Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

American Institutions and Their Influence by Alexis de Tocqueville et al

Part 5 out of 11

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 1.3 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

college was deemed, like other colleges of private foundation, to be a
private eleemosynary institution, endowed by its charter with a capacity
to take property unconnected with the government. Its funds were
bestowed upon the faith of the charter, and those funds consisted
entirely of private donations. It is true that the uses were in some
sense public, that is, for the general benefit, and not for the mere
benefit of the corporators; but this did not make the corporation a
public corporation. It was a private institution for general charity. It
was not distinguishable in principle from a private donation, vested in
private trustees, for a public charity, or for a particular purpose of
beneficence. And the state itself, if it had bestowed funds upon a
charity of the same nature, could not resume those funds."

[151] See chapter vi., on judicial power in America.

[152] See Kent's Commentaries, vol. i., p. 387.

[153] At this time Alexander Hamilton, who was one of the principal
founders of the constitution, ventured to express the following
sentiments in the Federalist, No. 71: "There are some who would be
inclined to regard the servile pliancy of the executive to a prevailing
current, either in the community or in the legislature, as its best
recommendation. But such men entertain very crude notions, as well of
the purpose for which government was instituted, as of the true means by
which the public happiness may be promoted. The republican principle
demands that the deliberative sense of the community should govern the
conduct of those to whom they intrust the managements of their affairs;
but it does not require an unqualified complaisance to every sudden
breeze of passion, or to every transient impulse which the people may
receive from the arts of men who flatter their prejudices to betray
their interests. It is a just observation that the people commonly
_intend_ the _public good_. This often applies to their very errors. But
their good sense would despise the adulator who should pretend that they
would always _reason right_, about the _means_ of promoting it. They
know from experience that they sometimes err; and the wonder is that
they so seldom err as they do, beset, as they continually are, by the
wiles of parasites and sycophants; by the snares of the ambitious, the
avaricious, the desperate; by the artifices of men who possess their
confidence more than they deserve it; and of those who seek to possess
rather than to deserve it. When occasions present themselves in which
the interests of the people are at variance with their inclinations, it
is the duty of persons whom they have appointed to be the guardians of
those interests, to withstand the temporary delusion, in order to give
them time and opportunity for more cool and sedate reflection. Instances
might be cited in which a conduct of this kind has saved the people from
very fatal consequences of their own mistakes, and has procured lasting
monuments of their gratitude to the men who had courage and magnanimity
enough to serve at the peril of their displeasure."

[154] This was the case in Greece, when Philip undertook to execute the
decree of the Amphictyons; in the Low Countries, where the province of
Holland always gave the law; and in our time in the Germanic
confederation, in which Austria and Prussia assume a great degree of
influence over the whole country, in the name of the Diet.

[155] Such has always been the situation of the Swiss confederation,
which would have perished ages ago but for the mutual jealousies of its
neighbors.

[156] I do not speak of a confederation of small republics, but of a
great consolidated republic.

[157] See the Mexican constitution of 1824.

[158] For instance, the Union possesses by the constitution the right of
selling unoccupied lands for its own profit. Supposing that the state of
Ohio should claim the same right in behalf of certain territories lying
within its boundaries, upon the plea that the constitution refers to
those lands alone which do not belong to the jurisdiction of any
particular state, and consequently should choose to dispose of them
itself, the litigation would be carried on in the name of the purchasers
from the state of Ohio, and the purchasers from the Union, and not in
the names of Ohio and the Union. But what would become of this legal
fiction if the federal purchaser was confirmed in his right by the
courts of the Union, while the other competitor was ordered to retain
possession by the tribunals of the state of Ohio?

[The difficulty supposed by the author in this note is imaginary. The
question of title to the lands in the case put, must depend upon the
constitution, treaties, and laws of the United States; and a decision in
the state court adverse to the claim or title set up under those laws,
must, by the very words of the constitution and of the judiciary act, be
subject to review by the supreme court of the United States, whose
decision is final.

The remarks in the text of this page upon the relative weakness of the
government of the Union, are equally applicable to any form of
republican or democratic government, and are not peculiar to a federal
system. Under the circumstances supposed by the author, of all the
citizens of a state, or a large majority of them, aggrieved at the same
time and in the same manner, by the operation of any law, the same
difficulty would arise in executing the laws of the state as those of
the Union. Indeed, such instances of the total inefficacy of state laws
are not wanting. The fact is, that all republics depend on the
willingness of the people to execute the laws. If they will not enforce
them, there is, so far, an end to the government, for it possesses no
power adequate to the control of the physical power of the people.

Not only in theory, but in fact, a republican government must be
administered by the people themselves. They, and they alone, must
execute the laws. And hence, the first principles in such governments,
that on which all others depend, and without which no other can exist,
is and must be, obedience to the existing laws at all times and under
all circumstances. It is the vital condition of the social compact. He
who claims a dispensing power for himself, by which he suspends the
operation of the law in his own case, is worse than a usurper, for he
not only tramples under foot the constitution of his country, but
violates the reciprocal pledge which he has given to his
fellow-citizens, and has received from them, that he will abide by the
laws constitutionally enacted; upon the strength of which pledge, his
own personal rights and acquisitions are protected by the rest of the
community.--_American Editor_.]

[159] Kent's Commentaries, vol. i., p. 244. I have selected an example
which relates to a time posterior to the promulgation of the present
constitution. If I had gone back to the days of the confederation, I
might have given still more striking instances. The whole nation was at
that time in a state of enthusiastic excitement; the revolution was
represented by a man who was the idol of the people; but at that very
period congress had, to say the truth, no resources at all at its
disposal. Troops and supplies were perpetually wanting. The best devised
projects failed in the execution, and the Union, which was constantly on
the verge of destruction, was saved by the weakness of its enemies far
more than by its own strength.

[160] Appendix O.

CHAPTER IX.

WHY THE PEOPLE MAY STRICTLY BE SAID TO GOVERN IN THE UNITED STATES.

I have hitherto examined the institutions of the United States; I have
passed their legislation in review, and I have depicted the present
characteristics of political society in that country. But a sovereign
power exists above these institutions and beyond these characteristic
features, which may destroy or modify them at its pleasure; I mean that
of the people. It remains to be shown in what manner this power, which
regulates the laws, acts: its propensities and its passions remain to be
pointed out, as well as the secret springs which retard, accelerate, or
direct its irresistible course; and the effects of its unbounded
authority, with the destiny which is probably reserved for it.

In America the people appoints the legislative and the executive power,
and furnishes the jurors who punish all offences against the laws. The
American institutions are democratic, not only in their principle but in
all their consequences; and the people elects its representatives
_directly_, and for the most part _annually_, in order to ensure their
dependence. The people is therefore the real directing power; and
although the form of government is representative, it is evident that
the opinions, the prejudices, the interests, and even the passions of
the community are hindered by no durable obstacles from exercising a
perpetual influence on society. In the United States the majority
governs in the name of the people, as is the case in all the countries
in which the people is supreme. This majority is principally composed of
peaceable citizens, who, either by inclination or by interest, are
sincerely desirous of the welfare of their country. But they are
surrounded by the incessant agitation of parties, which attempt to gain
their co-operation and to avail themselves of their support.

CHAPTER X.

PARTIES IN THE UNITED STATES.

Great Division to be made between Parties.--Parties which are to each
other as rival Nations.--Parties properly so called.--Difference between
great and small Parties.--Epochs which produce them.--Their
Characteristics.--America has had great Parties.--They are extinct.--
Federalists.--Republicans.--Defeat of the Federalists.--Difficulty of
creating Parties in the United States.--What is done with this
Intention.--Aristocratic and democratic Character to be met with in all
Parties.--Struggle of General Jackson against the Bank.

A great division must be made between parties. Some countries are so
large that the different populations which inhabit them have
contradictory interests, although they are the subjects of the same
government; and they may thence be in a perpetual state of opposition.
In this case the different fractions of the people may more properly be
considered as distinct nations than as mere parties; and if a civil war
breaks out, the struggle is carried off by rival peoples rather than by
factions in the state.

But when the citizens entertain different opinions upon subjects which
affect the whole country alike, such, for instance, as the principles
upon which the government is to be conducted, then distinctions arise
which may correctly be styled parties. Parties are a necessary evil in
free governments; but they have not at all times the same character and
the same propensities.

At certain periods a nation may be oppressed by such insupportable evils
as to conceive the design of effecting a total change in its political
constitution; at other times the mischief lies still deeper, and the
existence of society itself is endangered. Such are the times of great
revolutions and of great parties. But between these epochs of misery and
of confusion there are periods during which human society seems to rest,
and mankind to make a pause. This pause is, indeed, only apparent; for
time does not stop its course for nations any more than for men; they
are all advancing toward a goal with which they are unacquainted; and we
only imagine them to be stationary when their progress escapes our
observation; as men who are going at a foot pace seem to be standing
still to those who run.

But however this may be, there are certain epochs at which the changes
that take place in the social and political constitution of nations are
so slow and so insensible, that men imagine their present condition to
be a final state; and the human mind, believing itself to be firmly
based upon certain foundations, does not extend its researches beyond
the horizon which it descries. These are the times of small parties and
of intrigue.

The political parties which I style great are those which cling to
principles more than to consequences; to general, and not to especial
cases; to ideas, and not to men. These parties are usually distinguished
by a nobler character, by more generous passions, more genuine
convictions, and a more bold and open conduct than the others. In them,
private interest, which always plays the chief part in political
passions, is more studiously veiled under the pretext of the public
good; and it may even be sometimes concealed from the eyes of the very
person whom it excites and impels.

Minor parties are, on the other hand, generally deficient in political
faith. As they are not sustained or dignified by a lofty purpose, they
ostensibly display the egotism of their character in their actions. They
glow with a factitious zeal; their language is vehement, but their
conduct is timid and irresolute. The means they employ are as wretched
as the end at which they aim. Hence it arises that when a calm state of
things succeeds a violent revolution, the leaders of society seem
suddenly to disappear, and the powers of the human mind to lie
concealed. Society is convulsed by great parties, by minor ones it is
agitated; it is torn by the former, by the latter it is degraded; and if
these sometimes save it by a salutary perturbation, those invariably
disturb it to no good end.

America has already lost the great parties which once divided the
nation; and if her happiness is considerably increased, her morality has
suffered by their extinction. When the war of independence was
terminated, and the foundations of the new government were to be laid
down, the nation was divided between two opinions--two opinions which
are as old as the world, and which are perpetually to be met with under
all the forms and all the names which have ever obtained in free
communities--the one tending to limit, the other to extend indefinitely,
the power of the people. The conflict of these two opinions never
assumed that degree of violence in America which it has frequently
displayed elsewhere. Both parties of the Americans were in fact agreed
upon the most essential points; and neither of them had to destroy a
traditionary constitution, or to overthrow the structure of society, in
order to insure its own triumph. In neither of them, consequently, were
a great number of private interests affected by success or by defeat;
but moral principles of a high order, such as the love of equality and
of independence, were concerned in the struggle, and they sufficed to
kindle violent passions.

The party which desired to limit the power of the people, endeavored to
apply its doctrines more especially to the constitution of the Union,
whence it derived its name of _federal_. The other party, which affected
to be more exclusively attached to the cause of liberty, took that of
_republican_. America is the land of democracy, and the federalists were
always in a minority; but they reckoned on their side almost all the
great men who had been called forth by the war of independence, and
their moral influence was very considerable. Their cause was, moreover,
favored by circumstances. The ruin of the confederation had impressed
the people with a dread of anarchy, and the federalists did not fail to
profit by this transient disposition of the multitude. For ten or twelve
years they were at the head of affairs, and they were able to apply
some, though not all, of their principles; for the hostile current was
becoming from day to day too violent to be checked or stemmed. In 1801
the republicans got possession of the government: Thomas Jefferson was
named president; and he increased the influence of their party by the
weight of his celebrity, the greatness of his talents, and the immense
extent of his popularity.

The means by which the federalists had maintained their position were
artificial, and their resources were temporary: it was by the virtues or
the talents of their leaders that they had risen to power. When the
republicans attained to that lofty station, their opponents were
overwhelmed by utter defeat. An immense majority declared itself against
the retiring party, and the federalists found themselves in so small a
minority, that they at once despaired of their future success. From that
moment the republican or democratic party has proceeded from conquest to
conquest, until it has acquired absolute supremacy in the country. The
federalists, perceiving that they were vanquished without resource, and
isolated in the midst of the nation, fell into two divisions, of which
one joined the victorious republicans, and the other abandoned its
rallying point and its name. Many years have already elapsed since they
ceased to exist as a party.

The accession of the federalists to power was, in my opinion, one of the
most fortunate incidents which accompanied the formation of the great
American Union: they resisted the inevitable propensities of their age
and of their country. But whether their theories were good or bad, they
had the defect of being inapplicable, as a system, to the society which
they professed to govern; and that which occurred under the auspices of
Jefferson must therefore have taken place sooner or later. But their
government gave the new republic time to acquire a certain stability,
and afterward to support the rapid growth of the very doctrines which
they had combated. A considerable number of their principles were in
point of fact embodied in the political creed of their opponents; and
the federal constitution, which subsists at the present day, is a
lasting monument of their patriotism and their wisdom.

Great political parties are not, then, to be met with in the United
States at the present time. Parties, indeed, may be found which threaten
the future tranquillity of the Union; but there are none which seem to
contest the present form of government, or the present course of
society. The parties by which the Union is menaced do not rest upon
abstract principles, but upon temporal interests. These interests,
disseminated in the provinces of so vast an empire, may be said to
constitute rival nations rather than parties. Thus, upon a recent
occasion, the north contended for the system of commercial prohibition,
and the south took up arms in favor of free trade, simply because the
north is a manufacturing, and the south an agricultural district; and
that the restrictive system which was profitable to the one, was
prejudicial to the other.

In the absence of great parties, the United States abound with lesser
controversies; and public opinion is divided into a thousand minute
shades of difference upon questions of very little moment. The pains
which are taken to create parties are inconceivable, and at the present
day it is no easy task. In the United States there is no religious
animosity, because all religion is respected, and no sect is
predominant; there is no jealousy of rank, because the people is
everything, and none can contest its authority; lastly, there is no
public misery to serve as a means of agitation, because the physical
position of the country opens so wide a field to industry, that man is
able to accomplish the most surprising undertakings with his own native
resources. Nevertheless, ambitious men are interested in the creation of
parties, since it is difficult to eject a person from authority upon the
mere ground that his place is coveted by others. The skill of the actors
in the political world lies, therefore, in the art of creating parties.
A political aspirant in the United States begins by discriminating his
own interest, and by calculating upon those interests which may be
collected around, and amalgamated with it; he then contrives to discover
some doctrine or some principle which may suit the purposes of this new
association, and which he adopts in order to bring forward his party and
to secure its popularity: just as the _imprimatur_ of a king was in
former days incorporated with the volume which it authorized, but to
which it nowise belonged. When these preliminaries are terminated, the
new party is ushered into the political world.

All the domestic controversies of the Americans at first appear to a
stranger to be so incomprehensible and so puerile, that he is at a loss
whether to pity a people which takes such arrant trifles in good
earnest, or to envy that happiness which enables it to discuss them. But
when he comes to study the secret propensities which govern the factions
of America, he easily perceives that the greater part of them are more
or less connected with one or the other of these two divisions which
have always existed in free communities. The deeper we penetrate into
the workings of these parties, the more do we perceive that the object
of the one is to limit, and that of the other to extend, the popular
authority. I do not assert that the ostensible end, or even that the
secret aim, of American parties is to promote the rule of aristocracy or
democracy in the country, but I affirm that aristocratic or democratic
passions may easily be detected at the bottom of all parties, and that,
although they escape a superficial observation, they are the main point
and the very soul of every faction in the United States.

To quote a recent example: when the president attacked the bank, the
country was excited and parties were formed; the well-informed classes
rallied round the bank, the common people round the president. But it
must not be imagined that the people had formed a rational opinion upon
a question which offers so many difficulties to the most experienced
statesmen. The bank is a great establishment which enjoys an independent
existence, and the people, accustomed to make and unmake whatsoever it
pleases, is startled to meet with this obstacle to its authority. In the
midst of the perpetual fluctuation of society, the community is
irritated by so permanent an institution, and is led to attack it, in
order to see whether it can be shaken and controlled, like all the other
institutions of the country.

* * * * *

REMAINS OF THE ARISTOCRATIC PARTY IN THE UNITED STATES.

Secret Opposition of wealthy Individuals to Democracy.--Their
retirement.--Their tastes for exclusive Pleasures and for Luxury at
Home.--Their Simplicity Abroad.--Their affected Condescension toward the
People.

It sometimes happens in a people among which various opinions prevail,
that the balance of the several parties is lost, and one of them obtains
an irresistible preponderance, overpowers all obstacles, harasses its
opponents, and appropriates all the resources of society to its own
purposes. The vanquished citizens despair of success, and they conceal
their dissatisfaction in silence and in a general apathy. The nation
seems to be governed by a single principle, and the prevailing party
assumes the credit of having restored peace and unanimity to the
country. But this apparent unanimity is merely a cloak to alarming
dissensions and perpetual opposition.

This is precisely what occurred in America; when the democratic party
got the upper hand, it took exclusive possession of the conduct of
affairs, and from that time the laws and customs of society have been
adapted to its caprices. At the present day the more affluent classes of
society are so entirely removed from the direction of political affairs
in the United States, that wealth, far from conferring a right to the
exercise of power, is rather an obstacle than a means of attaining to
it. The wealthy members of the community abandon the lists, through
unwillingness to contend, and frequently to contend in vain, against the
poorest classes of their fellow-citizens. They concentrate all their
enjoyments in the privacy of their homes, where they occupy a rank which
cannot be assumed in public; and they constitute a private society in
the state, which has its own tastes and its own pleasures. They submit
to this state of things as an irremediable evil, but they are careful
not to show that they are galled by its continuance; it is even not
uncommon to hear them laud the delights of a republican government, and
the advantages of democratic institutions when they are in public. Next
to hating their enemies, men are most inclined to flatter them.

Mark, for instance, that opulent citizen, who is as anxious as a Jew of
the middle ages to conceal his wealth. His dress is plain, his demeanor
unassuming; but the interior of his dwelling glitters with luxury, and
none but a few chosen guests whom he haughtily styles his equals, are
allowed to penetrate into this sanctuary. No European noble is more
exclusive in his pleasures, or more jealous of the smallest advantages
which his privileged station confers upon him. But the very same
individual crosses the city to reach a dark counting-house in the centre
of traffic, where every one may accost him who pleases. If he meets his
cobbler upon the way, they stop and converse; the two citizens discuss
the affairs of the state in which they have an equal interest, and they
shake hands before they part.

But beneath this artificial enthusiasm, and these obsequious attentions
to the preponderating power, it is easy to perceive that the wealthy
members of the community entertain a hearty distaste to the democratic
institutions of their country. The populace is at once the object of
their scorn and of their fears. If the mal-administration of the
democracy ever brings about a revolutionary crisis, and if monarchical
institutions ever become practicable in the United States, the truth of
what I advance will become obvious.

The two chief weapons which parties use in order to ensure success, are
the _public press_, and the formation of _associations_.

CHAPTER XI.

LIBERTY OF THE PRESS IN THE UNITED STATES.

Difficulty of restraining the Liberty of the Press.--Particular reasons
which some Nations have to cherish this Liberty.--The Liberty of the
Press a necessary Consequence of the Sovereignty of the people as it is
understood in America.--Violent Language of the periodical Press in the
United States.--Propensities of the periodical Press.--Illustrated by
the United States.--Opinion of the Americans upon the Repression of the
Abuse of the Liberty of the Press by judicial Prosecutions.--Reasons for
which the Press is less powerful in America than in France.

The influence of the liberty of the press does not affect political
opinions alone, but it extends to all the opinions of men, and it
modifies customs as well as laws. In another part of this work I shall
attempt to determine the degree of influence which the liberty of the
press has exercised upon civil society in the United States, and to
point out the direction which it has given to the ideas, as well as the
tone which it has imparted to the character and the feelings of the
Anglo-Americans, but at present I purpose simply to examine the effects
produced by the liberty of the press in the political world.

I confess that I do not entertain that firm and complete attachment to
the liberty of the press, which things that are supremely good in their
very nature are wont to excite in the mind; and I approve of it more
from a recollection of the evils it prevents, than from a consideration
of the advantages it ensures.

If any one can point out an intermediate, and yet a tenable position,
between the complete independence and the entire subjection of the
public expression of opinion, I should perhaps be inclined to adopt it;
but the difficulty is to discover this position. If it is your intention
to correct the abuses of unlicensed printing, and to restore the use of
orderly language, you may in the first instance try the offender by a
jury; but if the jury acquits him, the opinion which was that of a
single individual becomes the opinion of the country at large. Too much
and too little has therefore hitherto been done; if you proceed, you
must bring the delinquent before permanent magistrates; but even here
the cause must be heard before it can be decided; and the very
principles which no book would have ventured to avow are blazoned forth
in the pleadings, and what was obscurely hinted at in a single
composition is then repeated in a multitude of other publications. The
language in which a thought is embodied is the mere carcase of the
thought, and not the idea itself; tribunals may condemn the form, but
the sense and spirit of the work is too subtle for their authority: too
much has still been done to recede, too little to attain your end: you
must therefore proceed. If you establish a censorship of the press, the
tongue of the public speaker will still make itself heard, and you have
only increased the mischief. The powers of thought do not rely, like the
powers of physical strength, upon the number of their mechanical agents,
nor can a host of authors be reckoned like the troops which compose an
army; on the contrary, the authority of a principle is often increased
by the smallness of the number of men by whom it is expressed. The words
of a strong-minded man, which penetrate amid the passions of a listening
assembly, have more weight than the vociferations of a thousand orators;
and if it be allowed to speak freely in any public place, the
consequence is the same as if free speaking was allowed in every
village. The liberty of discourse must therefore be destroyed as well as
the liberty of the press; this is the necessary term of your efforts;
but if your object was to repress the abuses of liberty, they have
brought you to the feet of a despot. You have been led from the extreme
of independence to the extreme of subjection, without meeting with a
single tenable position for shelter or repose.

There are certain nations which have peculiar reasons for cherishing the
press, independently of the general motives which I have just pointed
out. For in certain countries which profess to enjoy the privileges of
freedom, every individual agent of the government may violate the laws
with impunity, since those whom he oppresses cannot prosecute him before
the courts of justice. In this case the liberty of the press is not
merely a guarantee, but it is the only guarantee of their liberty and
their security which the citizens possess. If the rulers of these
nations proposed to abolish the independence of the press, the people
would be justified in saying: "Give us the right of prosecuting your
offences before the ordinary tribunals, and perhaps we may then waive
our right of appeal to the tribunal of public opinion."

But in the countries in which the doctrine of the sovereignty of the
people ostensibly prevails, the censorship of the press is not only
dangerous, but it is absurd. When the right of every citizen to
co-operate in the government of society is acknowledged, every citizen
must be presumed to possess the power of discriminating between the
different opinions of his contemporaries, and of appreciating the
different facts from which inferences may be drawn. The sovereignty of
the people and the liberty of the press may therefore be looked upon as
correlative institutions; just as the censorship of the press and
universal suffrage are two things which are irreconcileably opposed, and
which cannot long be retained among the institutions of the same people.
Not a single individual of the twelve millions who inhabit the territory
of the United States has as yet dared to propose any restrictions to the
liberty of the press. The first newspaper over which I cast my eyes,
after my arrival in America, contained the following article:

"In all this affair, the language of Jackson has been that of a
heartless despot, solely occupied with the preservation of his own
authority. Ambition is his crime, and it will be his punishment too:
intrigue is his native element, and intrigue will confound his tricks,
and will deprive him of his power; he governs by means of corruption,
and his immoral practices will redound to his shame and confusion. His
conduct in the political arena has been that of a shameless and lawless
gamester. He succeeded at the time, but the hour of retribution
approaches, and he will be obliged to disgorge his winnings, to throw
aside his false dice, and to end his days in some retirement where he
may curse his madness at his leisure; for repentance is a virtue with
which his heart is likely to remain for ever unacquainted."

It is not uncommonly imagined in France, that the virulence of the press
originates in the uncertain social condition, in the political
excitement, and the general sense of consequent evil which prevail in
that country; and it is therefore supposed that as soon as society has
resumed a certain degree of composure, the press will abandon its
present vehemence. I am inclined to think that the above causes explain
the reason of the extraordinary ascendency it has acquired over the
nation, but that they do not exercise much influence upon the tone of
its language. The periodical press appears to me to be actuated by
passions and propensities independent of the circumstances in which it
is placed; and the present position of America corroborates this
opinion.

America is, perhaps, at this moment, the country of the whole world
which contains the fewest germs of revolution; but the press is not less
destructive in its principles than in France, and it displays the same
violence without the same reasons for indignation. In America, as in
France, it constitutes a singular power, so strangely composed of
mingled good and evil, that it is at the same time indispensable to the
existence of freedom, and nearly incompatible with the maintenance of
public order. Its power is certainly much greater in France than in the
United States; though nothing is more rare in the latter country than to
hear of a prosecution having been instituted against it. The reason of
this is perfectly simple; the Americans having once admitted the
doctrine of sovereignty of the people, apply it with perfect
consistency. It was never their intention to found a permanent state of
things with elements which undergo daily modifications; and there is
consequently nothing criminal in an attack upon the existing laws,
provided it be not attended with a violent infraction of them. They are
moreover of opinion that courts of justice are unable to check the
abuses of the press; and that as the subtlety of human language
perpetually eludes the severity of judicial analysis, offences of this
nature are apt to escape the hand which attempts to apprehend them. They
hold that to act with efficacy upon the press, it would be necessary to
find a tribunal, not only devoted to the existing order of things, but
capable of surmounting the influence of public opinion; a tribunal which
should conduct its proceedings without publicity, which should pronounce
its decrees without assigning its motives, and punish the intentions
even more than the language of an author. Whosoever should have the
power of creating and maintaining a tribunal of this kind, would waste
his time in prosecuting the liberty of the press; for he would be the
supreme master of the whole community, and he would be as free to rid
himself of the authors as of their writings. In this question,
therefore, there is no medium between servitude and extreme license; in
order to enjoy the inestimable benefits which the liberty of the press
ensures, it is necessary to submit to the inevitable evils which it
engenders. To expect to acquire the former, and to escape the latter, is
to cherish one of those illusions which commonly mislead nations in
their times of sickness, when, tired with faction and exhausted by
effort, they attempt to combine hostile opinions and contrary principles
upon the same soil.

The small influence of the American journals is attributable to several
reasons, among which are the following:--

The liberty of writing, like all other liberty, is most formidable when
it is a novelty; for a people which has never been accustomed to
co-operate in the conduct of state affairs, places implicit confidence
in the first tribune who arouses its attention. The Anglo-Americans have
enjoyed this liberty ever since the foundation of the settlements;
moreover, the press cannot create human passions by its own power,
however skilfully it may kindle them where they exist. In America
politics are discussed with animation and a varied activity, but they
rarely touch those deep passions which are excited whenever the positive
interest of a part of the community is impaired: but in the United
States the interests of the community are in a most prosperous
condition. A single glance upon a French and an American newspaper is
sufficient to show the difference which exists between the two nations
on this head. In France the space allotted to commercial advertisements
is very limited, and the intelligence is not considerable, but the most
essential part of the journal is that which contains the discussion of
the politics of the day. In America three quarters of the enormous sheet
which is set before the reader are filled with advertisements, and the
remainder is frequently occupied by political intelligence or trivial
anecdotes: it is only from time to time that one finds a corner devoted
to passionate discussions like those with which the journalists of
France are wont to indulge their readers.

It has been demonstrated by observation, and discovered by the innate
sagacity of the pettiest as well as the greatest of despots, that the
influence of a power is increased in proportion as its direction is
rendered more central. In France the press combines a twofold
centralisation: almost all its power is centred in the same spot, and
vested in the same hands, for its organs are far from numerous. The
influence of a public press thus constituted, upon a sceptical nation,
must be unbounded. It is an enemy with which a government may sign an
occasional truce, but which it is difficult to resist for any length of
time.

Neither of these kinds of centralisation exists in America. The United
States have no metropolis; the intelligence as well as the power of the
country is dispersed abroad, and instead of radiating from a point, they
cross each other in every direction; the Americans have established no
central control over the expression of opinion, any more than over the
conduct of business. These are circumstances which do not depend on
human foresight; but it is owing to the laws of the Union that there are
no licenses to be granted to the printers, no securities demanded from
editors, as in France, and no stamp duty as in France and England. The
consequence of this is that nothing is easier than to set up a
newspaper, and a small number of readers suffices to defray the expenses
of the editor.

The number of periodical and occasional publications which appear in the
United States actually surpasses belief. The most enlightened Americans
attribute the subordinate influence of the press to this excessive
dissemination; and it is adopted as an axiom of political science in
that country, that the only way to neutralise the effect of public
journals is to multiply them indefinitely. I cannot conceive why a truth
which is so self-evident has not already been more generally admitted in
Europe; it is comprehensible that the persons who hope to bring about
revolutions, by means of the press, should be desirous of confining its
action to a few powerful organs; but it is perfectly incredible that the
partisans of the existing state of things, and the natural supporters of
the laws, should attempt to diminish the influence of the press by
concentrating its authority. The governments of Europe seem to treat the
press with the courtesy of the knights of old; they are anxious to
furnish it with the same central power which they have found to be so
trusty a weapon, in order to enhance the glory of their resistance to
its attacks.

In America there is scarcely a hamlet which has not its own newspaper.
It may readily be imagined that neither discipline nor unity of design
can be communicated to so multifarious a host, and each one is
constantly led to fight under his own standard. All the political
journals of the United States are indeed arrayed on the side of the
administration or against it; but they attack and defend it in a
thousand different ways. They cannot succeed in forming those great
currents of opinion which overwhelm the most solid obstacles. This
division of the influence of the press produces a variety of other
consequences which are scarcely less remarkable. The facility with which
journals can be established induces a multitude of individuals to take a
part in them; but as the extent of competition precludes the possibility
of considerable profit, the most distinguished classes of society are
rarely led to engage in these undertakings. But such is the number of
the public prints, that even if they were a source of wealth, writers of
ability could not be found to direct them all. The journalists of the
United States are usually placed in a very humble position, with a
scanty education, and a vulgar turn of mind. The will of the majority is
the most general of laws, and it establishes certain habits which form
the characteristics of each peculiar class of society; thus it dictates
the etiquette practised at courts and the etiquette of the bar. The
characteristics of the French journalist consist in a violent, but
frequently an eloquent and lofty manner of discussing the politics of
the day; and the exceptions to this habitual practice are only
occasional. The characteristics of the American journalist consist in an
open and coarse appeal to the passions of the populace; and he
habitually abandons the principles of political science to assail the
characters of individuals, to track them into private life, and disclose
all their weaknesses and errors.

Nothing can be more deplorable than this abuse of the powers of thought;
I shall have occasion to point out hereafter the influence of the
newspapers upon the taste and the morality of the American people, but
my present subject exclusively concerns the political world. It cannot
be denied that the effects of this extreme license of the press tend
indirectly to the maintenance of public order. The individuals who are
already in possession of a high station in the esteem of their fellow
citizens, are afraid to write in the newspapers, and they are thus
deprived of the most powerful instrument which they can use to excite
the passions of the multitude to their own advantage.[161]

The personal opinions of the editors have no kind of weight in the eyes
of the public: the only use of a journal is, that it imparts the
knowledge of certain facts, and it is only by altering or distorting
those facts, that a journalist can contribute to the support of his own
views.

But although the press is limited to these resources, its influence in
America is immense. It is the power which impels the circulation of
political life through all the districts of that vast territory. Its eye
is constantly open to detect the secret springs of political designs,
and to summon the leaders of all parties to the bar of public opinion.
It rallies the interests of the community round certain principles, and
it draws up the creed which factions adopt; for it affords a means of
intercourse between parties which hear, and which address each other,
without ever having been in immediate contact. When a great number of
the organs of the press adopt the same line of conduct, their influence
becomes irresistible; and public opinion, when it is perpetually
assailed from the same side, eventually yields to the attack. In the
United States each separate journal exercises but little authority: but
the power of the periodical press is only second to that of the
people.[162]

In the United States the democracy perpetually raises fresh individuals
to the conduct of public affairs; and the measures of the administration
are consequently seldom regulated by the strict rules of consistency or
of order. But the general principles of the government are more stable,
and the opinions most prevalent in society are generally more durable
than in many other countries. When once the Americans have taken up an
idea, whether it be well or ill-founded, nothing is more difficult than
to eradicate it from their minds. The same tenacity of opinion has been
observed in England, where, for the last century, greater freedom of
conscience, and more invincible prejudices have existed, than in all the
other countries of Europe. I attribute this consequence to a cause which
may at first sight appear to have a very opposite tendency, namely, to
the liberty of the press. The nations among which this liberty exists
are as apt to cling to their opinions from pride as from conviction.
They cherish them because they hold them to be just, and because they
exercised their own free will in choosing them; and they maintain them,
not only because they are true, but because they are their own. Several
other reasons conduce to the same end.

It was remarked by a man of genius, that "ignorance lies at the two ends
of knowledge." Perhaps it would have been more correct to say that
absolute convictions are to be met with at the two extremities, and that
doubt lies in the middle; for the human intellect may be considered in
three distinct states, which frequently succeed one another.

A man believes implicitly, because he adopts a proposition without
inquiry. He doubts as soon as he is assailed by the objections which his
inquiries may have aroused. But he frequently succeeds in satisfying
these doubts, and then he begins to believe afresh: he no longer lays
hold on a truth in its most shadowy and uncertain form, but he sees it
clearly before him, and he advances onward by the light it gives
him.[163]

When the liberty of the press acts upon men who are in the first of
these three states, it does not immediately disturb their habit of
believing implicitly without investigation, but it constantly modifies
the objects of their intuitive convictions. The human mind continues to
discern but one point upon the whole intellectual horizon, and that
point is in continual motion. Such are the symptoms of sudden
revolutions, and of the misfortunes that are sure to befall those
generations which abruptly adopt the unconditional freedom of the press.

The circle of novel ideas is, however, soon terminated; the torch of
experience is upon them, and the doubt and mistrust which their
uncertainty produces, become universal. We may rest assured that the
majority of mankind will either believe they know not wherefore, or will
not know what to believe. Few are the beings who can ever hope to attain
that state of rational and independent conviction which true knowledge
can beget, in defiance of the attacks of doubt.

It has been remarked that in times of great religious fervor, men
sometimes change their religious opinions; whereas, in times of general
scepticism, every one clings to his own persuasion. The same thing takes
place in politics under the liberty of the press. In countries where all
the theories of social science have been contested in their turn, the
citizens who have adopted one of them, stick to it, not so much because
they are assured of its excellence, as because they are not convinced of
the superiority of any other. In the present age men are not very ready
to die in defence of their opinions, but they are rarely inclined to
change them; and there are fewer martyrs as well as fewer apostates.

Another still more valid reason may yet be adduced: when no abstract
opinions are looked upon as certain, men cling to the mere propensities
and external interest of their position, which are naturally more
tangible and more permanent than any opinions in the world.

It is not a question of easy solution whether the aristocracy or the
democracy is most fit to govern a country. But it is certain that
democracy annoys one part of the community, and that aristocracy
oppresses another part. When the question is reduced to the simple
expression of the struggle between poverty and wealth, the tendency of
each side of the dispute becomes perfectly evident without farther
controversy.

* * * * *

Notes:

[161] They only write in the papers when they choose to address the
people in their own name; as, for instance, when they are called upon to
repel calumnious imputations, and to correct a mis-statement of facts.

[162] See Appendix P.

[163] It may, however, be doubted whether this rational and self-guiding
conviction arouses as much fervor or enthusiastic devotedness in men as
their first dogmatical belief.

CHAPTER XII.

POLITICAL ASSOCIATIONS IN THE UNITED STATES.

Daily use which the Anglo-Americans make of the Right of Association.--
Three kinds of political Association.--In what Manner the Americans
apply the representative System to Associations.--Dangers resulting to
the State.--Great Convention of 1831 relative to the Tariff. Legislative
character of this Convention.--Why the unlimited Exercise of the Right
of Association is less dangerous in the United States than elsewhere.--
Why it may be looked upon as necessary.--Utility of Associations in a
democratic People.

In no country in the world has the principle of association been more
successfully used, or more unsparingly applied to a multitude of
different objects, than in America. Beside the permanent associations
which are established by law under the names of townships, cities, and
counties, a vast number of others are formed and maintained by the
agency of private individuals.

The citizen of the United States is taught from his earliest infancy to
rely upon his own exertions, in order to resist the evils and the
difficulties of life; he looks upon the social authority with an eye of
mistrust and anxiety, and he only claims its assistance when he is quite
unable to shift without it. This habit may even be traced in the schools
of the rising generation, where the children in their games are wont to
submit to rules which they have themselves established, and to punish
misdemeanors which they have themselves defined. The same spirit
pervades every act of social life. If a stoppage occurs in a
thoroughfare, and the circulation of the public is hindered, the
neighbors immediately constitute a deliberative body; and this
extemporaneous assembly gives rise to an executive power, which remedies
the inconvenience, before anybody has thought of recurring to an
authority superior to that of the persons immediately concerned. If the
public pleasures are concerned, an association is formed to provide for
the splendor and the regularity of the entertainment. Societies are
formed to resist enemies which are exclusively of a moral nature, and to
diminish the vice of intemperance: in the United States associations are
established to promote public order, commerce, industry, morality, and
religion; for there is no end which the human will, seconded by the
collective exertions of individuals, despairs of attaining.

I shall hereafter have occasion to show the effects of association upon
the course of society, and I must confine myself for the present to the
political world. When once the right of association is recognized, the
citizens may employ it in several different ways.

An association consists simply in the public assent which a number of
individuals give to certain doctrines; and in the engagement which they
contract to promote the spread of those doctrines by their exertions.
The right of associating with these views is very analogous to the
liberty of unlicensed writing; but societies thus formed possess more
authority than the press. When an opinion is represented by a society,
it necessarily assumes a more exact and explicit form. It numbers its
partisans, and compromises their welfare in its cause; they, on the
other hand, become acquainted with each other, and their zeal is
increased by their number. An association unites the efforts of minds
which have a tendency to diverge, in one single channel, and urges them
vigorously toward one single end which it points out.

The second degree in the right of association is the power of meeting.
When an association is allowed to establish centres of action at certain
important points in the country, its activity is increased, and its
influence extended. Men have the opportunity of seeing each other; means
of execution are more readily combined; and opinions are maintained with
a degree of warmth and energy which written language cannot approach.

Lastly, in the exercise of the right of political association, there is
a third degree: the partisans of an opinion may unite in electoral
bodies, and choose delegates to represent them in a central assembly.
This is, properly speaking, the application of the representative system
to a party.

Thus, in the first instance, a society is formed between individuals
professing the same opinion, and the tie which keeps it together is of a
purely intellectual nature: in the second case, small assemblies are
formed which only represent a fraction of the party. Lastly, in the
third case, they constitute a separate nation in the midst of the
nation, a government within the government. Their delegates, like the
real delegates of the majority, represent the entire collective force of
their party; and they enjoy a certain degree of that national dignity
and great influence which belong to the chosen representatives of the
people. It is true that they have not the right of making the laws; but
they have the power of attacking those which are in being, and of
drawing up beforehand those which they may afterward cause to be
adopted.

If, in a people which is imperfectly accustomed to the exercise of
freedom, or which is exposed to violent political passions, a
deliberating minority, which confines itself to the contemplation of
future laws, be placed in juxtaposition to the legislative majority, I
cannot but believe that public tranquillity incurs very great risks in
that nation. There is doubtless a very wide difference between proving
that one law is in itself better than another, and proving that the
former ought to be substituted for the latter. But the imagination of
the populace is very apt to overlook this difference, which is so
apparent in the minds of thinking men. It sometimes happens that a
nation is divided into two nearly equal parties, each of which affects
to represent the majority. If, in immediate contiguity to the directing
power, another power be established, which exercises almost as much
moral authority as the former, it is not to be believed that it will
long be content to speak without acting; or that it will always be
restrained by the abstract consideration of the nature of associations,
which are meant to direct, but not to enforce opinions, to suggest but
not to make the laws.

The more we consider the independence of the press in its principal
consequences, the more are we convinced that it is the chief, and, so to
speak, the constitutive element of freedom in the modern world. A nation
which is determined to remain free, is therefore right in demanding the
unrestrained exercise of this independence. But the _unrestrained_
liberty of political association cannot be entirely assimilated to the
liberty of the press. The one is at the same time less necessary and
more dangerous than the other. A nation may confine it within certain
limits without forfeiting any part of its self-control; and it may
sometimes be obliged to do so in order to maintain its own authority.

In America the liberty of association for political purposes is
unbounded. An example will show in the clearest light to what an extent
this privilege is tolerated.

The question of the Tariff, or of free trade, produced a great
manifestation of party feeling in America; the tariff was not only a
subject of debate as a matter of opinion, but it exercised a favorable
or a prejudicial influence upon several very powerful interests of the
states. The north attributed a great portion of its prosperity, and the
south all its sufferings, to this system. Insomuch, that for a long time
the tariff was the sole source of the political animosities which
agitated the Union.

In 1831, when the dispute was raging with the utmost virulence, a
private citizen of Massachusetts proposed to all the enemies of the
tariff, by means of the public prints, to send delegates to Philadelphia
in order to consult together upon the means which were most fitted to
promote the freedom of trade. This proposal circulated in a few days
from Maine to New Orleans by the power of the printing press: the
opponents of the tariff adopted it with enthusiasm; meetings were formed
on all sides, and delegates were named. The majority of these
individuals were well known, and some of them had earned a considerable
degree of celebrity. South Carolina alone, which afterward took up arms
in the same cause, sent sixty-three delegates. On the 1st October, 1831,
this assembly, which, according to the American custom, had taken the
name of a convention, met at Philadelphia; it consisted of more than two
hundred members. Its debates were public, and they at once assumed a
legislative character; the extent of the powers of congress, the
theories of free trade, and the different clauses of the tariff, were
discussed in turn. At the end of ten days' deliberation, the convention
broke up, after having published an address to the American people, in
which it is declared:

I. The congress had not the right of making a tariff, and that the
existing tariff was unconstitutional.

II. That the prohibition of free trade was prejudicial to the interests
of all nations, and to that of the American people in particular.

It must be acknowledged that the unrestrained liberty of political
association has not hitherto produced, in the United States, those fatal
consequences which might perhaps be expected from it elsewhere. The
right of association was imported from England, and it has always
existed in America. So that the exercise of this privilege is now
amalgamated with the manners and customs of the people. At the present
time, the liberty of association is become a necessary guarantee against
the tyranny of the majority. In the United States, as soon as a party
has become preponderant, all the public authority passes under its
control; its private supporters occupy all the places, and have all the
force of the administration at their disposal. As the most distinguished
partisans of the other side of the question are unable to surmount the
obstacles which exclude them from power, they require some means of
establishing themselves upon their own basis, and of opposing the moral
authority of the minority to the physical power which domineers over it.
Thus, a dangerous expedient is used to obviate a still more formidable
danger.

The omnipotence of the majority appears to me to present such extreme
perils to the American republics, that the dangerous measure which is
used to repress it, seems to be more advantageous than prejudicial. And
here I am about to advance a proposition which may remind the reader of
what I said before in speaking of municipal freedom. There are no
countries in which associations are more needed, to prevent the
despotism of faction, or the arbitrary power of a prince, than those
which are democratically constituted. In aristocratic nations, the body
of the nobles and the more opulent part of the community are in
themselves natural associations, which act as checks upon the abuses of
power. In countries in which those associations do not exist, if private
individuals are unable to create an artificial and a temporary
substitute for them, I can imagine no permanent protection against the
most galling tyranny; and a great people may be oppressed by a small
faction, or by a single individual, with impunity.

The meeting of a great political convention (for there are conventions
of all kinds), which may frequently become a necessary measure, is
always a serious occurrence, even in America, and one which is never
looked forward to by the judicious friends of the country, without
alarm. This was very perceptible in the convention of 1831, at which the
exertions of all the most distinguished members of the assembly tended
to moderate its language, and to restrain the subjects which it treated
within certain limits. It is probable, in fact, that the convention of
1831 exercised a very great influence upon the minds of the malcontents,
and prepared them for the open revolt against the commercial laws of the
Union, which took place in 1832.

It cannot be denied that the unrestrained liberty of association for
political purposes, is the privilege which a people is longest in
learning how to exercise. If it does not throw the nation into anarchy,
it perpetually augments the chances of that calamity. On one point,
however, this perilous liberty offers a security against dangers of
another kind; in countries where associations are free, secret societies
are unknown. In America there are numerous factions, but no
conspiracies.

The most natural privilege of man, next to the right of acting for
himself, is that of combining his exertions with those of his
fellow-creatures, and of acting in common with them. I am therefore led
to conclude, that the right of association is almost as inalienable as
the right of personal liberty. No legislator can attack it without
impairing the very foundations of society. Nevertheless, if the liberty
of association is a fruitful source of advantages and prosperity to some
nations, it may be perverted or carried to excess by others, and the
element of life may be changed into an element of destruction. A
comparison of the different methods which associations pursue, in those
countries in which they are managed with discretion, as well as in those
where liberty degenerates into license, may perhaps be thought useful
both to governments and to parties. The greater part of Europeans look
upon an association as a weapon which is to be hastily fashioned, and
immediately tried in the conflict. A society is to be formed for
discussion, but the idea of impending action prevails in the minds of
those who constitute it: it is, in fact, an army; and the time given to
parley, serves to reckon up the strength and to animate the courage of
the host, after which they direct the march against the enemy. Resources
which lie within the bounds of the law may suggest themselves to the
persons who compose it, as means, but never as the only means, of
success.

Such, however, is not the manner in which the right of association is
understood in the United States. In America, the citizens who form the
minority associate, in order, in the first place, to show their
numerical strength, and so to diminish the moral authority of the
majority; and, in the second place, to stimulate competition, and to
discover those arguments which are most fitted to act upon the majority;
for they always entertain hopes of drawing over their opponents to their
own side, and of afterward disposing of the supreme power in their name.
Political associations in the United States are therefore peaceable in
their intentions, and strictly legal in the means which they employ; and
they assert with perfect truth, that they only aim at success by lawful
expedients.

The difference which exists between the Americans and ourselves depends
on several causes. In Europe there are numerous parties so diametrically
opposed to the majority, that they can never hope to acquire its
support, and at the same time they think that they are sufficiently
strong in themselves to struggle and to defend their cause. When a party
of this kind forms an association, its object is, not to conquer, but to
fight. In America, the individuals who hold opinions very much opposed
to those of the majority, are no sort of impediment to its power; and
all other parties hope to win it over to their own principles in the
end. The exercise of the right of association becomes dangerous in
proportion to the impossibility which excludes great parties from
acquiring the majority. In a country like the United States, in which
the differences of opinion are mere differences of hue, the right of
association may remain unrestrained without evil consequences. The
inexperience of many of the European nations in the enjoyment of
liberty, leads them only to look upon the liberty of association as a
right of attacking the government. The first notion which presents
itself to a party, as well as to an individual, when it has acquired a
consciousness of its own strength, is that of violence: the notion of
persuasion arises at a later period, and is only derived from
experience. The English, who are divided into parties which differ most
essentially from each other, rarely abuse the right of association,
because they have long been accustomed to exercise it. In France, the
passion for war is so intense that there is no undertaking so mad, or so
injurious to the welfare of the state, that a man does not consider
himself honored in defending it, at the risk of his life.

But perhaps the most powerful of the causes which tend to mitigate the
excesses of political association in the United States is universal
suffrage. In countries in which universal suffrage exists, the majority
is never doubtful, because neither party can pretend to represent that
portion of the community which has not voted. The associations which are
formed are aware, as well as the nation at large, that they do not
represent the majority; this is, indeed, a condition inseparable from
their existence; for if they did represent the preponderating power,
they would change the law instead of soliciting its reform. The
consequence of this is, that the moral influence of the government which
they attack is very much increased, and their own power is very much
enfeebled.

In Europe there are few associations which do not affect to represent
the majority, or which do not believe that they represent it. This
conviction or this pretension tends to augment their force amazingly,
and contributes no less to legalize their measures. Violence may seem to
be excusable in defence of the cause of oppressed right. Thus it is, in
the vast labyrinth of human laws, that extreme liberty sometimes
corrects abuses of license, and that extreme democracy obviates the
dangers of democratic government. In Europe, associations consider
themselves, in some degree, as the legislative and executive councils of
the people, which is unable to speak for itself. In America, where they
only represent a minority of the nation, they argue and they petition.

The means which the associations of Europe employ, are in accordance
with the end which they propose to obtain. As the principal aim of these
bodies is to act, and not to debate, to fight rather than to persuade,
they are naturally led to adopt a form of organization which differs
from the ordinary customs of civil bodies, and which assumes the habits
and the maxims of military life. They centralize the direction of their
resources as much as possible, and they intrust the power of the whole
party to a very small number of leaders.

The members of these associations reply to a watchword, like soldiers on
duty: they profess the doctrine of passive obedience; say rather, that
in uniting together they at once abjure the exercise of their own
judgment and free will; and the tyrannical control, which these
societies exercise, is often far more insupportable than the authority
possessed over society by the government which they attack. Their moral
force is much diminished by these excesses, and they lose the powerful
interest which is always excited by a struggle between oppressors and
the oppressed. The man who in given cases consents to obey his fellows
with servility, and who submits his activity, and even his opinions, to
their control, can have no claim to rank as a free citizen.

The Americans have also established certain forms of government which
are applied to their associations, but these are invariably borrowed
from the forms of the civil administration. The independence of each
individual is formally recognized; the tendency of the members of the
association points, as it does in the body of the community, toward the
same end, but they are not obliged to follow the same track. No one
abjures the exercise of his reason and his free will; but every one
exerts that reason and that will for the benefit of a common
undertaking.

CHAPTER XIII.

GOVERNMENT OF THE DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA.

I am well aware of the difficulties which attend this part of my
subject, but although every expression which I am about to make use of
may clash, upon some one point, with the feelings of the different
parties which divide my country, I shall speak my opinion with the most
perfect openness.

In Europe we are at a loss how to judge the true character and the more
permanent propensities of democracy, because in Europe two conflicting
principles exist, and we do not know what to attribute to the principles
themselves, and what to refer to the passions which they bring into
collision. Such, however, is not the case in America; there the people
reigns without any obstacle, and it has no perils to dread, and no
injuries to avenge. In America, democracy is swayed by its own free
propensities; its course is natural, and its activity is unrestrained:
the United States consequently afford the most favorable opportunity of
studying its real character. And to no people can this inquiry be more
vitally interesting than to the French nation, which is blindly driven
onward by a daily and irresistible impulse, toward a state of things
which may prove either despotic or republican, but which will assuredly
be democratic.

* * * * *

UNIVERSAL SUFFRAGE.

I have already observed that universal suffrage has been adopted in all
the states of the Union: it consequently occurs among different
populations which occupy very different positions in the scale of
society. I have had opportunities of observing its effects in different
localities, and among races of men who are nearly strangers to each
other by their language, their religion, and their manner of life; in
Louisiana as well as in New England, in Georgia and in Canada. I have
remarked that universal suffrage is far from producing in America either
all the good or all the evil consequences which are assigned to it in
Europe, and that its effects differ very widely from those which are
usually attributed to it.

* * * * *

CHOICE OF THE PEOPLE, AND INSTINCTIVE PREFERENCES OF THE AMERICAN
DEMOCRACY.

In the United States the most talented Individuals are rarely placed at
the Head of Affairs.--Reasons of this Peculiarity.--The Envy which
prevails in the lower Orders of France against the higher Classes, is
not a French, but a purely democratic Sentiment.--For what Reason the
most distinguished Men in America frequently seclude themselves from
public affairs.

Many people in Europe are apt to believe without saying it, or to say
without believing it, that one of the great advantages of universal
suffrage is, that it intrusts the direction of public affairs to men who
are worthy of the public confidence. They admit that the people is
unable to govern for itself, but they aver that it is always sincerely
disposed to promote the welfare of the state, and that it instinctively
designates those persons who are animated by the same good wishes, and
who are the most fit to wield the supreme authority. I confess that the
observations I made in America by no means coincide with these opinions.
On my arrival in the United States I was surprised to find so much
distinguished talent among the subjects, and so little among the heads
of the government. It is a well-authenticated fact, that at the present
day the most talented men in the United States are very rarely placed at
the head of affairs; and it must be acknowledged that such has been the
result, in proportion as democracy has outstepped all its former limits.
The race of American statesmen has evidently dwindled most remarkably in
the course of the last fifty years.

Several causes may be assigned to this phenomenon. It is impossible,
notwithstanding the most strenuous exertions, to raise the intelligence
of the people above a certain level. Whatever may be the facilities of
acquiring information, whatever may be the profusion of easy methods and
of cheap science, the human mind can never be instructed and educated
without devoting a considerable space of time to those objects.

The greater or the lesser possibility of subsisting without labor is
therefore the necessary boundary of intellectual improvement. This
boundary is more remote in some countries, and more restricted in
others; but it must exist somewhere as long as the people is constrained
to work in order to procure the means of physical subsistence, that is
to say, as long as it retains its popular character. It is therefore
quite as difficult to imagine a state in which all the citizens should
be very well-informed, as a state in which they should all be wealthy;
these two difficulties may be looked upon as correlative. It may very
readily be admitted that the mass of the citizens are sincerely disposed
to promote the welfare of their country; nay more, it may even be
allowed that the lower classes are less apt to be swayed by
considerations of personal interest than the higher orders; but it is
always more or less impossible for them to discern the best means of
attaining the end, which they desire with sincerity. Long and patient
observation, joined to a multitude of different notions, is required to
form a just estimate of the character of a single individual; and can it
be supposed that the vulgar have the power of succeeding in an inquiry
which misleads the penetration of genius itself? The people has neither
the time nor the means which are essential to the prosecution of an
investigation of this kind; its conclusions are hastily formed from a
superficial inspection of the more prominent features of a question.
Hence it often assents to the clamor of a mountebank, who knows the
secret of stimulating its tastes; while its truest friends frequently
fail in their exertions.

Moreover, the democracy is not only deficient in that soundness of
judgment which is necessary to select men really deserving of its
confidence, but it has neither the desire nor the inclination to find
them out. It cannot be denied that democratic institutions have a very
strong tendency to promote the feeling of envy in the human heart; not
so much because they afford to every one the means of rising to the
level of any of his fellow-citizens, as because those means perpetually
disappoint the persons who employ them. Democratic institutions awaken
and foster a passion for equality which they can never entirely satisfy.
This complete equality eludes the grasp of the people at the very moment
when it thinks to hold it fast, and "flies," as Pascal says, "with
eternal flight;" the people is excited in the pursuit of an advantage,
which is the more precious because it is not sufficiently remote to be
unknown, or sufficiently near to be enjoyed. The lower orders are
agitated by the chance of success, they are irritated by its
uncertainty; and they pass from the enthusiasm of pursuit to the
exhaustion of ill-success, and lastly to the acrimony of disappointment.
Whatever transcends their own limits appears to be an obstacle to their
desires, and there is no kind of superiority, however legitimate it may
be, which is not irksome in their sight.

It has been supposed that the secret instinct, which leads the lower
orders to remove their superiors as much as possible from the direction
of public affairs, is peculiar to France. This, however, is an error;
the propensity to which I allude is not inherent in any particular
nation, but in democratic institutions in general; and although it may
have been heightened by peculiar political circumstances, it owes its
origin to a higher cause.

In the United States, the people is not disposed to hate the superior
class of society; but it is not very favorably inclined toward them, and
it carefully excludes them from the exercise of authority. It does not
entertain any dread of distinguished talents, but it is rarely
captivated by them; and it awards its approbation very sparingly to such
as have risen without the popular support.

While the natural propensities of democracy induce the people to reject
the most distinguished citizens as its rulers, these individuals are no
less apt to retire from a political career, in which it is almost
impossible to retain their independence, or to advance without degrading
themselves. This opinion has been very candidly set forth by Chancellor
Kent, who says, in speaking with great eulogium of that part of the
constitution which empowers the executive to nominate the judges: "It is
indeed probable that the men who are best fitted to discharge the duties
of this high office would have too much reserve in their manners, and
too much austerity in their principles, for them to be returned by the
majority at an election where universal suffrage is adopted." Such were
the opinions which were printed without contradiction in America in the
year 1830.

I hold it to be sufficiently demonstrated, that universal suffrage is by
no means a guarantee of the wisdom of the popular choice; and that
whatever its advantages may be, this is not one of them.

* * * * *

CAUSES WHICH MAY PARTLY CORRECT THESE TENDENCIES OF THE DEMOCRACY.

Contrary Effects produced on Peoples as well as on individuals by great
Dangers.--Why so many distinguished Men stood at the Head of Affairs in
America fifty Years ago.--Influence which the intelligence and the
Manners of the People exercise upon its choice.--Example of New
England.--States of the Southwest--Influence of certain Laws upon the
Choice of the People.--Election by an elected Body.--Its Effects upon
the Composition of the Senate.

When a state is threatened by serious dangers, the people frequently
succeed in selecting the citizens who are the most able to save it. It
has been observed that man rarely retains his customary level in
presence of very critical circumstances; he rises above, or he sinks
below, his usual condition, and the same thing occurs in nations at
large. Extreme perils sometimes quench the energy of a people instead of
stimulating it; they excite without directing its passions; and instead
of clearing, they confuse its powers of perception. The Jews deluged the
smoking ruins of their temples with the carnage of the remnant of their
host. But it is more common, both in the case of nations and in that of
individuals, to find extraordinary virtues arising from the very
imminence of the danger. Great characters are then thrown into relief,
as the edifices which are concealed by the gloom of night, are
illuminated by the glare of a conflagration. At those dangerous times
genius no longer abstains from presenting itself in the arena; and the
people, alarmed by the perils of its situation, buries its envious
passions in a short oblivion. Great names may then be drawn from the urn
of an election.

I have already observed that the American statesmen of the present day
are very inferior to those who stood at the head of affairs fifty years
ago. This is as much a consequence of the circumstances, as of the laws
of the country. When America was struggling in the high cause of
independence to throw off the yoke of another country, and when it was
about to usher a new nation into the world, the spirits of its
inhabitants were roused to the height which their great efforts
required. In this general excitement, the most distinguished men were
ready to forestall the wants of the community, and the people clung to
them for support, and placed them at its head. But events of this
magnitude are rare; and it is from an inspection of the ordinary course
of affairs that our judgment must be formed.

If passing occurrences sometimes act as checks upon the passions of
democracy, the intelligence and the manners of the community exercise an
influence which is not less powerful, and far more permanent. This is
extremely perceptible in the United States.

In New England the education and the liberties of the communities were
engendered by the moral and religious principles of their founders.
Where society has acquired a sufficient degree of stability to enable it
to hold certain maxims and to retain fixed habits, the lower orders are
accustomed to respect intellectual superiority, and to submit to it
without complaint, although they set at naught all those privileges
which wealth and birth have introduced among mankind. The democracy in
New England consequently makes a more judicious choice than it does
elsewhere.

But as we descend toward the south, to those states in which the
constitution of society is more modern and less strong, where
instruction is less general, and where the principles of morality, of
religion, and of liberty, are less happily combined, we perceive that
the talents and the virtues of those who are in authority become more
and more rare.

Lastly, when we arrive at the new southwestern states, in which the
constitution of society dates but from yesterday, and presents an
agglomeration of adventurers and speculators, we are amazed at the
persons who are invested with public authority, and we are led to ask by
what force, independent of the legislation and of the men who direct it,
the state can be protected, and society be made to flourish.

There are certain laws of a democratic nature which contribute,
nevertheless, to correct, in some measure, the dangerous tendencies of
democracy. On entering the house of representatives at Washington, one
is struck by the vulgar demeanor of that great assembly. The eye
frequently does not discover a man of celebrity within its walls. Its
members are almost all obscure individuals, whose names present no
associations to the mind: they are mostly village-lawyers, men in trade,
or even persons belonging to the lower classes of society. In a country
in which education is very general, it is said that the representatives
of the people do not always know how to write correctly.

At a few yards distance from this spot is the door of the senate, which
contains within a small space a large proportion of the celebrated men
of America. Scarcely an individual is to be perceived in it who does not
recall the idea of an active and illustrious career: the senate is
composed of eloquent advocates, distinguished generals, wise
magistrates, and statesmen of note, whose language would at all times do
honor to the most remarkable parliamentary debates of Europe.

What then is the cause of this strange contrast, and why are the most
able citizens to be found in one assembly rather than in the other? Why
is the former body remarkable for its vulgarity and its poverty of
talent, while the latter seems to enjoy a monopoly of intelligence and
of sound judgment? Both of these assemblies emanate from the people;
both of them are chosen by universal suffrage; and no voice has hitherto
been heard to assert, in America, that the senate is hostile to the
interests of the people. From what cause, then, does so startling a
difference arise? The only reason which appears to me adequately to
account for it is, that the house of representatives is elected by the
populace directly, and that of the senate is elected by elected bodies.
The whole body of the citizens names the legislature of each state, and
the federal constitution converts these legislatures into so many
electoral bodies, which return the members of the senate. The senators
are elected by an indirect application of universal suffrage; for the
legislatures which name them are not aristocratic or privileged bodies
which exercise the electoral franchise in their own right; but they are
chosen by the totality of the citizens; they are generally elected every
year, and new members may constantly be chosen, who will employ their
electoral rights in conformity with the wishes of the public. But this
transmission of the popular authority through an assembly of chosen men,
operates an important change in it, by refining its discretion and
improving the forms which it adopts. Men who are chosen in this manner,
accurately represent the majority of the nation which governs them; but
they represent the elevated thoughts which are current in the community,
the generous propensities which prompt its nobler actions, rather than
the petty passions which disturb, or the vices which disgrace it.

The time may be already anticipated at which the American republics will
be obliged to introduce the plan of election by an elected body more
frequently into their system of representation, or they will incur no
small risk of perishing miserably among the shoals of democracy.

And here I have no scruple in confessing that I look upon this peculiar
system of election as the only means of bringing the exercise of
political power to the level of all classes of the people. Those
thinkers who regard this institution as the exclusive weapon of a party,
and those who fear, on the other hand, to make use of it, seem to me to
fall into as great an error in the one case as in the other.

* * * * *

INFLUENCE WHICH THE AMERICAN DEMOCRACY HAS EXERCISED ON THE LAWS
RELATING TO ELECTIONS.

When Elections are rare, they expose the State to a violent Crisis.--
When they are frequent, they keep up a degree of feverish Excitement.--
The Americans have preferred the second of these two Evils.--Mutability
of the Laws.--Opinions of Hamilton and Jefferson on this Subject.

When elections recur at long intervals, the state is exposed to violent
agitation every time they take place. Parties exert themselves to the
utmost in order to gain a prize which is so rarely within their reach;
and as the evil is almost irremediable for the candidates who fail, the
consequence of their disappointed ambition may prove most disastrous:
if, on the other hand, the legal struggle can be repeated within a short
space of time, the defeated parties take patience.

When elections occur frequently, this recurrence keeps society in a
perpetual state of feverish excitement, and imparts a continual
instability to public affairs.

Thus, on the one hand, the state is exposed to the perils of a
revolution, on the other, to perpetual mutability; the former system
threatens the very existence of the government, the latter is an
obstacle to all steady and consistent policy. The Americans have
preferred the second of these evils to the first; but they were led to
this conclusion by their instinct much more than by their reason; for a
taste for variety is one of the characteristic passions of democracy. An
extraordinary mutability has, by this means, been introduced into their
legislation.

Many of the Americans consider the instability of their laws as a
necessary consequence of a system whose general results are beneficial.
But no one in the United States affects to deny the fact of this
instability, or to contend that it is not a great evil.

Hamilton, after having demonstrated the utility of a power which might
prevent, or which might at least impede, the promulgation of bad laws,
adds: "It may perhaps be said that the power of preventing bad laws
includes that of preventing good ones, and may be used to the one
purpose as well as to the other. But this objection will have but little
weight with those who can properly estimate the mischiefs of that
inconstancy and mutability in the laws which form the greatest blemish
in the character and genius of our government."--(Federalist, No. 73.)

And again, in No. 62 of the same work, he observes: "The facility and
excess of law-making seem to be the diseases to which our governments
are most liable.... The mischievous effects of the mutability in the
public councils arising from a rapid succession of new members, would
fill a volume; every new election in the states is found to change one
half of the representatives. From this change of men must proceed a
change of opinions and of measures which forfeits the respect and
confidence of nations, poisons the blessings of liberty itself, and
diminishes the attachment and reverence of the people toward a political
system which betrays so many marks of infirmity."

Jefferson himself, the greatest democrat whom the democracy of America
has as yet produced, pointed out the same evils.

"The instability of our laws," he said in a letter to Madison, "is
really a very serious inconvenience. I think we ought to have obviated
it by deciding that a whole year should always be allowed to elapse
between the bringing in of a bill and the final passing of it. It should
afterward be discussed and put to the vote without the possibility of
making any alteration in it; and if the circumstances of the case
required a more speedy decision, the question should not be decided by a
simple majority, but by a majority of at least two thirds of both
houses."

* * * * *

PUBLIC OFFICERS UNDER THE CONTROL OF THE DEMOCRACY OF AMERICA.

Simple Exterior of the American public Officers.--No official
Costume.--All public Officers are remunerated.--Political Consequences
of this System.--No public Career exists in America.--Result of this.

Public officers in the United States are commingled with the crowd of
citizens; they have neither palaces, nor guards, nor ceremonial
costumes. This simple exterior of the persons in authority is connected,
not only with the peculiarities of the American character, but with the
fundamental principles of that society. In the estimation of the
democracy, a government is not a benefit, but a necessary evil. A
certain degree of power must be granted to public officers, for they
would be of no use without it. But the ostensible semblance of authority
is by no means indispensable to the conduct of affairs; and it is
needlessly offensive to the susceptibility of the public. The public
officers themselves are well aware that they only enjoy the superiority
over their fellow citizens, which they derive from their authority, upon
condition of putting themselves on a level with the whole community by
their manners. A public officer in the United States is uniformly civil,
accessible to all the world, attentive to all requests, and obliging in
all his replies. I was pleased by these characteristics of a democratic
government; and I was struck by the manly independence of the citizens,
who respect the office more than the officer, and who are less attached
to the emblems of authority than to the man who bears them.

I am inclined to believe that the influence which costumes really
exercise, in an age like that in which we live, has been a good deal
exaggerated. I never perceived that a public officer in America was the
less respected while he was in the discharge of his duties because his
own merit was set off by no adventitious signs. On the other hand, it is
very doubtful whether a peculiar dress contributes to the respect which
public characters ought to have for their own position, at least when
they are not otherwise inclined to respect it. When a magistrate (and in
France such instances are not rare), indulges his trivial wit at the
expense of a prisoner, or derides a predicament in which a culprit is
placed, it would be well to deprive him of his robes of office, to see
whether he would recall some portion of the natural dignity of mankind
when he is reduced to the apparel of a private citizen.

A democracy may, however, allow a certain show of magisterial pomp, and
clothe its officers in silks and gold, without seriously compromising
its principles. Privileges of this kind are transitory; they belong to
the place, and are distinct from the individual: but if public officers
are not uniformly remunerated by the state, the public charges must be
intrusted to men of opulence and independence, who constitute the basis
of an aristocracy; and if the people still retains its right of
election, that election can only be made from a certain class of
citizens.

When a democratic republic renders offices which had formerly been
remunerated, gratuitous, it may safely be believed that that state is
advancing to monarchical institutions; and when a monarchy begins to
remunerate such officers as had hitherto been unpaid, it is a sure sign
that it is approaching toward a despotic or a republican form of
government. The substitution of paid for unpaid functionaries is of
itself, in my opinion, sufficient to constitute a serious revolution.

I look upon the entire absence of gratuitous functionaries in America as
one of the most prominent signs of the absolute dominion which democracy
exercises in that country. All public services, of whatsoever nature
they may be, are paid; so that every one has not merely a right, but
also the means of performing them. Although, in democratic states, all
the citizens are qualified to occupy stations in the government, all are
not tempted to try for them. The number and the capacities of the
candidates are more apt to restrict the choice of electors than the
conditions of the candidateship.

In nations in which the principle of election extends to every place in
the state, no political career can, properly speaking, be said to exist.
Men are promoted as if by chance to the rank which they enjoy, and they
are by no means sure of retaining it. The consequence is that in
tranquil times public functions offer but few lures to ambition. In the
United States the persons who engage in the perplexities of political
life are individuals of very moderate pretensions. The pursuit of wealth
generally diverts men of great talents and of great passions from the
pursuit of power; and it very frequently happens that a man does not
undertake to direct the fortune of the state until he has discovered his
incompetence to conduct his own affairs. The vast number of very
ordinary men who occupy public stations is quite as attributable to
these causes as to the bad choice of the democracy. In the United
States, I am not sure that the people would return the men of superior
abilities who might solicit its support, but it is certain that men of
this description do not come forward.

* * * * *

ARBITRARY POWER OF MAGISTRATES[164] UNDER THE RULE OF AMERICAN
DEMOCRACY.

For what Reason the arbitrary Power of Magistrates is greater in
absolute Monarchies and in democratic Republics that it is in limited
Monarchies.--Arbitrary Power of the Magistrates in New England.

In two different kinds of government the magistrates exercise a
considerable degree of arbitrary power; namely, under the absolute
government of a single individual, and under that of a democracy.

This identical result proceeds from causes which are nearly analogous.

In despotic states the fortune of no citizen is secure; and public
officers are not more safe than private individuals. The sovereign, who
has under his control the lives, the property, and sometimes the honor
of the men whom he employs, does not scruple to allow them a great
latitude of action, because he is convinced that they will not use it to
his prejudice. In despotic states the sovereign is so attached to the
exercise of his power, that he dislikes the constraint even of his own
regulations; and he is well pleased that his agents should follow a
somewhat fortuitous line of conduct, provided he be certain that their
actions will never counteract his desires.

In democracies, as the majority has every year the right of depriving
the officers whom it has appointed of their power, it has no reason to
fear abuse of their authority. As the people is always able to signify
its wishes to those who conduct the government, it prefers leaving them
to make their own exertions, to prescribing an invariable rule of
conduct which would at once fetter their activity and the popular
authority.

It may even be observed, on attentive consideration, that under the rule
of a democracy the arbitrary power of the magistrate must be still
greater than in despotic states. In the latter, the sovereign has the
power of punishing all the faults with which he becomes acquainted, but
it would be vain for him to hope to become acquainted with all those
which are committed. In the former the sovereign power is not only
supreme, but it is universally present. The American functionaries are,
in point of fact, much more independent in the sphere of action which
the law traces out for them, than any public officer in Europe. Very
frequently the object which they are to accomplish is simply pointed out
to them, and the choice of the means is left to their own discretion.

In New England, for instance, the selectmen of each township are bound
to draw up the list of persons who are to serve on the jury; the only
rule which is laid down to guide them in their choice is that they are
to select citizens possessing the elective franchise and enjoying a fair
reputation.[165] In France the lives and liberties of the subjects would
be thought to be in danger, if a public officer of any kind was
intrusted with so formidable a right. In New England, the same
magistrates are empowered to post the names of habitual drunkards in
public houses, and to prohibit the inhabitants of a town from supplying
them with liquor.[166] A censorial power of this excessive kind would be
revolting to the population of the most absolute monarchies; here,
however, it is submitted to without difficulty.

Nowhere has so much been left by the law to the arbitrary determination
of the magistrates as in democratic republics, because this arbitrary
power is unattended by any alarming consequences. It may even be
asserted that the freedom of the magistrate increases as the elective
franchise is extended, and as the duration of the time of office is
shortened. Hence arises the great difficulty which attends the
conversion of a democratic republic into a monarchy. The magistrate
ceases to be elective, but he retains the rights and the habits of an
elected officer, which lead directly to despotism.

It is only in limited monarchies that the law which prescribes the
sphere in which public officers are to act, superintends all their
measures. The cause of this may be easily detected. In limited
monarchies the power is divided between the king and the people, both of
whom are interested in the stability of the magistrate. The king does
not venture to place the public officers under the control of the
people, lest they should be tempted to betray his interests; on the
other hand, the people fears lest the magistrates should serve to
oppress the liberties of the country, if they were entirely dependent
upon the crown: they cannot therefore be said to depend on either the
one or the other. The same cause which induces the king and the people
to render public officers independent, suggests the necessity of such
securities as may prevent their independence from encroaching upon the
authority of the former and the liberties of the latter. They
consequently agree as to the necessity of restricting the functionary to
a line of conduct laid down beforehand, and they are interested in
confining him by certain regulations which he cannot evade.

[The observations respecting the arbitrary powers of magistrates are
practically among the most erroneous in the work. The author seems to
have confounded the idea of magistrates being _independent_ with their
being arbitrary. Yet he had just before spoken of their dependance on
popular election as a reason why there was no apprehension of the abuse
of their authority. The independence, then, to which he alludes must be
an immunity from responsibility to any other department. But it is a
fundamental principle of our system, that all officers are liable to
criminal prosecution "whenever they act partially or oppressively from a
malicious or corrupt motive." See 15 Wendell's Reports, 278. That our
magistrates are independent when they do not act partially or
oppressively is very true, and, it is to be hoped, is equally true in
every form of government. There would seem, therefore, not to be such a
degree of independence as necessarily to produce arbitrariness. The
author supposes that magistrates are more arbitrary in a despotism and
in a democracy than in a limited monarchy. And yet, the limits of
independence and of responsibility existing in the United States are
borrowed from and identical with those established in England--the most
prominent instance of a limited monarchy. See the authorities referred
to in the case in Wendell's Reports, before quoted. Discretion in the
execution of various ministerial duties, and in the awarding of
punishment by judicial officers, is indispensable in every system of
government, from the utter impossibility of "laying down beforehand a
line of conduct" (as the author expresses it) in such cases. The very
instances of discretionary power to which he refers, and which he
considers _arbitrary_, exist in England. There, the persons from whom
juries are to be formed for the trial of causes, civil and criminal, are
selected by the sheriffs, who are appointed by the crown--a power,
certainly more liable to abuse in their hands, than in those of
selectmen or other town-officers, chosen annually by the people. The
other power referred to, that of posting the names of habitual
drunkards, and forbidding their being supplied with liquor, is but a
reiteration of the principles contained in the English statute of 32
Geo. III., ch. 45, respecting idle and disorderly persons. Indeed it may
be said with great confidence, that there is not an instance of
discretionary power being vested in American magistrates which does not
find its prototype in the English laws. The whole argument of the author
on this point, therefore, would seem to fail.--_American Editor_.]

* * * * *

INSTABILITY OF THE ADMINISTRATION IN THE UNITED STATES.

In America the public Acts of a Community frequently leave fewer Traces
than the Occurrences of a Family.--Newspapers the only historical
Remains.--Instability of the Administration prejudicial to the Art of
Government.

The authority which public men possess in America is so brief, and they
are so soon commingled with the ever-changing population of the country,
that the acts of a community frequently leave fewer traces than the
occurrences of a private family. The public administration is, so to
speak, oral and traditionary. But little is committed to writing, and
that little is wafted away for ever, like the leaves of the sibyl, by
the smallest breeze.

The only historical remains in the United States are the newspapers; but
if a number be wanting, the chain of time is broken, and the present is
severed from the past. I am convinced that in fifty years it will be
more difficult to collect authentic documents concerning the social
condition of the Americans at the present day, than it is to find
remains of the administration of France during the middle ages; and if
the United States were ever invaded by barbarians, it would be necessary
to have recourse to the history of other nations, in order to learn
anything of the people which now inhabits them.

The instability of the administration has penetrated into the habits of
the people: it even appears to suit the general taste, and no one cares
for what occurred before his time. No methodical system is pursued; no
archives are formed; and no documents are brought together when it would
be very easy to do so. Where they exist little store is set upon them;
and I have among my papers several original public documents which were
given to me in answer to some of my inquiries. In America society seems
to live from hand to mouth, like an army in the field. Nevertheless, the
art of administration may undoubtedly be ranked as a science, and no
sciences can be improved, if the discoveries and observations of
successive generations are not connected together in the order in which
they occur. One man, in the short space of his life, remarks a fact;
another conceives an idea; the former invents a means of execution, the
latter reduces a truth to a fixed proposition; and mankind gathers the
fruits of individual experience upon its way, and gradually forms the
sciences. But the persons who conduct the administration in America can
seldom afford any instruction to each other; and when they assume the
direction of society, they simply possess those attainments which are
most widely disseminated in the community, and no experience peculiar to
themselves. Democracy, carried to its farthest limits, is therefore
prejudicial to the art of government; and for this reason it is better
adapted to a people already versed in the conduct of an administration,
than to a nation which is uninitiated in public affairs.

This remark, indeed, is not exclusively applicable to the science of
administration. Although a democratic government is founded upon a very
simple and natural principle, it always presupposes the existence of a
high degree of culture and enlightenment in society.[167] At the first
glance it may be imagined to belong to the earliest ages of the world;
but maturer observation will convince us that it could only come last in
the succession of human history.

[These remarks upon the "instability of administration" in America, are
partly correct, but partly erroneous. It is certainly true that our
public men are not educated to the business of government; even our
diplomatists are selected with very little reference to their experience
in that department. But the universal attention that is paid by the
intelligent, to the measures of government and to the discussions to
which they give rise, is in itself no slight preparation for the
ordinary duties of legislation. And, indeed, this the author
subsequently seems to admit. As to there being "no archives formed" of
public documents, the author is certainly mistaken. The journals of
congress, the journals of state legislatures, the public documents
transmitted to and originating in those bodies, are carefully preserved
and disseminated through the nation: and they furnish in themselves the
materials of a full and accurate history. Our great defect, doubtless,
is in the want of statistical information. Excepting the annual reports
of the state of our commerce, made by the secretary of the treasury,
under law, and excepting the census which is taken every ten years under
the authority of congress, and those taken by the states, we have no
official statistics. It is supposed that the author had this species of
information in his mind when he alluded to the general deficiency of our
archives.--_American Editor_.]

* * * * *

CHARGES LEVIED BY THE STATE UNDER THE RULE OF THE AMERICAN DEMOCRACY.

In all Communities Citizens divisible into three Classes.--Habits of
each of these Classes in the Direction of public Finances.--Why public
Expenditures must tend to increase when the People governs.--What
renders the Extravagance of a Democracy less to be feared in
America.--Public Expenditure under a Democracy.

Before we can affirm whether a democratic form of government is
economical or not, we must establish a suitable standard of comparison.
The question would be one of easy solution if we were to attempt to draw
a parallel between a democratic republic and an absolute monarchy. The
public expenditure would be found to be more considerable under the
former than under the latter; such is the case with all free states
compared to those which are not so. It is certain that despotism ruins
individuals by preventing them from producing wealth, much more than by
depriving them of the wealth they have produced: it dries up the source
of riches, while it usually respects acquired property. Freedom, on the
contrary, engenders far more benefits than it destroys; and the nations
which are favored by free institutions, invariably find that their
resources increase even more rapidly than their taxes.

My present object is to compare free nations to each other; and to point
out the influence of democracy upon the finances of a state.

Communities, as well as organic bodies, are subject to certain fixed
rules in their formation which they cannot evade. They are composed of
certain elements which are common to them at all times and under all
circumstances. The people may always be mentally divided into three
distinct classes. The first of these classes consists of the wealthy;
the second, of those who are in easy circumstances; and the third is
composed of those who have little or no property, and who subsist more
especially by the work which they perform for the two superior orders.
The proportion of the individuals who are included in these three
divisions may vary according to the condition of society; but the
divisions themselves can never be obliterated.

It is evident that each of these classes will exercise an influence,
peculiar to its own propensities, upon the administration of the
finances of the state. If the first of the three exclusively possess the
legislative power, it is probable that it will not be sparing of the
public funds, because the taxes which are levied on a large fortune only
tend to diminish the sum of superfluous enjoyment, and are, in point of
fact, but little felt. If the second class has the power of making the
laws, it will certainly not be lavish of taxes, because nothing is so
onerous as a large impost which is levied upon a small income. The
government of the middle classes appears to me to be the most
economical, though perhaps not the most enlightened, and certainly not
the most generous, of free governments.

But let us now suppose that the legislative authority is vested in the
lowest orders: there are two striking reasons which show that the
tendency of the expenditure will be to increase, not to diminish.

As the great majority of those who create the laws are possessed of no
property upon which taxes can be imposed, all the money which is spent
for the community appears to be spent to their advantage, at no cost of
their own; and those who are possessed of some little property readily
find means of regulating the taxes so that they are burthensome to the
wealthy and profitable to the poor, although the rich are unable to take
the same advantage when they are in possession of the government.

In countries in which the poor[168] should be exclusively invested with
the power of making the laws, no great economy of public expenditure
ought to be expected; that expenditure will always be considerable;
either because the taxes do not weigh upon those who levy them, or
because they are levied in such a manner as not to weigh upon those
classes. In other words, the government of the democracy is the only one
under which the power which lays on taxes escapes the payment of them.

It may be objected (but the argument has no real weight) that the true
interest of the people is indissolubly connected with that of the
wealthier portion of the community, since it cannot but suffer by the
severe measures to which it resorts. But is it not the true interest of
kings to render their subjects happy; and the true interest of nobles to
admit recruits into their order on suitable grounds? If remote
advantages had power to prevail over the passions and the exigencies of
the moment, no such thing as a tyrannical sovereign or an exclusive
aristocracy could ever exist.

Again, it may be objected that the poor are never invested with the sole
power of making the laws; but I reply, that wherever universal suffrage
has been established, the majority of the community unquestionably
exercises the legislative authority, and if it be proved that the poor
always constitute the majority, it may be added, with perfect truth,
that in the countries in which they possess the elective franchise, they
possess the sole power of making laws. But it is certain that in all the
nations of the world the greater number has always consisted of those
persons who hold no property, or of those whose property is insufficient
to exempt them from the necessity of working in order to procure an easy
subsistence. Universal suffrage does therefore in point of fact invest
the poor with the government of society.

The disastrous influence which popular authority may sometimes exercise
upon the finances of a state, was very clearly seen in some of the
democratic republics of antiquity, in which the public treasure was
exhausted in order to relieve indigent citizens, or to supply the games
and theatrical amusements of the populace. It is true that the
representative system was then very imperfectly known, and that, at the
present time, the influence of popular passions is less felt in the
conduct of public affairs; but it may be believed that the delegate will
in the end conform to the principles of his constituents, and favor
their propensities as much as their interests.

The extravagance of democracy is, however, less to be dreaded in
proportion as the people acquires a share of property, because on the
one hand the contributions of the rich are then less needed, and on the
other, it is more difficult to lay on taxes which do not affect the
interests of the lower classes. On this account universal suffrage would
be less dangerous in France than in England, because in the latter
country the property on which taxes may be levied is vested in fewer
hands. America, where the great majority of the citizens is possessed of
some fortune, is in a still more favorable position than France.

There are still farther causes which may increase the sum of public
expenditures in democratic countries. When the aristocracy governs, the
individuals who conduct the affairs of state are exempted, by their own
station in society, from every kind of privation: they are contented
with their position; power and renown are the objects for which they
strive; and, as they are placed far above the obscurer throng of
citizens, they do not always distinctly perceive how the wellbeing of
the mass of the people ought to redound to their own honor. They are not
indeed, callous to the sufferings of the poor, but they cannot feel
those miseries as acutely as if they were themselves partakers of them.
Provided that the people appear to submit to its lot, the rulers are
satisfied and they demand nothing farther from the government. An
aristocracy is more intent upon the means of maintaining its influence,
than upon the means of improving its condition.

When, on the contrary, the people is invested with the supreme
authority, the perpetual sense of their own miseries impels the rulers
of society to seek for perpetual meliorations. A thousand different
objects are subjected to improvement; the most trivial details are
sought out as susceptible of amendment; and those changes which are
accompanied with considerable expense, are more especially advocated,
since the object is to render the condition of the poor more tolerable,
who cannot pay for themselves.

Moreover, all democratic communities are agitated by an ill-defined
excitement, and by a kind of feverish impatience, that engenders a
multitude of innovations, almost all of which are attended with expense.

In monarchies and aristocracies, the natural taste which the rulers have
for power and for renown, is stimulated by the promptings of ambition,
and they are frequently incited by these temptations to very costly
undertakings. In democracies, where the rulers labor under privations,
they can only be courted by such means as improve their wellbeing, and
these improvements cannot take place without a sacrifice of money. When
a people begins to reflect upon its situation, it discovers a multitude
of wants, to which it had not before been subject, and to satisfy these
exigencies, recourse must be had to the coffers of the state. Hence it
arises, that the public charges increase in proportion as civilisation
spreads, and that the imposts are augmented as knowledge pervades the
community.

The last cause which frequently renders a democratic government dearer
than any other is, that a democracy does not always succeed in
moderating its expenditure, because it does not understand the art of
being economical. As the designs which it entertains are frequently
changed, and the agents of those designs are more frequently removed,
its undertakings are often ill-conducted or left unfinished; in the
former case the state spends sums out of all proportion to the end which
it proposes to accomplish; in the second, the expense itself is
unprofitable.

* * * * *

TENDENCIES OF THE AMERICAN DEMOCRACY AS REGARDS THE SALARIES OF PUBLIC
OFFICERS.

In Democracies those who establish high Salaries have no Chance of
profiting by them.--Tendency of the American Democracy to increase the
Salaries of subordinate Officers, and to lower those of the more
important functionaries.--Reason of this.--Comparative Statement of the
Salaries of public Officers in the United States and in France.

There is a powerful reason which usually induces democracies to
economise upon the salaries of public officers. As the number of
citizens who dispense the remuneration is extremely large in democratic
countries, so the number of persons who can hope to be benefited by the
receipt of it is comparatively small. In aristocratic countries, on the
contrary, the individuals who appoint high salaries, have almost always
a vague hope of profiting by them. These appointments may be looked upon
as a capital which they create for their own use, or at least, as a
resource for their children.

Book of the day: