American Institutions and Their Influence by Alexis de Tocqueville et al

Distributed Proofreading Team AMERICAN INSTITUTIONS AND THEIR INFLUENCE. BY ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE. WITH NOTES, BY HON. JOHN C. SPENCER. Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1851, BY A.S. BARNES & CO., In the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York. ADVERTISEMENT. The
This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
FREE Audible 30 days

Distributed Proofreading Team





Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1851, BY A.S. BARNES & CO.,
In the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York.


The American publishers of M. De Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” have been frequently solicited to furnish the work in a form adapted to seminaries of learning, and at a price which would secure its more general circulation, and enable trustees of School District Libraries, and other libraries, to place it among their collections. Desirous to attain these objects, they have consulted several gentlemen, in whose judgment they confided, and particularly the editor of the American editions, to ascertain whether the work was capable of abridgment or condensation, so as to bring the expense of its publication within the necessary limits. They are advised that the nature of the work renders it impossible to condense it by omitting any remarks or illustrations of the author upon any subject discussed by him, even if common justice to him did not forbid any such attempt; and that the only mode of reducing its bulk, is to exclude wholly such subjects as are deemed not to be essential.

It will be recollected that the first volume was originally published separately, and was complete in itself. It treated of the influence of democracy upon the political institutions of the United States, and exhibited views of the nature of our government, and of their complicated machinery, so new, so striking, and so just, as to excite the admiration and even the wonder of our countrymen. It was universally admitted to be the best, if not the first systematic and philosophic view of the great principles of our constitutions which has been presented to the world. As a treatise upon the spirit of our governments, it was full and finished, and was deemed worthy of being introduced as a text-book in some of our Seminaries of Learning. The publication of the first volume alone would therefore seem to be sufficient to accomplish in the main the objects of the publishers above stated.

And upon a careful re-examination of the second volume, this impression is confirmed. It is entirely independent of the first volume, and is in no way essential to a full understanding of the principles and views contained in that volume. It discusses the effects of the democratic principle upon the tastes, feelings, habits, and manners of the Americans; and although deeply interesting and valuable, yet the observations of the author on these subjects are better calculated for foreign countries than for our own citizens. As he wrote for Europe they were necessary to his plan. They follow naturally and properly the profound views which had already been presented, and which they carry out and illustrate. But they furnish no new developments of those views, nor any facts that would be new to us.

The publishers were therefore advised that the printing of the first volume complete and entire, was the only mode of attaining the object they had in view. They have accordingly determined to adopt that course, intending, if the public sentiment should require it, hereafter to print the second volume in the same style, so that both may be had at the same moderate price.

A few notes, in addition to those contained in the former editions, have been made by the American editor, which upon a reperusal of the volume seemed useful if not necessary: and some statistical results of the census of 1840 have been added, in connection with similar results given by the author from returns previous to that year.


The following work of M. DE TOCQUEVILLE has attracted great attention throughout Europe, where it is universally regarded as a sound, philosophical, impartial, and remarkably clear and distinct view of our political institutions, and of our manners, opinions, and habits, as influencing or influenced by those institutions. Writers, reviewers, and statesmen of all parties, have united in the highest commendations of its ability and integrity. The people, described by a work of such a character, should not be the only one in Christendom unacquainted with its contents. At least, so thought many of our most distinguished men, who have urged the publishers of this edition to reprint the work, and present it to the American public. They have done so in the hope of promoting among their countrymen a more thorough knowledge of their frames of government, and a more just appreciation of the great principles on which they are founded.

But it seemed to them that a reprint in America of the views of an author so well entitled to regard and confidence, without any correction of the few errors or mistakes that might be found, would be in effect to give authenticity to the whole work, and that foreign readers, especially, would consider silence, under such circumstances, as strong evidence of the accuracy of its statements. The preface to the English edition, too, was not adapted to this country, having been written, as it would seem, in reference to the political questions which agitate Great Britain. The publishers, therefore, applied to the writer of this, to furnish them with a short preface, and such notes upon the text as might appear necessary to correct any erroneous impressions. Having had the honor of a personal acquaintance with M. DE TOCQUEVILLE while he was in this country; having discussed with him many of the topics treated of in this book; having entered deeply into the feelings and sentiments which guided and impelled him in his task, and having formed a high admiration of his character and of this production, the writer felt under some obligation to aid in procuring for one whom he ventures to call his friend, a hearing from those who were the subjects of his observations. These circumstances furnish to his own mind an apology for undertaking what no one seemed willing to attempt, notwithstanding his want of practice in literary composition, and notwithstanding the impediments of professional avocations, constantly recurring, and interrupting that strict and continued examination of the work, which became necessary, as well to detect any errors of the author, as any misunderstanding or misrepresentation of his meaning by his translator. If the same circumstances will atone in the least for the imperfections of what the editor has contributed to this edition, and will serve to mitigate the severity of judgment upon those contributions, it is all he can hope or ask.

The NOTES are confined, with very few exceptions, to the correction of what appeared to be misapprehensions of the author in regard to some matters of fact, or some principles of law, and to explaining his meaning where the translator had misconceived it. For the latter purpose the original was consulted; and it affords great pleasure to bear witness to the general fidelity with which Mr. REEVE has transferred the author’s ideas from French into English. He has not been a literal translator, and this has been the cause of the very few errors which have been discovered: but he has been more and better: he has caught the spirit of M. DE TOCQUEVILLE, has understood the sentiment he meant to express, and has clothed it in the language which M. DE TOCQUEVILLE would have himself used, had he possessed equal facility in writing the English language.

Being confined to the objects before mentioned, the reader will not find any comments on the theoretical views of our author. He has discussed many subjects on which very different opinions are entertained in the United States; but with an ability, a candor, and an evident devotion to the cause of truth, which will commend his views to those who most radically dissent from them. Indeed, readers of the most discordant opinions will find that he frequently agrees with both sides, and as frequently differs from them. As an instance, his remarks on slavery will not be found to coincide throughout with the opinions either of abolitionists or of slaveholders: but they will be found to present a masterly view of a most perplexing and interesting subject, which seems to cover the whole ground, and to lead to the melancholy conclusion of the utter impotency of human effort to eradicate this acknowledged evil. But on this, and on the various topics of the deepest interest which are discussed in this work, it was thought that the American readers would be fully competent to form their own opinions, and to detect any errors of the author, if such there are, without any attempt of the present editor to enlighten them. At all events, it is to be hoped that the citizens of the United States will patiently read, and candidly consider, the views of this accomplished foreigner, however hostile they may be to their own preconceived opinions or prejudices. He says: “There are certain truths which Americans can only learn from strangers, or from experience.” Let us, then, at least listen to one who admires us and our institutions, and whose complaints, when he makes any, are, that we have not perfected our own glorious plans, and that there are some things yet to be amended. We shall thus furnish a practical proof, that public opinion in this country is not so intolerant as the author may be understood to represent it. However mistaken he may be, his manly appeal to our understandings and to our consciences, should at least be heard. “If ever,” he says, “these lines are read in America, I am well assured of two things: in the first place, that all who peruse them will raise their voice to condemn me; and, in the second place, that very many of them will acquit me at the bottom of their consciences.” He is writing on that very sore subject, the tyranny of public opinion in the United States.

Fully to comprehend the scope of the present work, the author’s motive and object in preparing it should be distinctly kept in view. He has written, not for America, but for France. “It was not, then, merely to satisfy a legitimate curiosity,” he says, “that I have examined America: my wish has been to find instruction, by which we might ourselves profit.”–“I sought the image of democracy itself, with its inclinations, its character, its prejudices, and its passions, in order to learn what we have to hope or fear from its progress.” He thinks that the principle of democracy has sprung into new life throughout Europe, and particularly in France, and that it is advancing: with a firm and steady march to the control of all civilized governments. In his own country, he had seen a recent attempt to repress its energies within due bounds, and to prevent the consequences of its excesses. And it seems to be a main object with him, to ascertain whether these bounds can be relied upon; whether the dikes and embankments of human contrivance can keep within any appointed channel this mighty and majestic stream. Giving the fullest confidence to his declaration, that his book “is written to favor no particular views and with no design of serving or attacking any party,” it is yet evident that his mind has been very open to receive impressions unfavorable to the admission into France of the unbounded and unlimited democracy which reigns in these United States. A knowledge of this inclination of his mind will necessarily induce some caution in his readers, while perusing those parts of the work which treat of the effects of our democracy upon the stability of our government and its administration. While the views of the author, respecting the application of the democratic principle, in the extent that it exists with us, to the institutions of France, or to any of the European nations, are of the utmost importance to the people and statesmen of those countries, they are scarcely less entitled to the attention of Americans. He has exhibited, with admirable skill, the causes and circumstances which prepared our forefathers, gradually, for the enjoyment of free institutions, and which enable them to sustain, without abusing, the utmost liberty that was ever enjoyed by any people. In tracing these causes, in examining how far they continue to influence our conduct, manners, and opinions, and in searching for the means of preventing their decay or destruction, the intelligent American reader will find no better guide than M. DE TOCQUEVILLE.

Fresh from the scenes of the “three days” revolution in France, the author came among us to observe, carefully and critically, the operation of the new principle on which the happiness of his country, and, as he seems to believe, the destinies of the civilized world, depend. Filled with the love of liberty, but remembering the atrocities which, in its name, had been committed under former dynasties at home, he sought to discover the means by which it was regulated in America, and reconciled with social order. By his laborious investigations, and minute observations of the history of the settlement of the country, and of its progress through the colonial state to independence, he found the object of his inquiry in the manners, habits, and opinions, of a people who had been gradually prepared, by a long course of peculiar circumstances, and by their local position, for self-government; and he has explained, with a pencil of light, the mystery that has baffled Europeans and perplexed Americans. He exhibits us, in our present condition, a new, and to Europeans, a strange people. His views of our political institutions are more general, comprehensive, and philosophic than have been presented by any writer, domestic or foreign. He has traced them from their source, democracy–the power of the people–and has steadily pursued this foundation-principle in all its forms and modifications: in the frame of our governments, in their administration by the different executives, in our legislation, in the arrangement of our judiciary, in our manners, in religion, in the freedom and licentiousness of the press, in the influence of public opinion, and in various subtle recesses, where its existence was scarcely suspected. In all these, he analyzes and dissects the tendencies of democracy; heartily applauds where he can, and faithfully and independently gives warning of dangers that he foresees. No one can read the result of his observations without better and clearer perceptions of the structure of out governments, of the great pillars on which they rest, and of the dangers to which they are exposed: nor without a more profound and more intelligent admiration of the harmony and beauty of their formation, and of the safeguards provided for preserving and transmitting them to a distant posterity. The more that general and indefinite notions of our own liberty, greatness, happiness, &c., are made to give place to precise and accurate knowledge of the true merits of our institutions, the peculiar objects they are calculated to attain or promote, and the means provided for that purpose, the better will every citizen be enabled to discharge his great political duty of guarding those means against the approach of corruption, and of sustaining them against the violence of party commotions. No foreigner has ever exhibited such a deep, clear, and correct insight of the machinery of our complicated systems of federal and state governments. The most intelligent Europeans are confounded with our _imperium in imperio_; and their constant wonder is, that these systems are not continually jostling each other. M. DE TOCQUEVILLE has clearly perceived, and traced correctly and distinctly, the orbits in which they move, and has described, or rather defined, our federal government, with an accurate precision, unsurpassed even by an American pen. There is no citizen of this country who will not derive instruction from our author’s account of our national government, or, at least, who will not find his own ideas systematised, and rendered more fixed and precise, by the perusal of that account.

Among other subjects discussed by the author, that of the _political influence_ of the institution of trial by jury, is one of the most curious and interesting. He has certainly presented it in a light entirely new, and as important as it is new. It may be that he has exaggerated its influence as “a gratuitous public school;” but if he has, the error will be readily forgiven.

His views of religion, as connected with patriotism, in other words, with the democratic principle, which he steadily keeps in view, are conceived in the noblest spirit of philanthropy, and cannot fail to confirm the principles already so thoroughly and universally entertained by the American people. And no one can read his observations on the union of “church and state,” without a feeling of deep gratitude to the founders of our government, for saving us from such a prolific source of evil.

These allusions to topics that have interested the writer, are not intended as an enumeration of the various subjects which will arrest the attention of the American reader. They have been mentioned rather with a view of exciting an appetite for the whole feast, than as exhibiting the choice dainties which cover the board.

It remains only to observe, that in this edition the constitutions of the United States and of the state of New York, which had been published at large in the original and in the English edition, have been omitted, as they are documents to which every American reader has access. The map which the author annexed to his work, and which has been hitherto omitted, is now for the first time inserted in the American edition, to which has been added the census of 1840.



Exterior form of North America

Origin of the Anglo-Americans, and its Importance in Relation to their future Condition
Reasons of certain Anomalies which the Laws and Customs of the Anglo-Americans present

Social Condition of the Anglo-Americans The striking Characteristic of the social Condition of the Anglo-Americans is its essential Democracy Political Consequences of the social Condition of the Anglo-Americans

The Principle of the Sovereignty of the People in America

Necessity of examining the Condition of the States before that of the Union at large
The American System of Townships and municipal Bodies Limits of the Townships
Authorities of the Township in New England Existence of the Township
Public Spirit of the Townships of New England The Counties of New England
Administration in New England
General Remarks on the Administration of the United States Of the State
Legislative Power of the State
The executive Power of the State
Political Effects of the System of local Administration in the United States

Judicial Power in the United States, and its Influence on Political Society
Other Powers granted to the American Judges

Political Jurisdiction in the United States

The federal Constitution
History of the federal Constitution Summary of the federal Constitution
Prerogative of the federal Government Federal Powers
Legislative Powers
A farther Difference between the Senate and the House of Representatives The executive Power
Differences between the Position of the President of the United States and that of a constitutional King of France. Accidental Causes which may increase the Influence of the executive Government
Why the President of the United States does not require the Majority of the two Houses in Order to carry on the Government Election of the President
Mode of Election
Crisis of the Election
Re-Election of the President
Federal Courts
Means of determining the Jurisdiction of the federal Courts Different Cases of Jurisdiction
Procedure of the federal Courts
High Rank of the supreme Courts among the great Powers of the State In what Respects the federal Constitution is superior to that of the States
Characteristics which distinguish the federal Constitution of the United States of America from all other federal Constitutions Advantages of the federal System in General, and its special Utility in America
Why the federal System is not adapted to all Peoples, and how the Anglo-Americans were enabled to adopt it

Why the People may strictly be said to govern in the United States

Parties in the United States
Remains of the aristocratic Party in the United States

Liberty of the Press in the United States

Political Associations in the United States

Government of the Democracy in America Universal Suffrage
Choice of the People, and instinctive Preferences of the American Democracy
Causes which may partly correct the Tendencies of the Democracy Influence which the American Democracy has exercised on the Laws relating to Elections
Public Officers under the control of the Democracy in America Arbitrary Power of Magistrates under the Rule of the American Democracy Instability of the Administration in the United States Charges levied by the State under the rule of the American Democracy Tendencies of the American Democracy as regards the Salaries of public Officers
Difficulties of distinguishing the Causes which contribute to the Economy of the American Government
Whether the Expenditure of the United States can be compared to that of France
Corruption and vices of the Rulers in a Democracy, and consequent Effects upon public Morality
Efforts of which a Democracy is capable Self-control of the American Democracy
Conduct of foreign Affairs, by the American Democracy

What the real Advantages are which American Society derives from the Government of the Democracy
General Tendency of the Laws under the Rule of the American Democracy, and Habits of those who apply them
Public Spirit in the United States
Notion of Rights in the United States Respect for the Law in the United States Activity which pervades all the Branches of the Body politic in the United States; Influence which it exercises upon Society

Unlimited Power of the Majority in the United States, and its Consequences
How the unlimited Power of the Majority increases in America, the Instability of Legislation inherent in Democracy Tyranny of the Majority
Effects of the unlimited Power of the Majority upon the arbitrary Authority of the American public Officers Power exercised by the Majority in America upon public Opinion Effects of the Tyranny of the Majority upon the national Character of the Americans
The greatest Dangers of the American Republics proceed from the unlimited Power of the Majority

Causes which Mitigate the Tyranny of the Majority in the United States Absence of central Administration
The Profession of the Law in the United States serves to Counterpoise the Democracy
Trial by Jury in the United States considered as a political Institution

Principal Causes which tend to maintain the democratic Republic in the United States
Accidental or providential Causes which contribute to the Maintenance of the democratic Republic in the United States Influence of the Laws upon the Maintenance of the democratic Republic in the United States
Influence of Manners upon the Maintenance of the democratic Republic in the United States
Religion considered as a political Institution, which powerfully Contributes to the Maintenance of the democratic Republic among the Americans
Indirect Influence of religious Opinions upon political Society in the United States
Principal Causes which render Religion powerful in America How the Instruction, the Habits, and the practical Experience of the Americans, promote the Success of their democratic Institutions The Laws contribute more to the Maintenance of the democratic Republic in the United States than the physical Circumstances of the Country, and the Manners more than the Laws
Whether Laws and Manners are sufficient to maintain democratic Institutions in other Countries beside America Importance of what precedes with respect to the State of Europe

The present and probable future Condition of the three Races which Inhabit the Territory of the United States The present and probable future Condition of the Indian Tribes which Inhabit the Territory possessed by the Union Situation of the black Population in the United States, and Dangers with which its Presence threatens the Whites What are the Chances in favor of the Duration of the American Union, and what Dangers threaten it
Of the republican Institutions of the United States, and what their Chances of Duration are
Reflections on the Causes of the commercial Prosperity of the United States




Among the novel objects that attracted my attention during my stay in the United States, nothing struck me more forcibly than the general equality of conditions. I readily discovered the prodigious influence which this primary fact exercises on the whole course of society, by giving a certain direction to public opinion, and a certain tenor to the laws; by imparting new maxims to the governing powers, and peculiar habits to the governed.

I speedily perceived that the influence of this fact extends far beyond the political character and the laws of the country, and that it has no less empire over civil society than over the government; it creates opinions, engenders sentiments, the ordinary practices of life, and modifies whatever it does not produce.

The more I advanced in the study of American society, the more I perceived that the equality of conditions is the fundamental fact from which all others seem to be derived, and the central point at which all my observations constantly terminated.

I then turned my thoughts to our own hemisphere, where I imagined that I discerned something analogous to the spectacle which the New World presented to me. I observed that the equality of conditions is daily advancing towards those extreme limits which it seems to have reached in the United States; and that the democracy which governs the American communities, appears to be rapidly rising into power in Europe.

I hence conceived the idea of the book which is now before the reader.

It is evident to all alike that a great democratic revolution is going on among us; but there are two opinions as to its nature and consequences. To some it appears to be a novel accident, which as such may still be checked; to others it seems irresistible, because it is the most uniform, the most ancient, and the most permanent tendency which is to be found in history.

Let us recollect the situation of France seven hundred years ago, when the territory was divided among a small number of families, who were the owners of the soil and the rulers of the inhabitants; the right of governing descended with the family inheritance from generation to generation; force was the only means by which man could act on man; and landed property was the sole source of power.

Soon, however, the political power of the clergy was founded, and began to exert itself; the clergy opened its ranks to all classes, to the poor and the rich, the villain and the lord; equality penetrated into the government through the church, and the being who, as a serf, must have vegetated in perpetual bondage, took his place as a priest in the midst of nobles, and not unfrequently above the heads of kings.

The different relations of men became more complicated and more numerous, as society gradually became more stable and more civilized. Thence the want of civil laws was felt; and the order of legal functionaries soon rose from the obscurity of the tribunals and their dusty chambers, to appear at the court of the monarch, by the side of the feudal barons in their ermine and their mail.

While the kings were ruining themselves by their great enterprises, and the nobles exhausting their resources by private wars, the lower orders were enriching themselves by commerce. The influence of money began to be perceptible in state affairs. The transactions of business opened a new road to power, and the financier rose to a station of political influence in which he was at once flattered and despised.

Gradually the spread of mental acquirements, and the increasing taste for literature and art, opened chances of success to talent; science became the means of government, intelligence led to social power, and the man of letters took a part in the affairs of the state.

The value attached to the privileges of birth, decreased in the exact proportion in which new paths were struck out to advancement. In the eleventh century nobility was beyond all price; in the thirteenth it might be purchased; it was conferred for the first time in 1270; and equality was thus introduced into the government by the aristocracy itself.

In the course of these seven hundred years, it sometimes happened that, in order to resist the authority of the crown, or to diminish the power of their rivals, the nobles granted a certain share of political rights to the people. Or, more frequently the king permitted the lower orders to enjoy a degree of power, with the intention of repressing the aristocracy.

In France the kings have always been the most active and the most constant of levellers. When they were strong and ambitious, they spared no pains to raise the people to the level of the nobles; when they were temperate or weak, they allowed the people to rise above themselves. Some assisted the democracy by their talents, others by their vices. Louis XI. and Louis XIV. reduced every rank beneath the throne to the same subjection; Louis XV. descended, himself and all his court, into the dust.

As soon as land was held on any other than a feudal tenure, and personal property began in its turn to confer influence and power, every improvement which was introduced in commerce or manufacture, was a fresh element of the equality of conditions. Henceforward every new discovery, every new want which it engendered, and every new desire which craved satisfaction, was a step toward the universal level. The taste for luxury, the love of war, the sway of fashion, the most superficial, as well as the deepest passions of the human heart, co-operated to enrich the poor and to impoverish the rich.

From the time when the exercise of the intellect became the source of strength and of wealth, it is impossible not to consider every addition to science, every fresh truth, and every new idea, as a germe of power placed within the reach of the people. Poetry, eloquence, and memory, the grace of wit, the glow of imagination, the depth of thought, and all the gifts which are bestowed by Providence with an equal hand, turned to the advantage of the democracy; and even when they were in the possession of its adversaries, they still served its cause by throwing into relief the natural greatness of man; its conquests spread, therefore, with those of civilisation and knowledge; and literature became an arsenal, where the poorest and weakest could always find weapons to their hand.

In perusing the pages of our history, we shall scarcely meet with a single great event, in the lapse of seven hundred years, which has not turned to the advantage of equality.

The crusades and the wars of the English decimated the nobles, and divided their possessions; the erection of communes introduced an element of democratic liberty into the bosom of feudal monarchy; the invention of firearms equalized the villain and the noble on the field of battle; printing opened the same resources to the minds of all classes; the post was organized so as to bring the same information to the door of the poor man’s cottage and to the gate of the palace; and protestantism proclaimed that all men are alike able to find the road to heaven. The discovery of America offered a thousand new paths to fortune, and placed riches and power within the reach of the adventurous and the obscure.

If we examine what has happened in France at intervals of fifty years, beginning with the eleventh century, we shall invariably perceive that a twofold revolution has taken place in the state of society. The noble has gone down on the social ladder, and the _roturier_ has gone up; the one descends as the other rises. Every half-century brings them nearer to each other, and they will very shortly meet.

Nor is this phenomenon at all peculiar to France. Whithersoever we turn our eyes, we shall discover the same continual revolution throughout the whole of Christendom.

The various occurrences of national existence have everywhere turned to the advantage of democracy; all men have aided it by their exertions; those who have intentionally labored in its cause, and those who have served it unwittingly–those who have fought for it, and those who have declared themselves its opponents–have all been driven along in the same track, have all labored to one end, some ignorantly, and some unwillingly; all have been blind instruments in the hands of God.

The gradual development of the equality of conditions is, therefore, a providential fact, and it possesses all the characteristics of a divine decree: it is universal, it is durable, it constantly eludes all human interference, and all events as well as all men contribute to its progress.

Would it, then, be wise to imagine that a social impulse which dates from so far back, can be checked by the efforts of a generation? Is it credible that the democracy which has annihilated the feudal system, and vanquished kings, will respect the citizen and the capitalist? Will it stop now that it has grown so strong and its adversaries so weak?

None can say which way we are going, for all terms of comparison are wanting: the equality of conditions is more complete in the Christian, countries of the present day, than it has been at any time, or in any part of the world; so that the extent of what already exists prevents us from foreseeing what may be yet to come.

The whole book which is here offered to the public, has been written under the impression of a kind of religious dread, produced in the author’s mind by the contemplation of so irresistible a revolution, which has advanced for centuries in spite of such amazing obstacles, and which is still proceeding in the midst of the ruins it has made.

It is not necessary that God himself should speak in order to disclose to us the unquestionable signs of his will; we can discern them in the habitual course of nature, and in the invariable tendency of events; I know, without a special revelation, that the planets move in the orbits traced by the Creator’s fingers.

If the men of our time were led by attentive observation and by sincere reflection, to acknowledge that the gradual and progressive development of social equality is at once the past and future of their history, this solitary truth would confer the sacred character of a divine decree upon the change. To attempt to check democracy would be in that case to resist the will of God; and the nations would then be constrained to make the best of the social lot awarded to them by Providence.

The Christian nations of our age seem to me to present a most alarming spectacle; the impulse which is bearing them along is so strong that it cannot be stopped, but it is not yet so rapid that it cannot be guided: their fate is in their hands; yet a little while and it may be so no longer.

The first duty which is at this time imposed upon those who direct our affairs is to educate the democracy; to warm its faith, if that be possible; to purify its morals; to direct its energies; to substitute a knowledge of business for its inexperience, and an acquaintance with its true interests for its blind propensities; to adapt its government to time and place, and to modify it in compliance with the occurrences and the actors of the age.

A new science of politics is indispensable to a new world.

This, however, is what we think of least; launched in the middle of a rapid stream, we obstinately fix our eyes on the ruins which may still be descried upon the shore we have left, while the current sweeps us along, and drives us backward toward the gulf.

In no country in Europe has the great social revolution which I have been describing, made such rapid progress as in France; but it has always been borne on by chance. The heads of the state have never had any forethought for its exigences, and its victories have been obtained without their consent or without their knowledge. The most powerful, the most intelligent, and the most moral classes of the nation have never attempted to connect themselves with it in order to guide it. The people have consequently been abandoned to its wild propensities, and it has grown up like those outcasts who receive their education in the public streets, and who are unacquainted with aught but the vices and wretchedness of society. The existence of a democracy was seemingly unknown, when, on a sudden, it took possession of the supreme power. Everything was then submitted to its caprices; it was worshipped as the idol of strength; until, when it was enfeebled by its own excesses, the legislator conceived the rash project of annihilating its power, instead of instructing it and correcting its vices; no attempt was made to fit it to govern, but all were bent on excluding it from the government.

The consequence of this has been that the democratic revolution has been effected only in the material parts of society, without that concomitant change in laws, ideas, customs, and manners, which was necessary to render such a revolution beneficial. We have gotten a democracy, but without the conditions which lessen its vices, and render its natural advantages more prominent; and although we already perceive the evils it brings, we are ignorant of the benefits it may confer.

While the power of the crown, supported by the aristocracy, peaceably governed the nations of Europe, society possessed, in the midst of its wretchedness, several different advantages which can now scarcely be appreciated or conceived.

The power of a part of his subjects was an insurmountable barrier to the tyranny of the prince; and the monarch who felt the almost divine character which he enjoyed in the eyes of the multitude, derived a motive for the just use of his power from the respect which he inspired.

High as they were placed above the people, the nobles could not but take that calm and benevolent interest in its fate which the shepherd feels toward his flock; and without acknowledging the poor as their equals, they watched over the destiny of those whose welfare Providence had intrusted to their care.

The people, never having conceived the idea of a social condition different from its own, and entertaining no expectation of ever ranking with its chiefs, received benefits from them without discussing their rights. It grew attached to them when they were clement and just, but it submitted without resistance or servility to their exactions, as to the inevitable visitations of the arm of God. Custom, and the manners of the time, had moreover created a species of law in the midst of violence, and established certain limits to oppression.

As the noble never suspected that any one would attempt to deprive him of the privileges which he believed to be legitimate, and as the serf looked upon his own inferiority as a consequence of the immutable order of nature, it is easy to imagine that a mutual exchange of good-will took place between two classes so differently gifted by fate. Inequality and wretchedness were then to be found in society; but the souls of neither rank of men were degraded.

Men are not corrupted by the exercise of power or debased by the habit of obedience; but by the exercise of power which they believe to be illegal, and by obedience to a rule which they consider to be usurped and oppressive.

On one side were wealth, strength, and leisure, accompanied by the refinement of luxury, the elegance of taste, the pleasures of wit, and the religion of art. On the other were labor, and a rude ignorance; but in the midst of this coarse and ignorant multitude, it was not uncommon to meet with energetic passions, generous sentiments, profound religious convictions, and independent virtues.

The body of a state thus organized, might boast of its stability, its power, and above all, of its glory.

But the scene is now changed, and gradually the two ranks mingle; the divisions which once severed mankind, are lowered; property is divided, power is held in common, the light of intelligence spreads, and the capacities of all classes are equally cultivated; the state becomes democratic, and the empire of democracy is slowly and peaceably introduced into the institutions and manners of the nation.

I can conceive a society in which all men would profess an equal attachment and respect for the laws of which they are the common authors; in which the authority of the state would be respected as necessary, though not as divine; and the loyalty of the subject to the chief magistrate would not be a passion, but a quiet and rational persuasion. Every individual being in the possession of rights which he is sure to retain, a kind of manly reliance and reciprocal courtesy would arise between all classes, alike removed from pride and meanness.

The people, well acquainted with its true interests, would allow, that in order to profit by the advantages of society, it is necessary to satisfy its demands. In this state of things, the voluntary association of the citizens might supply the individual exertions of the nobles, and the community would be alike protected from anarchy and from oppression.

I admit that in a democratic state thus constituted, society will not be stationary; but the impulses of the social body may be regulated and directed forward; if there be less splendor than in the halls of an aristocracy, the contrast of misery will be less frequent also; the pleasures of enjoyment may be less excessive, but those of comfort will be more general; the sciences may be less perfectly cultivated, but ignorance will be less common; the impetuosity of the feelings will be repressed, and the habits of the nation softened; there will be more vices and fewer crimes.

In the absence of enthusiasm and of an ardent faith, great sacrifices may be obtained from the members of a commonwealth by an appeal to their understandings and their experience: each individual will feel the same necessity for uniting with his fellow-citizens to protect his own weakness; and as he knows that if they are to assist he must co-operate, he will readily perceive that his personal interest is identified with the interest of the community.

The nation, taken as a whole, will be less brilliant, less glorious, and perhaps less strong; but the majority of the citizens will enjoy a greater degree of prosperity, and the people will remain quiet, not because it despairs of melioration, but because it is conscious of the advantages of its condition.

If all the consequences of this state of things were not good or useful, society would at least have appropriated all such as were useful and good; and having once and for ever renounced the social advantages of aristocracy, mankind would enter into possession of all the benefits which democracy can afford.

But here it may be asked what we have adopted in the place of those institutions, those ideas, and those customs of our forefathers which we have abandoned.

The spell of royalty is broken, but it has not been succeeded by the majesty of the laws; the people have learned to despise all authority. But fear now extorts a larger tribute of obedience than that which was formerly paid by reverence and by love.

I perceive that we have destroyed those independent beings which were able to cope with tyranny single-handed; but it is the government that has inherited the privileges of which families, corporations, and individuals, have been deprived; the weakness of the whole community has, therefore, succeeded to that influence of a small body of citizens, which, if it was sometimes oppressive, was often conservative.

The division of property has lessened the distance which separated the rich from the poor; but it would seem that the nearer they draw to each other, the greater is their mutual hatred, and the more vehement the envy and the dread with which they resist each other’s claims to power; the notion of right is alike insensible to both classes, and force affords to both the only argument for the present, and the only guarantee for the future.

The poor man retains the prejudices of his forefathers without their faith, and their ignorance without their virtues; he has adopted the doctrine of self-interest as the rule of his actions, without understanding the science which controls it, and his egotism is no less blind than his devotedness was formerly.

If society is tranquil, it is not because it relies upon its strength and its well-being, but because it knows its weakness and its infirmities; a single effort may cost it its life; everybody feels the evil, but no one has courage or energy enough to seek the cure; the desires, the regret, the sorrows, and the joys of the time, produce nothing that is visible or permanent, like the passions of old men which terminate in impotence.

We have, then, abandoned whatever advantages the old state of things afforded, without receiving any compensation from our present condition; having destroyed an aristocracy, we seem inclined to survey its ruins with complacency, and to fix our abode in the midst of them.

The phenomena which the intellectual world presents, are not less deplorable. The democracy of France, checked in its course or abandoned to its lawless passions, has overthrown whatever crossed its path, and has shaken all that it has not destroyed. Its control over society has not been gradually introduced, or peaceably established, but it has constantly advanced in the midst of disorder, and the agitation of a conflict. In the heat of the struggle each partisan is hurried beyond the limits of his opinions by the opinions and the excesses of his opponents, until he loses sight of the end of his exertions, and holds a language which disguises his real sentiments or secret instincts. Hence arises the strange confusion which we are beholding.

I cannot recall to my mind a passage in history more worthy of sorrow and of pity than the scenes which are happening under our eyes; it is as if the natural bond which unites the opinions of man to his tastes, and his actions to his principles, was now broken; the sympathy which has always been acknowledged between the feelings and the ideas of mankind, appears to be dissolved, and all the laws of moral analogy to be abolished.

Zealous Christians may be found among us, whose minds are nurtured in the love and knowledge of a future life, and who readily espouse the cause of human liberty, as the source of all moral greatness. Christianity, which has declared that all men are equal in the sight of God, will not refuse to acknowledge that all citizens are equal in the eye of the law. But, by a singular concourse of events, religion is entangled in those institutions which democracy assails, and it is not unfrequently brought to reject the equality it loves, and to curse that cause of liberty as a foe, which it might hallow by its alliance.

By the side of these religious men I discern others whose looks are turned to the earth more than to heaven; they are the partisans of liberty, not only as the source of the noblest virtues, but more especially as the root of all solid advantages; and they sincerely desire to extend its sway, and to impart its blessings to mankind. It is natural that they should hasten to invoke the assistance of religion, for they must know that liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith; but they have seen religion in the ranks of their adversaries, and they inquire no farther; some of them attack it openly, and the remainder are afraid to defend it.

In former ages slavery has been advocated by the venal and slavish-minded, while the independent and the warm-hearted were struggling without hope to save the liberties of mankind. But men of high and generous characters are now to be met with, whose opinions are at variance with their inclinations, and who praise that servility which they have themselves never known. Others, on the contrary, speak in the name of liberty as if they were able to feel its sanctity and its majesty, and loudly claim for humanity those rights which they have always disowned.

There are virtuous and peaceful individuals whose pure morality, quiet habits, affluence, and talents, fit them to be the leaders of the surrounding population; their love of their country is sincere, and they are prepared to make the greatest sacrifices to its welfare, but they confound the abuses of civilisation with its benefits, and the idea of evil is inseparable in their minds from that of novelty.

Not far from this class is another party, whose object is to materialise mankind, to hit upon what is expedient without heeding what is just; to acquire knowledge without faith, and prosperity apart from virtue; assuming the title of the champions of modern civilisation, and placing themselves in a station which they usurp with insolence, and from which they are driven by their own unworthiness.

Where are we then?

The religionists are the enemies of liberty, and the friends of liberty attack religion; the high-minded and the noble advocate subjection, and the meanest and most servile minds preach independence; honest and enlightened citizens are opposed to all progress, while men without patriotism and without principles, are the apostles of civilisation and of intelligence.

Has such been the fate of the centuries which have preceded our own? and has man always inhabited a world, like the present, where nothing is linked together, where virtue is without genius, and genius without honor; where the love of order is confounded with a taste for oppression, and the holy rites of freedom with a contempt of law; where the light thrown by conscience on human actions is dim, and where nothing seems to be any longer forbidden or allowed, honorable or shameful, false or true?

I cannot, however, believe that the Creator made man to leave him in an endless struggle with the intellectual miseries which surround us: God destines a calmer and a more certain future to the communities of Europe; I am unacquainted with his designs, but I shall not cease to believe in them because I cannot fathom them, and I had rather mistrust my own capacity than his justice.

There is a country in the world where the great revolution which I am speaking of seems nearly to have reached its natural limits; it has been effected with ease and simplicity, say rather that this country has attained the consequences of the democratic revolution which we are undergoing, without having experienced the revolution itself.

The emigrants who fixed themselves on the shores of America in the beginning of the seventeenth century, severed the democratic principle from all the principles which repressed it in the old communities of Europe, and transplanted it unalloyed to the New World. It has there been allowed to spread in perfect freedom, and to put forth its consequences in the laws by influencing the manners of the country.

It appears to me beyond a doubt, that sooner or later we shall arrive, like the Americans, at an almost complete equality of conditions. But I do not conclude from this, that we shall ever be necessarily led to draw the same political consequences which the Americans have derived from a similar social organization. I am far from supposing that they have chosen the only form of government which a democracy may adopt; but the identity of the efficient cause of laws and manners in the two countries is sufficient to account for the immense interest we have in becoming acquainted with its effects in each of them.

It is not, then, merely to satisfy a legitimate curiosity that I have examined America; my wish has been to find instruction by which we may ourselves profit. Whoever should imagine that I have intended to write a panegyric would be strangely mistaken, and on reading this book, he will perceive that such was not my design: nor has it been my object to advocate any form of government in particular, for I am of opinion that absolute excellence is rarely to be found in any legislation; I have not even affected to discuss whether the social revolution, which I believe to be irresistible, is advantageous or prejudicial to mankind; I have acknowledged this revolution as a fact already accomplished or on the eve of its accomplishment; and I have selected the nation, from among those which have undergone it, in which its development has been the most peaceful and the most complete, in order to discern its natural consequences, and, if it be possible, to distinguish the means by which it may be rendered profitable. I confess that in America I saw more than America; I sought the image of democracy itself, with its inclinations, its character, its prejudices, and its passions, in order to learn what we have to fear or to hope from its progress.

In the first part of this work I have attempted to show the tendency given to the laws by the democracy of America, which is abandoned almost without restraint to its instinctive propensities; and to exhibit the course it prescribes to the government, and the influence it exercises on affairs. I have sought to discover the evils and the advantages which it produces. I have examined the precautions used by the Americans to direct it, as well as those which they have not adopted, and I have undertaken to point out the causes which enable it to govern society.

It was my intention to depict, in a second part, the influence which the equality of conditions and the rule of democracy exercise on the civil society, the habits, the ideas, and the manners of the Americans; I begin, however, to feel less ardor for the accomplishment of this project, since the excellent work of my friend and travelling companion M. de Beaumont has been given to the world.[1] I do not know whether I have succeeded in making known what I saw in America, but I am certain that such has been my sincere desire, and that I have never, knowingly, moulded facts to ideas, instead of ideas to facts.

Whenever a point could be established by the aid of written documents, I have had recourse to the original text, and to the most authentic and approved works.[2] I have cited my authorities in the notes, and any one may refer to them. Whenever an opinion, a political custom, or a remark on the manners of the country was concerned, I endeavored to consult the most enlightened men I met with. If the point in question was important or doubtful, I was not satisfied with one testimony, but I formed my opinion on the evidence of several witnesses. Here the reader must necessarily believe me upon my word. I could frequently have quoted names which are either known to him, or which deserve to be so, in proof of what I advance; but I have carefully abstained from this practice. A stranger frequently hears important truths at the fireside of his host, which the latter would perhaps conceal even from the ear of friendship; he consoles himself with his guest, for the silence to which he is restricted, and the shortness of the traveller’s stay takes away all fear of his indiscretion. I carefully noted every conversation of this nature as soon as it occurred, but these notes will never leave my writing-case; I had rather injure the success of my statements than add my name to the list of those strangers who repay the generous hospitality they have received by subsequent chagrin and annoyance.

I am aware that, notwithstanding my care, nothing will be easier than to criticise this book, if any one ever chooses to criticise it.

Those readers who may examine it closely will discover the fundamental idea which connects the several parts together. But the diversity of the subjects I have had to treat is exceedingly great, and it will not be difficult to oppose an isolated fact to the body of facts which I quote, or an isolated idea to the body of ideas I put forth. I hope to be read in the spirit which has guided my labors, and that my book may be judged by the general impression it leaves, as I have formed my own judgment not on any single reason, but upon the mass of evidence.

It must not be forgotten that the author who wishes to be understood is obliged to push all his ideas to their utmost theoretical consequences, and often to the verge of what is false or impracticable; for if it be necessary sometimes to quit the rules of logic in active life, such is not the case in discourse, and a man finds that almost as many difficulties spring from inconsistency of language, as usually arise from consistency of conduct.

I conclude by pointing out myself what many readers will consider the principal defect of the work. This book is written to favor no particular views, and in composing it I have entertained no design of serving or attacking any party: I have undertaken not to see differently, but to look farther than parties, and while they are busied for the morrow, I have turned my thoughts to the future.

* * * * *


[1] This work is entitled, Marie, ou l’Esclavage aux Etats-Unis.

[2] Legislative and administrative documents have been furnished me with a degree of politeness which I shall always remember with gratitude. Among the American functionaries who thus favored my inquiries I am proud to name Mr. Edward Livingston, then Secretary of State and late American minister at Paris. During my stay at the session of Congress, Mr. Livingston was kind enough to furnish me with the greater part of the documents I possess relative to the federal government. Mr. Livingston is one of those rare individuals whom one loves, respects, and admires, from their writings, and to whom one is happy to incur the debt of gratitude on further acquaintance.




North America divided into two vast regions, one inclining toward the Pole, the other toward the Equator.–Valley of the Mississippi.–Traces of the Revolutions of the Globe.–Shore of the Atlantic Ocean, where the English Colonies were founded.–Difference in the Appearance of North and of South America at the Time of their Discovery.–Forests of North America.–Prairies.–Wandering Tribes of Natives.–Their outward Appearance, Manners, and Language.–Traces of an Unknown People.

North America presents in its external form certain general features, which it is easy to discriminate at the first glance.

A sort of methodical order seems to have regulated the separation of land and water, mountains and valleys. A simple but grand arrangement is discoverable amid the confusion of objects and the prodigious variety of scenes.

This continent is divided, almost equally, into two vast regions, one of which is bounded, on the north by the arctic pole, and by the two great oceans on the east and west. It stretches toward the south, forming a triangle, whose irregular sides meet at length below the great lakes of Canada.

The second region begins where the other terminates, and includes all the remainder of the continent.

The one slopes gently toward the pole, the other toward the equator.

The territory comprehended in the first regions descends toward the north with so imperceptible a slope that it may almost be said to form a level plain. Within the bounds of this immense tract of country there are neither high mountains nor deep valleys. Streams meander through it irregularly; great rivers mix their currents, separate and meet again, disperse and form vast marshes, losing all trace of their channels in the labyrinth of waters they have themselves created; and thus, at length, after innumerable windings, fall into the polar seas. The great lakes which bound this first region are not walled in, like most of those in the Old World, between hills and rocks. Their banks are flat, and rise but a few feet above the level of their waters; each of them thus forming a vast bowl filled to the brim. The slightest change in the structure of the globe would cause their waters to rush either toward the pole or to the tropical sea.

The second region is more varied on its surface, and better suited for the habitation of man. Two long chains of mountains divide it from one extreme to the other; the Allegany ridge takes the form of the shores of the Atlantic ocean; the other is parallel with the Pacific.

The space which lies between these two chains of mountains contains 1,341,649 square miles.[3] Its surface is therefore about six times as great as that of France.

This vast territory, however, forms a single valley, one side of which descends gradually from the rounded summits of the Alleganies, while the other rises in an uninterrupted course toward the tops of the Rocky mountains.

At the bottom of the valley flows an immense river, into which the various streams issuing from the mountains fall from all parts. In memory of their native land, the French formerly called this the river St. Louis. The Indians, in their pompous language, have named it the Father of Waters, or the Mississippi.

The Mississippi takes its source above the limit of the two great regions of which I have spoken, not far from the highest point of the table-land where they unite. Near the same spot rises another river,[4] which empties itself into the polar seas. The course of the Mississippi is at first devious: it winds several times toward the north, whence it rose; and, at length, after having been delayed in lakes and marshes, it flows slowly onward to the south.

Sometimes quietly gliding along the argillaceous bed which nature has assigned to it, sometimes swollen by storms, the Mississippi waters 2,500 miles in its course.[5] At the distance of 1,364 miles from its mouth this river attains an average depth of fifteen feet; and it is navigated by vessels of 300 tons burden for a course of nearly 500 miles. Fifty-seven large navigable rivers contribute to swell the waters of the Mississippi; among others the Missouri, which traverses a space of 2,500 miles; the Arkansas of 1,300 miles; the Red river 1,000 miles; four whose course is from 800 to 1000 miles in length, viz., the Illinois, the St. Peter’s, the St. Francis, and the Moingona; besides a countless number of rivulets which unite from all parts their tributary streams.

The valley which is watered by the Mississippi seems formed to be the bed of this mighty river, which like a god of antiquity dispenses both good and evil in its course. On the shores of the stream nature displays an inexhaustible fertility; in proportion as you recede from its banks, the powers of vegetation languish, the soil becomes poor, and the plants that survive have a sickly growth. Nowhere have the great convulsions of the globe left more evident traces than in the valley of the Mississippi: the whole aspect of the country shows the powerful effects of water, both by its fertility and by its barrenness. The waters of the primeval ocean accumulated enormous beds of vegetable mould in the valley, which they levelled as they retired. Upon the right shore of the river are seen immense plains, as smooth as if the husbandman had passed over them with his roller. As you approach the mountains, the soil becomes more and more unequal and sterile; the ground is, as it were, pierced in a thousand places by primitive rocks, which appear like the bones of a skeleton whose flesh is partly consumed. The surface of the earth is covered with a granitic sand, and huge irregular masses of stone, among which a few plants force their growth, and give the appearance of a green field covered with the ruins of a vast edifice. These stones and this sand discover, on examination, a perfect analogy with those which compose the arid and broken summits of the Rocky mountains. The flood of waters which washed the soil to the bottom of the valley, afterward carried away portions of the rocks themselves; and these, dashed and bruised against the neighboring cliffs, were left scattered like wrecks at their feet.[6]

The valley of the Mississippi is, upon the whole, the most magnificent dwelling-place prepared by God for man’s abode; and yet it may be said that at present it is but a mighty desert.

On the eastern side of the Alleganies, between the base of these mountains and the Atlantic ocean, lies a long ridge of rocks and sand, which the sea appears to have left behind as it retired. The mean breadth of this territory does not exceed one hundred miles; but it is about nine hundred miles in length. This part of the American continent has a soil which offers every obstacle to the husbandman, and its vegetation is scanty and unvaried.

Upon this inhospitable coast the first united efforts of human industry were made. This tongue of arid land was the cradle of those English colonies which were destined one day to become the United States of America. The centre of power still remains there; while in the backward States the true elements of the great people, to whom the future control of the continent belongs, are secretly springing up.

When the Europeans first landed on the shores of the Antilles, and afterwards on the coast of South America, they thought themselves transported into those fabulous regions of which poets had sung. The sea sparkled with phosphoric light, and the extraordinary transparency of its waters discovered to the view of the navigator all that had hitherto been hidden in the deep abyss.[7] Here and there appeared little islands perfumed with odoriferous plants, and resembling baskets of flowers, floating on the tranquil surface of the ocean. Every object which met the sight, in this enchanting region, seemed prepared to satisfy the wants, or contribute to the pleasures of man. Almost all the trees were loaded with nourishing fruits, and those which were useless as food, delighted the eye by the brilliancy and variety of their colors. In groves of fragrant lemon-trees, wild figs, flowering myrtles, acacias, and oleanders, which were hung with festoons of various climbing-plants, covered with flowers, a multitude of birds unknown in Europe displayed their bright plumage, glittering with purple and azure, and mingled their warbling in the harmony of a world teeming with life and motion.[8]

Underneath this brilliant exterior death was concealed. The air of these climates had so enervating an influence that man, completely absorbed by the present enjoyment, was rendered regardless of the future.

North America appeared under a very different aspect; there, everything was grave, serious, and solemn; it seemed created to be the domain of intelligence, as the south was that of sensual delight. A turbulent and foggy ocean washed its shores. It was girded round by a belt of granite rocks, or by wide plains of sand. The foliage of its woods was dark and gloomy; for they were composed of firs, larches, evergreen oaks, wild olive-trees, and laurels.

Beyond this outer belt lay the thick shades of the central forests, where the largest trees which are produced in the two hemispheres grow side by side. The plane, the catalpa, the sugar-maple, and the Virginian poplar, mingled their branches with those of the oak, the beech, and the lime.

In these, as in the forests of the Old World, destruction was perpetually going on. The ruins of vegetation were heaped upon each other; but there was no laboring hand to remove them, and their decay was not rapid enough to make room for the continual work of reproduction. Climbing-plants, grasses and other herbs, forced their way through the moss of dying trees; they crept along their bending trunks, found nourishment in their dusty cavities, and a passage beneath the lifeless bark. Thus decay gave its assistance to life, and their respective productions were mingled together. The depths of these forests were gloomy and obscure, and a thousand rivulets, undirected in their course by human industry, preserved in them a constant moisture. It was rare to meet with flowers, wild fruits, or birds, beneath their shades. The fall of a tree overthrown by age, the rushing torrent of a cataract, the lowing of the buffalo, and the howling of the wind, were the only sounds which broke the silence of nature.

To the east of the great river the woods almost disappeared; in their stead were seen prairies of immense extent. Whether nature in her infinite variety had denied the germes of trees to these fertile plains, or whether they had once been covered with forests, subsequently destroyed by the hand of man, is a question which neither tradition nor scientific research has been able to resolve.

These immense deserts were not, however, devoid of human inhabitants. Some wandering tribes had been for ages scattered among the forest shades or the green pastures of the prairie. From the mouth of the St. Lawrence to the Delta of the Mississippi, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific ocean, these savages possessed certain points of resemblance which bore witness of their common origin: but at the same time they differed from all other known races of men:[9] they were neither white like the Europeans, nor yellow like most of the Asiatics, nor black like the negroes. Their skin was reddish brown, their hair long and shining, their lips thin, and their cheek-bones very prominent. The languages spoken by the North American tribes were various as far as regarded their words, but they were subject to the same grammatical rules. Those rules differed in several points from such as had been observed to govern the origin of language.

The idiom of the Americans seemed to be the product of new combinations, and bespoke an effort of the understanding, of which the Indians of our days would be incapable.[10]

The social state of these tribes differed also in many respects from all that was seen in the Old World. They seemed to have multiplied freely in the midst of their deserts, without coming in contact with other races more civilized than their own.

Accordingly, they exhibited none of those indistinct, incoherent notions of right and wrong, none of that deep corruption of manners that is usually joined with ignorance and rudeness among nations which, after advancing to civilisation, have relapsed into a state of barbarism. The Indian was indebted to no one but himself; his virtues, his vices, and his prejudices, were his own work; he had grown up in the wild independence of his nature.

If, in polished countries, the lowest of the people are rude and uncivil, it is not merely because they are poor and ignorant, but that, being so, they are in daily contact with rich and enlightened men. The sight of their own hard lot and of their weakness, which are daily contrasted with the happiness and power of some of their fellow creatures, excites in their hearts at the same time the sentiments of anger and of fear: the consciousness of their inferiority and of their dependence irritates while it humiliates them. This state of mind displays itself in their manners and language; they are at once insolent and servile. The truth of this is easily proved by observation; the people are more rude in aristocratic countries than elsewhere; in opulent cities than in rural districts. In those places where the rich and powerful are assembled together, the weak and the indigent feel themselves oppressed by their inferior condition. Unable to perceive a single chance of regaining their equality, they give up to despair, and allow themselves to fall below the dignity of human nature.

This unfortunate effect of the disparity of conditions is not observable in savage life; the Indians, although they are ignorant and poor, are equal and free.

At the period when Europeans first came among them, the natives of North America were ignorant of the value of riches, and indifferent to the enjoyments which civilized man procures to himself by their means. Nevertheless there was nothing coarse in their demeanor; they practised an habitual reserve, and a kind of aristocratic politeness.

Mild and hospitable when at peace, though merciless in war beyond any known degree of human ferocity, the Indian would expose himself to die of hunger in order to succor the stranger who asked admittance by night at the door of his hut–yet he could tear in pieces with his hands the still quivering limbs of his prisoner. The famous republics of antiquity never gave examples of more unshaken courage, more haughty spirits, or more intractable love of independence, than were hidden in former times among the wild forests of the New World.[11] The Europeans produced no great impression when they landed upon the shores of North America: their presence engendered neither envy nor fear. What influence could they possess over such men as we have described? The Indian could live without wants, suffer without complaint, and pour out his death-song at the stake.[12] Like all the other members of the great human family, these savages believed in the existence of a better world, and adored, under different names, God, the Creator of the universe. Their notions on the great intellectual truths were, in general, simple and philosophical.[13]

Although we have here traced the character of a primitive people, yet it cannot be doubted that another people, more civilized and more advanced in all respects, had preceded it in the same regions.

An obscure tradition, which prevailed among the Indians to the north of the Atlantic, informs us that these very tribes formerly dwelt on the west side of the Mississippi. Along the banks of the Ohio, and throughout the central valley, there are frequently found, at this day, _tumuli_ raised by the hands of men. On exploring these heaps of earth to their centre, it is usual to meet with human bones, strange instruments, arms and utensils of all kinds, made of a metal, or destined for purposes, unknown to the present race.

The Indians of our time are unable to give any information relative to the history of this unknown people. Neither did those who lived three hundred years ago, when America was first discovered, leave any accounts from which even an hypothesis could be formed. Tradition–that perishable, yet ever-renewed monument of the pristine world–throws no light upon the subject. It is an undoubted fact, however, that in this part of the globe thousands of our fellow-beings had lived. When they came hither, what was their origin, their destiny, their history, and how they perished, no one can tell.

How strange does it appear that nations have existed, and afterward so completely disappeared from the earth, that the remembrance of their very name is effaced: their languages are lost; their glory is vanished like a sound without an echo; but perhaps there is not one which has not left behind it a tomb in memory of its passage. The most durable monument of human labor is that which recalls the wretchedness and nothingness of man.

Although the vast country which we have been describing was inhabited by many indigenous tribes, it may justly be said, at the time of its discovery by Europeans, to have formed one great desert. The Indians occupied, without possessing it. It is by agricultural labor that man appropriates the soil, and the early inhabitants of North America lived by the produce of the chase. Their implacable prejudices, their uncontrolled passions, their vices, and still more, perhaps, their savage virtues, consigned them to inevitable destruction. The ruin of these nations began from the day when Europeans landed on their shores: it has proceeded ever since, and we are now seeing the completion of it. They seemed to have been placed by Providence amid the riches of the New World to enjoy them for a season, and then surrender them. Those coasts, so admirably adapted for commerce and industry; those wide and deep rivers; that inexhaustible valley of the Mississippi; the whole continent, in short, seemed prepared to be the abode of a great nation, yet unborn.

In that land the great experiment was to be made by civilized man, of the attempt to construct society upon a new basis; and it was there, for the first time, that theories hitherto unknown, or deemed impracticable, were to exhibit a spectacle for which the world had not been prepared by the history of the past.

* * * * *


[3] Darby’s “View of the United States.”

[4] Mackenzie’s river.

[5] Warden’s “Description of the United States.”

[6] See Appendix A.

[7] Malte Brun tells us (vol. v., p. 726) that the water of the Caribbean sea is so transparent, that corals and fish are discernible at a depth of sixty fathoms. The ship seemed to float in the air, the navigator became giddy as his eye penetrated through the crystal flood, and beheld submarine gardens, or beds of shells, or gilded fishes gliding among tufts and thickets of seaweed.

[8] See Appendix B.

[9] With the progress of discovery, some resemblance has been found to exist between the physical conformation, the language, and the habits of the Indians of North America, and those of the Tongous, Mantchous, Moguls, Tartars, and other wandering tribes of Asia. The land occupied by these tribes is not very distant from Behring’s strait; which allows of the supposition, that at a remote period they gave inhabitants to the desert continent of America. But this is a point which has not yet been clearly elucidated by science. See Malte Brun, vol. v.; the works of Humboldt; Fischer, “Conjecture sur l’Origine des Americains;” Adair, “History of the American Indians.”

[10] See Appendix C.

[11] We learn from President Jefferson’s “Notes upon Virginia,” p. 148, that among the Iroquois, when attacked by a superior force, aged men refused to fly, or to survive the destruction of their country; and they braved death like the ancient Romans when their capital was sacked by the Gauls. Further on, p. 150, he tells us, that there is no example of an Indian, who, having fallen into the hands of his enemies, begged for his life; on the contrary, the captive sought to obtain death at the hands of his conquerors by the use of insult and provocation.

[12] See “Histoire de la Louisiane,” by Lepage Dupratz; Charlevoix, “Histoire de la Nouvelle France;” “Lettres du Rev. G. Hecwelder;” “Transactions of the American Philosophical Society,” v. i.; Jefferson’s “Notes on Virginia,” pp. 135-190. What is said by Jefferson is of especial weight, on account of the personal merit of the writer, and of the matter-of-fact age in which he lived.

[13] See Appendix D.



Utility of knowing the Origin of Nations in order to understand their social Condition and their Laws.–America the only Country in which the Starting-Point of a great People has been clearly observable.–In what respects all who emigrated to British America were similar.–In what they differed.–Remark applicable to all the Europeans who established themselves on the shores of the New World.–Colonization of Virginia.– Colonization of New England.–Original Character of the first inhabitants of New England.–Their Arrival.–Their first Laws.–Their social Contract.–Penal Code borrowed from the Hebrew Legislation.– Religious Fervor.–Republican Spirit.–Intimate Union of the Spirit of Religion with the Spirit of Liberty.

After the birth of a human being, his early years are obscurely spent in the toils or pleasures of childhood. As he grows up, the world receives him, when his manhood begins, and he enters into contact with his fellows. He is then studied for the first time, and it is imagined that the germe of the vices and the virtues of his maturer years is then formed.

This, if I am not mistaken, is a great error. We must begin higher up; we must watch the infant in his mother’s arms; we must see the first images which the external world casts upon the dark mirror of his mind; the first occurrences which he beholds; we must hear the first words which awaken the sleeping powers of thought, and stand by his earliest efforts, if we would understand the prejudices, the habits, and the passions, which will rule his life. The entire man is, so to speak, to be seen in the cradle of the child.

The growth of nations presents something analogous to this; they all bear some marks of their origin; and the circumstances which accompanied their birth and contributed to their rise, affect the whole term of their being.

If we were able to go back to the elements of states, and to examine the oldest monuments of their history, I doubt not that we should discover the primary cause of the prejudices, the habits, the ruling passions, and in short of all that constitutes what is called the national character: we should then find the explanation of certain customs which now seem at variance with prevailing manners, of such laws as conflict with established principles, and of such incoherent opinions as are here and there to be met with in society, like those fragments of broken chains which we sometimes see hanging from the vault of an edifice, and supporting nothing. This might explain the destinies of certain nations which seem borne along by an unknown force to ends of which they themselves are ignorant. But hitherto facts have been wanting to researches of this kind: the spirit of inquiry has only come upon communities in their latter days; and when they at length turned their attention to contemplate their origin, time had already obscured it, or ignorance and pride adorned it with truth-concealing fables.

America is the only country in which it has been possible to study the natural and tranquil growth of society, and where the influence exercised on the future condition of states by their origin is clearly distinguishable.

At the period when the people of Europe landed in the New World, their national characteristics were already completely formed; each of them had a physiognomy of its own; and as they had already attained that stage of civilisation at which men are led to study themselves, they have transmitted to us a faithful picture of their opinions, their manners, and their laws. The men of the sixteenth century are almost as well known to us as our contemporaries. America consequently exhibits in the broad light of day the phenomena which the ignorance or rudeness of earlier ages conceals from our researches. Near enough to the time when the states of America were founded to be accurately acquainted with their elements, and sufficiently removed from that period to judge of some of their results. The men of our own day seem destined to see farther than their predecessors into the series of human events. Providence has given us a torch which our forefathers did not possess, and has allowed us to discern fundamental causes in the history of the world which the obscurity of the past concealed from them.

If we carefully examine the social and political state of America, after having studied its history, we shall remain perfectly convinced that not an opinion, not a custom, not a law, I may even say not an event, is upon record which the origin of that people will not explain. The readers of this book will find the germe of all that is to follow in the present chapter, and the key to almost the whole work.

The emigrants who came at different periods to occupy the territory now covered by the American Union, differed from each other in many respects; their aim was not the same, and they governed themselves on different principles.

These men had, however, certain features in common, and they were all placed in an analogous situation. The tie of language is perhaps the strongest and most durable that can unite mankind. All the emigrants spoke the same tongue; they were all offsets from the same people. Born in a country which had been agitated for centuries by the struggles of faction, and in which all parties had been obliged in their turn to place themselves under the protection of the laws, their political education had been perfected in this rude school, and they were more conversant with the notions of right, and the principles of true freedom, than the greater part of their European contemporaries. At the period of the first emigrations, the parish system, that fruitful germe of free institutions, was deeply rooted in the habits of the English; and with it the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people had been introduced even into the bosom of the monarchy of the house of Tudor.

The religious quarrels which have agitated the Christian world were then rife. England had plunged into the new order of things with headlong vehemence. The character of its inhabitants, which had always been sedate and reflecting, became argumentative and austere. General information had been increased by intellectual debate, and the mind had received a deeper cultivation. While religion was the topic of discussion, the morals of the people were reformed. All these national features are more or less discoverable in the physiognomy of those adventurers who came to seek a new home on the opposite shores of the Atlantic.

Another remark, to which we shall hereafter have occasion to recur, is applicable not only to the English, but to the French, the Spaniards, and all the Europeans who successively established themselves in the New World. All these European colonies contained the elements, if not the development of a complete democracy. Two causes led to this result. It may safely be advanced, that on leaving the mother-country the emigrants had in general no notion of superiority over one another. The happy and the powerful do not go into exile, and there are no surer guarantees of equality among men than poverty and misfortune. It happened, however, on several occasions that persons of rank were driven to America by political and religious quarrels. Laws were made to establish a gradation of ranks; but it was soon found that the soil of America was entirely opposed to a territorial aristocracy. To bring that refractory land into cultivation, the constant and interested exertions of the owner himself were necessary; and when the ground was prepared, its produce was found to be insufficient to enrich a master and a farmer at the same time. The land was then naturally broken up into small portions, which the proprietor cultivated for himself. Land is the basis of an aristocracy, which clings to the soil that supports it; for it is not by privileges alone, nor by birth, but by landed property handed down from generation to generation, that an aristocracy is constituted. A nation may present immense fortunes and extreme wretchedness; but unless those fortunes are territorial, there is no aristocracy, but simply the class of the rich and that of the poor.

All the British colonies had then a great degree of similarity at the epoch of their settlement. All of them, from their first beginning, seemed destined to behold the growth, not of the aristocratic liberty of their mother-country, but of that freedom of the middle and lower orders of which the history of the world has as yet furnished no complete example.

In this general uniformity several striking differences were however discernible, which it is necessary to point out. Two branches may be distinguished in the Anglo-American family, which have hitherto grown up without entirely commingling; the one in the south, the other in the north.

Virginia received the first English colony; the emigrants took possession of it in 1607. The idea that mines of gold and silver are the sources of national wealth, was at that time singularly prevalent in Europe; a fatal delusion, which has done more to impoverish the nations which adopted it, and has cost more lives in America, than the united influence of war and bad laws. The men sent to Virginia[14] were seekers of gold, adventurers without resources and without character, whose turbulent and restless spirits endangered the infant colony,[15] and rendered its progress uncertain. The artisans and agriculturists arrived afterward; and although they were a more moral and orderly race of men, they were in nowise above the level of the inferior classes in England.[16] No lofty conceptions, no intellectual system directed the foundation of these new settlements. The colony was scarcely established when slavery was introduced,[17] and this was the main circumstance which has exercised so prodigious an influence on the character, the laws, and all the future prospects of the south.

Slavery, as we shall afterward show, dishonors labor; it introduces idleness into society, and, with idleness, ignorance and pride, luxury and distress. It enervates the powers of the mind, and benumbs the activity of man. The influence of slavery, united to the English character, explains the mariners and the social condition of the southern states.

In the north, the same English foundation was modified by the most opposite shades of character; and here I may be allowed to enter into some details. The two or three main ideas which constitute the basis of the social theory of the United States, were first combined in the northern British colonies, more generally denominated the states of New England.[18] The principles of New England spread at first to the neighboring states; they then passed successively to the more distant ones; and at length they embued the whole confederation. They now extend their influence beyond its limits over the whole American world. The civilisation of New England has been like a beacon lit upon a hill, which, after it has diffused its warmth around, tinges the distant horizon with its glow.

The foundation of New England was a novel spectacle, and all the circumstances attending it were singular and original. The large majority of colonies have been first inhabited either by men without education and without resources, driven by their poverty and their misconduct from the land which gave them birth, or by speculators and adventurers greedy of gain. Some settlements cannot even boast so honorable an origin: St. Domingo was founded by buccaneers; and, at the present day, the criminal courts of England supply the population of Australia.

The settlers who established themselves on the shores of New England all belonged to the more independent classes of their native country. Their union on the soil of America at once presented the singular phenomenon of a society containing neither lords nor common people, neither rich nor poor. These men possessed, in proportion to their number, a greater mass of intelligence than is to be found in any European nation of our own time. All, without a single exception, had received a good education, and many of them were known in Europe for their talents and their acquirements. The other colonies had been founded by adventurers without family; the emigrants of New England brought with them the best elements of order and morality, they landed in the desert accompanied by their wives and children. But what most especially distinguished them was the aim of their undertaking. They had not been obliged by necessity to leave their country, the social position they abandoned was one to be regretted, and their means of subsistence were certain. Nor did they cross the Atlantic to improve their situation, or to increase their wealth; the call which summoned them from the comforts of their homes was purely intellectual; and in facing the inevitable sufferings of exile, their object was the triumph of an idea.

The emigrants, or, as they deservedly styled themselves, the pilgrims, belonged to that English sect, the austerity of whose principles had acquired for them the name of puritans. Puritanism was not merely a religious doctrine, but it corresponded in many points with the most absolute democratic and republican theories. It was this tendency which had aroused its most dangerous adversaries. Persecuted by the government of the mother-country, and disgusted by the habits of a society opposed to the rigor of their own principles, the puritans went forth to seek some rude and unfrequented part of the world, where they could live according to their own opinions, and worship God in freedom.

A few quotations will throw more light upon the spirit of these pious adventurers than all we can say of them. Nathaniel Morton,[19] the historian of the first years of the settlement, thus opens his subject:–

“GENTLE READER: I have for some length of time looked upon it as a duty incumbent, especially on the immediate successors of those that have had so large experience of those many memorable and signal demonstrations of God’s goodness, viz., the first beginning of this plantation in New England, to commit to writing his gracious dispensations on that behalf; having so many inducements thereunto, not only otherwise, but so plentifully in the Sacred Scriptures: that so, what we have seen, and what our fathers have told us (Psalm lxxviii., 3, 4), we may not hide from our children, showing to the generations to come the praises of the Lord; that especially the seed of Abraham his servant, and the children of Jacob his chosen (Psalm cv., 5, 6), may remember his marvellous works in the beginning and progress of the planting of New England, his wonders and the judgments of his mouth; how that God brought a vine into this wilderness; that he cast out the heathen and planted it; that he made room for it, and caused it to take deep root; and it filled the land (Psalm lxxx., 8, 9). And not onely so, but also that he hath guided his people by his strength to his holy habitation, and planted them in the mountain of his inheritance in respect of precious gospel enjoyments: and that as especially God may have the glory of all unto whom it is most due; so also some rays of glory may reach the names of those blessed saints, that were the main instruments and the beginning of this happy enterprise.”

It is impossible to read this opening paragraph without an involuntary feeling of religious awe; it breathes the very savor of gospel antiquity. The sincerity of the author heightens his power of language. The band, which to his eyes was a mere party of adventurers, gone forth to seek their fortune beyond the seas, appears to the reader as the germe of a great nation wafted by Providence to a predestined shore.

The author thus continues his narrative of the departure of the first pilgrims:–

“So they left that goodly and pleasant city of Leyden, which had been their resting-place for above eleven years; but they knew that they were pilgrims and strangers here below, and looked not much on these things, but lifted up their eyes to Heaven, their dearest country, where God hath prepared for them a city (Heb. xi., 16), and therein quieted their spirits. When they came to Delfs-Haven they found the ship and all things ready; and such of their friends as could come with them, followed after them, and sundry came from Amsterdam to see them shipt, and to take their leaves of them. One night was spent with little sleep with the most, but with friendly entertainment and Christian discourse, and other real expressions of true Christian love. The next day they went on board, and their friends with them, where truly doleful was the sight of that sad and mournful parting, to hear what sighs and sobs and prayers did sound among them; what tears did gush from every eye, and pithy speeches pierced each other’s heart, that sundry of the Dutch strangers that stood on the key as spectators could not refrain from tears. But the tide (which stays for no man) calling them away that were thus loath to depart, their reverend pastor falling down on his knees, and they all with him, with watery cheeks commended them with most fervent prayers unto the Lord and his blessing; and then, with mutual embraces and many tears, they took their leaves one of another, which proved to be the last leave to many of them.”

The emigrants were about 150 in number, including the women and the children. Their object was to plant a colony on the shores of the Hudson; but after having been driven about for some time in the Atlantic ocean, they were forced to land on that arid coast of New England which is now the site of the town of Plymouth. The rock is still shown on which the pilgrims disembarked.[20]

“But before we pass on,” continues our historian, “let the reader with me make a pause, and seriously consider this poor people’s present condition, the more to be raised up to admiration of God’s goodness toward them in their preservation: for being now passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before them in expectation, they had now no friends to welcome them, no inns to entertain or refresh them, no houses, or much less towns to repair unto to seek for succor; and for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of the country know them to be sharp and violent, subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search unknown coasts. Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wilde beasts, and wilde men? and what multitudes of them there were, they then knew not: for which way soever they turned their eyes (save upward to Heaven) they could have but little solace or content in respect of any outward object; for summer being ended, all things stand in appearance with a weather-beaten face, and the whole country full of woods and thickets represented a wild and savage hue; if they looked behind them, there was the mighty ocean which they had passed, and was now as a main bar or gulph to separate them from all the civil parts of the world.”

It must not be imagined that the piety of the puritans was of a merely speculative kind, or that it took no cognizance of the course of worldly affairs. Puritanism, as I have already remarked, was scarcely less a political than a religious doctrine. No sooner had the emigrants landed on the barren coast, described by Nathaniel Morton, than their first care was to constitute a society, by passing the following act:[21]–

“IN THE NAME OF GOD, AMEN! We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign lord King James, &c., &c., having undertaken for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith, and the honor of our king and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia: do by these presents solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation, and furtherance of the ends aforesaid: and by virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and officers, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony: unto which we promise all due submission and obedience,” &c.[22]

This happened in 1620, and from that time forward the emigration went on. The religious and political passions which ravished the British empire during the whole reign of Charles I., drove fresh crowds of sectarians every year to the shores of America. In England the stronghold of puritanism was in the middle classes, and it was from the middle classes that the majority of the emigrants came. The population of New England increased rapidly; and while the hierarchy of rank despotically classed the inhabitants of the mother-country, the colony continued to present the novel spectacle of a community homogeneous in all its parts. A democracy, more perfect than any which antiquity had dreamed of, started in full size and panoply from the midst of an ancient feudal society.

The English government was not dissatisfied with an emigration which removed the elements of fresh discord and of future revolutions. On the contrary, everything was done to encourage it, and little attention was paid to the destiny of those who sought a shelter from the rigor of their country’s laws on the soil of America. It seemed as if New England was a region given up to the dreams of fancy, and the unrestrained experiments of innovators.

The English colonies (and this is one of the main causes of their prosperity) have always enjoyed more internal freedom and more political independence than the colonies of other nations; but this principle of liberty was nowhere more extensively applied than in the states of New England.

It was generally allowed at that period that the territories of the New World belonged to that European nation which had been the first to discover them. Nearly the whole coast of North America thus became a British possession toward the end of the sixteenth century. The means used by the English government to people these new domains were of several kinds: the king sometimes appointed a governor of his own choice, who ruled a portion of the New World in the name and under the immediate orders of the crown;[23] this is the colonial system adopted by the other countries of Europe. Sometimes grants of certain tracts were made by the crown to an individual or to a company,[24] in which case all the civil and political power fell into the hands of one or more persons, who, under the inspection and control of the crown, sold the lands and governed the inhabitants. Lastly, a third system consisted in allowing a certain number of emigrants to constitute a political society under the protection of the mother-country, and to govern themselves in whatever was not contrary to her laws. This mode of colonization, so remarkably favorable to liberty, was adopted only in New England.[25]

In 1628,[26] a charter of this kind was granted by Charles I. to the emigrants who went to form the colony of Massachusetts. But, in general, charters were not given to the colonies of New England till they had acquired a certain existence. Plymouth, Providence, New Haven, the state of Connecticut, and that of Rhode Island,[27] were founded without the co-operation, and almost without the knowledge of the mother-country. The new settlers did not derive their incorporation from the head of the empire, although they did not deny its supremacy; they constituted a society of their own accord, and it was not till thirty or forty years afterward, under Charles II., that their existence was legally recognised by a royal charter.

This frequently renders it difficult to detect the link which connected the emigrants with the land of their forefathers, in studying the earliest historical and legislative records of New England. They perpetually exercised the rights of sovereignty; they named their magistrates, concluded peace or declared war, made police regulations, and enacted laws, as if their allegiance was due only to God.[28] Nothing can be more curious, and at the same time more instructive than the legislation of that period; it is there that the solution of the great social problem which the United States now present to the world is to be found.

Among these documents we shall notice as especially characteristic, the code of laws promulgated by the little state of Connecticut in 1650.[29]

The legislators of Connecticut[30] begin with the penal laws, and, strange to say, they borrow their provisions from the text of holy writ.

“Whoever shall worship any other God than the Lord,” says the preamble of the code, “shall surely be put to death.” This is followed by ten or twelve enactments of the same kind, copied verbatim from the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. Blasphemy, sorcery, adultery,[31] and rape were punished with death; an outrage offered by a son to his parents, was to be expiated by the same penalty. The legislation of a rude and half-civilized people was thus transferred to an enlightened and moral community. The consequence was, that the punishment of death was never more frequently prescribed by the statute, and never more rarely enforced toward the guilty.

The chief care of the legislators, in this body of penal laws, was the maintenance of orderly conduct and good morals in the community: they constantly invaded the domain of conscience, and there was scarcely a sin which they did not subject to magisterial censure. The reader is aware of the rigor with which these laws punished rape and adultery; intercourse between unmarried persons was likewise severely repressed. The judge was empowered to inflict a pecuniary penalty, a whipping, or marriage,[32] on the misdemeanants; and if the records of the old courts of New Haven may be believed, prosecutions of this kind were not infrequent. We find a sentence bearing date the first of May, 1660, inflicting a fine and a reprimand on a young woman who was accused of using improper language, and of allowing herself to be kissed.[33] The code of 1650 abounds in preventive measures. It punishes idleness and drunkenness with severity.[34] Innkeepers are forbidden to furnish more than a certain quantity of liquor to each customer; and simple lying, whenever it may be injurious,[35] is checked by a fine or a flogging. In other places, the legislator, entirely forgetting the great principles of religious toleration which he had himself upheld in Europe, renders attendance on divine service compulsory,[36] and goes so far as to visit with severe punishment,[37] and even with death, the Christians who chose to worship God according to a ritual differing from his own.[38] Sometimes indeed, the zeal of his enactments induces him to descend to the most frivolous particulars: thus a law is to be found in the same code which prohibits the use of tobacco.[39] It must not be forgotten that these fantastical and vexatious laws were not imposed by authority, but that they were freely voted by all the persons interested, and that the manners of the community were even more austere and more puritanical than the laws. In 1649 a solemn association was formed in Boston to check the worldly luxury of long hair.[40]

These errors are no doubt discreditable to the human reason; they attest the inferiority of our nature, which is incapable of laying firm hold upon what is true and just, and is often reduced to the alternative of two excesses. In strict connection with this penal legislation, which bears such striking marks of a narrow sectarian spirit, and of those religious passions which had been warmed by persecution, and were still fermenting among the people, a body of political laws is to be found, which, though written two hundred years ago, is still ahead of the liberties of our age.

The general principles which are the groundwork of modern constitutions–principles which were imperfectly known in Europe, and not completely triumphant even in Great Britain, in the seventeenth century–were all recognised and determined by the laws of New England: the intervention of the people in public affairs, the free voting of taxes, the responsibility of authorities, personal liberty, and trial by jury, were all positively established without discussion.

From these fruitful principles, consequences have been derived and applications have been made such as no nation in Europe has yet ventured to attempt.

In Connecticut the electoral body consisted, from its origin, of the whole number of citizens; and this is readily to be understood,[41] when we recollect that this people enjoyed an almost perfect equality of fortune, and a still greater uniformity of capacity.[42] In Connecticut, at this period, all the executive functionaries were elected, including the governor of the state.[43] The citizens above the age of sixteen were obliged to bear arms; they formed a national militia, which appointed its own officers, and was to hold itself at all times in readiness to march for the defence of the country.[44]

In the laws of Connecticut, as well as in those of New England, we find the germe and gradual development of that township independence, which is the life and mainspring of American liberty at the present day. The political existence of the majority of the nations of Europe commenced in the superior ranks of society, and was gradually and always imperfectly communicated to the different members of the social body. In America, on the other hand, it may be said that the township was organized before the county, the county before the state, the state before the Union.

In New England, townships were completely and definitively constituted as early as 1650. The independence of the township was the nucleus around which the local interests, passions, rights, and duties, collected and clung. It gave scope to the activity of a real political life, most thoroughly democratic and republican. The colonies still recognised the supremacy of the mother-country; monarchy was still the law of the state; but the republic was already established in every township.