérêt which sticks through at each instant, l’intérêt, which, moreover, comes out in the open and calls itself a social theory.16
We are a long way from the ancient republics, it must be admitted, and yet this people is republican and I don’t doubt it will long remain so. And the Republic is for it the best of governments.
I can only explain this phenomenon in thinking that America finds itself, for the present, in a physical situation so happy that the interest of the individual is never opposed to the interest of the whole, which is certainly not the case in Europe.
What is it that in general leads men to trouble the state? On one side, the desire to attain to power; on the other, the difficulty of creating for himself a happy existence by ordinary means.
Here there is no public power and, to tell the truth, there is no need of it. The territorial boundaries are very limited; the states have no enemies, consequently no armies, no tax, no central government; the power of the executive is nothing, it gives neither money nor power. So long as things stay thus, who will torment his life to attain it?17
Now, on examining the other half of the proposition, you reach the same result. For if a career in politics is almost closed, a thousand, ten thousand others are open to human activity. The whole world here seems a malleable substance that man turns and fashions to his pleasure; an immense field whose smallest part only has yet been traversed, is here open to industry.... 18
Thus, in this happy country nothing draws the restless human spirit toward political passions; everything, on the contrary, draws it toward an activity that has nothing dangerous for the state....
This last reason I have just given you, in my estimation fundamental, explains equally the only salient characteristics which distinguish this people here: the industrial turn of mind, and the instability of character. [So the physical environment decisively, if indirectly, shaped the American physiognomy.]
Nothing is easier than to enrich oneself in America. Naturally the human spirit, which needs a dominating passion, ends by turning all its thoughts toward gain. It results from this that at first appearance this people seems to be a company of merchants gathered together for trade; and as one digs further into the national character of Americans, one sees that they have sought the value of all things in this world only in the answer to this one question: how much money will it bring in?19 [Obviously here was one result of the republic’s physical situation which Tocqueville did not find attractive.]
As for the instability of character, that crops up in a thousand places. An American takes up, leaves, goes back to ten occupations in this life; he is constantly changing his domicile and is continually forming new enterprises. Less than any other man in the world does he fear to compromise an acquired fortune, because he knows with what facility he can gain a new one.
Besides, change seems to him the natural state of man; and how would it be otherwise? Everything about him is in constant movement: laws, opinions, public officials, fortunes, the very land here changes in appearance from day to day. In the midst of this universal movement which surrounds him, the American couldn’t keep still.”20
Here, while again pursuing his consideration of the social, political, and psychological implications of the Union’s environment, Tocqueville had also introduced another significant physical feature: America’s isolation from Europe. His travel diaries would record few conversations directly connecting the republic’s distance from Europe and the possible advantages of that separation.21 But such links were apparently obvious, for he clearly understood that the absence of an active, centralized government, a powerful executive,22 a large army or high taxes, the freedom from constant fears of war, and the ability to prosper despite the inefficiency and vacillation of democratic government, were all due in some degree to the lack of close and hostile rivals.23 [Cf. “... there is such and such a country which, by its solitary geographic position is called almost inevitably ... to have such and such a destiny.”]
He also recognized that isolation from Europe and the strong attraction of America’s natural wealth had some serious disadvantages, the foremost of which concerned the republic’s political life. As he had written: “We are told that it is hard to get men to take public offices that would take them out of private business.... The art of government seems to me to be in its infancy here.”24
And in a letter of 10 October 1831, Tocqueville would cite some additional dark areas in the American scene: “In the United States, people have neither wars, nor plagues, nor literature, nor eloquence, nor fine arts, few great crimes, nothing of what rouses Europe’s attention; here people enjoy the most pallid happiness that one can imagine.”25 The ressources and the position géographique of the continent unfortunately turned Americans from higher pursuits of mind and spirit toward the goals of private success and a pleasant but colorless comfort.
“The whole world here seems a malleable substance ... the very land ... changes in appearance from day to day.”26 With these words, Tocqueville returned to a theme which he had first announced on 7 June. The American people were so rapidly reshaping their continent that the transformation itself seemed an essential part of the environment.
“[Here] through a singular inversion of the usual order of things, it’s nature that appears to change, while man stays immobile.” In America, Tocqueville wrote, the same man has witnessed a wilderness penetrated, then tamed, has seen a thick woods turned into a farm, a small village, and finally a great city. Rivers have been harnessed. To the American, even the climate seemed different from what it used to be.
The effects on the American mind and imagination were immense.
There is not a country in the world where man more confidently seizes the future, where he so proudly feels his intelligence makes him master of the universe, that he can fashion it to his liking. It’s an intellectual movement which can only be compared to that which led to the discovery of the new world three centuries ago....
Born often under another sky, placed in the middle of an always moving scene, himself driven by the irresistible torrent which draws all about him, the American has no time to tie himself to anything, he grows accustomed to change, and ends by regarding it as the natural state of man. He feels the need of it, more, he loves it; for the instability, instead of meaning disaster to him, seems to give birth only to miracles all about him. (The idea of perfection, of a continuous and endless amelioration of social conditions, this idea is presented to him unceasingly, in all its aspects.)27
Tocqueville knew that the westward movement constituted a crucial part of the continent’s subjugation, so he began to accumulate information about the settlers who actually tamed the wilderness. New York, his investigation revealed, was the gateway to the interior. “Each year thousands of foreigners who are going to populate the wilderness in the West, arrive through here.”28 Like most visitors, he still assumed that the players in the great drama were Europeans newly arrived in North America.
Before leaving Manhattan, the Frenchman also indicated his awareness of the possibly far-reaching effects of another physical feature: climate. “In general the seasons in America are much more marked than in Europe. At New York, for example, people have a summer like Italy and a winter like Holland.” Lest maman worry about his always delicate health, Alexis hastened to add: “The human body apparently finds these transitions marvelous; at least, doctors attribute the longevity of the inhabitants largely to this cause.”29 More profound reflection about the influence of climate would follow later.
On the last day of June, Tocqueville and Beaumont boarded the steamboat North American, literally raced another ship to Albany, and then proceeded by stagecoach to Auburn and Buffalo. “This voyage which seems immense on the map is made with an unmatched rapidity; it’s the fashionable way to travel in this country.”30
The arrival at Albany came even more quickly than the two friends desired,31 but travel westward by stage—over “roads as detestable as the roads of lower Brittany”32 —jolted them back to reality. Their ride assuaged one early disappointment, however: the two shaken commissioners finally beheld the American forest. Or at least, until reaching Michigan, they thought they had. “I believe,” Tocqueville confessed on 17 July, “that in one of my letters I complained that one hardly ever found any forests in America; here I must make due apology. Not only does one find woods and trees in America; but the entire country is still only one vast forest, in the middle of which people have cut some clearings.”33
Two days later, the companions left Buffalo on the steamboat Ohio bound for Detroit—and beyond. They couldn’t resist the opportunity to see the American wilderness for themselves.
On the frontier, Tocqueville, still persuaded of the importance of “particular circumstances,” expected to see a conclusive demonstration of the environment’s influence on American society. But by the end of his “Fortnight in the Wilderness,”34 he drastically revised his thinking.
The nineteenth of July, at ten in the morning, we go on board the steamboat Ohio, heading for Detroit.... we hugged the southern shores of the lake, often within shouting distance. These shores were perfectly flat.... Immense forests shadowed them and made about the lake a thick and rarely broken belt. From time to time, however, the aspect of the country suddenly changes. On turning a wood one sights the elegant spire of a steeple, some houses shining white and neat, some shops. Two paces further on, the forest, primitive and impenetrable, resumes its sway and once more reflects its foliage in the waters of the lake.35
Those who have travelled through the United States will find in this tableau a striking emblem of American society.... Everywhere extreme civilization and nature abandoned to herself find themselves together and as it were face to face.... As for me, with my traveller’s illusions,... I anticipated something quite different. I had noticed that in Europe the situation more or less remote in which a province or a city lay, its wealth or poverty, its smallness or extent, exercised an immense influence on the ideas, the customs, the entire civilization of its inhabitants, and placed often the difference of several centuries between the diverse parts of the same territory.
I imagined it was thus, and with all the more reason, in the new world, and that a country like America, peopled in an incomplete and partial way, ought to offer all the conditions of culture and present the image of society in all its ages.... 36
Nothing in this tableau is true.... [In America] those who inhabit these isolated places have arrived there since yesterday; they have come with the customs, the ideas, the needs of civilization. They only yield to savagery that which the imperious necessity of things exacts from them; thence the most bizarre contrasts.37
Frontier towns unexpectedly failed to reflect either the primitive conditions of their wilderness surroundings or their distance from eastern centers of civilization. Instead, each town, even each cabin was an “ark of civilization lost in the midst of an ocean of leaves.”38 The institutions, ideas, customs, and efforts of the settlers appeared to overcome the effects of the environment.
Tocqueville had indeed anticipated something different, so having temporarily championed an environmental or frontier theory of America, he herewith abandoned it. After the wilderness experience he would never again claim predominant importance for physiographic causes.
But he remained, nonetheless, sensitive to the profound effects of situation physique on the United States. And the 1835 Democracy, with insights remarkably similar to those of Frederick Jackson Turner and other advocates of the frontier hypothesis, would brilliantly pinpoint some of the specific links between natural circumstances and American society.
“At the end of the last century a few bold adventurers began to penetrate into the Mississippi valley. It was like a new discovery of America;... previously unheard of communities suddenly sprang up in the wilderness.... It is in the West that one can see democracy in its most extreme form. [frontier democracy] ... [In these states the inhabitants] hardly know one another, and each man is ignorant of his nearest neighbor’s history. [frontier individualism and self-reliance] So in that part of the American continent the population escapes the influence not only of great names and great wealth but also of the natural aristocracy of education and probity. [frontier equality] ... There are inhabitants already in the new states of the West, but not as yet a society. [the frontier’s repeated reconstruction of social institutions].”39
A letter written in December 1831 had expressed the last idea more forcefully. The Americans were “A people ... cutting their institutions like their roads in the midst of the forests where they have just settled.”40
The fortnight in the wilderness also drew several familiar themes back into Tocqueville’s writings. “We are assured,” he had declared in May, “that the wildernesses of the Mississippi are being populated still more rapidly. Every one tells us that the most fertile soil in America is to be found there, and that it stretches almost indefinitely.” This glimpse of the possibilities waiting in the great interior valley would eventually become one of Tocqueville’s favorite symbols of America’s future. But for now, after his exciting trek with Beaumont to the farthest fringe of European civilization, he concentrated his attention on the incredible potential wealth of the lands surrounding Lake Huron. “These places which form only an immense wilderness will become one of the richest and most powerful countries in the world. One can assert it without being a prophet. Nature has done everything here. A fertile land, possibilities like no others in the world. Nothing is lacking except civilized man and he is at the door.”41
This spectacle of America’s subjugation of the West struck Tocqueville as at once magnificent and terrible to behold. Yet the American, “a daily witness of all these marvels,... sees nothing astonishing in them.”42 “Add that ... he only esteems the works of man. He will willingly send you to visit a road, a bridge, a fine village; but that one has a high regard for great trees and a beautiful solitude, that’s entirely incomprehensible to him.”43
“It’s this idea of destruction,” Tocqueville reflected, “this conception of near and inevitable change which gives ... so original a character and so touching a beauty to the solitudes of America. One sees them with melancholy pleasure. One hastens in a way to admire them. The idea of this natural and wild grandeur which is to end mingles with the superb images to which the march of civilization gives rise. One feels proud to be a man, and at the same time one experiences I know not what bitter regret at the power God has given us over nature.”44
But who actually undertook this struggle with the wilderness? Something unexpected was troubling the travelers.
“ ‘One last question,’ ” Tocqueville promised his host at Pontiac. “ ‘It is generally believed in Europe that the wilds of America are being peopled with the help of emigration from Europe. How then does it happen that since we have been in the forest we have not met a single European?’
“A smile of condescension and satisfied pride spread over our host’s face as he heard this question. [He had just completed a long description of the capital, skills, and good fortune required to carve a farm out of the wilderness.] ‘It is only Americans,’ he answered emphatically, ‘who could have the courage to submit to such trials and who know how to purchase comfort at such a price. The emigrant from Europe stops at the great cities of the coast or in their neighborhood. There he becomes a craftsman, a farm labourer or a valet. He leads an easier life than in Europe and feels satisfied to leave the same heritage to his children. The American, on the other hand, gets hold of some land and seeks by that means to carve himself a fortune.’ ”45
This news was worthy of repetition. Another long letter to Chabrol, dated 17 August 1831, revealed that during May and June over five thousand new settlers had come to Michigan. “As you can imagine, the size of this number surprised me; even more so because it is the common opinion among us, I believed, that all these new settlers were Europeans. The land agent informed me that out of 5000 persons there were not 200 emigrants from Europe. Yet the proportion is greater than usual.”46 So the Americans were themselves the agents of civilization. One more preconception fell before Tocqueville’s journey experiences.
Later this discovery would be placed in a broader framework of Tocqueville’s own making and would appear in the pages of the Democracy.47
In the same letter of August to Chabrol, Tocqueville also returned briefly to the political implications of the abundance and activity which he had just witnessed: “How can anyone imagine a Revolution in a country where such a career is open to the needs and passions of man ...?”48 Social and political stability—at least on certain levels—was another of nature’s gifts.
So by July 1831, Tocqueville had already discovered many of the nation’s physical characteristics and had begun a perceptive analysis of how those features influenced the Union and its inhabitants. Most important, his experiences in the wilderness had by then persuaded him to abandon his early thesis that géographie in its broader sense was the primary force in the shaping of American society.
[1. ]C. F. Volney, Tableau du climat et du sol des Etats-Unis, 2 vols.; hereafter cited as Volney, Tableau. Tocqueville read Volney’s volumes, but only after returning to France in 1832.
[2. ]North American Review 36 (January 1833): 273.
[3. ]Toc. to Chabrol, New York, 18 May 1831; Toc. letters, Yale BIa2.
[4. ]Toc. to Beaumont, Gray, 25 October 1829, O.C. (Mayer), Jardin, 8:1, pp. 93–94. This letter was written before the idea of going to the United States occurred to the two friends; thus no speculation about America and its position géographique was hidden behind Tocqueville’s words.
[5. ]Toc. to his mother, aboard the Havre, 26 April 1831, from the section dated “9 May”; Toc. letters, Yale, BIa2.
[6. ]Ibid., from the section dated “14 May.”
[7. ]Toc. to E. Stoffels, New York, 28 June 1831; Toc. letters, Yale, BIa2.
[8. ]“Physical Configuration of North America,” Democracy (Mayer), pp. 25–26. Of course, Tocqueville’s readings also strongly reinforced this early impression. See his footnotes and appendices to the first chapter of the Democracy. Also consult his major printed sources on the situation physique (see chapter 6 below).
[9. ]Toc. to his mother, aboard the Havre, 26 April 1831, from the section dated “Sunday 15 [May]”; Toc. letters, Yale, BIa2.
[10. ]Ibid., from the section dated “14 May.”
[11. ]For further information about the stay in New York, consult Pierson, Toc. and Bt., pp. 67–92.
[12. ]Consult Pierson, Toc. and Bt., p. 76.
[13. ]“Public Education,” Sing Sing, 1 June 1831, Alphabetic Notebook 1, Mayer, Journey, p. 196. Here Tocqueville implied that the republic’s situation physique actually stimulated mental efforts. But compare a somewhat contrary comment made to Mr. Livingston on 7 June 1831, ibid., p. 19: “It seems to me that American society suffers from taking too little account of intellectual questions.” Also note a related statement to Tocqueville’s father: “Nature here offers a sustenance so immense to human industry that the class of theoretical speculators is absolutely unknown”; from Pierson, Toc. and Bt., pp. 115–16. The latter idea would briefly appear in the 1835 work, Democracy (Mayer), pp. 301–5, especially p. 301, and would have a more important place in the first part of the 1840 text, ibid., pp. 437–41, 459–65. For elaboration, see chapter 16 below.
[14. ]Quoted from Pierson, Toc. and Bt., pp. 115–16. A copy of the letter, from Toc. to M. le Comte de Tocqueville (father), Sing Sing, 3 June 1831, is included in Toc. letters, Yale, BIa1, Paquet 5, pp. 5–6.
[15. ]Drafts, Yale, CVh, Paquet 3, cahier 3, p. 96. Compare the following comment: “That governments have relative value. When Montesquieu [says that (?)] I admire him. But when he describes the English constitution as the model of perfection, it seems to me that for the first time I see the limits of his genius”; ibid., cahier 4, p. 91.
[16. ]Compare comments under the heading “General questions,” Sing Sing, 29 May 1831, Alphabetic Notebook 1, Mayer, Journey, p. 211.
[17. ]Compare the 1835 Democracy: “The Americans have no neighbors and consequently no great wars, financial crises, invasions, or conquests to fear; they need neither heavy taxes nor a numerous army nor great generals; they have also hardly anything to fear from something else which is a greater scourge for democratic republics than all these others put together, namely, military glory”; Democracy (Mayer), p. 278.
[18. ]Emphasis added. The 1835 Democracy would remark: “The physical state of the country offers such an immense scope to industry that man has only to be left to himself to work marvels”; Democracy (Mayer), p. 177.
[19. ]The 1835 Democracy would note: “The present-day American republics are like companies of merchants formed to exploit the empty lands of the New World, and prosperous commerce is their occupation. The passions that stir the Americans most deeply are commercial”; Democracy (Mayer), p. 285. Also see p. 283.
[20. ]Emphasis added; quoted from Pierson, Toc. and Bt., pp. 129–30. A copy of the letter from Toc. to Chabrol, New York, 9 June 1831, may be found in Toc. letters, Yale, BIa2.
[21. ]As one example, see Tocqueville’s conversation with Mr. Latrobe, Baltimore, 3 November 1831, Non-Alphabetic Notebooks 2 and 3, Mayer, Journey, p. 85.
[22. ]One of the Frenchman’s most penetrating insights was his recognition that the weakness of the American presidency resulted more from circumstances than from law. From this awareness came a remarkable prophecy: “If executive power is weaker in America than in France, the reason for this lies perhaps more in circumstances than in the laws. It is generally in its relations with foreign powers that the executive power of a nation has the chance to display skill and strength. If the Union’s existence were constantly menaced, and if its great interests were continually interwoven with those of other powerful nations, one would see the prestige of the executive growing, because of what was expected from it and of what it did”; Democracy (Mayer), pp. 125–26.
[23. ]For Tocqueville’s own discussions of these matters, see the following pages from Democracy (Mayer): on decentralization and the federal principle, pp. 167–70; on the presidency, pp. 125–26, 131–32; on the armed forces, pp. 219, 278; on America’s unusual privilege to make mistakes, pp. 223–24, 224–25, 232–33. Note also the following striking passages from the 1835 work: pp. 169–70, 232.
[24. ]Quoted from Pierson, Toc. and Bt., p. 76. Compare Edward Livingston’s remarks of 7 June, Mayer, Journey, p. 20.
[25. ]Toc. to Madame la Comtesse de Grancey, New York, 10 October 1831, Toc. letters, Yale, BIa1, Paquet 15, p. 35.
[26. ]Compare these phrases from the letter of 9 June 1831 to Chabrol (quoted above) to the following sentence from the 1840 text: “[In the United States] Immutable Nature herself seems on the move, so greatly is she daily transformed by the works of man”; Democracy (Mayer), p. 614.
[27. ]Quoted from Pierson, Toc. and Bt., p. 119. For further commentary on this and the other long excerpts quoted above, consult Pierson’s book, pp. 120–31. Compare the above fragment to one from the chapter entitled “Why the Americans Are Often So Restless in the Midst of Their Prosperity” (1840 text), Democracy (Mayer), p. 536.
[28. ]Toc. to E. Stoffels, New York, 28 June [July] 1831, Toc. letters, Yale, BIa2. Tocqueville was more specific in a letter to his mother, written aboard the Havre, 26 April 1831, in the section dated “Sunday 15 [May],” Toc. letters, Yale, BIa2: “Each year brings nearly 15 to 20 thousand European Catholics who spread over the western wilderness.”
[29. ]Toc. to his mother, New York, 19 June 1831, Toc. letters, Yale, BIa2.
[31. ]For the story of how Gustave and Alexis missed their chance to see West Point, consult Pierson, Toc. and Bt., pp. 171–73.
[32. ]Toc. to his mother, Auburn, 17 July 1831, Toc. letters, Yale, BIa1, Paquet 15, pp. 14–15.
[34. ]Tocqueville’s own title for his narrative, written in August 1831, of the travelers’ frontier experiences. Two translations have been made, Pierson, Toc. and Bt., pp. 229–89, and Mayer, Journey, pp. 328–76. I have followed Pierson’s version below.
[35. ]There is another striking description in Pocket Notebook Number 2, 21 July, Mayer, Journey, pp. 133–34.
[36. ]George W. Pierson has pointed out that these ideas about “stages of history” were drawn from an old European tradition, one which came into American historiography with the writings of Frederick Jackson Turner, who was in turn influenced by Achille Loria. On the background for these ideas and the connection between Turner and Loria, see the first section of Lee Benson, Turner and Beard: American Historical Writing Reconsidered.
[37. ]Quoted from Pierson, Toc. and Bt., pp. 235–37.
[38. ]Tocqueville’s own phrase. Quoted in Pierson, Toc. and Bt., p. 287. For further discussion of this idea, consult Pierson.
[39. ]Democracy (Mayer), p. 55.
[40. ]Toc. to his mother, Louisville, 6 December 1831, Toc. letters, Yale, BIa1.
[41. ]Remarks about the Mississippi are quoted from Pierson, Toc. and Bt., p. 76; compare a letter from Toc. to Kergolay, 18 May 1831, O.C. (Mayer), Jardin and Lesourd, 13:1, p. 224. Remarks about Lake Huron are from Toc. to M. le Comte de Tocqueville, on Lake Huron, 14 August 1831, Toc. letters, Yale, BIa1, Paquet 15, p. 19.
[42. ]From a “Fortnight in the Wilderness,” quoted in Pierson, Toc. and Bt., p. 232.
[43. ]Quoted in Pierson, Toc. and Bt., p. 239. This recognition of what inspired an American would disappear from Tocqueville’s writings until 1840; compare a passage from a chapter of the second part of the Democracy entitled “On Some Sources of Poetic Inspiration in Democracies,” Democracy (Mayer), p. 485. Also see Beaumont’s comments of 1835, Marie (Chapman), pp. 115–16.
[44. ]From a “Fortnight in the Wilderness,” quoted in Pierson, Toc. and Bt., pp. 278–79.
[45. ]From a “Fortnight in the Wilds,” Mayer, Journey, p. 345. See also pp. 343–45 and comments under “Virgin lands,” 22 and 25 July 1831, Alphabetic Notebook 1, Mayer, Journey, pp. 209–10.
[46. ]Toc. to Chabrol, Buffalo, 17 August 1831, Toc. letters, Yale, BIa2.
[47. ]Democracy (Mayer), p. 281.
[48. ]Toc. to Chabrol, Buffalo, 17 August 1831, Toc. letters, Yale, BIa2.