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Democracy In America, Volume 1 by Alexis de Toqueville

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Small nations have therefore ever been the cradle of
political liberty; and the fact that many of them have lost their
immunities by extending their dominion shows that the freedom
they enjoyed was more a consequence of the inferior size than of
the character of the people.

The history of the world affords no instance of a great
nation retaining the form of republican government for a long
series of years, *r and this has led to the conclusion that such
a state of things is impracticable. For my own part, I cannot
but censure the imprudence of attempting to limit the possible
and to judge the future on the part of a being who is hourly
deceived by the most palpable realities of life, and who is
constantly taken by surprise in the circumstances with which he
is most familiar. But it may be advanced with confidence that
the existence of a great republic will always be exposed to far
greater perils than that of a small one.

[Footnote r: I do not speak of a confederation of small
republics, but of a great consolidated Republic.]

All the passions which are most fatal to republican
institutions spread with an increasing territory, whilst the
virtues which maintain their dignity do not augment in the same
proportion. The ambition of the citizens increases with the
power of the State; the strength of parties with the importance
of the ends they have in view; but that devotion to the common
weal which is the surest check on destructive passions is not
stronger in a large than in a small republic. It might, indeed,
be proved without difficulty that it is less powerful and less
sincere. The arrogance of wealth and the dejection of
wretchedness, capital cities of unwonted extent, a lax morality,
a vulgar egotism, and a great confusion of interests, are the
dangers which almost invariably arise from the magnitude of
States. But several of these evils are scarcely prejudicial to a
monarchy, and some of them contribute to maintain its existence.
In monarchical States the strength of the government is its own;
it may use, but it does not depend on, the community, and the
authority of the prince is proportioned to the prosperity of the
nation; but the only security which a republican government
possesses against these evils lies in the support of the
majority. This support is not, however, proportionably greater
in a large republic than it is in a small one; and thus, whilst
the means of attack perpetually increase both in number and in
influence, the power of resistance remains the same, or it may
rather be said to diminish, since the propensities and interests
of the people are diversified by the increase of the population,
and the difficulty of forming a compact majority is constantly
augmented. It has been observed, moreover, that the intensity of
human passions is heightened, not only by the importance of the
end which they propose to attain, but by the multitude of
individuals who are animated by them at the same time. Every one
has had occasion to remark that his emotions in the midst of a
sympathizing crowd are far greater than those which he would have
felt in solitude. In great republics the impetus of political
passion is irresistible, not only because it aims at gigantic
purposes, but because it is felt and shared by millions of men at
the same time.

It may therefore be asserted as a general proposition that
nothing is more opposed to the well-being and the freedom of man
than vast empires. Nevertheless it is important to acknowledge
the peculiar advantages of great States. For the very reason
which renders the desire of power more intense in these
communities than amongst ordinary men, the love of glory is also
more prominent in the hearts of a class of citizens, who regard
the applause of a great people as a reward worthy of their
exertions, and an elevating encouragement to man. If we would
learn why it is that great nations contribute more powerfully to
the spread of human improvement than small States, we shall
discover an adequate cause in the rapid and energetic circulation
of ideas, and in those great cities which are the intellectual
centres where all the rays of human genius are reflected and
combined. To this it may be added that most important
discoveries demand a display of national power which the
Government of a small State is unable to make; in great nations
the Government entertains a greater number of general notions,
and is more completely disengaged from the routine of precedent
and the egotism of local prejudice; its designs are conceived
with more talent, and executed with more boldness.

In time of peace the well-being of small nations is
undoubtedly more general and more complete, but they are apt to
suffer more acutely from the calamities of war than those great
empires whose distant frontiers may for ages avert the presence
of the danger from the mass of the people, which is therefore
more frequently afflicted than ruined by the evil.

But in this matter, as in many others, the argument derived
from the necessity of the case predominates over all others. If
none but small nations existed, I do not doubt that mankind would
be more happy and more free; but the existence of great nations
is unavoidable.

This consideration introduces the element of physical
strength as a condition of national prosperity. It profits a
people but little to be affluent and free if it is perpetually
exposed to be pillaged or subjugated; the number of its
manufactures and the extent of its commerce are of small
advantage if another nation has the empire of the seas and gives
the law in all the markets of the globe. Small nations are often
impoverished, not because they are small, but because they are
weak; the great empires prosper less because they are great than
because they are strong. Physical strength is therefore one of
the first conditions of the happiness and even of the existence
of nations. Hence it occurs that, unless very peculiar
circumstances intervene, small nations are always united to large
empires in the end, either by force or by their own consent: yet
I am unacquainted with a more deplorable spectacle than that of a
people unable either to defend or to maintain its independence.

The Federal system was created with the intention of
combining the different advantages which result from the greater
and the lesser extent of nations; and a single glance over the
United States of America suffices to discover the advantages
which they have derived from its adoption.

In great centralized nations the legislator is obliged to
impart a character of uniformity to the laws which does not
always suit the diversity of customs and of districts; as he
takes no cognizance of special cases, he can only proceed upon
general principles; and the population is obliged to conform to
the exigencies of the legislation, since the legislation cannot
adapt itself to the exigencies and the customs of the population,
which is the cause of endless trouble and misery. This
disadvantage does not exist in confederations. Congress
regulates the principal measures of the national Government, and
all the details of the administration are reserved to the
provincial legislatures. It is impossible to imagine how much
this division of sovereignty contributes to the well-being of
each of the States which compose the Union. In these small
communities, which are never agitated by the desire of
aggrandizement or the cares of self-defence, all public authority
and private energy is employed in internal amelioration. The
central government of each State, which is in immediate
juxtaposition to the citizens, is daily apprised of the wants
which arise in society; and new projects are proposed every year,
which are discussed either at town meetings or by the legislature
of the State, and which are transmitted by the press to stimulate
the zeal and to excite the interest of the citizens. This spirit
of amelioration is constantly alive in the American republics,
without compromising their tranquillity; the ambition of power
yields to the less refined and less dangerous love of comfort.
It is generally believed in America that the existence and the
permanence of the republican form of government in the New World
depend upon the existence and the permanence of the Federal
system; and it is not unusual to attribute a large share of the
misfortunes which have befallen the new States of South America
to the injudicious erection of great republics, instead of a
divided and confederate sovereignty.

It is incontestably true that the love and the habits of
republican government in the United States were engendered in the
townships and in the provincial assemblies. In a small State,
like that of Connecticut for instance, where cutting a canal or
laying down a road is a momentous political question, where the
State has no army to pay and no wars to carry on, and where much
wealth and much honor cannot be bestowed upon the chief citizens,
no form of government can be more natural or more appropriate
than that of a republic. But it is this same republican spirit,
it is these manners and customs of a free people, which are
engendered and nurtured in the different States, to be afterwards
applied to the country at large. The public spirit of the Union
is, so to speak, nothing more than an abstract of the patriotic
zeal of the provinces. Every citizen of the United States
transfuses his attachment to his little republic in the common
store of American patriotism. In defending the Union he defends
the increasing prosperity of his own district, the right of
conducting its affairs, and the hope of causing measures of
improvement to be adopted which may be favorable to his own
interest; and these are motives which are wont to stir men more
readily than the general interests of the country and the glory
of the nation.

On the other hand, if the temper and the manners of the
inhabitants especially fitted them to promote the welfare of a
great republic, the Federal system smoothed the obstacles which
they might have encountered. The confederation of all the
American States presents none of the ordinary disadvantages
resulting from great agglomerations of men. The Union is a great
republic in extent, but the paucity of objects for which its
Government provides assimilates it to a small State. Its acts
are important, but they are rare. As the sovereignty of th
Union is limited and incomplete, its exercise is not incompatible
with liberty; for it does not excite those insatiable desires of
fame and power which have proved so fatal to great republics. As
there is no common centre to the country, vast capital cities,
colossal wealth, abject poverty, and sudden revolutions are alike
unknown; and political passion, instead of spreading over the
land like a torrent of desolation, spends its strength against
the interests and the individual passions of every State.

Nevertheless, all commodities and ideas circulate throughout
the Union as freely as in a country inhabited by one people.
Nothing checks the spirit of enterprise. Government avails
itself of the assistance of all who have talents or knowledge to
serve it. Within the frontiers of the Union the profoundest
peace prevails, as within the heart of some great empire; abroad,
it ranks with the most powerful nations of the earth; two
thousand miles of coast are open to the commerce of the world;
and as it possesses the keys of the globe, its flags is respected
in the most remote seas. The Union is as happy and as free as a
small people, and as glorious and as strong as a great nation.

Why The Federal System Is Not Adapted To All Peoples, And How The
Anglo-Americans Were Enabled To Adopt It

Every Federal system contains defects which baffle the efforts of
the legislator - The Federal system is complex - It demands a
daily exercise of discretion on the part of the citizens -
Practical knowledge of government common amongst the Americans -
Relative weakness of the Government of the Union, another defect
inherent in the Federal system - The Americans have diminished
without remedying it - The sovereignty of the separate States
apparently weaker, but really stronger, than that of the Union -
Why? -Natural causes of union must exist between confederate
peoples besides the laws - What these causes are amongst the
Anglo-Americans - Maine and Georgia, separated by a distance of a
thousand miles, more naturally united than Normandy and Brittany
- War, the main peril of confederations - This proved even by the
example of the United States - The Union has no great wars to
fear - Why? - Dangers to which Europeans would be exposed if they
adopted the Federal system of the Americans.

When a legislator succeeds, after persevering efforts, in
exercising an indirect influence upon the destiny of nations, his
genius is lauded by mankind, whilst, in point of fact, the
geographical position of the country which he is unable to
change, a social condition which arose without his co-operation,
manners and opinions which he cannot trace to their source, and
an origin with which he is unacquainted, exercise so irresistible
an influence over the courses of society that he is himself borne
away by the current, after an ineffectual resistance. Like the
navigator, he may direct the vessel which bears him along, but he
can neither change its structure, nor raise the winds, nor lull
the waters which swell beneath him.

I have shown the advantages which the Americans derive from
their federal system; it remains for me to point out the
circumstances which rendered that system practicable, as its
benefits are not to be enjoyed by all nations. The incidental
defects of the Federal system which originate in the laws may be
corrected by the skill of the legislator, but there are further
evils inherent in the system which cannot be counteracted by the
peoples which adopt it. These nations must therefore find the
strength necessary to support the natural imperfections of their

The most prominent evil of all Federal systems is the very
complex nature of the means they employ. Two sovereignties are
necessarily in presence of each other. The legislator may
simplify and equalize the action of these two sovereignties, by
limiting each of them to a sphere of authority accurately
defined; but he cannot combine them into one, or prevent them
from coming into collision at certain points. The Federal system
therefore rests upon a theory which is necessarily complicated,
and which demands the daily exercise of a considerable share of
discretion on the part of those it governs.

A proposition must be plain to be adopted by the
understanding of a people. A false notion which is clear and
precise will always meet with a greater number of adherents in
the world than a true principle which is obscure or involved.
Hence it arises that parties, which are like small communities in
the heart of the nation, invariably adopt some principle or some
name as a symbol, which very inadequately represents the end they
have in view and the means which are at their disposal, but
without which they could neither act nor subsist. The
governments which are founded upon a single principle or a single
feeling which is easily defined are perhaps not the best, but
they are unquestionably the strongest and the most durable in the

In examining the Constitution of the United States, which is
the most perfect federal constitution that ever existed, one is
startled, on the other hand, at the variety of information and
the excellence of discretion which it presupposes in the people
whom it is meant to govern. The government of the Union depends
entirely upon legal fictions; the Union is an ideal nation which
only exists in the mind, and whose limits and extent can only be
discerned by the understanding.

When once the general theory is comprehended, numberless
difficulties remain to be solved in its application; for the
sovereignty of the Union is so involved in that of the States
that it is impossible to distinguish its boundaries at the first
glance. The whole structure of the Government is artificial and
conventional; and it would be ill adapted to a people which has
not been long accustomed to conduct its own affairs, or to one in
which the science of politics has not descended to the humblest
classes of society. I have never been more struck by the good
sense and the practical judgment of the Americans than in the
ingenious devices by which they elude the numberless difficulties
resulting from their Federal Constitution. I scarcely ever met
with a plain American citizen who could not distinguish, with
surprising facility, the obligations created by the laws of
Congress from those created by the laws of his own State; and
who, after having discriminated between the matters which come
under the cognizance of the Union and those which the local
legislature is competent to regulate, could not point out the
exact limit of the several jurisdictions of the Federal courts
and the tribunals of the State.

The Constitution of the United States is like those
exquisite productions of human industry which ensure wealth and
renown to their inventors, but which are profitless in any other
hands. This truth is exemplified by the condition of Mexico at
the present time. The Mexicans were desirous of establishing a
federal system, and they took the Federal Constitution of their
neighbors, the Anglo-Americans, as their model, and copied it
with considerable accuracy. *s But although they had borrowed the
letter of the law, they were unable to create or to introduce the
spirit and the sense which give it life. They were involved in
ceaseless embarrassments between the mechanism of their double
government; the sovereignty of the States and that of the Union
perpetually exceeded their respective privileges, and entered
into collision; and to the present day Mexico is alternately the
victim of anarchy and the slave of military despotism.

[Footnote s: See the Mexican Constitution of 1824.]

The second and the most fatal of all the defects I have
alluded to, and that which I believe to be inherent in the
federal system, is the relative weakness of the government of the
Union. The principle upon which all confederations rest is that
of a divided sovereignty. The legislator may render this
partition less perceptible, he may even conceal it for a time
from the public eye, but he cannot prevent it from existing, and
a divided sovereignty must always be less powerful than an entire
supremacy. The reader has seen in the remarks I have made on the
Constitution of the United States that the Americans have
displayed singular ingenuity in combining the restriction of the
power of the Union within the narrow limits of a federal
government with the semblance and, to a certain extent, with the
force of a national government. By this means the legislators of
the Union have succeeded in diminishing, though not in
counteracting the natural danger of confederations.

It has been remarked that the American Government does not
apply itself to the States, but that it immediately transmits its
injunctions to the citizens, and compels them as isolated
individuals to comply with its demands. But if the Federal law
were to clash with the interests and the prejudices of a State,
it might be feared that all the citizens of that State would
conceive themselves to be interested in the cause of a single
individual who should refuse to obey. If all the citizens of the
State were aggrieved at the same time and in the same manner by
the authority of the Union, the Federal Government would vainly
attempt to subdue them individually; they would instinctively
unite in a common defence, and they would derive a ready-prepared
organization from the share of sovereignty which the institution
of their State allows them to enjoy. Fiction would give way to
reality, and an organized portion of the territory might then
contest the central authority. *t The same observation holds good
with regard to the Federal jurisdiction. If the courts of the
Union violated an important law of a State in a private case, the
real, if not the apparent, contest would arise between the
aggrieved State represented by a citizen and the Union
represented by its courts of justice. *u

[Footnote t: [This is precisely what occurred in 1862, and the
following paragraph describes correctly the feelings and notions
of the South. General Lee held that his primary allegiance was
due, not to the Union, but to Virginia.]]

[Footnote u: 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 names 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, whilst the
other competitor was ordered to retain possession by the
tribunals of the State of Ohio?]

He would have but a partial knowledge of the world who
should imagine that it is possible, by the aid of legal fictions,
to prevent men from finding out and employing those means of
gratifying their passions which have been left open to them; and
it may be doubted whether the American legislators, when they
rendered a collision between the two sovereigns less probable,
destroyed the cause of such a misfortune. But it may even be
affirmed that they were unable to ensure the preponderance of the
Federal element in a case of this kind. The Union is possessed
of money and of troops, but the affections and the prejudices of
the people are in the bosom of the States. The sovereignty of the
Union is an abstract being, which is connected with but few
external objects; the sovereignty of the States is hourly
perceptible, easily understood, constantly active; and if the
former is of recent creation, the latter is coeval with the
people itself. The sovereignty of the Union is factitious, that
of the States is natural, and derives its existence from its own
simple influence, like the authority of a parent. The supreme
power of the nation only affects a few of the chief interests of
society; it represents an immense but remote country, and claims
a feeling of patriotism which is vague and ill defined; but the
authority of the States controls every individual citizen at
every hour and in all circumstances; it protects his property,
his freedom, and his life; and when we recollect the traditions,
the customs, the prejudices of local and familiar attachment with
which it is connected, we cannot doubt of the superiority of a
power which is interwoven with every circumstance that renders
the love of one's native country instinctive in the human heart.

Since legislators are unable to obviate such dangerous
collisions as occur between the two sovereignties which coexist
in the federal system, their first object must be, not only to
dissuade the confederate States from warfare, but to encourage
such institutions as may promote the maintenance of peace. Hence
it results that the Federal compact cannot be lasting unless
there exists in the communities which are leagued together a
certain number of inducements to union which render their common
dependence agreeable, and the task of the Government light, and
that system cannot succeed without the presence of favorable
circumstances added to the influence of good laws. All the
peoples which have ever formed a confederation have been held
together by a certain number of common interests, which served as
the intellectual ties of association.

But the sentiments and the principles of man must be taken
into consideration as well as his immediate interests. A certain
uniformity of civilization is not less necessary to the
durability of a confederation than a uniformity of interests in
the States which compose it. In Switzerland the difference which
exists between the Canton of Uri and the Canton of Vaud is equal
to that between the fifteenth and the nineteenth centuries; and,
properly speaking, Switzerland has never possessed a federal
government. The union between these two cantons only subsists
upon the map, and their discrepancies would soon be perceived if
an attempt were made by a central authority to prescribe the same
laws to the whole territory.

One of the circumstances which most powerfully contribute to
support the Federal Government in America is that the States have
not only similar interests, a common origin, and a common tongue,
but that they are also arrived at the same stage of civilization;
which almost always renders a union feasible. I do not know of
any European nation, how small soever it may be, which does not
present less uniformity in its different provinces than the
American people, which occupies a territory as extensive as
one-half of Europe. The distance from the State of Maine to that
of Georgia is reckoned at about one thousand miles; but the
difference between the civilization of Maine and that of Georgia
is slighter than the difference between the habits of Normandy
and those of Brittany. Maine and Georgia, which are placed at
the opposite extremities of a great empire, are consequently in
the natural possession of more real inducements to form a
confederation than Normandy and Brittany, which are only
separated by a bridge.

The geographical position of the country contributed to
increase the facilities which the American legislators derived
from the manners and customs of the inhabitants; and it is to
this circumstance that the adoption and the maintenance of the
Federal system are mainly attributable.

The most important occurrence which can mark the annals of a
people is the breaking out of a war. In war a people struggles
with the energy of a single man against foreign nations in the
defence of its very existence. The skill of a government, the
good sense of the community, and the natural fondness which men
entertain for their country, may suffice to maintain peace in the
interior of a district, and to favor its internal prosperity; but
a nation can only carry on a great war at the cost of more
numerous and more painful sacrifices; and to suppose that a great
number of men will of their own accord comply with these
exigencies of the State is to betray an ignorance of mankind.
All the peoples which have been obliged to sustain a long and
serious warfare have consequently been led to augment the power
of their government. Those which have not succeeded in this
attempt have been subjugated. A long war almost always places
nations in the wretched alternative of being abandoned to ruin by
defeat or to despotism by success. War therefore renders the
symptoms of the weakness of a government most palpable and most
alarming; and I have shown that the inherent defeat of federal
governments is that of being weak.

The Federal system is not only deficient in every kind of
centralized administration, but the central government itself is
imperfectly organized, which is invariably an influential cause
of inferiority when the nation is opposed to other countries
which are themselves governed by a single authority. In the
Federal Constitution of the United States, by which the central
government possesses more real force, this evil is still
extremely sensible. An example will illustrate the case to the

The Constitution confers upon Congress the right of calling
forth militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress
insurrections, and repel invasions; and another article declares
that the President of the United States is the commander-in-chief
of the militia. In the war of 1812 the President ordered the
militia of the Northern States to march to the frontiers; but
Connecticut and Massachusetts, whose interests were impaired by
the war, refused to obey the command. They argued that the
Constitution authorizes the Federal Government to call forth the
militia in case of insurrection or invasion, but that in the
present instance there was neither invasion nor insurrection.
They added, that the same Constitution which conferred upon the
Union the right of calling forth the militia reserved to the
States that of naming the officers; and that consequently (as
they understood the clause) no officer of the Union had any right
to command the militia, even during war, except the President in
person; and in this case they were ordered to join an army
commanded by another individual. These absurd and pernicious
doctrines received the sanction not only of the governors and the
legislative bodies, but also of the courts of justice in both
States; and the Federal Government was constrained to raise
elsewhere the troops which it required. *v

[Footnote v: 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.
[All doubt as to the powers of the Federal Executive was,
however, removed by its efforts in the Civil War, and those
powers were largely extended.]]

The only safeguard which the American Union, with all the
relative perfection of its laws, possesses against the
dissolution which would be produced by a great war, lies in its
probable exemption from that calamity. Placed in the centre of an
immense continent, which offers a boundless field for human
industry, the Union is almost as much insulated from the world as
if its frontiers were girt by the ocean. Canada contains only a
million of inhabitants, and its population is divided into two
inimical nations. The rigor of the climate limits the extension
of its territory, and shuts up its ports during the six months of
winter. From Canada to the Gulf of Mexico a few savage tribes
are to be met with, which retire, perishing in their retreat,
before six thousand soldiers. To the South, the Union has a
point of contact with the empire of Mexico; and it is thence that
serious hostilities may one day be expected to arise. But for a
long while to come the uncivilized state of the Mexican
community, the depravity of its morals, and its extreme poverty,
will prevent that country from ranking high amongst nations. *w
As for the Powers of Europe, they are too distant to be

[Footnote w: [War broke out between the United States and Mexico
in 1846, and ended in the conquest of an immense territory,
including California.]]

The great advantage of the United States does not, then,
consist in a Federal Constitution which allows them to carry on
great wars, but in a geographical position which renders such
enterprises extremely improbable.

No one can be more inclined than I am myself to appreciate
the advantages of the federal system, which I hold to be one of
the combinations most favorable to the prosperity and freedom of
man. I envy the lot of those nations which have been enabled to
adopt it; but I cannot believe that any confederate peoples could
maintain a long or an equal contest with a nation of similar
strength in which the government should be centralized. A people
which should divide its sovereignty into fractional powers, in
the presence of the great military monarchies of Europe, would,
in my opinion, by that very act, abdicate its power, and perhaps
its existence and its name. But such is the admirable position
of the New World that man has no other enemy than himself; and
that, in order to be happy and to be free, it suffices to seek
the gifts of prosperity and the knowledge of freedom.

Chapter XI: 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.

Chapter X: Why The People May Strictly Be Said To Govern In The
United States

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. The majority is
principally composed of peaceful 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

Chapter Summary

Great distinction 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 or democratic
character to be met with in all parties - Struggle of General
Jackson against the Bank.

Parties In The United States

A great distinction 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 on 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

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
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 towards 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

The political parties which I style great are those which
cling to principles more than to their 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 persons
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 ensure 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 a
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 *a 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.

[Footnote a: [It is scarcely necessary to remark that in more
recent times the signification of these terms has changed. The
Republicans are the representatives of the old Federalists, and
the Democrats of the old Republicans. - Trans. Note (1861).]] 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 the country. But whether their
theories were good or bad, they had the effect 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 afterwards 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. *b

[Footnote b: [The divisions of North and South have since
acquired a far greater degree of intensity, and the South, though
conquered, still presents a formidable spirit of opposition to
Northern government. - Translator's Note, 1875.]]

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 indigence to
supply the 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 interbsted 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 his 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 the 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 those two divisions which have
always existed in free communities. The deeper we penetrate into
the working 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 taste for exclusive pleasures and for luxury at
home - Their simplicity abroad - Their affected condescension
towards the people.

It sometimes happens in a people amongst 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 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 the
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

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 maladministration 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

Chapter Summary

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.

Liberty Of The Press In The United States

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 determinate 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

If any one could 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 a court of permanent judges.
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 carcass 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 amidst the passions of a
listening assembly, have more power 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 liberty of 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 propose 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 irreconcilably
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, upon 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 forever 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

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 the 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 subtilty 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, amongst 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 skillfully
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 centralization; 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 centralization exists in America.
The United States have no metropolis; the intelligence as well as
the power of the country are 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 printers, no securities demanded
from editors as in France, and no stamp duty as in France and
formerly in 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
appears 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
neutralize the effect of public journals is to multiply them
indefinitely. I cannot conceive that a truth which is so self-
evident should not already have 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 law, 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 consequently 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 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
the 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. *a

[Footnote a: 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
misstatement of facts.]

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. *b

[Footnote b: See Appendix, P.]

The opinions established in the United States under the
empire of the liberty of the press are frequently more
firmly rooted than those which are formed elsewhere under
the sanction of a censor.

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 amongst 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 have said, 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 onwards
by the light it gives him. *c

[Footnote c: 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

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 which 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
touch 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 to 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 everyone 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 interests 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 aristocracy or
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 further controversy.

Chapter XII: Political Associations In The United States

Chapter Summary

Daily use which the Anglo-Americans make of the right of
association - Three kinds of political associations - 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.

Political Associations In The United States

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. Besides 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 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

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 association 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 towards 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
afterwards 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 to 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

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 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 afterwards took up arms
in the same cause, sent sixty-three delegates. On October 1,
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

I. That 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 is
become preponderant, all 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

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 these 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

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

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

Different ways in which the right of association is
understood in Europeand in the United States - Different
use which is made of it.

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 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 their 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
afterwards 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
the 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 respond 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

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, towards 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 - Part I
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 onwards by a daily and
irresistible impulse towards a state of things which may prove
either despotic or republican, but which will assuredly be

Universal Suffrage

I have already observed that universal suffrage has been
adopted in all the States of the Union; it consequently occurs
amongst different populations which occupy very different
positions in the scale of society. I have had opportunities of
observing its effects in different localities, and amongst 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

In the United States the most able men are rarely placed at the
head of affairs - Reason 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 entrusts 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 able
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

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 at which 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 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 classes of society; but it is not very favorably
inclined towards 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.

Whilst 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 eulogiums 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 succeeds 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 temple 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 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 balloting-box.

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

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

But as we descend towards 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 South-western 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 of 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

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, whilst 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 the Senate is elected

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