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Democracy In America

By Alexis De Tocqueville

Translator - Henry Reeve


Book One


Special Introduction By Hon. John T. Morgan

In the eleven years that separated the Declaration of the

Independence of the United States from the completion of that act

in the ordination of our written Constitution, the great minds of

America were bent upon the study of the principles of government

that were essential to the preservation of the liberties which

had been won at great cost and with heroic labors and sacrifices.

Their studies were conducted in view of the imperfections that

experience had developed in the government of the Confederation,

and they were, therefore, practical and thorough.

When the Constitution was thus perfected and established, a

new form of government was created, but it was neither

speculative nor experimental as to the principles on which it was

based. If they were true principles, as they were, the

government founded upon them was destined to a life and an

influence that would continue while the liberties it was intended

to preserve should be valued by the human family. Those

liberties had been wrung from reluctant monarchs in many

contests, in many countries, and were grouped into creeds and

established in ordinances sealed with blood, in many great

struggles of the people. They were not new to the people. They

were consecrated theories, but no government had been previously

established for the great purpose of their preservation and

enforcement. That which was experimental in our plan of

government was the question whether democratic rule could be so

organized and conducted that it would not degenerate into license

and result in the tyranny of absolutism, without saving to the

people the power so often found necessary of repressing or

destroying their enemy, when he was found in the person of a

single despot.

When, in 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville came to study Democracy

in America, the trial of nearly a half-century of the working of

our system had been made, and it had been proved, by many crucial

tests, to be a government of "liberty regulated by law," with

such results in the development of strength, in population,

wealth, and military and commercial power, as no age had ever


[See Alexis De Tocqueville]

De Tocqueville had a special inquiry to prosecute, in his

visit to America, in which his generous and faithful soul and the

powers of his great intellect were engaged in the patriotic

effort to secure to the people of France the blessings that

Democracy in America had ordained and established throughout

nearly the entire Western Hemisphere. He had read the story of

the FrenchRevolution, much of which had been recently written in

the blood of men and women of great distinction who were his

progenitors; and had witnessed the agitations and terrors of the

Restoration and of the Second Republic, fruitful in crime and

sacrifice, and barren of any good to mankind.

He had just witnessed the spread of republican government

through all the vast continental possessions of Spain in America,

and the loss of her great colonies. He had seen that these

revolutions were accomplished almost without the shedding of

blood, and he was filled with anxiety to learn the causes that

had placed republican government, in France, in such contrast

with Democracy in America.

De Tocqueville was scarcely thirty years old when he began

his studies of Democracy in America. It was a bold effort for

one who had no special training in government, or in the study of

political economy, but he had the example of Lafayette in

establishing the military foundation of these liberties, and of

Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton, all of whom were

young men, in building upon the Independence of the United States

that wisest and best plan of general government that was ever

devised for a free people.

He found that the American people, through their chosen

representatives who were instructed by their wisdom and

experience and were supported by their virtues - cultivated,

purified and ennobled by self-reliance and the love of God - had

matured, in the excellent wisdom of their counsels, a new plan of

government, which embraced every security for their liberties and

equal rights and privileges to all in the pursuit of happiness.

He came as an honest and impartial student and his great

commentary, like those of Paul, was written for the benefit of

all nations and people and in vindication of truths that will

stand for their deliverance from monarchical rule, while time

shall last.

A French aristocrat of the purest strain of blood and of the

most honorable lineage, whose family influence was coveted by

crowned heads; who had no quarrel with the rulers of the nation,

and was secure against want by his inherited estates; was moved

by the agitations that compelled France to attempt to grasp

suddenly the liberties and happiness we had gained in our

revolution and, by his devout love of France, to search out and

subject to the test of reason the basic principles of free

government that had been embodied in our Constitution. This was

the mission of De Tocqueville, and no mission was ever more

honorably or justly conducted, or concluded with greater eclat,

or better results for the welfare of mankind.

His researches were logical and exhaustive. They included

every phase of every question that then seemed to be apposite to

the great inquiry he was making.

The judgment of all who have studied his commentaries seems

to have been unanimous, that his talents and learning were fully

equal to his task. He began with the physical geography of this

country, and examined the characteristics of the people, of all

races and conditions, their social and religious sentiments,

their education and tastes; their industries, their commerce,

their local governments, their passions and prejudices, and their

ethics and literature; leaving nothing unnoticed that might

afford an argument to prove that our plan and form of government

was or was not adapted especially to a peculiar people, or that

it would be impracticable in any different country, or among any

different people.

The pride and comfort that the American people enjoy in the

great commentaries of De Tocqueville are far removed from the

selfish adulation that comes from a great and singular success.

It is the consciousness of victory over a false theory of

government which has afflicted mankind for many ages, that gives

joy to the true American, as it did to De Tocqueville in his

great triumph.

When De Tocqueville wrote, we had lived less than fifty

years under our Constitution. In that time no great national

commotion had occurred that tested its strength, or its power of

resistance to internal strife, such as had converted his beloved

France into fields of slaughter torn by tempests of wrath.

He had a strong conviction that no government could be

ordained that could resist these internal forces, when, they are

directed to its destruction by bad men, or unreasoning mobs, and

many then believed, as some yet believe, that our government is

unequal to such pressure, when the assault is thoroughly


Had De Tocqueville lived to examine the history of the

United States from 1860 to 1870, his misgivings as to this power

of self- preservation would, probably, have been cleared off. He

would have seen that, at the end of the most destructive civil

war that ever occurred, when animosities of the bitterest sort

had banished all good feeling from the hearts of our people, the

States of the American Union, still in complete organization and

equipped with all their official entourage, aligned themselves in

their places and took up the powers and duties of local

government in perfect order and without embarrassment. This

would have dispelled his apprehensions, if he had any, about the

power of the United States to withstand the severest shocks of

civil war. Could he have traced the further course of events

until they open the portals of the twentieth century, he would

have cast away his fears of our ability to restore peace, order,

and prosperity, in the face of any difficulties, and would have

rejoiced to find in the Constitution of the United States the

remedy that is provided for the healing of the nation.

De Tocqueville examined, with the care that is worthy the

importance of the subject, the nature and value of the system of

"local self-government," as we style this most important feature

of our plan, and (as has often happened) when this or any subject

has become a matter of anxious concern, his treatment of the

questions is found to have been masterly and his preconceptions

almost prophetic.

We are frequently indebted to him for able expositions and

true doctrines relating to subjects that have slumbered in the

minds of the people until they were suddenly forced on our

attention by unexpected events.

In his introductory chapter, M. De Tocqueville says:

"Amongst 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." He referred, doubtless, to

social and political conditions among the people of the white

race, who are described as "We, the people," in the opening

sentence of the Constitution. The last three amendments of the

Constitution have so changed this, that those who were then negro

slaves are clothed with the rights of citizenship, including the

right of suffrage. This was a political party movement, intended

to be radical and revolutionary, but it will, ultimately, react

because it has not the sanction of public opinion.

If M. De Tocqueville could now search for a law that would

negative this provision in its effect upon social equality, he

would fail to find it. But he would find it in the unwritten law

of the natural aversion of the races. He would find it in public

opinion, which is the vital force in every law in a free

government. This is a subject that our Constitution failed to

regulate, because it was not contemplated by its authors. It is

a question that will settle itself, without serious difficulty.

The equality in the suffrage, thus guaranteed to the negro race,

alone - for it was not intended to include other colored races -

creates a new phase of political conditions that M. De

Tocqueville could not foresee. Yet, in his commendation of the

local town and county governments, he applauds and sustains that

elementary feature of our political organization which, in the

end, will render harmless this wide departure from the original

plan and purpose of American Democracy. "Local Self-Government,"

independent of general control, except for general purposes, is

the root and origin of all free republican government, and is the

antagonist of all great political combinations that threaten the

rights of minorities. It is the public opinion formed in the

independent expressions of towns and other small civil districts

that is the real conservatism of free government. It is equally

the enemy of that dangerous evil, the corruption of the

ballot-box, from which it is now apprehended that one of our

greatest troubles is to arise.

The voter is selected, under our laws, because he has

certain physical qualifications - age and sex. His

disqualifications, when any are imposed, relate to his education

or property, and to the fact that he has not been convicted of

crime. Of all men he should be most directly amenable to public


The test of moral character and devotion to the duties of

good citizenship are ignored in the laws, because the courts can

seldom deal with such questions in a uniform and satisfactory

way, under rules that apply alike to all. Thus the voter,

selected by law to represent himself and four other non-voting

citizens, is often a person who is unfit for any public duty or

trust. In a town government, having a small area of

jurisdiction, where the voice of the majority of qualified voters

is conclusive, the fitness of the person who is to exercise that

high representative privilege can be determined by his neighbors

and acquaintances, and, in the great majority of cases, it will

be decided honestly and for the good of the country. In such

meetings, there is always a spirit of loyalty to the State,

because that is loyalty to the people, and a reverence for God

that gives weight to the duties and responsibilities of


M. De Tocqueville found in these minor local jurisdictions

the theoretical conservatism which, in the aggregate, is the

safest reliance of the State. So we have found them, in

practice, the true protectors of the purity of the ballot,

without which all free government will degenerate into


In the future of the Republic, we must encounter many

difficult and dangerous situations, but the principles

established in the Constitution and the check upon hasty or

inconsiderate legislation, and upon executive action, and the

supreme arbitrament of the courts, will be found sufficient for

the safety of personal rights, and for the safety of the

government, and the prophetic outlook of M. De Tocqueville will

be fully realized through the influence of Democracy in America.

Each succeeding generation of Americans will find in the pure and

impartial reflections of De Tocqueville a new source of pride in

our institutions of government, and sound reasons for patriotic

effort to preserve them and to inculcate their teachings. They

have mastered the power of monarchical rule in the American

Hemisphere, freeing religion from all shackles, and will spread,

by a quiet but resistless influence, through the islands of the

seas to other lands, where the appeals of De Tocqueville for

human rights and liberties have already inspired the souls of the



Hon. John T. Morgan

Special Introduction By Hon. John J. Ingalls

Nearly two-thirds of a century has elapsed since the

appearance of "Democracy in America," by Alexis Charles Henri

Clerel de Tocqueville, a French nobleman, born at Paris, July 29,


Bred to the law, he exhibited an early predilection for

philosophy and political economy, and at twenty-two was appointed

judge-auditor at the tribunal of Versailles.

In 1831, commissioned ostensibly to investigate the

penitentiary system of the United States, he visited this

country, with his friend, Gustave de Beaumont, travelling

extensively through those parts of the Republic then subdued to

settlement, studying the methods of local, State, and national

administration, and observing the manners and habits, the daily

life, the business, the industries and occupations of the people.

"Democracy in America," the first of four volumes upon

"American Institutions and their Influence," was published in

1835. It was received at once by the scholars and thinkers of

Europe as a profound, impartial, and entertaining exposition of

the principles of popular, representative self-government.

Napoleon, "The mighty somnambulist of a vanished dream," had

abolished feudalism and absolutism, made monarchs and dynasties

obsolete, and substituted for the divine right of kings the

sovereignty of the people.

Although by birth and sympathies an aristocrat, M. de

Tocqueville saw that the reign of tradition and privilege at last

was ended. He perceived that civilization, after many bloody

centuries, had entered a new epoch. He beheld, and deplored, the

excesses that had attended the genesis of the democratic spirit

in France, and while he loved liberty, he detested the crimes

that had been committed in its name. Belonging neither to the

class which regarded the social revolution as an innovation to be

resisted, nor to that which considered political equality the

universal panacea for the evils of humanity, he resolved by

personal observation of the results of democracy in the New World

to ascertain its natural consequences, and to learn what the

nations of Europe had to hope or fear from its final supremacy.

That a youth of twenty-six should entertain a design so

broad and bold implies singular intellectual intrepidity. He had

neither model nor precedent. The vastness and novelty of the

undertaking increase admiration for the remarkable ability with

which the task was performed.

Were literary excellence the sole claim of "Democracy in

America" to distinction, the splendor of its composition alone

would entitle it to high place among the masterpieces of the

century. The first chapter, upon the exterior form of North

America, as the theatre upon which the great drama is to be

enacted, for graphic and picturesque description of the physical

characteristics of the continent is not surpassed in literature:

nor is there any subdivision of the work in which the severest

philosophy is not invested with the grace of poetry, and the

driest statistics with the charm of romance. Western emigration

seemed commonplace and prosaic till M. de Tocqueville said, "This

gradual and continuous progress of the European race toward the

Rocky Mountains has the solemnity of a providential event; it is

like a deluge of men rising unabatedly, and daily driven onward

by the hand of God!"

The mind of M. de Tocqueville had the candor of the

photographic camera. It recorded impressions with the

impartiality of nature. The image was sometimes distorted, and

the perspective was not always true, but he was neither a

panegyrist, nor an advocate, nor a critic. He observed American

phenomena as illustrations, not as proof nor arguments; and

although it is apparent that the tendency of his mind was not

wholly favorable to the democratic principle, yet those who

dissent from his conclusions must commend the ability and courage

with which they are expressed.

Though not originally written for Americans, "Democracy in

America" must always remain a work of engrossing and constantly

increasing interest to citizens of the United States as the first

philosophic and comprehensive view of our society, institutions,

and destiny. No one can rise even from the most cursory perusal

without clearer insight and more patriotic appreciation of the

blessings of liberty protected by law, nor without encouragement

for the stability and perpetuity of the Republic. The causes

which appeared to M. de Tocqueville to menace both, have gone.

The despotism of public opinion, the tyranny of majorities, the

absence of intellectual freedom which seemed to him to degrade

administration and bring statesmanship, learning, and literature

to the level of the lowest, are no longer considered. The

violence of party spirit has been mitigated, and the judgment of

the wise is not subordinated to the prejudices of the ignorant.

Other dangers have come. Equality of conditions no longer

exists. Prophets of evil predict the downfall of democracy, but

the student of M. de Tocqueville will find consolation and

encouragement in the reflection that the same spirit which has

vanquished the perils of the past, which he foresaw, will be

equally prepared for the responsibilities of the present and the


The last of the four volumes of M. de Tocqueville's work

upon American institutions appeared in 1840.

In 1838 he was chosen member of the Academy of Moral and

Political Sciences. In 1839 he was elected to the Chamber of

Deputies. He became a member of the French Academy in 1841.

In 1848 he was in the Assembly, and from June 2nd to October

31st he was Minister of Foreign Affairs. The coup d'etat of

December 2, 1851 drove him from the public service. In 1856 he

published "The Old Regime and the Revolution." He died at Cannes,

April 15, 1859, at the age of fifty-four.

Hon. John J. Ingalls


Introductory Chapter

Amongst 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, suggests

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


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 progressing 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 amongst 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 amongst 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 villein

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 infrequently 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. Whilst 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 a 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 towards the universal level. The taste for luxury, the love

of war, the sway of fashion, and 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 germ 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 civilization and knowledge, and

literature became an arsenal where the poorest and the 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 communities introduced an

element of democratic liberty into the bosom of feudal monarchy;

the invention of fire-arms equalized the villein 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 witness 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 finger. 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

described upon the shore we have left, whilst the current sweeps

us along, and drives us backwards towards 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 exigencies, 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 has

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 towards his flock; and without

acknowledging the poor as their equals, they watched over the

destiny of those whose welfare Providence had entrusted 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, and 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 anyone 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 a power which they

believe to be illegal and by obedience to a rule which they

consider to be usurped and oppressive. On one side was wealth,

strength, and leisure, accompanied by the refinements of luxury,

the elegance of taste, the pleasures of wit, and the religion of

art. On the other was 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 the 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 its 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


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 forwards; 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 amelioration, 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 has 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 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; we have destroyed an aristocracy, and 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 empire on 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 witnessing. 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 dissolved, and all the laws of moral

analogy to be abolished.

Zealous Christians may be found amongst 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 further; 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, whilst 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 civilization 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

materialize 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 civilization, 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, whilst men

without patriotism and without principles are the apostles of

civilization 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 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 amongst

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. 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. I have cited my authorities

in the notes, and anyone 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

believeme 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

fire-side of his host, which the latter would perhaps conceal

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 anyone 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 inconsistency of


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 designs of serving or attacking any party; I have

undertaken not to see differently, but to look further than

parties, and whilst they are busied for the morrow I have turned

my thoughts to the Future.


Chapter I:
Exterior Form Of North America

Chapter Summary

North America divided into two vast regions, one inclining

towards the Pole, the other towards 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.

Exterior Form Of North America

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 amidst 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 towards 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 towards the Pole, the other towards the Equator.

The territory comprehended in the first region descends

towards 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 towards 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 Alleghany 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. *a 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

Alleghanies, while the other rises in an uninterrupted course

towards 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 river the St.

Louis. The Indians, in their pompous language, have named it the

Father of Waters, or the Mississippi.

[Footnote a: Darby's "View of the United States."]

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, *b which empties itself into the Polar seas.

The course of the Mississippi is at first dubious: it winds

several times towards the north, from whence it rose; and at

length, after having been delayed in lakes and marshes, it flows

slowly onwards 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. *c 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; amongst 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 1,000 miles in length, viz., the Illinois, the St.

Peter's, the St. Francis, and the Moingona; besides a countless

multitude of rivulets which unite from all parts their tributary


[Footnote b: The Red River.]

[Footnote c: Warden's "Description of the United States."]

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 granite 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 afterwards

carried away portions of the rocks themselves; and these, dashed

and bruised against the neighboring cliffs, were left scattered

like wrecks at their feet. *d 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.

[Footnote d: See Appendix, A.]

On the eastern side of the Alleghanies, between the base of

these mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, there 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


Upon this inhospitable coast the first united efforts of

human industry were made. The 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

here; whilst in the backwoods the true elements of the great

people to whom the future control of the continent belongs are

gathering almost in secrecy together.

When the Europeans first landed on the shores of the West

Indies, 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. *e 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 with the harmony of a world

teeming with life and motion. *f Underneath this brilliant

exterior death was concealed. But the air of these climates had

so enervating an influence that man, absorbed by present

enjoyment, was rendered regardless of the future.

[Footnote e: 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 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


[Footnote f: See Appendix, B.]

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

girt round by a belt of granite rocks, or by wide tracts 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 forest, 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 mass 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,

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 germs 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: *g 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 cheekbones very

prominent. The languages spoken by the North American tribes are

various as far as regarded their words, but they were subject to

the same grammatical rules. These 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. *h

[Footnote g: 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, Mongols, 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."]

[Footnote h: See Appendix, C.]

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, which is usually joined with ignorance and rudeness

among nations which, after advancing to civilization, 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 is 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. *i 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. *j 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. *k

[Footnote i: 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


[Footnote j: 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, of his peculiar position, and of the matter-

of-fact age in which he lived.]

[Footnote k: See Appendix, D.]

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 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 afterwards so completely

disappeared from the earth that the remembrance of their very

names is effaced; their languages are lost; their glory is

vanished like a sound without an echo; though perhaps there is

not one which has not left behind it some 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 witnessing the completion of

it. They seem to have been placed by Providence amidst 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.


Chapter I:
Exterior Form Of North America

Chapter Summary

North America divided into two vast regions, one inclining

towards the Pole, the other towards 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.

Exterior Form Of North America


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 amidst 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 towards 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 towards the Pole, the other towards the Equator.

The territory comprehended in the first region descends

towards 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 towards 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 Alleghany 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. *a 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

Alleghanies, while the other rises in an uninterrupted course

towards 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 river the St.

Louis. The Indians, in their pompous language, have named it the

Father of Waters, or the Mississippi.

[Footnote a: Darby's "View of the United States."]

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, *b which empties itself into the Polar seas.

The course of the Mississippi is at first dubious: it winds

several times towards the north, from whence it rose; and at

length, after having been delayed in lakes and marshes, it flows

slowly onwards 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. *c 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; amongst 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 1,000 miles in length, viz., the Illinois, the St.

Peter's, the St. Francis, and the Moingona; besides a countless

multitude of rivulets which unite from all parts their tributary


[Footnote b: The Red River.]

[Footnote c: Warden's "Description of the United States."]

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 granite 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 afterwards

carried away portions of the rocks themselves; and these, dashed

and bruised against the neighboring cliffs, were left scattered

like wrecks at their feet. *d 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.

[Footnote d: See Appendix, A.]


On the eastern side of the Alleghanies, between the base of

these mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, there 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


Upon this inhospitable coast the first united efforts of

human industry were made. The 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

here; whilst in the backwoods the true elements of the great

people to whom the future control of the continent belongs are

gathering almost in secrecy together.

When the Europeans first landed on the shores of the West

Indies, 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. *e 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 with the harmony of a world

teeming with life and motion. *f Underneath this brilliant

exterior death was concealed. But the air of these climates had

so enervating an influence that man, absorbed by present

enjoyment, was rendered regardless of the future.

[Footnote e: 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 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


[Footnote f: See Appendix, B.]

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

girt round by a belt of granite rocks, or by wide tracts 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 forest, 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 mass 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 germs 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: *g 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 cheekbones very

prominent. The languages spoken by the North American tribes are

various as far as regarded their words, but they were subject to

the same grammatical rules. These 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. *h

[Footnote g: 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, Mongols, 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."]

[Footnote h: See Appendix, C.]

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, which is usually joined with ignorance and rudeness

among nations which, after advancing to civilization, 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 is 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. *i 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. *j 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. *k

[Footnote i: 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


[Footnote j: 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, of his peculiar position, and of the matter-

of-fact age in which he lived.]

[Footnote k: See Appendix, D.]

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 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 afterwards so completely

disappeared from the earth that the remembrance of their very

names is effaced; their languages are lost; their glory is

vanished like a sound without an echo; though perhaps there is

not one which has not left behind it some 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 witnessing the completion of

it. They seem to have been placed by Providence amidst 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.


Chapter II:
Origin Of The Anglo-Americans -
Part I

Chapter Summary

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 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.

Origin Of The Anglo-Americans, And Its Importance In Relation To

Their Future Condition

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 germ 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 its 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 witnesses; 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 primal

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 the 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 on 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 contemplated 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

witness the natural and tranquil growth of society, and where the

influences exercised on the future condition of states by their

origin is clearly distinguishable. At the period when the peoples

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

civilization 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

further 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 germ 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 the 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

their first emigrations the parish system, that fruitful germ 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 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 reflective, became

argumentative and austere. General information had been

increased by intellectual debate, and the mind had received a

deeper cultivation. Whilst 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 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 witness 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 had 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 *a were seekers of gold,

adventurers, without resources and without character, whose

turbulent and restless spirit endangered the infant colony, *b

and rendered its progress uncertain. The artisans and

agriculturists arrived afterwards; 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. *c No lofty

conceptions, no intellectual system, directed the foundation of

these new settlements. The colony was scarcely established when

slavery was introduced, *d 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 afterwards 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 manners and the social condition of the

Southern States.

[Footnote a: The charter granted by the Crown of England in 1609

stipulated, amongst other conditions, that the adventurers should

pay to the Crown a fifth of the produce of all gold and silver

mines. See Marshall's "Life of Washington," vol. i. pp. 18-66.]

[Footnote b: A large portion of the adventurers, says Stith

("History of Virginia"), were unprincipled young men of family,

whom their parents were glad to ship off, discharged servants,

fraudulent bankrupts, or debauchees; and others of the same

class, people more apt to pillage and destroy than to assist the

settlement, were the seditious chiefs, who easily led this band

into every kind of extravagance and excess. See for the history

of Virginia the following works: -

"History of Virginia, from the First Settlements in the year

1624," by Smith.

"History of Virginia," by William Stith.

"History of Virginia, from the Earliest Period," by


[Footnote c: It was not till some time later that a certain

number of rich English capitalists came to fix themselves in the


[Footnote d: Slavery was introduced about the year 1620 by a

Dutch vessel which landed twenty negroes on the banks of the

river James. See Chalmer.]

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 English colonies, more

generally denominated the States of New England. *e 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 imbued the whole Confederation. They now

extend their influence beyond its limits over the whole American

world. The civilization 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.

[Footnote e: The States of New England are those situated to the

east of the Hudson; they are now six in number: 1, Connecticut;

2, Rhode Island; 3, Massachusetts; 4, Vermont; 5, New Hampshire;

6, Maine.]

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 the criminal courts of England

originally supplied 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


A few quotations will throw more light upon the spirit of

these pious adventures than all we can say of them. Nathaniel

Morton, *f the historian of the first years of the settlement,

thus opens his subject:

[Footnote f: "New England's Memorial," p. 13; Boston, 1826. See

also "Hutchinson's History," vol. ii. p. 440.]

"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

beginners of this Plantation in New England, to commit to writing

his gracious dispensations on that behalf; having so many

inducements thereunto, not onely 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 seas

appears to the reader as the germ 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, *g

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 not 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

amongst 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 loth 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."

[Footnote g: The emigrants were, for the most part, godly

Christians from the North of England, who had quitted their

native country because they were "studious of reformation, and

entered into covenant to walk with one another according to the

primitive pattern of the Word of God." They emigrated to Holland,

and settled in the city of Leyden in 1610, where they abode,

being lovingly respected by the Dutch, for many years: they left

it in 1620 for several reasons, the last of which was, that their

posterity would in a few generations become Dutch, and so lose

their interest in the English nation; they being desirous rather

to enlarge His Majesty's dominions, and to live under their

natural prince. - Translator's Note.]

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. *h

[Footnote h: This rock is become an object of veneration in the

United States. I have seen bits of it carefully preserved in

several towns of the Union. Does not this sufficiently show how

entirely all human power and greatness is in the soul of man?

Here is a stone which the feet of a few outcasts pressed for an

instant, and this stone becomes famous; it is treasured by a

great nation, its very dust is shared as a relic: and what is

become of the gateways of a thousand palaces?]

"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 towards 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 succour: 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 hew; 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 it was their first care to

constitute a society, by passing the following Act:

"In the name of God. Amen. We, whose names are

underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King

James, etc., etc., Having undertaken for the glory of God, and

advancement of the Christian Faith, and the honour 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 politick, 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," etc. *i

[Footnote i: The emigrants who founded the State of Rhode Island

in 1638, those who landed at New Haven in 1637, the first

settlers in Connecticut in 1639, and the founders of Providence

in 1640, began in like manner by drawing up a social contract,

which was acceded to by all the interested parties. See "Pitkin's

History," pp. 42 and 47.]

This happened in 1620, and from that time forwards the

emigration went on. The religious and political passions which

ravaged 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 whilst 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 dreamt of, started in full size and panoply

from the midst of an ancient feudal society.


Chapter II:
Origin Of The Anglo-Americans -
Part II

The English Government was not dissatisfied with an

emigration which removed the elements of fresh discord and of

further revolutions. On the contrary, everything was done to

encourage it, and great exertions were made to mitigate the

hardships 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 towards 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; *j this is the colonial system adopted by

other countries of Europe. Sometimes grants of certain tracts

were made by the Crown to an individual or to a company, *k 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 only adopted in New England.


[Footnote j: This was the case in the State of New York.]

[Footnote k: Maryland, the Carolinas, Pennsylvania, and New

Jersey were in this situation. See "Pitkin's History," vol. i.

pp. 11-31.]

[Footnote l: See the work entitled "Historical Collection of

State Papers and other authentic Documents intended as materials

for a History of the United States of America, by Ebenezer

Hasard. Philadelphia, 1792," for a great number of documents

relating to the commencement of the colonies, which are valuable

from their contents and their authenticity: amongst them are the

various charters granted by the King of England, and the first

acts of the local governments.

See also the analysis of all these charters given by Mr.

Story, Judge of the Supreme Court of the United States, in the

Introduction to his "Commentary on the Constitution of the United

States." It results from these documents that the principles of

representative government and the external forms of political

liberty were introduced into all the colonies at their origin.

These principles were more fully acted upon in the North than in

the South, but they existed everywhere.]

In 1628 *m 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 *n 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 seat 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 afterwards, under Charles II. that their existence was

legally recognized by a royal charter.

[Footnote m: See "Pitkin's History," p, 35. See the "History of

the Colony of Massachusetts Bay," by Hutchinson, vol. i. p. 9.]

[Footnote n: See "Pitkin's History," pp. 42, 47.]

This frequently renders its 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 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. *o 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.

[Footnote o: The inhabitants of Massachusetts had deviated from

the forms which are preserved in the criminal and civil procedure

of England; in 1650 the decrees of justice were not yet headed by

the royal style. See Hutchinson, vol. i. p. 452.]

Amongst these documents we shall notice, as especially

characteristic, the code of laws promulgated by the little State

of Connecticut in 1650. *p The legislators of Connecticut *q

begin with the penal laws, and, strange to say, they borrow their

provisions from the text of Holy Writ. "Whosoever 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, *r 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 applied 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 towards the guilty.

[Footnote p: Code of 1650, p. 28; Hartford, 1830.]

[Footnote q: See also in "Hutchinson's History," vol. i. pp. 435,

456, the analysis of the penal code adopted in 1648 by the Colony

of Massachusetts: this code is drawn up on the same principles as

that of Connecticut.]

[Footnote r: Adultery was also punished with death by the law of

Massachusetts: and Hutchinson, vol. i. p. 441, says that several

persons actually suffered for this crime. He quotes a curious

anecdote on this subject, which occurred in the year 1663. A

married woman had had criminal intercourse with a young man; her

husband died, and she married the lover. Several years had

elapsed, when the public began to suspect the previous

intercourse of this couple: they were thrown into prison, put

upon trial, and very narrowly escaped capital punishment.]

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 was 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 *s on the

misdemeanants; and if the records of the old courts of New Haven

may be believed, prosecutions of this kind were not unfrequent.

We find a sentence bearing date the first of May, 1660,

inflicting a fine and reprimand on a young woman who was accused

of using improper language, and of allowing herself to be kissed.

*t The Code of 1650 abounds in preventive measures. It punishes

idleness and drunkenness with severity. *u Innkeepers are

forbidden to furnish more than a certain quantity of liquor to

each consumer; and simple lying, whenever it may be injurious, *v

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, *w and goes so far as to

visit with severe punishment, ** and even with death, the

Christians who chose to worship God according to a ritual

differing from his own. *x 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. *y 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. *z

[Footnote s: Code of 1650, p. 48. It seems sometimes to have

happened that the judges superadded these punishments to each

other, as is seen in a sentence pronounced in 1643 (p. 114, "New

Haven Antiquities"), by which Margaret Bedford, convicted of

loose conduct, was condemned to be whipped, and afterwards to

marry Nicholas Jemmings, her accomplice.]

[Footnote t: "New Haven Antiquities," p. 104. See also

"Hutchinson's History," for several causes equally


[Footnote u: Code of 1650, pp. 50, 57.]

[Footnote v: Ibid., p. 64.]

[Footnote w: Ibid., p. 44.]

[Footnote *: This was not peculiar to Connecticut. See, for

instance, the law which, on September 13, 1644, banished the

Anabaptists from the State of Massachusetts. ("Historical

Collection of State Papers," vol. i. p. 538.) See also the law

against the Quakers, passed on October 14, 1656: "Whereas," says

the preamble, "an accursed race of heretics called Quakers has

sprung up," etc. The clauses of the statute inflict a heavy fine

on all captains of ships who should import Quakers into the

country. The Quakers who may be found there shall be whipped and

imprisoned with hard labor. Those members of the sect who should

defend their opinions shall be first fined, then imprisoned, and

finally driven out of the province. - "Historical Collection of

State Papers," vol. i. p. 630.]

[Footnote x: By the penal law of Massachusetts, any Catholic

priest who should set foot in the colony after having been once

driven out of it was liable to capital punishment.]

[Footnote y: Code of 1650, p. 96.]

[Footnote z: "New England's Memorial," p. 316. See Appendix, E.]

These errors are no doubt discreditable to 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

recognized 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, *a when we recollect that this people enjoyed an

almost perfect equality of fortune, and a still greater

uniformity of opinions. *b In Connecticut, at this period, all

the executive functionaries were elected, including the Governor

of the State. *c 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. *d

[Footnote a: Constitution of 1638, p. 17.]

[Footnote b: In 1641 the General Assembly of Rhode Island

unanimously declared that the government of the State was a

democracy, and that the power was vested in the body of free

citizens, who alone had the right to make the laws and to watch

their execution. - Code of 1650, p. 70.]

[Footnote c: "Pitkin's History," p. 47.]

[Footnote d: Constitution of 1638, p. 12.]

In the laws of Connecticut, as well as in all those of New

England, we find the germ 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 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 round 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 recognized the supremacy of the

mother-country; monarchy was still the law of the State; but the

republic was already established in every township. The towns

named their own magistrates of every kind, rated themselves, and

levied their own taxes. *e In the parish of New England the law

of representation was not adopted, but the affairs of the

community were discussed, as at Athens, in the market-place, by a

general assembly of the citizens.

[Footnote e: Code of 1650, p. 80.]

In studying the laws which were promulgated at this first

era of the American republics, it is impossible not to be struck

by the remarkable acquaintance with the science of government and

the advanced theory of legislation which they display. The ideas

there formed of the duties of society towards its members are

evidently much loftier and more comprehensive than those of the

European legislators at that time: obligations were there imposed

which were elsewhere slighted. In the States of New England,

from the first, the condition of the poor was provided for; *f

strict measures were taken for the maintenance of roads, and

surveyors were appointed to attend to them; *g registers were

established in every parish, in which the results of public

deliberations, and the births, deaths, and marriages of the

citizens were entered; *h clerks were directed to keep these

registers; *i officers were charged with the administration of

vacant inheritances, and with the arbitration of litigated

landmarks; and many others were created whose chief functions

were the maintenance of public order in the community. *j The law

enters into a thousand useful provisions for a number of social

wants which are at present very inadequately felt in France.

[Footnote f: Ibid., p. 78.]

[Footnote g: Ibid., p. 49.]

[Footnote h: See "Hutchinson's History," vol. i. p. 455.]

[Footnote i: Code of 1650, p. 86.]

[Footnote j: Ibid., p. 40.]

But it is by the attention it pays to Public Education that

the original character of American civilization is at once placed

in the clearest light. "It being," says the law, "one chief

project of Satan to keep men from the knowledge of the Scripture

by persuading from the use of tongues, to the end that learning

may not be buried in the graves of our forefathers, in church and

commonwealth, the Lord assisting our endeavors. . . ." *k Here

follow clauses establishing schools in every township, and

obliging the inhabitants, under pain of heavy fines, to support

them. Schools of a superior kind were founded in the same manner

in the more populous districts. The municipal authorities were

bound to enforce the sending of children to school by their

parents; they were empowered to inflict fines upon all who

refused compliance; and in case of continued resistance society

assumed the place of the parent, took possession of the child,

and deprived the father of those natural rights which he used to

so bad a purpose. The reader will undoubtedly have remarked the

preamble of these enactments: in America religion is the road to

knowledge, and the observance of the divine laws leads man to

civil freedom.

[Footnote k: Ibid., p. 90.]

If, after having cast a rapid glance over the state of

American society in 1650, we turn to the condition of Europe, and

more especially to that of the Continent, at the same period, we

cannot fail to be struck with astonishment. On the Continent of

Europe, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, absolute

monarchy had everywhere triumphed over the ruins of the

oligarchical and feudal liberties of the Middle Ages. Never were

the notions of right more completely confounded than in the midst

of the splendor and literature of Europe; never was there less

political activity among the people; never were the principles of

true freedom less widely circulated; and at that very time those

principles, which were scorned or unknown by the nations of

Europe, were proclaimed in the deserts of the New World, and were

accepted as the future creed of a great people. The boldest

theories of the human reason were put into practice by a

community so humble that not a statesman condescended to attend

to it; and a legislation without a precedent was produced offhand

by the imagination of the citizens. In the bosom of this obscure

democracy, which had as yet brought forth neither generals, nor

philosophers, nor authors, a man might stand up in the face of a

free people and pronounce the following fine definition of

liberty. *l

[Footnote l: Mather's "Magnalia Christi Americana," vol. ii. p.

13. This speech was made by Winthrop; he was accused of having

committed arbitrary actions during his magistracy, but after

having made the speech of which the above is a fragment, he was

acquitted by acclamation, and from that time forwards he was

always re- elected governor of the State. See Marshal, vol. i.

p. 166.]

"Nor would I have you to mistake in the point of your own

liberty. There is a liberty of a corrupt nature which is effected

both by men and beasts to do what they list, and this liberty is

inconsistent with authority, impatient of all restraint; by this

liberty 'sumus omnes deteriores': 'tis the grand enemy of truth

and peace, and all the ordinances of God are bent against it. But

there is a civil, a moral, a federal liberty which is the proper

end and object of authority; it is a liberty for that only which

is just and good: for this liberty you are to stand with the

hazard of your very lives and whatsoever crosses it is not

authority, but a distemper thereof. This liberty is maintained in

a way of subjection to authority; and the authority set over you

will, in all administrations for your good, be quietly submitted

unto by all but such as have a disposition to shake off the yoke

and lose their true liberty, by their murmuring at the honor and

power of authority."

The remarks I have made will suffice to display the

character of Anglo-American civilization in its true light. It

is the result (and this should be constantly present to the mind

of two distinct elements, which in other places have been in

frequent hostility, but which in America have been admirably

incorporated and combined with one another. I allude to the

spirit of Religion and the spirit of Liberty.

The settlers of New England were at the same time ardent

sectarians and daring innovators. Narrow as the limits of some

of their religious opinions were, they were entirely free from

political prejudices. Hence arose two tendencies, distinct but

not opposite, which are constantly discernible in the manners as

well as in the laws of the country.

It might be imagined that men who sacrificed their friends,

their family, and their native land to a religious conviction

were absorbed in the pursuit of the intellectual advantages which

they purchased at so dear a rate. The energy, however, with

which they strove for the acquirement of wealth, moral enjoyment,

and the comforts as well as liberties of the world, is scarcely

inferior to that with which they devoted themselves to Heaven.

Political principles and all human laws and institutions

were moulded and altered at their pleasure; the barriers of the

society in which they were born were broken down before them; the

old principles which had governed the world for ages were no

more; a path without a turn and a field without an horizon were

opened to the exploring and ardent curiosity of man: but at the

limits of the political world he checks his researches, he

discreetly lays aside the use of his most formidable faculties,

he no longer consents to doubt or to innovate, but carefully

abstaining from raising the curtain of the sanctuary, he yields

with submissive respect to truths which he will not discuss.

Thus, in the moral world everything is classed, adapted, decided,

and foreseen; in the political world everything is agitated,

uncertain, and disputed: in the one is a passive, though a

voluntary, obedience; in the other an independence scornful of

experience and jealous of authority.

These two tendencies, apparently so discrepant, are far from

conflicting; they advance together, and mutually support each

other. Religion perceives that civil liberty affords a noble

exercise to the faculties of man, and that the political world is

a field prepared by the Creator for the efforts of the

intelligence. Contented with the freedom and the power which it

enjoys in its own sphere, and with the place which it occupies,

the empire of religion is never more surely established than when

it reigns in the hearts of men unsupported by aught beside its

native strength. Religion is no less the companion of liberty in

all its battles and its triumphs; the cradle of its infancy, and

the divine source of its claims. The safeguard of morality is

religion, and morality is the best security of law and the surest

pledge of freedom. *m

[Footnote m: See Appendix, F.]

Reasons Of Certain Anomalies
Which The Laws And Customs
Of The Anglo-Americans Present

Remains of aristocratic institutions in the midst of a complete

democracy -Why? - Distinction carefully to be drawn between what

is of Puritanical and what is of English origin.

The reader is cautioned not to draw too general or too

absolute an inference from what has been said. The social

condition, the religion, and the manners of the first emigrants

undoubtedly exercised an immense influence on the destiny of

their new country. Nevertheless they were not in a situation to

found a state of things solely dependent on themselves: no man

can entirely shake off the influence of the past, and the

settlers, intentionally or involuntarily, mingled habits and

notions derived from their education and from the traditions of

their country with those habits and notions which were

exclusively their own. To form a judgment on the Anglo-Americans

of the present day it is therefore necessary to distinguish what

is of Puritanical and what is of English origin.

Laws and customs are frequently to be met with in the United

States which contrast strongly with all that surrounds them.

These laws seem to be drawn up in a spirit contrary to the

prevailing tenor of the American legislation; and these customs

are no less opposed to the tone of society. If the English

colonies had been founded in an age of darkness, or if their

origin was already lost in the lapse of years, the problem would

be insoluble.

I shall quote a single example to illustrate what I advance.

The civil and criminal procedure of the Americans has only two

means of action -committal and bail. The first measure taken by

the magistrate is to exact security from the defendant, or, in

case of refusal, to incarcerate him: the ground of the accusation

and the importance of the charges against him are then discussed.

It is evident that a legislation of this kind is hostile to the

poor man, and favorable only to the rich. The poor man has not

always a security to produce, even in a civil cause; and if he is

obliged to wait for justice in prison, he is speedily reduced to

distress. The wealthy individual, on the contrary, always

escapes imprisonment in civil causes; nay, more, he may readily

elude the punishment which awaits him for a delinquency by

breaking his bail. So that all the penalties of the law are, for

him, reducible to fines. *n Nothing can be more aristocratic than

this system of legislation. Yet in America it is the poor who

make the law, and they usually reserve the greatest social

advantages to themselves. The explanation of the phenomenon is

to be found in England; the laws of which I speak are English, *o

and the Americans have retained them, however repugnant they may

be to the tenor of their legislation and the mass of their ideas.

Next to its habits, the thing which a nation is least apt to

change is its civil legislation. Civil laws are only familiarly

known to legal men, whose direct interest it is to maintain them

as they are, whether good or bad, simply because they themselves

are conversant with them. The body of the nation is scarcely

acquainted with them; it merely perceives their action in

particular cases; but it has some difficulty in seizing their

tendency, and obeys them without premeditation. I have quoted

one instance where it would have been easy to adduce a great

number of others. The surface of American society is, if I may

use the expression, covered with a layer of democracy, from

beneath which the old aristocratic colors sometimes peep.

[Footnote n: Crimes no doubt exist for which bail is

inadmissible, but they are few in number.]

[Footnote o: See Blackstone; and Delolme, book I chap. x.]

Chapter III: Social Conditions Of The Anglo-Americans

Chapter Summary

A Social condition is commonly the result of circumstances,

sometimes of laws, oftener still of these two causes united; but

wherever it exists, it may justly be considered as the source of

almost all the laws, the usages, and the ideas which regulate the

conduct of nations; whatever it does not produce it modifies. It

is therefore necessary, if we would become acquainted with the

legislation and the manners of a nation, to begin by the study of

its social condition.

The Striking Characteristic Of
The Social Condition Of The Anglo-
Americans In Its Essential Democracy

The first emigrants of New England - Their equality -

Aristocratic laws introduced in the South - Period of the

Revolution - Change in the law of descent - Effects produced by

this change - Democracy carried to its utmost limits in the new

States of the West - Equality of education.

Many important observations suggest themselves upon the

social condition of the Anglo-Americans, but there is one which

takes precedence of all the rest. The social condition of the

Americans is eminently democratic; this was its character at the

foundation of the Colonies, and is still more strongly marked at

the present day. I have stated in the preceding chapter that

great equality existed among the emigrants who settled on the

shores of New England. The germ of aristocracy was never planted

in that part of the Union. The only influence which obtained

there was that of intellect; the people were used to reverence

certain names as the emblems of knowledge and virtue. Some of

their fellow-citizens acquired a power over the rest which might

truly have been called aristocratic, if it had been capable of

transmission from father to son.

This was the state of things to the east of the Hudson: to

the south-west of that river, and in the direction of the

Floridas, the case was different. In most of the States situated

to the south- west of the Hudson some great English proprietors

had settled, who had imported with them aristocratic principles

and the English law of descent. I have explained the reasons why

it was impossible ever to establish a powerful aristocracy in

America; these reasons existed with less force to the south-west

of the Hudson. In the South, one man, aided by slaves, could

cultivate a great extent of country: it was therefore common to

see rich landed proprietors. But their influence was not

altogether aristocratic as that term is understood in Europe,

since they possessed no privileges; and the cultivation of their

estates being carried on by slaves, they had no tenants depending

on them, and consequently no patronage. Still, the great

proprietors south of the Hudson constituted a superior class,

having ideas and tastes of its own, and forming the centre of

political action. This kind of aristocracy sympathized with the

body of the people, whose passions and interests it easily

embraced; but it was too weak and too short-lived to excite

either love or hatred for itself. This was the class which

headed the insurrection in the South, and furnished the best

leaders of the American revolution.

At the period of which we are now speaking society was

shaken to its centre: the people, in whose name the struggle had

taken place, conceived the desire of exercising the authority

which it had acquired; its democratic tendencies were awakened;

and having thrown off the yoke of the mother-country, it aspired

to independence of every kind. The influence of individuals

gradually ceased to be felt, and custom and law united together

to produce the same result.

But the law of descent was the last step to equality. I am

surprised that ancient and modern jurists have not attributed to

this law a greater influence on human affairs. *a It is true that

these laws belong to civil affairs; but they ought nevertheless

to be placed at the head of all political institutions; for,

whilst political laws are only the symbol of a nation's

condition, they exercise an incredible influence upon its social

state. They have, moreover, a sure and uniform manner of

operating upon society, affecting, as it were, generations yet


[Footnote a: I understand by the law of descent all those laws

whose principal object is to regulate the distribution of

property after the death of its owner. The law of entail is of

this number; it certainly prevents the owner from disposing of

his possessions before his death; but this is solely with the

view of preserving them entire for the heir. The principal

object, therefore, of the law of entail is to regulate the

descent of property after the death of its owner: its other

provisions are merely means to this end.]

Through their means man acquires a kind of preternatural

power over the future lot of his fellow-creatures. When the

legislator has regulated the law of inheritance, he may rest from

his labor. The machine once put in motion will go on for ages,

and advance, as if self-guided, towards a given point. When

framed in a particular manner, this law unites, draws together,

and vests property and power in a few hands: its tendency is

clearly aristocratic. On opposite principles its action is still

more rapid; it divides, distributes, and disperses both property

and power. Alarmed by the rapidity of its progress, those who

despair of arresting its motion endeavor to obstruct it by

difficulties and impediments; they vainly seek to counteract its

effect by contrary efforts; but it gradually reduces or destroys

every obstacle, until by its incessant activity the bulwarks of

the influence of wealth are ground down to the fine and shifting

sand which is the basis of democracy. When the law of

inheritance permits, still more when it decrees, the equal

division of a father's property amongst all his children, its

effects are of two kinds: it is important to distinguish them

from each other, although they tend to the same end.

In virtue of the law of partible inheritance, the death of

every proprietor brings about a kind of revolution in property;

not only do his possessions change hands, but their very nature

is altered, since they are parcelled into shares, which become

smaller and smaller at each division. This is the direct and, as

it were, the physical effect of the law. It follows, then, that

in countries where equality of inheritance is established by law,

property, and especially landed property, must have a tendency to

perpetual diminution. The effects, however, of such legislation

would only be perceptible after a lapse of time, if the law was

abandoned to its own working; for supposing the family to consist

of two children (and in a country people as France is the average

number is not above three), these children, sharing amongst them

the fortune of both parents, would not be poorer than their

father or mother.

But the law of equal division exercises its influence not

merely upon the property itself, but it affects the minds of the

heirs, and brings their passions into play. These indirect

consequences tend powerfully to the destruction of large

fortunes, and especially of large domains. Among nations whose

law of descent is founded upon the right of primogeniture landed

estates often pass from generation to generation without

undergoing division, the consequence of which is that family

feeling is to a certain degree incorporated with the estate. The

family represents the estate, the estate the family; whose name,

together with its origin, its glory, its power, and its virtues,

is thus perpetuated in an imperishable memorial of the past and a

sure pledge of the future.

When the equal partition of property is established by law,

the intimate connection is destroyed between family feeling and

the preservation of the paternal estate; the property ceases to

represent the family; for as it must inevitably be divided after

one or two generations, it has evidently a constant tendency to

diminish, and must in the end be completely dispersed. The sons

of the great landed proprietor, if they are few in number, or if

fortune befriends them, may indeed entertain the hope of being as

wealthy as their father, but not that of possessing the same

property as he did; the riches must necessarily be composed of

elements different from his.

Now, from the moment that you divest the landowner of that

interest in the preservation of his estate which he derives from

association, from tradition, and from family pride, you may be

certain that sooner or later he will dispose of it; for there is

a strong pecuniary interest in favor of selling, as floating

capital produces higher interest than real property, and is more

readily available to gratify the passions of the moment.

Great landed estates which have once been divided never come

together again; for the small proprietor draws from his land a

better revenue, in proportion, than the large owner does from

his, and of course he sells it at a higher rate. *b The

calculations of gain, therefore, which decide the rich man to

sell his domain will still more powerfully influence him against

buying small estates to unite them into a large one.

[Footnote b: I do not mean to say that the small proprietor

cultivates his land better, but he cultivates it with more ardor

and care; so that he makes up by his labor for his want of


What is called family pride is often founded upon an

illusion of self-love. A man wishes to perpetuate and

immortalize himself, as it were, in his great-grandchildren.

Where the esprit de famille ceases to act individual selfishness

comes into play. When the idea of family becomes vague,

indeterminate, and uncertain, a man thinks of his present

convenience; he provides for the establishment of his succeeding

generation, and no more. Either a man gives up the idea of

perpetuating his family, or at any rate he seeks to accomplish it

by other means than that of a landed estate. Thus not only does

the law of partible inheritance render it difficult for families

to preserve their ancestral domains entire, but it deprives them

of the inclination to attempt it, and compels them in some

measure to co-operate with the law in their own extinction.

The law of equal distribution proceeds by two methods: by

acting upon things, it acts upon persons; by influencing persons,

it affects things. By these means the law succeeds in striking

at the root of landed property, and dispersing rapidly both

families and fortunes. *c

[Footnote c: Land being the most stable kind of property, we

find, from time to time, rich individuals who are disposed to

make great sacrifices in order to obtain it, and who willingly

forfeit a considerable part of their income to make sure of the

rest. But these are accidental cases. The preference for landed

property is no longer found habitually in any class but among the

poor. The small landowner, who has less information, less

imagination, and fewer passions than the great one, is generally

occupied with the desire of increasing his estate: and it often

happens that by inheritance, by marriage, or by the chances of

trade, he is gradually furnished with the means. Thus, to

balance the tendency which leads men to divide their estates,

there exists another, which incites them to add to them. This

tendency, which is sufficient to prevent estates from being

divided ad infinitum, is not strong enough to create great

territorial possessions, certainly not to keep them up in the

same family.]

Most certainly it is not for us Frenchmen of the nineteenth

century, who daily witness the political and social changes which

the law of partition is bringing to pass, to question its

influence. It is perpetually conspicuous in our country,

overthrowing the walls of our dwellings and removing the

landmarks of our fields. But although it has produced great

effects in France, much still remains for it to do. Our

recollections, opinions, and habits present powerful obstacles to

its progress.

In the United States it has nearly completed its work of

destruction, and there we can best study its results. The

English laws concerning the transmission of property were

abolished in almost all the States at the time of the Revolution.

The law of entail was so modified as not to interrupt the free

circulation of property. *d The first generation having passed

away, estates began to be parcelled out, and the change became

more and more rapid with the progress of time. At this moment,

after a lapse of a little more than sixty years, the aspect of

society is totally altered; the families of the great landed

proprietors are almost all commingled with the general mass. In

the State of New York, which formerly contained many of these,

there are but two who still keep their heads above the stream,

and they must shortly disappear. The sons of these opulent

citizens are become merchants, lawyers, or physicians. Most of

them have lapsed into obscurity. The last trace of hereditary

ranks and distinctions is destroyed - the law of partition has

reduced all to one level. [Footnote d: See Appendix, G.]

I do not mean that there is any deficiency of wealthy

individuals in the United States; I know of no country, indeed,

where the love of money has taken stronger hold on the affections

of men, and where the profounder contempt is expressed for the

theory of the permanent equality of property. But wealth

circulates with inconceivable rapidity, and experience shows that

it is rare to find two succeeding generations in the full

enjoyment of it.

This picture, which may perhaps be thought to be

overcharged, still gives a very imperfect idea of what is taking

place in the new States of the West and South-west. At the end

of the last century a few bold adventurers began to penetrate

into the valleys of the Mississippi, and the mass of the

population very soon began to move in that direction: communities

unheard of till then were seen to emerge from the wilds: States

whose names were not in existence a few years before claimed

their place in the American Union; and in the Western settlements

we may behold democracy arrived at its utmost extreme. In these

States, founded off-hand, and, as it were, by chance, the

inhabitants are but of yesterday. Scarcely known to one another,

the nearest neighbors are ignorant of each other's history. In

this part of the American continent, therefore, the population

has not experienced the influence of great names and great

wealth, nor even that of the natural aristocracy of knowledge and

virtue. None are there to wield that respectable power which men

willingly grant to the remembrance of a life spent in doing good

before their eyes. The new States of the West are already

inhabited, but society has no existence among them. *e

[Footnote e: This may have been true in 1832, but is not so in

1874, when great cities like Chicago and San Francisco have

sprung up in the Western States. But as yet the Western States

exert no powerful influence on American society. - Translator's


It is not only the fortunes of men which are equal in

America; even their requirements partake in some degree of the

same uniformity. I do not believe that there is a country in the

world where, in proportion to the population, there are so few

uninstructed and at the same time so few learned individuals.

Primary instruction is within the reach of everybody; superior

instruction is scarcely to be obtained by any. This is not

surprising; it is in fact the necessary consequence of what we

have advanced above. Almost all the Americans are in easy

circumstances, and can therefore obtain the first elements of

human knowledge.

In America there are comparatively few who are rich enough

to live without a profession. Every profession requires an

apprenticeship, which limits the time of instruction to the early

years of life. At fifteen they enter upon their calling, and

thus their education ends at the age when ours begins. Whatever

is done afterwards is with a view to some special and lucrative

object; a science is taken up as a matter of business, and the

only branch of it which is attended to is such as admits of an

immediate practical application. In America most of the rich men

were formerly poor; most of those who now enjoy leisure were

absorbed in business during their youth; the consequence of which

is, that when they might have had a taste for study they had no

time for it, and when time is at their disposal they have no

longer the inclination.

There is no class, then, in America, in which the taste for

intellectual pleasures is transmitted with hereditary fortune and

leisure, and by which the labors of the intellect are held in

honor. Accordingly there is an equal want of the desire and the

power of application to these objects.

A middle standard is fixed in America for human knowledge.

All approach as near to it as they can; some as they rise, others

as they descend. Of course, an immense multitude of persons are

to be found who entertain the same number of ideas on religion,

history, science, political economy, legislation, and government.

The gifts of intellect proceed directly from God, and man cannot

prevent their unequal distribution. But in consequence of the

state of things which we have here represented it happens that,

although the capacities of men are widely different, as the

Creator has doubtless intended they should be, they are submitted

to the same method of treatment.

In America the aristocratic element has always been feeble

from its birth; and if at the present day it is not actually

destroyed, it is at any rate so completely disabled that we can

scarcely assign to it any degree of influence in the course of

affairs. The democratic principle, on the contrary, has gained

so much strength by time, by events, and by legislation, as to

have become not only predominant but all-powerful. There is no

family or corporate authority, and it is rare to find even the

influence of individual character enjoy any durability.

America, then, exhibits in her social state a most

extraordinary phenomenon. Men are there seen on a greater

equality in point of fortune and intellect, or, in other words,

more equal in their strength, than in any other country of the

world, or in any age of which history has preserved the


Political Consequences Of The Social Condition Of The Anglo-


The political consequences of such a social condition as

this are easily deducible. It is impossible to believe that

equality will not eventually find its way into the political

world as it does everywhere else. To conceive of men remaining

forever unequal upon one single point, yet equal on all others,

is impossible; they must come in the end to be equal upon all.

Now I know of only two methods of establishing equality in the

political world; every citizen must be put in possession of his

rights, or rights must be granted to no one. For nations which

are arrived at the same stage of social existence as the

Anglo-Americans, it is therefore very difficult to discover a

medium between the sovereignty of all and the absolute power of

one man: and it would be vain to deny that the social condition

which I have been describing is equally liable to each of these


There is, in fact, a manly and lawful passion for equality

which excites men to wish all to be powerful and honored. This

passion tends to elevate the humble to the rank of the great; but

there exists also in the human heart a depraved taste for

equality, which impels the weak to attempt to lower the powerful

to their own level, and reduces men to prefer equality in slavery

to inequality with freedom. Not that those nations whose social

condition is democratic naturally despise liberty; on the

contrary, they have an instinctive love of it. But liberty is

not the chief and constant object of their desires; equality is

their idol: they make rapid and sudden efforts to obtain liberty,

and if they miss their aim resign themselves to their

disappointment; but nothing can satisfy them except equality, and

rather than lose it they resolve to perish.

On the other hand, in a State where the citizens are nearly

on an equality, it becomes difficult for them to preserve their

independence against the aggressions of power. No one among them

being strong enough to engage in the struggle with advantage,

nothing but a general combination can protect their liberty. And

such a union is not always to be found.

From the same social position, then, nations may derive one

or the other of two great political results; these results are

extremely different from each other, but they may both proceed

from the same cause.

The Anglo-Americans are the first nations who, having been

exposed to this formidable alternative, have been happy enough to

escape the dominion of absolute power. They have been allowed by

their circumstances, their origin, their intelligence, and

especially by their moral feeling, to establish and maintain the

sovereignty of the people.


Chapter IV:
The Principle Of The Sovereignty
Of The People In America

Chapter Summary

It predominates over the whole of society in America -

Application made of this principle by the Americans even before

their Revolution - Development given to it by that Revolution -

Gradual and irresistible extension of the elective qualification.

The Principle Of The Sovereignty Of The People In America

Whenever the political laws of the United States are to be

discussed, it is with the doctrine of the sovereignty of the

people that we must begin. The principle of the sovereignty of

the people, which is to be found, more or less, at the bottom of

almost all human institutions, generally remains concealed from

view. It is obeyed without being recognized, or if for a moment

it be brought to light, it is hastily cast back into the gloom of

the sanctuary. "The will of the nation" is one of those

expressions which have been most profusely abused by the wily and

the despotic of every age. To the eyes of some it has been

represented by the venal suffrages of a few of the satellites of

power; to others by the votes of a timid or an interested

minority; and some have even discovered it in the silence of a

people, on the supposition that the fact of submission

established the right of command.

In America the principle of the sovereignty of the people is

not either barren or concealed, as it is with some other nations;

it is recognized by the customs and proclaimed by the laws; it

spreads freely, and arrives without impediment at its most remote

consequences. If there be a country in the world where the

doctrine of the sovereignty of the people can be fairly

appreciated, where it can be studied in its application to the

affairs of society, and where its dangers and its advantages may

be foreseen, that country is assuredly America.

I have already observed that, from their origin, the

sovereignty of the people was the fundamental principle of the

greater number of British colonies in America. It was far,

however, from then exercising as much influence on the government

of society as it now does. Two obstacles, the one external, the

other internal, checked its invasive progress. It could not

ostensibly disclose itself in the laws of colonies which were

still constrained to obey the mother-country: it was therefore

obliged to spread secretly, and to gain ground in the provincial

assemblies, and especially in the townships.

American society was not yet prepared to adopt it with all

its consequences. The intelligence of New England, and the

wealth of the country to the south of the Hudson (as I have shown

in the preceding chapter), long exercised a sort of aristocratic

influence, which tended to retain the exercise of social

authority in the hands of a few. The public functionaries were

not universally elected, and the citizens were not all of them

electors. The electoral franchise was everywhere placed within

certain limits, and made dependent on a certain qualification,

which was exceedingly low in the North and more considerable in

the South.

The American revolution broke out, and the doctrine of the

sovereignty of the people, which had been nurtured in the

townships and municipalities, took possession of the State: every

class was enlisted in its cause; battles were fought, and

victories obtained for it, until it became the law of laws.

A no less rapid change was effected in the interior of

society, where the law of descent completed the abolition of

local influences.

At the very time when this consequence of the laws and of

the revolution was apparent to every eye, victory was irrevocably

pronounced in favor of the democratic cause. All power was, in

fact, in its hands, and resistance was no longer possible. The

higher orders submitted without a murmur and without a struggle

to an evil which was thenceforth inevitable. The ordinary fate

of falling powers awaited them; each of their several members

followed his own interests; and as it was impossible to wring the

power from the hands of a people which they did not detest

sufficiently to brave, their only aim was to secure its good-will

at any price. The most democratic laws were consequently voted

by the very men whose interests they impaired; and thus, although

the higher classes did not excite the passions of the people

against their order, they accelerated the triumph of the new

state of things; so that by a singular change the democratic

impulse was found to be most irresistible in the very States

where the aristocracy had the firmest hold. The State of

Maryland, which had been founded by men of rank, was the first to

proclaim universal suffrage, and to introduce the most democratic

forms into the conduct of its government.

When a nation modifies the elective qualification, it may

easily be foreseen that sooner or later that qualification will

be entirely abolished. There is no more invariable rule in the

history of society: the further electoral rights are extended,

the greater is the need of extending them; for after each

concession the strength of the democracy increases, and its

demands increase with its strength. The ambition of those who

are below the appointed rate is irritated in exact proportion to

the great number of those who are above it. The exception at

last becomes the rule, concession follows concession, and no stop

can be made short of universal suffrage.

At the present day the principle of the sovereignty of the

people has acquired, in the United States, all the practical

development which the imagination can conceive. It is

unencumbered by those fictions which have been thrown over it in


countries, and it appears in every possible form according to the

exigency of the occasion. Sometimes the laws are made by the

people in a body, as at Athens; and sometimes its

representatives, chosen by universal suffrage, transact business

in its name, and almost under its immediate control.

In some countries a power exists which, though it is in a

degree foreign to the social body, directs it, and forces it to

pursue a certain track. In others the ruling force is divided,

being partly within and partly without the ranks of the people.

But nothing of the kind is to be seen in the United States; there

society governs itself for itself. All power centres in its

bosom; and scarcely an individual is to be meet with who would

venture to conceive, or, still less, to express, the idea of

seeking it elsewhere. The nation participates in the making of

its laws by the choice of its legislators, and in the execution

of them by the choice of the agents of the executive government;

it may almost be said to govern itself, so feeble and so

restricted is the share left to the administration, so little do

the authorities forget their popular origin and the power from

which they emanate. *a

[Footnote a: See Appendix, H.]


Chapter V:
Necessity Of Examining The
Condition Of The States -
Part I

Necessity Of Examining The Condition Of
The States Before That Of The Union At Large

It is proposed to examine in the following chapter what is

the form of government established in America on the principle of

the sovereignty of the people; what are its resources, its

hindrances, its advantages, and its dangers. The first

difficulty which presents itself arises from the complex nature

of the constitution of the United States, which consists of two

distinct social structures, connected and, as it were, encased

one within the other; two governments, completely separate and

almost independent, the one fulfilling the ordinary duties and

responding to the daily and indefinite calls of a community, the

other circumscribed within certain limits, and only exercising an

exceptional authority over the general interests of the country.

In short, there are twenty- four small sovereign nations, whose

agglomeration constitutes the body of the Union. To examine the

Union before we have studied the States would be to adopt a

method filled with obstacles. The form of the Federal Government

of the United States was the last which was adopted; and it is in

fact nothing more than a modification or a summary of those

republican principles which were current in the whole community

before it existed, and independently of its existence. Moreover,

the Federal Government is, as I have just observed, the

exception; the Government of the States is the rule. The author

who should attempt to exhibit the picture as a whole before he

had explained its details would necessarily fall into obscurity

and repetition.

The great political principles which govern American society

at this day undoubtedly took their origin and their growth in the

State. It is therefore necessary to become acquainted with the

State in order to possess a clue to the remainder. The States

which at present compose the American Union all present the same

features, as far as regards the external aspect of their

institutions. Their political or administrative existence is

centred in three focuses of action, which may not inaptly be

compared to the different nervous centres which convey motion to

the human body. The township is the lowest in order, then the

county, and lastly the State; and I propose to devote the

following chapter to the examination of these three divisions.

The American System Of Townships And Municipal Bodies

Why the Author begins the examination of the political

institutions with the township - Its existence in all nations -

Difficulty of establishing and preserving municipal independence

- Its importance - Why the Author has selected the township

system of New England as the main topic of his discussion.

It is not undesignedly that I begin this subject with the

Township. The village or township is the only association which

is so perfectly natural that wherever a number of men are

collected it seems to constitute itself.

The town, or tithing, as the smallest division of a

community, must necessarily exist in all nations, whatever their

laws and customs may be: if man makes monarchies and establishes

republics, the first association of mankind seems constituted by

the hand of God. But although the existence of the township is

coeval with that of man, its liberties are not the less rarely

respected and easily destroyed. A nation is always able to

establish great political assemblies, because it habitually

contains a certain number of individuals fitted by their talents,

if not by their habits, for the direction of affairs. The

township is, on the contrary, composed of coarser materials,

which are less easily fashioned by the legislator. The

difficulties which attend the consolidation of its independence

rather augment than diminish with the increasing enlightenment of

the people. A highly civilized community spurns the attempts of

a local independence, is disgusted at its numerous blunders, and

is apt to despair of success before the experiment is completed.

Again, no immunities are so ill protected from the encroachments

of the supreme power as those of municipal bodies in general:

they are unable to struggle, single- handed, against a strong or

an enterprising government, and they cannot defend their cause

with success unless it be identified with the customs of the

nation and supported by public opinion. Thus until the

independence of townships is amalgamated with the manners of a

people it is easily destroyed, and it is only after a long

existence in the laws that it can be thus amalgamated. Municipal

freedom is not the fruit of human device; it is rarely created;

but it is, as it were, secretly and spontaneously engendered in

the midst of a semi-barbarous state of society. The constant

action of the laws and the national habits, peculiar

circumstances, and above all time, may consolidate it; but there

is certainly no nation on the continent of Europe which has

experienced its advantages. Nevertheless local assemblies of

citizens constitute the strength of free nations. Town-meetings

are to liberty what primary schools are to science; they bring it

within the people's reach, they teach men how to use and how to

enjoy it. A nation may establish a system of free government,

but without the spirit of municipal institutions it cannot have

the spirit of liberty. The transient passions and the interests

of an hour, or the chance of circumstances, may have created the

external forms of independence; but the despotic tendency which

has been repelled will, sooner or later, inevitably reappear on

the surface.

In order to explain to the reader the general principles on

which the political organization of the counties and townships of

the United States rests, I have thought it expedient to choose

one of the States of New England as an example, to examine the

mechanism of its constitution, and then to cast a general glance

over the country. The township and the county are not organized

in the same manner in every part of the Union; it is, however,

easy to perceive that the same principles have guided the

formation of both of them throughout the Union. I am inclined to

believe that these principles have been carried further in New

England than elsewhere, and consequently that they offer greater

facilities to the observations of a stranger. The institutions

of New England form a complete and regular whole; they have

received the sanction of time, they have the support of the laws,

and the still stronger support of the manners of the community,

over which they exercise the most prodigious influence; they

consequently deserve our attention on every account.

Limits Of The Township

The township of New England is a division which stands

between the commune and the canton of France, and which

corresponds in general to the English tithing, or town. Its

average population is from two to three thousand; *a so that, on

the one hand, the interests of its inhabitants are not likely to

conflict, and, on the other, men capable of conducting its

affairs are always to be found among its citizens.

[Footnote a: In 1830 there were 305 townships in the State of

Massachusetts, and 610,014 inhabitants, which gives an average of

about 2,000 inhabitants to each township.]

Authorities Of The Township In New England

The people the source of all power here as elsewhere - Manages

its own affairs - No corporation - The greater part of the

authority vested in the hands of the Selectmen - How the

Selectmen act - Town-meeting - Enumeration of the public officers

of the township - Obligatory and remunerated functions.

In the township, as well as everywhere else, the people is

the only source of power; but in no stage of government does the

body of citizens exercise a more immediate influence. In America

the people is a master whose exigencies demand obedience to the

utmost limits of possibility.

In New England the majority acts by representatives in the

conduct of the public business of the State; but if such an

arrangement be necessary in general affairs, in the townships,

where the legislative and administrative action of the government

is in more immediate contact with the subject, the system of

representation is not adopted. There is no corporation; but the

body of electors, after having designated its magistrates,

directs them in everything that exceeds the simple and ordinary

executive business of the State. *b

[Footnote b: The same rules are not applicable to the great

towns, which generally have a mayor, and a corporation divided

into two bodies; this, however, is an exception which requires

the sanction of a law. - See the Act of February 22, 1822, for

appointing the authorities of the city of Boston. It frequently

happens that small towns as well as cities are subject to a

peculiar administration. In 1832, 104 townships in the State of

New York were governed in this manner. - Williams' Register.]

This state of things is so contrary to our ideas, and so

different from our customs, that it is necessary for me to adduce

some examples to explain it thoroughly.

The public duties in the township are extremely numerous and

minutely divided, as we shall see further on; but the larger

proportion of administrative power is vested in the hands of a

small number of individuals, called "the Selectmen." *c The

general laws of the State impose a certain number of obligations

on the selectmen, which they may fulfil without the authorization

of the body they represent, but which they can only neglect on

their own responsibility. The law of the State obliges them, for

instance, to draw up the list of electors in their townships; and

if they omit this part of their functions, they are guilty of a

misdemeanor. In all the affairs, however, which are determined

by the town-meeting, the selectmen are the organs of the popular

mandate, as in France the Maire executes the decree of the

municipal council. They usually act upon their own

responsibility, and merely put in practice principles which have

been previously recognized by the majority. But if any change is

to be introduced in the existing state of things, or if they wish

to undertake any new enterprise, they are obliged to refer to the

source of their power. If, for instance, a school is to be

established, the selectmen convoke the whole body of the electors

on a certain day at an appointed place; they explain the urgency

of the case; they give their opinion on the means of satisfying

it, on the probable expense, and the site which seems to be most

favorable. The meeting is consulted on these several points; it

adopts the principle, marks out the site, votes the rate, and

confides the execution of its resolution to the selectmen.

[Footnote c: Three selectmen are appointed in the small

townships, and nine in the large ones. See "The Town-Officer,"

p. 186. See also the principal laws of the State of

Massachusetts relative to the selectmen:

Act of February 20, 1786, vol. i. p. 219; February 24, 1796,

vol. i. p. 488; March 7, 1801, vol. ii. p. 45; June 16, 1795,

vol. i. p. 475; March 12, 1808, vol. ii. p. 186; February 28,

1787, vol. i. p. 302; June 22, 1797, vol. i. p. 539.]

The selectmen have alone the right of calling a

town-meeting, but they may be requested to do so: if ten citizens

are desirous of submitting a new project to the assent of the

township, they may demand a general convocation of the

inhabitants; the selectmen are obliged to comply, but they have

only the right of presiding at the meeting. *d

[Footnote d: See Laws of Massachusetts, vol. i. p. 150, Act of

March 25, 1786.]

The selectmen are elected every year in the month of April

or of May. The town-meeting chooses at the same time a number of

other municipal magistrates, who are entrusted with important

administrative functions. The assessors rate the township; the

collectors receive the rate. A constable is appointed to keep

the peace, to watch the streets, and to forward the execution of

the laws; the town-clerk records all the town votes, orders,

grants, births, deaths, and marriages; the treasurer keeps the

funds; the overseer of the poor performs the difficult task of

superintending the action of the poor-laws; committee-men are

appointed to attend to the schools and to public instruction; and

the road-surveyors, who take care of the greater and lesser

thoroughfares of the township, complete the list of the principal

functionaries. They are, however, still further subdivided; and

amongst the municipal officers are to be found parish

commissioners, who audit the expenses of public worship;

different classes of inspectors, some of whom are to direct the

citizens in case of fire; tithing-men, listers, haywards,

chimney-viewers, fence-viewers to maintain the bounds of

property, timber-measurers, and sealers of weights and measures.


[Footnote e: All these magistrates actually exist; their

different functions are all detailed in a book called "The

Town-Officer," by Isaac Goodwin, Worcester, 1827; and in the

"Collection of the General Laws of Massachusetts," 3 vols.,

Boston, 1823.]

There are nineteen principal officers in a township. Every

inhabitant is constrained, on the pain of being fined, to

undertake these different functions; which, however, are almost

all paid, in order that the poorer citizens may be able to give

up their time without loss. In general the American system is

not to grant a fixed salary to its functionaries. Every service

has its price, and they are remunerated in proportion to what

they have done.

Existence Of The Township

Every one the best judge of his own interest - Corollary of the

principle of the sovereignty of the people - Application of those

doctrines in the townships of America - The township of New

England is sovereign in all that concerns itself alone: subject

to the State in all other matters - Bond of the township and the

State - In France the Government lends its agent to the Commune -

In America the reverse occurs.

I have already observed that the principle of the

sovereignty of the people governs the whole political system of

the Anglo- Americans. Every page of this book will afford new

instances of the same doctrine. In the nations by which the

sovereignty of the people is recognized every individual

possesses an equal share of power, and participates alike in the

government of the State. Every individual is, therefore,

supposed to be as well informed, as virtuous, and as strong as

any of his fellow-citizens. He obeys the government, not because

he is inferior to the authorities which conduct it, or that he is

less capable than his neighbor of governing himself, but because

he acknowledges the utility of an association with his

fellow-men, and because he knows that no such association can

exist without a regulating force. If he be a subject in all that

concerns the mutual relations of citizens, he is free and

responsible to God alone for all that concerns himself. Hence

arises the maxim that every one is the best and the sole judge of

his own private interest, and that society has no right to

control a man's actions, unless they are prejudicial to the

common weal, or unless the common weal demands his co-operation.

This doctrine is universally admitted in the United States. I

shall hereafter examine the general influence which it exercises

on the ordinary actions of life; I am now speaking of the nature

of municipal bodies.

The township, taken as a whole, and in relation to the

government of the country, may be looked upon as an individual to

whom the theory I have just alluded to is applied. Municipal

independence is therefore a natural consequence of the principle

of the sovereignty of the people in the United States: all the

American republics recognize it more or less; but circumstances

have peculiarly favored its growth in New England.

In this part of the Union the impulsion of political

activity was given in the townships; and it may almost be said

that each of them originally formed an independent nation. When

the Kings of England asserted their supremacy, they were

contented to assume the central power of the State. The

townships of New England remained as they were before; and

although they are now subject to the State, they were at first

scarcely dependent upon it. It is important to remember that

they have not been invested with privileges, but that they have,

on the contrary, forfeited a portion of their independence to the

State. The townships are only subordinate to the State in those

interests which I shall term social, as they are common to all

the citizens. They are independent in all that concerns

themselves; and amongst the inhabitants of New England I believe

that not a man is to be found who would acknowledge that the

State has any right to interfere in their local interests. The

towns of New England buy and sell, sue or are sued, augment or

diminish their rates, without the slightest opposition on the

part of the administrative authority of the State.

They are bound, however, to comply with the demands of the

community. If the State is in need of money, a town can neither

give nor withhold the supplies. If the State projects a road,

the township cannot refuse to let it cross its territory; if a

police regulation is made by the State, it must be enforced by

the town. A uniform system of instruction is organized all over

the country, and every town is bound to establish the schools

which the law ordains. In speaking of the administration of the

United States I shall have occasion to point out the means by

which the townships are compelled to obey in these different

cases: I here merely show the existence of the obligation. Strict

as this obligation is, the government of the State imposes it in

principle only, and in its performance the township resumes all

its independent rights. Thus, taxes are voted by the State, but

they are levied and collected by the township; the existence of a

school is obligatory, but the township builds, pays, and

superintends it. In France the State- collector receives the

local imposts; in America the town-collector receives the taxes

of the State. Thus the French Government lends its agents to the

commune; in America the township is the agent of the Government.

This fact alone shows the extent of the differences which exist

between the two nations.

Public Spirit Of The
Townships Of New England

How the township of New England wins the affections of its

inhabitants -Difficulty of creating local public spirit in Europe

- The rights and duties of the American township favorable to it

- Characteristics of home in the United States - Manifestations

of public spirit in New England - Its happy effects.

In America, not only do municipal bodies exist, but they are

kept alive and supported by public spirit. The township of New

England possesses two advantages which infallibly secure the

attentive interest of mankind, namely, independence and

authority. Its sphere is indeed small and limited, but within

that sphere its action is unrestrained; and its independence

gives to it a real importance which its extent and population may

not always ensure.

It is to be remembered that the affections of men generally

lie on the side of authority. Patriotism is not durable in a

conquered nation. The New Englander is attached to his township,

not only because he was born in it, but because it constitutes a

social body of which he is a member, and whose government claims

and deserves the exercise of his sagacity. In Europe the absence

of local public spirit is a frequent subject of regret to those

who are in power; everyone agrees that there is no surer

guarantee of order and tranquility, and yet nothing is more

difficult to create. If the municipal bodies were made powerful

and independent, the authorities of the nation might be disunited

and the peace of the country endangered. Yet, without power and

independence, a town may contain good subjects, but it can have

no active citizens. Another important fact is that the township

of New England is so constituted as to excite the warmest of

human affections, without arousing the ambitious passions of the

heart of man. The officers of the country are not elected, and

their authority is very limited. Even the State is only a

second-rate community, whose tranquil and obscure administration

offers no inducement sufficient to draw men away from the circle

of their interests into the turmoil of public affairs. The

federal government confers power and honor on the men who conduct

it; but these individuals can never be very numerous. The high

station of the Presidency can only be reached at an advanced

period of life, and the other federal functionaries are generally

men who have been favored by fortune, or distinguished in some

other career. Such cannot be the permanent aim of the ambitious.

But the township serves as a centre for the desire of public

esteem, the want of exciting interests, and the taste for

authority and popularity, in the midst of the ordinary relations

of life; and the passions which commonly embroil society change

their character when they find a vent so near the domestic hearth

and the family circle.

In the American States power has been disseminated with

admirable skill for the purpose of interesting the greatest

possible number of persons in the common weal. Independently of

the electors who are from time to time called into action, the

body politic is divided into innumerable functionaries and

officers, who all, in their several spheres, represent the same

powerful whole in whose name they act. The local administration

thus affords an unfailing source of profit and interest to a vast

number of individuals.

The American system, which divides the local authority among

so many citizens, does not scruple to multiply the functions of

the town officers. For in the United States it is believed, and

with truth, that patriotism is a kind of devotion which is

strengthened by ritual observance. In this manner the activity

of the township is continually perceptible; it is daily

manifested in the fulfilment of a duty or the exercise of a

right, and a constant though gentle motion is thus kept up in

society which animates without disturbing it.

The American attaches himself to his home as the mountaineer

clings to his hills, because the characteristic features of his

country are there more distinctly marked than elsewhere. The

existence of the townships of New England is in general a happy

one. Their government is suited to their tastes, and chosen by

themselves. In the midst of the profound peace and general

comfort which reign in America the commotions of municipal

discord are unfrequent. The conduct of local business is easy.

The political education of the people has long been complete; say

rather that it was complete when the people first set foot upon

the soil. In New England no tradition exists of a distinction of

ranks; no portion of the community is tempted to oppress the

remainder; and the abuses which may injure isolated individuals

are forgotten in the general contentment which prevails. If the

government is defective (and it would no doubt be easy to point

out its deficiencies), the fact that it really emanates from

those it governs, and that it acts, either ill or well, casts the

protecting spell of a parental pride over its faults. No term of

comparison disturbs the satisfaction of the citizen: England

formerly governed the mass of the colonies, but the people was

always sovereign in the township where its rule is not only an

ancient but a primitive state.

The native of New England is attached to his township

because it is independent and free: his co-operation in its

affairs ensures his attachment to its interest; the well-being it

affords him secures his affection; and its welfare is the aim of

his ambition and of his future exertions: he takes a part in

every occurrence in the place; he practises the art of government

in the small sphere within his reach; he accustoms himself to

those forms which can alone ensure the steady progress of

liberty; he imbibes their spirit; he acquires a taste for order,

comprehends the union or the balance of powers, and collects

clear practical notions on the nature of his duties and the

extent of his rights.

The Counties Of New England

The division of the countries in America has considerable

analogy with that of the arrondissements of France. The limits

of the counties are arbitrarily laid down, and the various

districts which they contain have no necessary connection, no

common tradition or natural sympathy; their object is simply to

facilitate the administration of justice.

The extent of the township was too small to contain a system

of judicial institutions; each county has, however, a court of

justice, *f a sheriff to execute its decrees, and a prison for

criminals. There are certain wants which are felt alike by all

the townships of a county; it is therefore natural that they

should be satisfied by a central authority. In the State of

Massachusetts this authority is vested in the hands of several

magistrates, who are appointed by the Governor of the State, with

the advice *g of his council. *h The officers of the county have

only a limited and occasional authority, which is applicable to

certain predetermined cases. The State and the townships possess

all the power requisite to conduct public business. The budget

of the county is drawn up by its officers, and is voted by the

legislature, but there is no assembly which directly or

indirectly represents the county. It has, therefore, properly

speaking, no political existence.

[Footnote f: See the Act of February 14, 1821, Laws of

Massachusetts, vol. i. p. 551.]

[Footnote g: See the Act of February 20, 1819, Laws of

Massachusetts, vol. ii. p. 494.]

[Footnote h: The council of the Governor is an elective body.]

A twofold tendency may be discerned in the American

constitutions, which impels the legislator to centralize the

legislative and to disperse the executive power. The township of

New England has in itself an indestructible element of

independence; and this distinct existence could only be

fictitiously introduced into the county, where its utility has

not been felt. But all the townships united have but one

representation, which is the State, the centre of the national

authority: beyond the action of the township and that of the

nation, nothing can be said to exist but the influence of

individual exertion.

Administration In New England

Administration not perceived in America - Why? - The Europeans

believe that liberty is promoted by depriving the social

authority of some of its rights; the Americans, by dividing its

exercise - Almost all the administration confined to the

township, and divided amongst the town-officers - No trace of an

administrative body to be perceived, either in the township or

above it -The reason of this - How it happens that the

administration of the State is uniform - Who is empowered to

enforce the obedience of the township and the county to the law -

The introduction of judicial power into the administration -

Consequence of the extension of the elective principle to all

functionaries - The Justice of the Peace in New England - By whom

appointed - County officer: ensures the administration of the

townships - Court of Sessions - Its action - Right of inspection

and indictment disseminated like the other administrative

functions - Informers encouraged by the division of fines.

Nothing is more striking to an European traveller in the

United States than the absence of what we term the Government, or

the Administration. Written laws exist in America, and one sees

that they are daily executed; but although everything is in

motion, the hand which gives the impulse to the social machine

can nowhere be discovered. Nevertheless, as all peoples are

obliged to have recourse to certain grammatical forms, which are

the foundation of human language, in order to express their

thoughts; so all communities are obliged to secure their

existence by submitting to a certain dose of authority, without

which they fall a prey to anarchy. This authority may be

distributed in several ways, but it must always exist somewhere.

There are two methods of diminishing the force of authority

in a nation: The first is to weaken the supreme power in its very

principle, by forbidding or preventing society from acting in its

own defence under certain circumstances. To weaken authority in

this manner is what is generally termed in Europe to lay the

foundations of freedom. The second manner of diminishing the

influence of authority does not consist in stripping society of

any of its rights, nor in paralyzing its efforts, but in

distributing the exercise of its privileges in various hands, and

in multiplying functionaries, to each of whom the degree of power

necessary for him to perform his duty is entrusted. There may be

nations whom this distribution of social powers might lead to

anarchy; but in itself it is not anarchical. The action of

authority is indeed thus rendered less irresistible and less

perilous, but it is not totally suppressed.

The revolution of the United States was the result of a

mature and dignified taste for freedom, and not of a vague or

ill-defined craving for independence. It contracted no alliance

with the turbulent passions of anarchy; but its course was

marked, on the contrary, by an attachment to whatever was lawful

and orderly.

It was never assumed in the United States that the citizen

of a free country has a right to do whatever he pleases; on the

contrary, social obligations were there imposed upon him more

various than anywhere else. No idea was ever entertained of

attacking the principles or of contesting the rights of society;

but the exercise of its authority was divided, to the end that

the office might be powerful and the officer insignificant, and

that the community should be at once regulated and free. In no

country in the world does the law hold so absolute a language as

in America, and in no country is the right of applying it vested

in so many hands. The administrative power in the United States

presents nothing either central or hierarchical in its

constitution, which accounts for its passing, unperceived. The

power exists, but its representative is not to be perceived.

We have already seen that the independent townships of New

England protect their own private interests; and the municipal

magistrates are the persons to whom the execution of the laws of

the State is most frequently entrusted. *i Besides the general

laws, the State sometimes passes general police regulations; but

more commonly the townships and town officers, conjointly with

justices of the peace, regulate the minor details of social life,

according to the necessities of the different localities, and

promulgate such enactments as concern the health of the

community, and the peace as well as morality of the citizens. *j

Lastly, these municipal magistrates provide, of their own accord

and without any delegated powers, for those unforeseen

emergencies which frequently occur in society. *k

[Footnote i: See "The Town-Officer," especially at the words

Selectmen, Assessors, Collectors, Schools, Surveyors of Highways.

I take one example in a thousand: the State prohibits travelling

on the Sunday; the tything-men, who are town-officers, are

specially charged to keep watch and to execute the law. See the

Laws of Massachusetts, vol. i. p. 410.

The selectmen draw up the lists of electors for the election

of the Governor, and transmit the result of the ballot to the

Secretary of the State. See Act of February 24, 1796: Id., vol.

i. p. 488.]

[Footnote j: Thus, for instance, the selectmen authorize the

construction of drains, point out the proper sites for slaughter-

houses and other trades which are a nuisance to the neighborhood.

See the Act of June 7, 1785: Id., vol. i. p. 193.]

[Footnote k: The selectmen take measures for the security of the

public in case of contagious diseases, conjointly with the

justices of the peace. See Act of June 22, 1797, vol. i. p.


It results from what we have said that in the State of

Massachusetts the administrative authority is almost entirely

restricted to the township, *l but that it is distributed among a

great number of individuals. In the French commune there is

properly but one official functionary, namely, the Maire; and in

New England we have seen that there are nineteen. These nineteen

functionaries do not in general depend upon one another. The law

carefully prescribes a circle of action to each of these

magistrates; and within that circle they have an entire right to

perform their functions independently of any other authority.

Above the township scarcely any trace of a series of official

dignitaries is to be found. It sometimes happens that the county

officers alter a decision of the townships or town magistrates,

*m but in general the authorities of the county have no right to

interfere with the authorities of the township, *n except in such

matters as concern the county.

[Footnote l: I say almost, for there are various circumstances in

the annals of a township which are regulated by the justice of

the peace in his individual capacity, or by the justices of the

peace assembled in the chief town of the county; thus licenses

are granted by the justices. See the Act of February 28, 1787,

vol. i. p. 297.]

[Footnote m: Thus licenses are only granted to such persons as

can produce a certificate of good conduct from the selectmen. If

the selectmen refuse to give the certificate, the party may

appeal to the justices assembled in the Court of Sessions, and

they may grant the license. See Act of March 12, 1808, vol. ii.

p. 186.

The townships have the right to make by-laws, and to enforce

them by fines which are fixed by law; but these by-laws must be

approved by the Court of Sessions. See Act of March 23, 1786,

vol. i. p. 254.]

[Footnote n: In Massachusetts the county magistrates are

frequently called upon to investigate the acts of the town

magistrates; but it will be shown further on that this

investigation is a consequence, not of their administrative, but

of their judicial power.]

The magistrates of the township, as well as those of the

county, are bound to communicate their acts to the central

government in a very small number of predetermined cases. *o But

the central government is not represented by an individual whose

business it is to publish police regulations and ordinances

enforcing the execution of the laws; to keep up a regular

communication with the officers of the township and the county;

to inspect their conduct, to direct their actions, or to

reprimand their faults. There is no point which serves as a

centre to the radii of the administration.

[Footnote o: The town committees of schools are obliged to make

an annual report to the Secretary of the State on the condition

of the school. See Act of March 10, 1827, vol. iii. p. 183.]


Chapter V:
Necessity Of Examining The
Condition Of The States -
Part II

What, then, is the uniform plan on which the government is

conducted, and how is the compliance of the counties and their

magistrates or the townships and their officers enforced? In the

States of New England the legislative authority embraces more

subjects than it does in France; the legislator penetrates to the

very core of the administration; the law descends to the most

minute details; the same enactment prescribes the principle and

the method of its application, and thus imposes a multitude of

strict and rigorously defined obligations on the secondary

functionaries of the State. The consequence of this is that if

all the secondary functionaries of the administration conform to

the law, society in all its branches proceeds with the greatest

uniformity: the difficulty remains of compelling the secondary

functionaries of the administration to conform to the law. It

may be affirmed that, in general, society has only two methods of

enforcing the execution of the laws at its disposal: a

discretionary power may be entrusted to a superior functionary of

directing all the others, and of cashiering them in case of

disobedience; or the courts of justice may be authorized to

inflict judicial penalties on the offender: but these two methods

are not always available.

The right of directing a civil officer presupposes that of

cashiering him if he does not obey orders, and of rewarding him

by promotion if he fulfils his duties with propriety. But an

elected magistrate can neither be cashiered nor promoted. All

elective functions are inalienable until their term is expired.

In fact, the elected magistrate has nothing either to expect or

to fear from his constituents; and when all public offices are

filled by ballot there can be no series of official dignities,

because the double right of commanding and of enforcing obedience

can never be vested in the same individual, and because the power

of issuing an order can never be joined to that of inflicting a

punishment or bestowing a reward.

The communities therefore in which the secondary

functionaries of the government are elected are perforce obliged

to make great use of judicial penalties as a means of

administration. This is not evident at first sight; for those in

power are apt to look upon the institution of elective

functionaries as one concession, and the subjection of the

elected magistrate to the judges of the land as another. They

are equally averse to both these innovations; and as they are

more pressingly solicited to grant the former than the latter,

they accede to the election of the magistrate, and leave him

independent of the judicial power. Nevertheless, the second of

these measures is the only thing that can possibly counterbalance

the first; and it will be found that an elective authority which

is not subject to judicial power will, sooner or later, either

elude all control or be destroyed. The courts of justice are the

only possible medium between the central power and the

administrative bodies; they alone can compel the elected

functionary to obey, without violating the rights of the elector.

The extension of judicial power in the political world ought

therefore to be in the exact ratio of the extension of elective

offices: if these two institutions do not go hand in hand, the

State must fall into anarchy or into subjection.

It has always been remarked that habits of legal business do

not render men apt to the exercise of administrative authority.

The Americans have borrowed from the English, their fathers, the

idea of an institution which is unknown upon the continent of

Europe: I allude to that of the Justices of the Peace. The

Justice of the Peace is a sort of mezzo termine between the

magistrate and the man of the world, between the civil officer

and the judge. A justice of the peace is a well-informed citizen,

though he is not necessarily versed in the knowledge of the laws.

His office simply obliges him to execute the police regulations

of society; a task in which good sense and integrity are of more

avail than legal science. The justice introduces into the

administration a certain taste for established forms and

publicity, which renders him a most unserviceable instrument of

despotism; and, on the other hand, he is not blinded by those

superstitions which render legal officers unfit members of a

government. The Americans have adopted the system of the English

justices of the peace, but they have deprived it of that

aristocratic character which is discernible in the

mother-country. The Governor of Massachusetts *p appoints a

certain number of justices of the peace in every county, whose

functions last seven years. *q He further designates three

individuals from amongst the whole body of justices who form in

each county what is called the Court of Sessions. The justices

take a personal share in public business; they are sometimes

entrusted with administrative functions in conjunction with

elected officers, *r they sometimes constitute a tribunal, before

which the magistrates summarily prosecute a refractory citizen,

or the citizens inform against the abuses of the magistrate. But

it is in the Court of Sessions that they exercise their most

important functions. This court meets twice a year in the county

town; in Massachusetts it is empowered to enforce the obedience

of the greater number *s of public officers. *t It must be

observed, that in the State of Massachusetts the Court of

Sessions is at the same time an administrative body, properly so

called, and a political tribunal. It has been asserted that the

county is a purely administrative division. The Court of

Sessions presides over that small number of affairs which, as

they concern several townships, or all the townships of the

county in common, cannot be entrusted to any one of them in

particular. *u In all that concerns county business the duties of

the Court of Sessions are purely administrative; and if in its

investigations it occasionally borrows the forms of judicial

procedure, it is only with a view to its own information, *v or

as a guarantee to the community over which it presides. But when

the administration of the township is brought before it, it

always acts as a judicial body, and in some few cases as an

official assembly.

[Footnote p: We shall hereafter learn what a Governor is: I shall

content myself with remarking in this place that he represents

the executive power of the whole State.]

[Footnote q: See the Constitution of Massachusetts, chap. II.

sect. 1. Section 9; chap. III. Section 3.]

[Footnote r: Thus, for example, a stranger arrives in a township

from a country where a contagious disease prevails, and he falls

ill. Two justices of the peace can, with the assent of the

selectmen, order the sheriff of the county to remove and take

care of him. - Act of June 22, 1797, vol. i. p. 540.

In general the justices interfere in all the important acts

of the administration, and give them a semi-judicial character.]

[Footnote s: I say the greater number, because certain

administrative misdemeanors are brought before ordinary

tribunals. If, for instance, a township refuses to make the

necessary expenditure for its schools or to name a

school-committee, it is liable to a heavy fine. But this penalty

is pronounced by the Supreme Judicial Court or the Court of

Common Pleas. See Act of March 10, 1827, Laws of Massachusetts,

vol. iii. p. 190. Or when a township neglects to provide the

necessary war-stores. - Act of February 21, 1822: Id., vol. ii.

p. 570.]

[Footnote t: In their individual capacity the justices of the

peace take a part in the business of the counties and townships.]

[Footnote u: These affairs may be brought under the following

heads: - 1. The erection of prisons and courts of justice. 2.

The county budget, which is afterwards voted by the State. 3.

The distribution of the taxes so voted. 4. Grants of certain

patents. 5. The laying down and repairs of the country roads.]

[Footnote v: Thus, when a road is under consideration, almost all

difficulties are disposed of by the aid of the jury.]

The first difficulty is to procure the obedience of an

authority as entirely independent of the general laws of the

State as the township is. We have stated that assessors are

annually named by the town-meetings to levy the taxes. If a

township attempts to evade the payment of the taxes by neglecting

to name its assessors, the Court of Sessions condemns it to a

heavy penalty. *w The fine is levied on each of the inhabitants;

and the sheriff of the county, who is the officer of justice,

executes the mandate. Thus it is that in the United States the

authority of the Government is mysteriously concealed under the

forms of a judicial sentence; and its influence is at the same

time fortified by that irresistible power with which men have

invested the formalities of law.

[Footnote w: See Act of February 20, 1786, Laws of Massachusetts,

vol. i. p. 217.]

These proceedings are easy to follow and to understand. The

demands made upon a township are in general plain and accurately

defined; they consist in a simple fact without any complication,

or in a principle without its application in detail. *x But the

difficulty increases when it is not the obedience of the

township, but that of the town officers which is to be enforced.

All the reprehensible actions of which a public functionary may

be guilty are reducible to the following heads:

[Footnote x: There is an indirect method of enforcing the

obedience of a township. Suppose that the funds which the law

demands for the maintenance of the roads have not been voted, the

town surveyor is then authorized, ex officio, to levy the

supplies. As he is personally responsible to private individuals

for the state of the roads, and indictable before the Court of

Sessions, he is sure to employ the extraordinary right which the

law gives him against the township. Thus by threatening the

officer the Court of Sessions exacts compliance from the town.

See Act of March 5, 1787, Id., vol. i. p. 305.]

He may execute the law without energy or zeal;

He may neglect to execute the law;

He may do what the law enjoins him not to do.

The last two violations of duty can alone come under the

cognizance of a tribunal; a positive and appreciable fact is the

indispensable foundation of an action at law. Thus, if the

selectmen omit to fulfil the legal formalities usual at town

elections, they may be condemned to pay a fine; *y but when the

public officer performs his duty without ability, and when he

obeys the letter of the law without zeal or energy, he is at

least beyond the reach of judicial interference. The Court of

Sessions, even when it is invested with its official powers, is

in this case unable to compel him to a more satisfactory

obedience. The fear of removal is the only check to these

quasi-offences; and as the Court of Sessions does not originate

the town authorities, it cannot remove functionaries whom it does

not appoint. Moreover, a perpetual investigation would be

necessary to convict the officer of negligence or lukewarmness;

and the Court of Sessions sits but twice a year and then only

judges such offences as are brought before its notice. The only

security of that active and enlightened obedience which a court

of justice cannot impose upon public officers lies in the

possibility of their arbitrary removal. In France this security

is sought for in powers exercised by the heads of the

administration; in America it is sought for in the principle of


[Footnote y: Laws of Massachusetts, vol. ii. p. 45.]

Thus, to recapitulate in a few words what I have been

showing: If a public officer in New England commits a crime in

the exercise of his functions, the ordinary courts of justice are

always called upon to pass sentence upon him. If he commits a

fault in his official capacity, a purely administrative tribunal

is empowered to punish him; and, if the affair is important or

urgent, the judge supplies the omission of the functionary. *z

Lastly, if the same individual is guilty of one of those

intangible offences of which human justice has no cognizance, he

annually appears before a tribunal from which there is no appeal,

which can at once reduce him to insignificance and deprive him of

his charge. This system undoubtedly possesses great advantages,

but its execution is attended with a practical difficulty which

it is important to point out.

[Footnote z: If, for instance, a township persists in refusing to

name its assessors, the Court of Sessions nominates them; and the

magistrates thus appointed are invested with the same authority

as elected officers. See the Act quoted above, February 20,


I have already observed that the administrative tribunal,

which is called the Court of Sessions, has no right of inspection

over the town officers. It can only interfere when the conduct

of a magistrate is specially brought under its notice; and this

is the delicate part of the system. The Americans of New England

are unacquainted with the office of public prosecutor in the

Court of Sessions, *a and it may readily be perceived that it

could not have been established without difficulty. If an

accusing magistrate had merely been appointed in the chief town

of each county, and if he had been unassisted by agents in the

townships, he would not have been better acquainted with what was

going on in the county than the members of the Court of Sessions.

But to appoint agents in each township would have been to centre

in his person the most formidable of powers, that of a judicial

administration. Moreover, laws are the children of habit, and

nothing of the kind exists in the legislation of England. The

Americans have therefore divided the offices of inspection and of

prosecution, as well as all the other functions of the

administration. Grand jurors are bound by the law to apprise the

court to which they belong of all the misdemeanors which may have

been committed in their county. *b There are certain great

offences which are officially prosecuted by the States; *c but

more frequently the task of punishing delinquents devolves upon

the fiscal officer, whose province it is to receive the fine:

thus the treasurer of the township is charged with the

prosecution of such administrative offences as fall under his

notice. But a more special appeal is made by American

legislation to the private interest of the citizen; *d and this

great principle is constantly to be met with in studying the laws

of the United States. American legislators are more apt to give

men credit for intelligence than for honesty, and they rely not a

little on personal cupidity for the execution of the laws. When

an individual is really and sensibly injured by an administrative

abuse, it is natural that his personal interest should induce him

to prosecute. But if a legal formality be required, which,

however advantageous to the community, is of small importance to

individuals, plaintiffs may be less easily found; and thus, by a

tacit agreement, the laws may fall into disuse. Reduced by their

system to this extremity, the Americans are obliged to encourage

informers by bestowing on them a portion of the penalty in

certain cases, *e and to insure the execution of the laws by the

dangerous expedient of degrading the morals of the people. The

only administrative authority above the county magistrates is,

properly speaking, that of the Government.

[Footnote a: I say the Court of Sessions, because in common

courts there is a magistrate who exercises some of the functions

of a public prosecutor.]

[Footnote b: The grand-jurors are, for instance, bound to inform

the court of the bad state of the roads. - Laws of Massachusetts,

vol. i. p. 308.]

[Footnote c: If, for instance, the treasurer of the county holds

back his accounts. - Laws of Massachusetts, vol. i. p. 406.]

[Footnote d: Thus, if a private individual breaks down or is

wounded in consequence of the badness of a road, he can sue the

township or the county for damages at the sessions. - Laws of

Massachusetts, vol. i. p. 309.]

[Footnote e: In cases of invasion or insurrection, if the town-

officers neglect to furnish the necessary stores and ammunition

for the militia, the township may be condemned to a fine of from

$200 to $500. It may readily be imagined that in such a case it

might happen that no one cared to prosecute; hence the law adds

that all the citizens may indict offences of this kind, and that

half of the fine shall belong to the plaintiff. See Act of March

6, 1810, vol. ii. p. 236. The same clause is frequently to be

met with in the law of Massachusetts. Not only are private

individuals thus incited to prosecute the public officers, but

the public officers are encouraged in the same manner to bring

the disobedience of private individuals to justice. If a citizen

refuses to perform the work which has been assigned to him upon a

road, the road surveyor may prosecute him, and he receives half

the penalty for himself. See the Laws above quoted, vol. i. p.


General Remarks On The Administration Of The United States

Differences of the States of the Union in their system of

administration -Activity and perfection of the local authorities

decrease towards the South -Power of the magistrate increases;

that of the elector diminishes -Administration passes from the

township to the county - States of New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania -

Principles of administration applicable to the whole Union -

Election of public officers, and inalienability of their

functions -Absence of gradation of ranks - Introduction of

judicial resources into the administration.


I have already premised that, after having examined the

constitution of the township and the county of New England in

detail, I should take a general view of the remainder of the

Union. Townships and a local activity exist in every State; but

in no part of the confederation is a township to be met with

precisely similar to those of New England. The more we descend

towards the South, the less active does the business of the

township or parish become; the number of magistrates, of

functions, and of rights decreases; the population exercises a

less immediate influence on affairs; town meetings are less

frequent, and the subjects of debate less numerous. The power of

the elected magistrate is augmented and that of the elector

diminished, whilst the public spirit of the local communities is

less awakened and less influential. *f These differences may be

perceived to a certain extent in the State of New York; they are

very sensible in Pennsylvania; but they become less striking as

we advance to the northwest. The majority of the emigrants who

settle in the northwestern States are natives of New England, and

they carry the habits of their mother country with them into that

which they adopt. A township in Ohio is by no means dissimilar

from a township in Massachusetts.

[Footnote f: For details see the Revised Statutes of the State of

New York, part i. chap. xi. vol. i. pp. 336-364, entitled, "Of

the Powers, Duties, and Privileges of Towns."

See in the Digest of the Laws of Pennsylvania, the words

Assessors, Collector, Constables, Overseer of the Poor,

Supervisors of Highways; and in the Acts of a general nature of

the State of Ohio, the Act of February 25, 1834, relating to

townships, p. 412; besides the peculiar dispositions relating to

divers town-officers, such as Township's Clerk, Trustees,

Overseers of the Poor, Fence Viewers, Appraisers of Property,

Township's Treasurer, Constables, Supervisors of Highways.]

We have seen that in Massachusetts the mainspring of public

administration lies in the township. It forms the common centre

of the interests and affections of the citizens. But this ceases

to be the case as we descend to States in which knowledge is less

generally diffused, and where the township consequently offers

fewer guarantees of a wise and active administration. As we

leave New England, therefore, we find that the importance of the

town is gradually transferred to the county, which becomes the

centre of administration, and the intermediate power between the

Government and the citizen. In Massachusetts the business of the

county is conducted by the Court of Sessions, which is composed

of a quorum named by the Governor and his council; but the county

has no representative assembly, and its expenditure is voted by

the national legislature. In the great State of New York, on the

contrary, and in those of Ohio and Pennsylvania, the inhabitants

of each county choose a certain number of representatives, who

constitute the assembly of the county. *g The county assembly has

the right of taxing the inhabitants to a certain extent; and in

this respect it enjoys the privileges of a real legislative body:

at the same time it exercises an executive power in the county,

frequently directs the administration of the townships, and

restricts their authority within much narrower bounds than in


[Footnote g: See the Revised Statutes of the State of New York,

part i. chap. xi. vol. i. p. 340. Id. chap. xii. p. 366; also in

the Acts of the State of Ohio, an act relating to county

commissioners, February 25, 1824, p. 263. See the Digest of the

Laws of Pennsylvania, at the words County-rates and Levies, p.


In the State of New York each township elects a

representative, who has a share in the administration of the

county as well as in that of the township.]

Such are the principal differences which the systems of

county and town administration present in the Federal States.

Were it my intention to examine the provisions of American law

minutely, I should have to point out still further differences in

the executive details of the several communities. But what I

have already said may suffice to show the general principles on

which the administration of the United States rests. These

principles are differently applied; their consequences are more

or less numerous in various localities; but they are always

substantially the same. The laws differ, and their outward

features change, but their character does not vary. If the

township and the county are not everywhere constituted in the

same manner, it is at least true that in the United States the

county and the township are always based upon the same principle,

namely, that everyone is the best judge of what concerns himself

alone, and the most proper person to supply his private wants.

The township and the county are therefore bound to take care of

their special interests: the State governs, but it does not

interfere with their administration. Exceptions to this rule may

be met with, but not a contrary principle.

The first consequence of this doctrine has been to cause all

the magistrates to be chosen either by or at least from amongst

the citizens. As the officers are everywhere elected or appointed

for a certain period, it has been impossible to establish the

rules of a dependent series of authorities; there are almost as

many independent functionaries as there are functions, and the

executive power is disseminated in a multitude of hands. Hence

arose the indispensable necessity of introducing the control of

the courts of justice over the administration, and the system of

pecuniary penalties, by which the secondary bodies and their

representatives are constrained to obey the laws. This system

obtains from one end of the Union to the other. The power of

punishing the misconduct of public officers, or of performing the

part of the executive in urgent cases, has not, however, been

bestowed on the same judges in all the States. The

Anglo-Americans derived the institution of justices of the peace

from a common source; but although it exists in all the States,

it is not always turned to the same use. The justices of the

peace everywhere participate in the administration of the

townships and the counties, *h either as public officers or as

the judges of public misdemeanors, but in most of the States the

more important classes of public offences come under the

cognizance of the ordinary tribunals.

[Footnote h: In some of the Southern States the county courts are

charged with all the details of the administration. See the

Statutes of the State of Tennessee, arts. Judiciary, Taxes,


The election of public officers, or the inalienability of

their functions, the absence of a gradation of powers, and the

introduction of a judicial control over the secondary branches of

the administration, are the universal characteristics of the

American system from Maine to the Floridas. In some States (and

that of New York has advanced most in this direction) traces of a

centralized administration begin to be discernible. In the State

of New York the officers of the central government exercise, in

certain cases, a sort of inspection or control over the secondary

bodies. *i

[Footnote i: For instance, the direction of public instruction

centres in the hands of the Government. The legislature names

the members of the University, who are denominated Regents; the

Governor and Lieutentant-Governor of the State are necessarily of

the number. - Revised Statutes, vol. i. p. 455. The Regents of

the University annually visit the colleges and academies, and

make their report to the legislature. Their superintendence is

not inefficient, for several reasons: the colleges in order to

become corporations stand in need of a charter, which is only

granted on the recommendation of the Regents; every year funds

are distributed by the State for the encouragement of learning,

and the Regents are the distributors of this money. See chap.

xv. Instruction," Revised Statutes, vol. i. p. 455.

The school-commissioners are obliged to send an annual

report to the Superintendent of the Republic. - Id. p. 488.

A similar report is annually made to the same person on the

number and condition of the poor. - Id. p. 631.]

At other times they constitute a court of appeal for the

decision of affairs. *j In the State of New York judicial

penalties are less used than in other parts as a means of

administration, and the right of prosecuting the offences of

public officers is vested in fewer hands. *k The same tendency is

faintly observable in some other States; *l but in general the

prominent feature of the administration in the United States is

its excessive local independence.

[Footnote j: If any one conceives himself to be wronged by the

school-commissioners (who are town-officers), he can appeal to

the superintendent of the primary schools, whose decision is

final. - Revised Statutes, vol. i. p. 487.

Provisions similar to those above cited are to be met with

from time to time in the laws of the State of New York; but in

general these attempts at centralization are weak and

unproductive. The great authorities of the State have the right

of watching and controlling the subordinate agents, without that

of rewarding or punishing them. The same individual is never

empowered to give an order and to punish disobedience; he has

therefore the right of commanding, without the means of exacting

compliance. In 1830 the Superintendent of Schools complained in

his Annual Report addressed to the legislature that several

school-commissioners had neglected, notwithstanding his

application, to furnish him with the accounts which were due. He

added that if this omission continued he should be obliged to

prosecute them, as the law directs, before the proper tribunals.]

[Footnote k: Thus the district-attorney is directed to recover

all fines below the sum of fifty dollars, unless such a right has

been specially awarded to another magistrate. - Revised Statutes,

vol. i. p. 383.]

[Footnote l: Several traces of centralization may be discovered

in Massachusetts; for instance, the committees of the

town-schools are directed to make an annual report to the

Secretary of State. See Laws of Massachusetts, vol. i. p. 367.]

Of The State

I have described the townships and the administration; it

now remains for me to speak of the State and the Government.

This is ground I may pass over rapidly, without fear of being

misunderstood; for all I have to say is to be found in written

forms of the various constitutions, which are easily to be

procured. These constitutions rest upon a simple and rational

theory; their forms have been adopted by all constitutional

nations, and are become familiar to us. In this place,

therefore, it is only necessary for me to give a short analysis;

I shall endeavor afterwards to pass judgment upon what I now


Chapter V:
Necessity Of Examining The
Condition Of The States -
Part III

Legislative Power Of The State

Division of the Legislative Body into two Houses - Senate - House

of Representatives - Different functions of these two Bodies.

The legislative power of the State is vested in two

assemblies, the first of which generally bears the name of the

Senate. The Senate is commonly a legislative body; but it

sometimes becomes an executive and judicial one. It takes a part

in the government in several ways, according to the constitution

of the different States; *m but it is in the nomination of public

functionaries that it most commonly assumes an executive power.

It partakes of judicial power in the trial of certain political

offences, and sometimes also in the decision of certain civil

cases. *n The number of its members is always small. The other

branch of the legislature, which is usually called the House of

Representatives, has no share whatever in the administration, and

only takes a part in the judicial power inasmuch as it impeaches

public functionaries before the Senate. The members of the two

Houses are nearly everywhere subject to the same conditions of

election. They are chosen in the same manner, and by the same

citizens. The only difference which exists between them is, that

the term for which the Senate is chosen is in general longer than

that of the House of Representatives. The latter seldom remain in

office longer than a year; the former usually sit two or three

years. By granting to the senators the privilege of being chosen

for several years, and being renewed seriatim, the law takes care

to preserve in the legislative body a nucleus of men already

accustomed to public business, and capable of exercising a

salutary influence upon the junior members.

[Footnote m: In Massachusetts the Senate is not invested with any

administrative functions.]

[Footnote n: As in the State of New York.]

The Americans, plainly, did not desire, by this separation

of the legislative body into two branches, to make one house

hereditary and the other elective; one aristocratic and the other

democratic. It was not their object to create in the one a

bulwark to power, whilst the other represented the interests and

passions of the people. The only advantages which result from

the present constitution of the United States are the division of

the legislative power and the consequent check upon political

assemblies; with the creation of a tribunal of appeal for the

revision of the laws.

Time and experience, however, have convinced the Americans

that if these are its only advantages, the division of the

legislative power is still a principle of the greatest necessity.

Pennsylvania was the only one of the United States which at first

attempted to establish a single House of Assembly, and Franklin

himself was so far carried away by the necessary consequences of

the principle of the sovereignty of the people as to have

concurred in the measure; but the Pennsylvanians were soon

obliged to change the law, and to create two Houses. Thus the

principle of the division of the legislative power was finally

established, and its necessity may henceforward be regarded as a

demonstrated truth. This theory, which was nearly unknown to the

republics of antiquity - which was introduced into the world

almost by accident, like so many other great truths - and

misunderstood by several modern nations, is at length become an

axiom in the political science of the present age.

[See Benjamin Franklin]

The Executive Power Of The State

Office of Governor in an American State - The place he occupies

in relation to the Legislature - His rights and his duties - His

dependence on the people.

The executive power of the State may with truth be said to

be represented by the Governor, although he enjoys but a portion

of its rights. The supreme magistrate, under the title of

Governor, is the official moderator and counsellor of the

legislature. He is armed with a veto or suspensive power, which

allows him to stop, or at least to retard, its movements at

pleasure. He lays the wants of the country before the legislative

body, and points out the means which he thinks may be usefully

employed in providing for them; he is the natural executor of its

decrees in all the undertakings which interest the nation at

large. *o In the absence of the legislature, the Governor is

bound to take all necessary steps to guard the State against

violent shocks and unforeseen dangers. The whole military power

of the State is at the disposal of the Governor. He is the

commander of the militia, and head of the armed force. When the

authority, which is by general consent awarded to the laws, is

disregarded, the Governor puts himself at the head of the armed

force of the State, to quell resistance, and to restore order.

Lastly, the Governor takes no share in the administration of

townships and counties, except it be indirectly in the nomination

of Justices of the Peace, which nomination he has not the power

to cancel. *p The Governor is an elected magistrate, and is

generally chosen for one or two years only; so that he always

continues to be strictly dependent upon the majority who returned


[Footnote o: Practically speaking, it is not always the Governor

who executes the plans of the Legislature; it often happens that

the latter, in voting a measure, names special agents to

superintend the execution of it.]

[Footnote p: In some of the States the justices of the peace are

not elected by the Governor.]

Political Effects Of The System Of Local
Administration In The United States

Necessary distinction between the general centralization of

Government and the centralization of the local administration -

Local administration not centralized in the United States: great

general centralization of the Government - Some bad consequences

resulting to the United States from the local administration -

Administrative advantages attending this order of things - The

power which conducts the Government is less regular, less

enlightened, less learned, but much greater than in Europe -

Political advantages of this order of things - In the United

States the interests of the country are everywhere kept in view -

Support given to the Government by the community - Provincial

institutions more necessary in proportion as the social condition

becomes more democratic - Reason of this.

Centralization is become a word of general and daily use,

without any precise meaning being attached to it. Nevertheless,

there exist two distinct kinds of centralization, which it is

necessary to discriminate with accuracy. Certain interests are

common to all parts of a nation, such as the enactment of its

general laws and the maintenance of its foreign relations. Other

interests are peculiar to certain parts of the nation; such, for

instance, as the business of different townships. When the power

which directs the general interests is centred in one place, or

vested in the same persons, it constitutes a central government.

In like manner the power of directing partial or local interests,

when brought together into one place, constitutes what may be

termed a central administration.

Upon some points these two kinds of centralization coalesce;

but by classifying the objects which fall more particularly

within the province of each of them, they may easily be

distinguished. It is evident that a central government acquires

immense power when united to administrative centralization. Thus

combined, it accustoms men to set their own will habitually and

completely aside; to submit, not only for once, or upon one

point, but in every respect, and at all times. Not only,

therefore, does this union of power subdue them compulsorily, but

it affects them in the ordinary habits of life, and influences

each individual, first separately and then collectively.

These two kinds of centralization mutually assist and

attract each other; but they must not be supposed to be

inseparable. It is impossible to imagine a more completely

central government than that which existed in France under Louis

XIV.; when the same individual was the author and the interpreter

of the laws, and the representative of France at home and abroad,

he was justified in asserting that the State was identified with

his person. Nevertheless, the administration was much less

centralized under Louis XIV. than it is at the present day.

In England the centralization of the government is carried

to great perfection; the State has the compact vigor of a man,

and by the sole act of its will it puts immense engines in

motion, and wields or collects the efforts of its authority.

Indeed, I cannot conceive that a nation can enjoy a secure or

prosperous existence without a powerful centralization of

government. But I am of opinion that a central administration

enervates the nations in which it exists by incessantly

diminishing their public spirit. If such an administration

succeeds in condensing at a given moment, on a given point, all

the disposable resources of a people, it impairs at least the

renewal of those resources. It may ensure a victory in the hour

of strife, but it gradually relaxes the sinews of strength. It

may contribute admirably to the transient greatness of a man, but

it cannot ensure the durable prosperity of a nation.

If we pay proper attention, we shall find that whenever it

is said that a State cannot act because it has no central point,

it is the centralization of the government in which it is

deficient. It is frequently asserted, and we are prepared to

assent to the proposition, that the German empire was never able

to bring all its powers into action. But the reason was, that

the State was never able to enforce obedience to its general

laws, because the several members of that great body always

claimed the right, or found the means, of refusing their

co-operation to the representatives of the common authority, even

in the affairs which concerned the mass of the people; in other

words, because there was no centralization of government. The

same remark is applicable to the Middle Ages; the cause of all

the confusion of feudal society was that the control, not only of

local but of general interests, was divided amongst a thousand

hands, and broken up in a thousand different ways; the absence of

a central government prevented the nations of Europe from

advancing with energy in any straightforward course.

We have shown that in the United States no central

administration and no dependent series of public functionaries

exist. Local authority has been carried to lengths which no

European nation could endure without great inconvenience, and

which has even produced some disadvantageous consequences in

America. But in the United States the centralization of the

Government is complete; and it would be easy to prove that the

national power is more compact than it has ever been in the old

nations of Europe. Not only is there but one legislative body in

each State; not only does there exist but one source of political

authority; but district assemblies and county courts have not in

general been multiplied, lest they should be tempted to exceed

their administrative duties, and interfere with the Government.

In America the legislature of each State is supreme; nothing can

impede its authority; neither privileges, nor local immunities,

nor personal influence, nor even the empire of reason, since it

represents that majority which claims to be the sole organ of

reason. Its own determination is, therefore, the only limit to

this action. In juxtaposition to it, and under its immediate

control, is the representative of the executive power, whose duty

it is to constrain the refractory to submit by superior force.

The only symptom of weakness lies in certain details of the

action of the Government. The American republics have no

standing armies to intimidate a discontented minority; but as no

minority has as yet been reduced to declare open war, the

necessity of an army has not been felt. *q The State usually

employs the officers of the township or the county to deal with

the citizens. Thus, for instance, in New England, the assessor

fixes the rate of taxes; the collector receives them; the

town-treasurer transmits the amount to the public treasury; and

the disputes which may arise are brought before the ordinary

courts of justice. This method of collecting taxes is slow as

well as inconvenient, and it would prove a perpetual hindrance to

a Government whose pecuniary demands were large. It is desirable

that, in whatever materially affects its existence, the

Government should be served by officers of its own, appointed by

itself, removable at pleasure, and accustomed to rapid methods of

proceeding. But it will always be easy for the central

government, organized as it is in America, to introduce new and

more efficacious modes of action, proportioned to its wants.

[Footnote q: [The Civil War of 1860-65 cruelly belied this

statement, and in the course of the struggle the North alone

called two millions and a half of men to arms; but to the honor

of the United States it must be added that, with the cessation of

the contest, this army disappeared as rapidly as it had been

raised. - Translator's Note.]]

The absence of a central government will not, then, as has

often been asserted, prove the destruction of the republics of

the New World; far from supposing that the American governments

are not sufficiently centralized, I shall prove hereafter that

they are too much so. The legislative bodies daily encroach upon

the authority of the Government, and their tendency, like that of

the French Convention, is to appropriate it entirely to

themselves. Under these circumstances the social power is

constantly changing hands, because it is subordinate to the power

of the people, which is too apt to forget the maxims of wisdom

and of foresight in the consciousness of its strength: hence

arises its danger; and thus its vigor, and not its impotence,

will probably be the cause of its ultimate destruction.

The system of local administration produces several

different effects in America. The Americans seem to me to have

outstepped the limits of sound policy in isolating the

administration of the Government; for order, even in second-rate

affairs, is a matter of national importance. *r As the State has

no administrative functionaries of its own, stationed on

different points of its territory, to whom it can give a common

impulse, the consequence is that it rarely attempts to issue any

general police regulations. The want of these regulations is

severely felt, and is frequently observed by Europeans. The

appearance of disorder which prevails on the surface leads him at

first to imagine that society is in a state of anarchy; nor does

he perceive his mistake till he has gone deeper into the subject.

Certain undertakings are of importance to the whole State; but

they cannot be put in execution, because there is no national

administration to direct them. Abandoned to the exertions of the

towns or counties, under the care of elected or temporary agents,

they lead to no result, or at least to no durable benefit.

[Footnote r: The authority which represents the State ought not,

I think, to waive the right of inspecting the local

administration, even when it does not interfere more actively.

Suppose, for instance, that an agent of the Government was

stationed at some appointed spot in the country, to prosecute the

misdemeanors of the town and county officers, would not a more

uniform order be the result, without in any way compromising the

independence of the township? Nothing of the kind, however,

exists in America: there is nothing above the county-courts,

which have, as it were, only an incidental cognizance of the

offences they are meant to repress.]

The partisans of centralization in Europe are wont to

maintain that the Government directs the affairs of each locality

better than the citizens could do it for themselves; this may be

true when the central power is enlightened, and when the local

districts are ignorant; when it is as alert as they are slow;

when it is accustomed to act, and they to obey. Indeed, it is

evident that this double tendency must augment with the increase

of centralization, and that the readiness of the one and the

incapacity of the others must become more and more prominent.

But I deny that such is the case when the people is as

enlightened, as awake to its interests, and as accustomed to

reflect on them, as the Americans are. I am persuaded, on the

contrary, that in this case the collective strength of the

citizens will always conduce more efficaciously to the public

welfare than the authority of the Government. It is difficult to

point out with certainty the means of arousing a sleeping

population, and of giving it passions and knowledge which it does

not possess; it is, I am well aware, an arduous task to persuade

men to busy themselves about their own affairs; and it would

frequently be easier to interest them in the punctilios of court

etiquette than in the repairs of their common dwelling. But

whenever a central administration affects to supersede the

persons most interested, I am inclined to suppose that it is

either misled or desirous to mislead. However enlightened and

however skilful a central power may be, it cannot of itself

embrace all the details of the existence of a great nation. Such

vigilance exceeds the powers of man. And when it attempts to

create and set in motion so many complicated springs, it must

submit to a very imperfect result, or consume itself in bootless


Centralization succeeds more easily, indeed, in subjecting

the external actions of men to a certain uniformity, which at

least commands our regard, independently of the objects to which

it is applied, like those devotees who worship the statue and

forget the deity it represents. Centralization imparts without

difficulty an admirable regularity to the routine of business;

provides for the details of the social police with sagacity;

represses the smallest disorder and the most petty misdemeanors;

maintains society in a status quo alike secure from improvement

and decline; and perpetuates a drowsy precision in the conduct of

affairs, which is hailed by the heads of the administration as a

sign of perfect order and public tranquillity: *s in short, it

excels more in prevention than in action. Its force deserts it

when society is to be disturbed or accelerated in its course; and

if once the co-operation of private citizens is necessary to the

furtherance of its measures, the secret of its impotence is

disclosed. Even whilst it invokes their assistance, it is on the

condition that they shall act exactly as much as the Government

chooses, and exactly in the manner it appoints. They are to take

charge of the details, without aspiring to guide the system; they

are to work in a dark and subordinate sphere, and only to judge

the acts in which they have themselves cooperated by their

results.: These, however, are not conditions on which the

alliance of the human will is to be obtained; its carriage must

be free and its actions responsible, or (such is the constitution

of man) the citizen had rather remain a passive spectator than a

dependent actor in schemes with which he is unacquainted.

[Footnote s: China appears to me to present the most perfect

instance of that species of well-being which a completely central

administration may furnish to the nations among which it exists.

Travellers assure us that the Chinese have peace without

happiness, industry without improvement, stability without

strength, and public order without public morality. The

condition of society is always tolerable, never excellent. I am

convinced that, when China is opened to European observation, it

will be found to contain the most perfect model of a central

administration which exists in the universe.]

It is undeniable that the want of those uniform regulations

which control the conduct of every inhabitant of France is not

unfrequently felt in the United States. Gross instances of

social indifference and neglect are to be met with, and from time

to time disgraceful blemishes are seen in complete contrast with

the surrounding civilization. Useful undertakings which cannot

succeed without perpetual attention and rigorous exactitude are

very frequently abandoned in the end; for in America, as well as

in other countries, the people is subject to sudden impulses and

momentary exertions. The European who is accustomed to find a

functionary always at hand to interfere with all he undertakes

has some difficulty in accustoming himself to the complex

mechanism of the administration of the townships. In general it

may be affirmed that the lesser details of the police, which

render life easy and comfortable, are neglected in America; but

that the essential guarantees of man in society are as strong

there as elsewhere. In America the power which conducts the

Government is far less regular, less enlightened, and less

learned, but an hundredfold more authoritative than in Europe.

In no country in the world do the citizens make such exertions

for the common weal; and I am acquainted with no people which has

established schools as numerous and as efficacious, places of

public worship better suited to the wants of the inhabitants, or

roads kept in better repair. Uniformity or permanence of design,

the minute arrangement of details, *t and the perfection of an

ingenious administration, must not be sought for in the United

States; but it will be easy to find, on the other hand, the

symptoms of a power which, if it is somewhat barbarous, is at

least robust; and of an existence which is checkered with

accidents indeed, but cheered at the same time by animation and


[Footnote t: A writer of talent, who, in the comparison which he

has drawn between the finances of France and those of the United

States, has proved that ingenuity cannot always supply the place

of a knowledge of facts, very justly reproaches the Americans for

the sort of confusion which exists in the accounts of the

expenditure in the townships; and after giving the model of a

departmental budget in France, he adds: - "We are indebted to

centralization, that admirable invention of a great man, for the

uniform order and method which prevail alike in all the municipal

budgets, from the largest town to the humblest commune." Whatever

may be my admiration of this result, when I see the communes of

France, with their excellent system of accounts, plunged into the

grossest ignorance of their true interests, and abandoned to so

incorrigible an apathy that they seem to vegetate rather than to

live; when, on the other hand, I observe the activity, the

information, and the spirit of enterprise which keep society in

perpetual labor, in those American townships whose budgets are

drawn up with small method and with still less uniformity, I am

struck by the spectacle; for to my mind the end of a good

government is to ensure the welfare of a people, and not to

establish order and regularity in the midst of its misery and its

distress. I am therefore led to suppose that the prosperity of

the American townships and the apparent confusion of their

accounts, the distress of the French communes and the perfection

of their budget, may be attributable to the same cause. At any

rate I am suspicious of a benefit which is united to so many

evils, and I am not averse to an evil which is compensated by so

many benefits.]

Granting for an instant that the villages and counties of

the United States would be more usefully governed by a remote

authority which they had never seen than by functionaries taken

from the midst of them - admitting, for the sake of argument,

that the country would be more secure, and the resources of

society better employed, if the whole administration centred in a

single arm - still the political advantages which the Americans

derive from their system would induce me to prefer it to the

contrary plan. It profits me but little, after all, that a

vigilant authority should protect the tranquillity of my

pleasures and constantly avert all dangers from my path, without

my care or my concern, if this same authority is the absolute

mistress of my liberty and of my life, and if it so monopolizes

all the energy of existence that when it languishes everything

languishes around it, that when it sleeps everything must sleep,

that when it dies the State itself must perish.

In certain countries of Europe the natives consider

themselves as a kind of settlers, indifferent to the fate of the

spot upon which they live. The greatest changes are effected

without their concurrence and (unless chance may have apprised

them of the event) without their knowledge; nay more, the citizen

is unconcerned as to the condition of his village, the police of

his street, the repairs of the church or of the parsonage; for he

looks upon all these things as unconnected with himself, and as

the property of a powerful stranger whom he calls the Government.

He has only a life-interest in these possessions, and he

entertains no notions of ownership or of improvement. This want

of interest in his own affairs goes so far that, if his own

safety or that of his children is endangered, instead of trying

to avert the peril, he will fold his arms, and wait till the

nation comes to his assistance. This same individual, who has so

completely sacrificed his own free will, has no natural

propensity to obedience; he cowers, it is true, before the

pettiest officer; but he braves the law with the spirit of a

conquered foe as soon as its superior force is removed: his

oscillations between servitude and license are perpetual. When a

nation has arrived at this state it must either change its

customs and its laws or perish: the source of public virtue is

dry, and, though it may contain subjects, the race of citizens is

extinct. Such communities are a natural prey to foreign

conquests, and if they do not disappear from the scene of life,

it is because they are surrounded by other nations similar or

inferior to themselves: it is because the instinctive feeling of

their country's claims still exists in their hearts; and because

an involuntary pride in the name it bears, or a vague

reminiscence of its bygone fame, suffices to give them the

impulse of self- preservation.

Nor can the prodigious exertions made by tribes in the

defence of a country to which they did not belong be adduced in

favor of such a system; for it will be found that in these cases

their main incitement was religion. The permanence, the glory, or

the prosperity of the nation were become parts of their faith,

and in defending the country they inhabited they defended that

Holy City of which they were all citizens. The Turkish tribes

have never taken an active share in the conduct of the affairs of

society, but they accomplished stupendous enterprises as long as

the victories of the Sultan were the triumphs of the Mohammedan

faith. In the present age they are in rapid decay, because their

religion is departing, and despotism only remains. Montesquieu,

who attributed to absolute power an authority peculiar to itself,

did it, as I conceive, an undeserved honor; for despotism, taken

by itself, can produce no durable results. On close inspection

we shall find that religion, and not fear, has ever been the

cause of the long-lived prosperity of an absolute government.

Whatever exertions may be made, no true power can be founded

among men which does not depend upon the free union of their

inclinations; and patriotism and religion are the only two

motives in the world which can permanently direct the whole of a

body politic to one end.

Laws cannot succeed in rekindling the ardor of an

extinguished faith, but men may be interested in the fate of

their country by the laws. By this influence the vague impulse

of patriotism, which never abandons the human heart, may be

directed and revived; and if it be connected with the thoughts,

the passions, and the daily habits of life, it may be

consolidated into a durable and rational sentiment.

Let it not be said that the time for the experiment is

already past; for the old age of nations is not like the old age

of men, and every fresh generation is a new people ready for the

care of the legislator.

It is not the administrative but the political effects of

the local system that I most admire in America. In the United

States the interests of the country are everywhere kept in view;

they are an object of solicitude to the people of the whole

Union, and every citizen is as warmly attached to them as if they

were his own. He takes pride in the glory of his nation; he

boasts of its success, to which he conceives himself to have

contributed, and he rejoices in the general prosperity by which

he profits. The feeling he entertains towards the State is

analogous to that which unites him to his family, and it is by a

kind of egotism that he interests himself in the welfare of his


The European generally submits to a public officer because

he represents a superior force; but to an American he represents

a right. In America it may be said that no one renders obedience

to man, but to justice and to law. If the opinion which the

citizen entertains of himself is exaggerated, it is at least

salutary; he unhesitatingly confides in his own powers, which

appear to him to be all-sufficient. When a private individual

meditates an undertaking, however directly connected it may be

with the welfare of society, he never thinks of soliciting the

co-operation of the Government, but he publishes his plan, offers

to execute it himself, courts the assistance of other

individuals, and struggles manfully against all obstacles.

Undoubtedly he is often less successful than the State might have

been in his position; but in the end the sum of these private

undertakings far exceeds all that the Government could have done.

As the administrative authority is within the reach of the

citizens, whom it in some degree represents, it excites neither

their jealousy nor their hatred; as its resources are limited,

every one feels that he must not rely solely on its assistance.

Thus, when the administration thinks fit to interfere, it is not

abandoned to itself as in Europe; the duties of the private

citizens are not supposed to have lapsed because the State

assists in their fulfilment, but every one is ready, on the

contrary, to guide and to support it. This action of individual

exertions, joined to that of the public authorities, frequently

performs what the most energetic central administration would be

unable to execute. It would be easy to adduce several facts in

proof of what I advance, but I had rather give only one, with

which I am more thoroughly acquainted. *u In America the means

which the authorities have at their disposal for the discovery of

crimes and the arrest of criminals are few. The State police

does not exist, and passports are unknown. The criminal police

of the United States cannot be compared to that of France; the

magistrates and public prosecutors are not numerous, and the

examinations of prisoners are rapid and oral. Nevertheless in no

country does crime more rarely elude punishment. The reason is,

that every one conceives himself to be interested in furnishing

evidence of the act committed, and in stopping the delinquent.

During my stay in the United States I witnessed the spontaneous

formation of committees for the pursuit and prosecution of a man

who had committed a great crime in a certain county. In Europe a

criminal is an unhappy being who is struggling for his life

against the ministers of justice, whilst the population is merely

a spectator of the conflict; in America he is looked upon as an

enemy of the human race, and the whole of mankind is against him.

[Footnote u: See Appendix, I.]

I believe that provincial institutions are useful to all

nations, but nowhere do they appear to me to be more

indispensable than amongst a democratic people. In an

aristocracy order can always be maintained in the midst of

liberty, and as the rulers have a great deal to lose order is to

them a first-rate consideration. In like manner an aristocracy

protects the people from the excesses of despotism, because it

always possesses an organized power ready to resist a despot.

But a democracy without provincial institutions has no security

against these evils. How can a populace, unaccustomed to freedom

in small concerns, learn to use it temperately in great affairs?

What resistance can be offered to tyranny in a country where

every private individual is impotent, and where the citizens are

united by no common tie? Those who dread the license of the mob,

and those who fear the rule of absolute power, ought alike to

desire the progressive growth of provincial liberties.

On the other hand, I am convinced that democratic nations

are most exposed to fall beneath the yoke of a central

administration, for several reasons, amongst which is the

following. The constant tendency of these nations is to

concentrate all the strength of the Government in the hands of

the only power which directly represents the people, because

beyond the people nothing is to be perceived but a mass of equal

individuals confounded together. But when the same power is

already in possession of all the attributes of the Government, it

can scarcely refrain from penetrating into the details of the

administration, and an opportunity of doing so is sure to present

itself in the end, as was the case in France. In the French

Revolution there were two impulses in opposite directions, which

must never be confounded - the one was favorable to liberty, the

other to despotism. Under the ancient monarchy the King was the

sole author of the laws, and below the power of the sovereign

certain vestiges of provincial institutions, half destroyed, were

still distinguishable. These provincial institutions were

incoherent, ill compacted, and frequently absurd; in the hands of

the aristocracy they had sometimes been converted into

instruments of oppression. The Revolution declared itself the

enemy of royalty and of provincial institutions at the same time;

it confounded all that had preceded it -despotic power and the

checks to its abuses - in indiscriminate hatred, and its tendency

was at once to overthrow and to centralize. This double

character of the French Revolution is a fact which has been

adroitly handled by the friends of absolute power. Can they be

accused of laboring in the cause of despotism when they are

defending that central administration which was one of the great

innovations of the Revolution? *v In this manner popularity may

be conciliated with hostility to the rights of the people, and

the secret slave of tyranny may be the professed admirer of


[Footnote v: See Appendix K.]

I have visited the two nations in which the system of

provincial liberty has been most perfectly established, and I

have listened to the opinions of different parties in those

countries. In America I met with men who secretly aspired to

destroy the democratic institutions of the Union; in England I

found others who attacked the aristocracy openly, but I know of

no one who does not regard provincial independence as a great

benefit. In both countries I have heard a thousand different

causes assigned for the evils of the State, but the local system

was never mentioned amongst them. I have heard citizens

attribute the power and prosperity of their country to a

multitude of reasons, but they all placed the advantages of local

institutions in the foremost rank. Am I to suppose that when men

who are naturally so divided on religious opinions and on

political theories agree on one point (and that one of which they

have daily experience), they are all in error? The only nations

which deny the utility of provincial liberties are those which

have fewest of them; in other words, those who are unacquainted

with the institution are the only persons who pass a censure upon



Chapter VI: Judicial Power
In The United States

Chapter Summary

The Anglo-Americans have retained the characteristics of judicial

power which are common to all nations - They have, however, made

it a powerful political organ - How - In what the judicial system

of the Anglo-Americans differs from that of all other nations -

Why the American judges have the right of declaring the laws to

be unconstitutional - How they use this right -Precautions taken

by the legislator to prevent its abuse.

Judicial Power In The United States
And Its Influence On Political Society

I have thought it essential to devote a separate chapter to

the judicial authorities of the United States, lest their great

political importance should be lessened in the reader's eyes by a

merely incidental mention of them. Confederations have existed in

other countries beside America, and republics have not been

established upon the shores of the New World alone; the

representative system of government has been adopted in several

States of Europe, but I am not aware that any nation of the globe

has hitherto organized a judicial power on the principle now

adopted by the Americans. The judicial organization of the United

States is the institution which a stranger has the greatest

difficulty in understanding. He hears the authority of a judge

invoked in the political occurrences of every day, and he

naturally concludes that in the United States the judges are

important political functionaries; nevertheless, when he examines

the nature of the tribunals, they offer nothing which is contrary

to the usual habits and privileges of those bodies, and the

magistrates seem to him to interfere in public affairs of chance,

but by a chance which recurs every day.

When the Parliament of Paris remonstrated, or refused to

enregister an edict, or when it summoned a functionary accused of

malversation to its bar, its political influence as a judicial

body was clearly visible; but nothing of the kind is to be seen

in the United States. The Americans have retained all the

ordinary characteristics of judicial authority, and have

carefully restricted its action to the ordinary circle of its


The first characteristic of judicial power in all nations is

the duty of arbitration. But rights must be contested in order

to warrant the interference of a tribunal; and an action must be

brought to obtain the decision of a judge. As long, therefore,

as the law is uncontested, the judicial authority is not called

upon to discuss it, and it may exist without being perceived.

When a judge in a given case attacks a law relating to that case,

he extends the circle of his customary duties, without however

stepping beyond it; since he is in some measure obliged to decide

upon the law in order to decide the case. But if he pronounces

upon a law without resting upon a case, he clearly steps beyond

his sphere, and invades that of the legislative authority.

The second characteristic of judicial power is that it

pronounces on special cases, and not upon general principles. If

a judge in deciding a particular point destroys a general

principle, by passing a judgment which tends to reject all the

inferences from that principle, and consequently to annul it, he

remains within the ordinary limits of his functions. But if he

directly attacks a general principle without having a particular

case in view, he leaves the circle in which all nations have

agreed to confine his authority, he assumes a more important, and

perhaps a more useful, influence than that of the magistrate, but

he ceases to be a representative of the judicial power.


The third characteristic of the judicial power is its

inability to act unless it is appealed to, or until it has taken

cognizance of an affair. This characteristic is less general than

the other two; but, notwithstanding the exceptions, I think it

may be regarded as essential. The judicial power is by its

nature devoid of action; it must be put in motion in order to

produce a result. When it is called upon to repress a crime, it

punishes the criminal; when a wrong is to be redressed, it is

ready to redress it; when an act requires interpretation, it is

prepared to interpret it; but it does not pursue criminals, hunt

out wrongs, or examine into evidence of its own accord. A

judicial functionary who should open proceedings, and usurp the

censorship of the laws, would in some measure do violence to the

passive nature of his authority.

The Americans have retained these three distinguishing

characteristics of the judicial power; an American judge can only

pronounce a decision when litigation has arisen, he is only

conversant with special cases, and he cannot act until the cause

has been duly brought before the court. His position is

therefore perfectly similar to that of the magistrate of other

nations; and he is nevertheless invested with immense political

power. If the sphere of his authority and his means of action

are the same as those of other judges, it may be asked whence he

derives a power which they do not possess. The cause of this

difference lies in the simple fact that the Americans have

acknowledged the right of the judges to found their decisions on

the constitution rather than on the laws. In other words, they

have left them at liberty not to apply such laws as may appear to

them to be unconstitutional.

I am aware that a similar right has been claimed - but

claimed in vain -by courts of justice in other countries; but in

America it is recognized by all authorities; and not a party, nor

so much as an individual, is found to contest it. This fact can

only be explained by the principles of the American constitution.

In France the constitution is (or at least is supposed to be)

immutable; and the received theory is that no power has the right

of changing any part of it. In England the Parliament has an

acknowledged right to modify the constitution; as, therefore, the

constitution may undergo perpetual changes, it does not in

reality exist; the Parliament is at once a legislative and a

constituent assembly. The political theories of America are more

simple and more rational. An American constitution is not

supposed to be immutable as in France, nor is it susceptible of

modification by the ordinary powers of society as in England. It

constitutes a detached whole, which, as it represents the

determination of the whole people, is no less binding on the

legislator than on the private citizen, but which may be altered

by the will of the people in predetermined cases, according to

established rules. In America the constitution may therefore

vary, but as long as it exists it is the origin of all authority,

and the sole vehicle of the

predominating force. *a

[Footnote a: [The fifth article of the original Constitution of

the United States provides the mode in which amendments of the

Constitution may be made. Amendments must be proposed by

two-thirds of both Houses of Congress, and ratified by the

Legislatures of three-fourths of the several States. Fifteen

amendments of the Constitution have been made at different times

since 1789, the most important of which are the Thirteenth,

Fourteenth, and Fifteenth, framed and ratified after the Civil

War. The original Constitution of the United States, followed by

these fifteen amendments, is printed at the end of this edition.

- Translator's Note, 1874.]]

It is easy to perceive in what manner these differences must

act upon the position and the rights of the judicial bodies in

the three countries I have cited. If in France the tribunals

were authorized to disobey the laws on the ground of their being

opposed to the constitution, the supreme power would in fact be

placed in their hands, since they alone would have the right of

interpreting a constitution, the clauses of which can be modified

by no authority. They would therefore take the place of the

nation, and exercise as absolute a sway over society as the

inherent weakness of judicial power would allow them to do.

Undoubtedly, as the French judges are incompetent to declare a

law to be unconstitutional, the power of changing the

constitution is indirectly given to the legislative body, since

no legal barrier would oppose the alterations which it might

prescribe. But it is better to grant the power of changing the

constitution of the people to men who represent (however

imperfectly) the will of the people, than to men who represent no

one but themselves.

It would be still more unreasonable to invest the English

judges with the right of resisting the decisions of the

legislative body, since the Parliament which makes the laws also

makes the constitution; and consequently a law emanating from the

three powers of the State can in no case be unconstitutional.

But neither of these remarks is applicable to America.

In the United States the constitution governs the legislator

as much as the private citizen; as it is the first of laws it

cannot be modified by a law, and it is therefore just that the

tribunals should obey the constitution in preference to any law.

This condition is essential to the power of the judicature, for

to select that legal obligation by which he is most strictly

bound is the natural right of every magistrate.

In France the constitution is also the first of laws, and

the judges have the same right to take it as the ground of their

decisions, but were they to exercise this right they must

perforce encroach on rights more sacred than their own, namely,

on those of society, in whose name they are acting. In this case

the State- motive clearly prevails over the motives of an

individual. In America, where the nation can always reduce its

magistrates to obedience by changing its constitution, no danger

of this kind is to be feared. Upon this point, therefore, the

political and the logical reasons agree, and the people as well

as the judges preserve their privileges.

Whenever a law which the judge holds to be unconstitutional

is argued in a tribunal of the United States he may refuse to

admit it as a rule; this power is the only one which is peculiar

to the American magistrate, but it gives rise to immense

political influence. Few laws can escape the searching analysis

of the judicial power for any length of time, for there are few

which are not prejudicial to some private interest or other, and

none which may not be brought before a court of justice by the

choice of parties, or by the necessity of the case. But from the

time that a judge has refused to apply any given law in a case,

that law loses a portion of its moral cogency. The persons to

whose interests it is prejudicial learn that means exist of

evading its authority, and similar suits are multiplied, until it

becomes powerless. One of two alternatives must then be resorted

to: the people must alter the constitution, or the legislature

must repeal the law. The political power which the Americans

have intrusted to their courts of justice is therefore immense,

but the evils of this power are considerably diminished by the

obligation which has been imposed of attacking the laws through

the courts of justice alone. If the judge had been empowered to

contest the laws on the ground of theoretical generalities, if he

had been enabled to open an attack or to pass a censure on the

legislator, he would have played a prominent part in the

political sphere; and as the champion or the antagonist of a

party, he would have arrayed the hostile passions of the nation

in the conflict. But when a judge contests a law applied to some

particular case in an obscure proceeding, the importance of his

attack is concealed from the public gaze, his decision bears upon

the interest of an individual, and if the law is slighted it is

only collaterally. Moreover, although it is censured, it is not

abolished; its moral force may be diminished, but its cogency is

by no means suspended, and its final destruction can only be

accomplished by the reiterated attacks of judicial functionaries.

It will readily be understood that by connecting the censorship

of the laws with the private interests of members of the

community, and by intimately uniting the prosecution of the law

with the prosecution of an individual, legislation is protected

from wanton assailants, and from the daily aggressions of party

spirit. The errors of the legislator are exposed whenever their

evil consequences are most felt, and it is always a positive and

appreciable fact which serves as the basis of a prosecution.

I am inclined to believe this practice of the American

courts to be at once the most favorable to liberty as well as to

public order. If the judge could only attack the legislator

openly and directly, he would sometimes be afraid to oppose any

resistance to his will; and at other moments party spirit might

encourage him to brave it at every turn. The laws would

consequently be attacked when the power from which they emanate

is weak, and obeyed when it is strong. That is to say, when it

would be useful to respect them they would be contested, and when

it would be easy to convert them into an instrument of oppression

they would be respected. But the American judge is brought into

the political arena independently of his own will. He only

judges the law because he is obliged to judge a case. The

political question which he is called upon to resolve is

connected with the interest of the suitors, and he cannot refuse

to decide it without abdicating the duties of his post. He

performs his functions as a citizen by fulfilling the precise

duties which belong to his profession as a magistrate. It is

true that upon this system the judicial censorship which is

exercised by the courts of justice over the legislation cannot

extend to all laws indiscriminately, inasmuch as some of them can

never give rise to that exact species of contestation which is

termed a lawsuit; and even when such a contestation is possible,

it may happen that no one cares to bring it before a court of

justice. The Americans have often felt this disadvantage, but

they have left the remedy incomplete, lest they should give it an

efficacy which might in some cases prove dangerous. Within these

limits the power vested in the American courts of justice of

pronouncing a statute to be unconstitutional forms one of the

most powerful barriers which has ever been devised against the

tyranny of political assemblies.

Other Powers Granted To American Judges

The United States all the citizens have the right of indicting

public functionaries before the ordinary tribunals - How they use

this right - Art. 75 of the French Constitution of the An VIII -

The Americans and the English cannot understand the purport of

this clause.

It is perfectly natural that in a free country like America

all the citizens should have the right of indicting public

functionaries before the ordinary tribunals, and that all the

judges should have the power of punishing public offences. The

right granted to the courts of justice of judging the agents of

the executive government, when they have violated the laws, is so

natural a one that it cannot be looked upon as an extraordinary

privilege. Nor do the springs of government appear to me to be

weakened in the United States by the custom which renders all

public officers responsible to the judges of the land. The

Americans seem, on the contrary, to have increased by this means

that respect which is due to the authorities, and at the same

time to have rendered those who are in power more scrupulous of

offending public opinion. I was struck by the small number of

political trials which occur in the United States, but I had no

difficulty in accounting for this circumstance. A lawsuit, of

whatever nature it may be, is always a difficult and expensive

undertaking. It is easy to attack a public man in a journal, but

the motives which can warrant an action at law must be serious.

A solid ground of complaint must therefore exist to induce an

individual to prosecute a public officer, and public officers are

careful not to furnish these grounds of complaint when they are

afraid of being prosecuted.

This does not depend upon the republican form of American

institutions, for the same facts present themselves in England.

These two nations do not regard the impeachment of the principal

officers of State as a sufficient guarantee of their

independence. But they hold that the right of minor

prosecutions, which are within the reach of the whole community,

is a better pledge of freedom than those great judicial actions

which are rarely employed until it is too late.

In the Middle Ages, when it was very difficult to overtake

offenders, the judges inflicted the most dreadful tortures on the

few who were arrested, which by no means diminished the number of

crimes. It has since been discovered that when justice is more

certain and more mild, it is at the same time more efficacious.

The English and the Americans hold that tyranny and oppression

are to be treated like any other crime, by lessening the penalty

and facilitating conviction.

In the year VIII of the French Republic a constitution was

drawn up in which the following clause was introduced: "Art. 75.

All the agents of the government below the rank of ministers can

only be prosecuted for offences relating to their several

functions by virtue of a decree of the Conseil d'Etat; in which

the case the prosecution takes place before the ordinary

tribunals." This clause survived the "Constitution de l'An VIII,"

and it is still maintained in spite of the just complaints of the

nation. I have always found the utmost difficulty in explaining

its meaning to Englishmen or Americans. They were at once led to

conclude that the Conseil d'Etat in France was a great tribunal,

established in the centre of the kingdom, which exercised a

preliminary and somewhat tyrannical jurisdiction in all political

causes. But when I told them that the Conseil d'Etat was not a

judicial body, in the common sense of the term, but an

administrative council composed of men dependent on the Crown, so

that the king, after having ordered one of his servants, called a

Prefect, to commit an injustice, has the power of commanding

another of his servants, called a Councillor of State, to prevent

the former from being punished; when I demonstrated to them that

the citizen who has been injured by the order of the sovereign is

obliged to solicit from the sovereign permission to obtain

redress, they refused to credit so flagrant an abuse, and were

tempted to accuse me of falsehood or of ignorance. It frequently

happened before the Revolution that a Parliament issued a warrant

against a public officer who had committed an offence, and

sometimes the proceedings were stopped by the authority of the

Crown, which enforced compliance with its absolute and despotic

will. It is painful to perceive how much lower we are sunk than

our forefathers, since we allow things to pass under the color of

justice and the sanction of the law which violence alone could

impose upon them.


Chapter VII: Political
Jurisdiction In The United States

Chapter Summary

Definition of political jurisdiction - What is understood by

political jurisdiction in France, in England, and in the United

States - In America the political judge can only pass sentence on

public officers - He more frequently passes a sentence of removal

from office than a penalty - Political jurisdiction as it exists

in the United States is, notwithstanding its mildness, and

perhaps in consequence of that mildness, a most powerful

instrument in the hands of the majority.

Political Jurisdiction In The United States

I understand, by political jurisdiction, that temporary

right of pronouncing a legal decision with which a political body

may be invested.

In absolute governments no utility can accrue from the

introduction of extraordinary forms of procedure; the prince in

whose name an offender is prosecuted is as much the sovereign of

the courts of justice as of everything else, and the idea which

is entertained of his power is of itself a sufficient security.

The only thing he has to fear is, that the external formalities

of justice should be neglected, and that his authority should be

dishonored from a wish to render it more absolute. But in most

free countries, in which the majority can never exercise the same

influence upon the tribunals as an absolute monarch, the judicial

power has occasionally been vested for a time in the

representatives of the nation. It has been thought better to

introduce a temporary confusion between the functions of the

different authorities than to violate the necessary principle of

the unity of government.

England, France, and the United States have established this

political jurisdiction by law; and it is curious to examine the

different adaptations which these three great nations have made

of the principle. In England and in France the House of Lords

and the Chambre des Paris *a constitute the highest criminal

court of their respective nations, and although they do not

habitually try all political offences, they are competent to try

them all. Another political body enjoys the right of impeachment

before the House of Lords: the only difference which exists

between the two countries in this respect is, that in England the

Commons may impeach whomsoever they please before the Lords,

whilst in France the Deputies can only employ this mode of

prosecution against the ministers of the Crown.

[Footnote a: [As it existed under the constitutional monarchy

down to 1848.]]

In both countries the Upper House may make use of all the

existing penal laws of the nation to punish the delinquents.

In the United States, as well as in Europe, one branch of

the legislature is authorized to impeach and another to judge:

the House of Representatives arraigns the offender, and the

Senate awards his sentence. But the Senate can only try such

persons as are brought before it by the House of Representatives,

and those persons must belong to the class of public

functionaries. Thus the jurisdiction of the Senate is less

extensive than that of the Peers of France, whilst the right of

impeachment by the Representatives is more general than that of

the Deputies. But the great difference which exists between

Europe and America is, that in Europe political tribunals are

empowered to inflict all the dispositions of the penal code,

while in America, when they have deprived the offender of his

official rank, and have declared him incapable of filling any

political office for the future, their jurisdiction terminates

and that of the ordinary tribunals begins.

Suppose, for instance, that the President of the United

States has committed the crime of high treason; the House of

Representatives impeaches him, and the Senate degrades him; he

must then be tried by a jury, which alone can deprive him of his

liberty or his life. This accurately illustrates the subject we

are treating. The political jurisdiction which is established by

the laws of Europe is intended to try great offenders, whatever

may be their birth, their rank, or their powers in the State; and

to this end all the privileges of the courts of justice are

temporarily extended to a great political assembly. The

legislator is then transformed into the magistrate; he is called

upon to admit, to distinguish, and to punish the offence; and as

he exercises all the authority of a judge, the law restricts him

to the observance of all the duties of that high office, and of

all the formalities of justice. When a public functionary is

impeached before an English or a French political tribunal, and

is found guilty, the sentence deprives him ipso facto of his

functions, and it may pronounce him to be incapable of resuming

them or any others for the future. But in this case the

political interdict is a consequence of the sentence, and not the

sentence itself. In Europe the sentence of a political tribunal

is to be regarded as a judicial verdict rather than as an

administrative measure. In the United States the contrary takes

place; and although the decision of the Senate is judicial in its

form, since the Senators are obliged to comply with the practices

and formalities of a court of justice; although it is judicial in

respect to the motives on which it is founded, since the Senate

is in general obliged to take an offence at common law as the

basis of its sentence; nevertheless the object of the proceeding

is purely administrative. If it had been the intention of the

American legislator to invest a political body with great

judicial authority, its action would not have been limited to the

circle of public functionaries, since the most dangerous enemies

of the State may be in the possession of no functions at all; and

this is especially true in republics, where party influence is

the first of authorities, and where the strength of many a reader

is increased by his exercising no legal power.

If it had been the intention of the American legislator to

give society the means of repressing State offences by exemplary

punishment, according to the practice of ordinary justice, the

resources of the penal code would all have been placed at the

disposal of the political tribunals. But the weapon with which

they are intrusted is an imperfect one, and it can never reach

the most dangerous offenders, since men who aim at the entire

subversion of the laws are not likely to murmur at a political


The main object of the political jurisdiction which obtains

in the United States is, therefore, to deprive the ill-disposed

citizen of an authority which he has used amiss, and to prevent

him from ever acquiring it again. This is evidently an

administrative measure sanctioned by the formalities of a

judicial decision. In this matter the Americans have created a

mixed system; they have surrounded the act which removes a public

functionary with the securities of a political trial; and they

have deprived all political condemnations of their severest

penalties. Every link of the system may easily be traced from

this point; we at once perceive why the American constitutions

subject all the civil functionaries to the jurisdiction of the

Senate, whilst the military, whose crimes are nevertheless more

formidable, are exempted from that tribunal. In the civil

service none of the American functionaries can be said to be

removable; the places which some of them occupy are inalienable,

and the others are chosen for a term which cannot be shortened.

It is therefore necessary to try them all in order to deprive

them of their authority. But military officers are dependent on

the chief magistrate of the State, who is himself a civil

functionary, and the decision which condemns him is a blow upon

them all.

If we now compare the American and the European systems, we

shall meet with differences no less striking in the different

effects which each of them produces or may produce. In France

and in England the jurisdiction of political bodies is looked

upon as an extraordinary resource, which is only to be employed

in order to rescue society from unwonted dangers. It is not to

be denied that these tribunals, as they are constituted in

Europe, are apt to violate the conservative principle of the

balance of power in the State, and to threaten incessantly the

lives and liberties of the subject. The same political

jurisdiction in the United States is only indirectly hostile to

the balance of power; it cannot menace the lives of the citizens,

and it does not hover, as in Europe, over the heads of the

community, since those only who have submitted to its authority

on accepting office are exposed to the severity of its

investigations. It is at the same time less formidable and less

efficacious; indeed, it has not been considered by the

legislators of the United States as a remedy for the more violent

evils of society, but as an ordinary means of conducting the

government. In this respect it probably exercises more real

influence on the social body in America than in Europe. We must

not be misled by the apparent mildness of the American

legislation in all that relates to political jurisdiction. It is

to be observed, in the first place, that in the United States the

tribunal which passes sentence is composed of the same elements,

and subject to the same influences, as the body which impeaches

the offender, and that this uniformity gives an almost

irresistible impulse to the vindictive passions of parties. If

political judges in the United States cannot inflict such heavy

penalties as those of Europe, there is the less chance of their

acquitting a prisoner; and the conviction, if it is less

formidable, is more certain. The principal object of the

political tribunals of Europe is to punish the offender; the

purpose of those in America is to deprive him of his authority.

A political condemnation in the United States may, therefore, be

looked upon as a preventive measure; and there is no reason for

restricting the judges to the exact definitions of criminal law.

Nothing can be more alarming than the excessive latitude with

which political offences are described in the laws of America.

Article II., Section 4, of the Constitution of the United States

runs thus: - "The President, Vice-President, and all civil

officers of the United States shall be removed from office on

impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other

high crimes and misdemeanors." Many of the Constitutions of the

States are even less explicit. "Public officers," says the

Constitution of Massachusetts, *b "shall be impeached for

misconduct or maladministration;" the Constitution of Virginia

declares that all the civil officers who shall have offended

against the State, by maladministration, corruption, or other

high crimes, may be impeached by the House of Delegates; in some

constitutions no offences are specified, in order to subject the

public functionaries to an unlimited responsibility. *c But I

will venture to affirm that it is precisely their mildness which

renders the American laws most formidable in this respect. We

have shown that in Europe the removal of a functionary and his

political interdiction are the consequences of the penalty he is

to undergo, and that in America they constitute the penalty

itself. The consequence is that in Europe political tribunals

are invested with rights which they are afraid to use, and that

the fear of punishing too much hinders them from punishing at

all. But in America no one hesitates to inflict a penalty from

which humanity does not recoil. To condemn a political opponent

to death, in order to deprive him of his power, is to commit what

all the world would execrate as a horrible assassination; but to

declare that opponent unworthy to exercise that authority, to

deprive him of it, and to leave him uninjured in life and limb,

may be judged to be the fair issue of the struggle. But this

sentence, which it is so easy to pronounce, is not the less

fatally severe to the majority of those upon whom it is

inflicted. Great criminals may undoubtedly brave its intangible

rigor, but ordinary offenders will dread it as a condemnation

which destroys their position in the world, casts a blight upon

their honor, and condemns them to a shameful inactivity worse

than death. The influence exercised in the United States upon the

progress of society by the jurisdiction of political bodies may

not appear to be formidable, but it is only the more immense. It

does not directly coerce the subject, but it renders the majority

more absolute over those in power; it does not confer an

unbounded authority on the legislator which can be exerted at

some momentous crisis, but it establishes a temperate and regular

influence, which is at all times available. If the power is

decreased, it can, on the other hand, be more conveniently

employed and more easily abused. By preventing political

tribunals from inflicting judicial punishments the Americans seem

to have eluded the worst consequences of legislative tyranny,

rather than tyranny itself; and I am not sure that political

jurisdiction, as it is constituted in the United States, is not

the most formidable weapon which has ever been placed in the rude

grasp of a popular majority. When the American republics begin

to degenerate it will be easy to verify the truth of this

observation, by remarking whether the number of political

impeachments augments.*d

[Footnote b: Chap. I. sect. ii. Section 8.]

[Footnote c: See the constitutions of Illinois, Maine,

Connecticut, and Georgia.]

[Footnote d: See Appendix, N.

[The impeachment of President Andrew Johnson in 1868 - which

was resorted to by his political opponents solely as a means of

turning him out of office, for it could not be contended that he

had been guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors, and he was in

fact honorably acquitted and reinstated in office - is a striking

confirmation of the truth of this remark. - Translator's Note,



Chapter VIII:
The Federal Constitution - Part I

I have hitherto considered each State as a separate whole,

and I have explained the different springs which the people sets

in motion, and the different means of action which it employs.

But all the States which I have considered as independent are

forced to submit, in certain cases, to the supreme authority of

the Union. The time is now come for me to examine separately the

supremacy with which the Union has been invested, and to cast a

rapid glance over the Federal Constitution.

Chapter Summary

Origin of the first Union - Its weakness - Congress appeals to

the constituent authority - Interval of two years between this

appeal and the promulgation of the new Constitution.

History Of The Federal Constitution

The thirteen colonies which simultaneously threw off the

yoke of England towards the end of the last century professed, as

I have already observed, the same religion, the same language,

the same customs, and almost the same laws; they were struggling

against a common enemy; and these reasons were sufficiently

strong to unite them one to another, and to consolidate them into

one nation. But as each of them had enjoyed a separate existence

and a government within its own control, the peculiar interests

and customs which resulted from this system were opposed to a

compact and intimate union which would have absorbed the

individual importance of each in the general importance of all.

Hence arose two opposite tendencies, the one prompting the

Anglo-Americans to unite, the other to divide their strength. As

long as the war with the mother-country lasted the principle of

union was kept alive by necessity; and although the laws which

constituted it were defective, the common tie subsisted in spite

of their imperfections. *a But no sooner was peace concluded than

the faults of the legislation became manifest, and the State

seemed to be suddenly dissolved. Each colony became an

independent republic, and assumed an absolute sovereignty. The

federal government, condemned to impotence by its constitution,

and no longer sustained by the presence of a common danger,

witnessed the outrages offered to its flag by the great nations

of Europe, whilst it was scarcely able to maintain its ground

against the Indian tribes, and to pay the interest of the debt

which had been contracted during the war of independence. It was

already on the verge of destruction, when it officially

proclaimed its inability to conduct the government, and appealed

to the constituent authority of the nation. *b If America ever

approached (for however brief a time) that lofty pinnacle of

glory to which the fancy of its inhabitants is wont to point, it

was at the solemn moment at which the power of the nation

abdicated, as it were, the empire of the land. All ages have

furnished the spectacle of a people struggling with energy to win

its independence; and the efforts of the Americans in throwing

off the English yoke have been considerably exaggerated.

Separated from their enemies by three thousand miles of ocean,

and backed by a powerful ally, the success of the United States

may be more justly attributed to their geographical position than

to the valor of their armies or the patriotism of their citizens.

It would be ridiculous to compare the American was to the wars of

the French Revolution, or the efforts of the Americans to those

of the French when they were attacked by the whole of Europe,

without credit and without allies, yet capable of opposing a

twentieth part of their population to the world, and of bearing

the torch of revolution beyond their frontiers whilst they

stifled its devouring flame within the bosom of their country.

But it is a novelty in the history of society to see a great

people turn a calm and scrutinizing eye upon itself, when

apprised by the legislature that the wheels of government are

stopped; to see it carefully examine the extent of the evil, and

patiently wait for two whole years until a remedy was discovered,

which it voluntarily adopted without having wrung a tear or a

drop of blood from mankind. At the time when the inadequacy of

the first constitution was discovered America possessed the

double advantage of that calm which had succeeded the

effervescence of the revolution, and of those great men who had

led the revolution to a successful issue. The assembly which

accepted the task of composing the second constitution was small;

*c but George Washington was its President, and it contained the

choicest talents and the noblest hearts which had ever appeared

in the New World. This national commission, after long and

mature deliberation, offered to the acceptance of the people the

body of general laws which still rules the Union. All the States

adopted it successively. *d The new Federal Government commenced

its functions in 1789, after an interregnum of two years. The

Revolution of America terminated when that of France began.

[Footnote a: See the articles of the first confederation formed

in 1778. This constitution was not adopted by all the States

until 1781. See also the analysis given of this constitution in

"The Federalist" from No. 15 to No. 22, inclusive, and Story's

"Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States," pp.


[Footnote b: Congress made this declaration on February 21,


[Footnote c: It consisted of fifty-five members; Washington,

Madison, Hamilton, and the two Morrises were amongst the number.]

[Footnote d: It was not adopted by the legislative bodies, but

representatives were elected by the people for this sole purpose;

and the new constitution was discussed at length in each of these


Summary Of The Federal Constitution

Division of authority between the Federal Government and the

States - The Government of the States is the rule, the Federal

Government the exception.

The first question which awaited the Americans was

intricate, and by no means easy of solution: the object was so to

divide the authority of the different States which composed the

Union that each of them should continue to govern itself in all

that concerned its internal prosperity, whilst the entire nation,

represented by the Union, should continue to form a compact body,

and to provide for the general exigencies of the people. It was

as impossible to determine beforehand, with any degree of

accuracy, the share of authority which each of two governments

was to enjoy, as to foresee all the incidents in the existence of

a nation.

The obligations and the claims of the Federal Government

were simple and easily definable, because the Union had been

formed with the express purpose of meeting the general exigencies

of the people; but the claims and obligations of the States were,

on the other hand, complicated and various, because those

Governments had penetrated into all the details of social life.

The attributes of the Federal Government were therefore carefully

enumerated and all that was not included amongst them was

declared to constitute a part of the privileges of the several

Governments of the States. Thus the government of the States

remained the rule, and that of the Confederation became the

exception. *e

[Footnote e: See the Amendment to the Federal Constitution;

"Federalist," No. 32; Story, p. 711; Kent's "Commentaries," vol.

i. p. 364.

It is to be observed that whenever the exclusive right of

regulating certain matters is not reserved to Congress by the

Constitution, the States may take up the affair until it is

brought before the National Assembly. For instance, Congress has

the right of making a general law on bankruptcy, which, however,

it neglects to do. Each State is then at liberty to make a law

for itself. This point has been established by discussion in the

law-courts, and may be said to belong more properly to


But as it was foreseen that, in practice, questions might

arise as to the exact limits of this exceptional authority, and

that it would be dangerous to submit these questions to the

decision of the ordinary courts of justice, established in the

States by the States themselves, a high Federal court was

created, *f which was destined, amongst other functions, to

maintain the balance of power which had been established by the

Constitution between the two rival Governments. *g

[Footnote f: The action of this court is indirect, as we shall

hereafter show.]

[Footnote g: It is thus that "The Federalist," No. 45, explains

the division of supremacy between the Union and the States: "The

powers delegated by the Constitution to the Federal Government

are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State

Governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be

exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace,

negotiation, and foreign commerce. The powers reserved to the

several States will extend to all the objects which, in the

ordinary course of affairs, concern the internal order and

prosperity of the State." I shall often have occasion to quote

"The Federalist" in this work. When the bill which has since

become the Constitution of the United States was submitted to the

approval of the people, and the discussions were still pending,

three men, who had already acquired a portion of that celebrity

which they have since enjoyed - John Jay, Hamilton, and Madison -

formed an association with the intention of explaining to the

nation the advantages of the measure which was proposed. With

this view they published a series of articles in the shape of a

journal, which now form a complete treatise. They entitled their

journal "The Federalist," a name which has been retained in the

work. "The Federalist" is an excellent book, which ought to be

familiar to the statesmen of all countries, although it

especially concerns America.]

Prerogative Of The Federal Government

Power of declaring war, making peace, and levying general taxes

vested in the Federal Government - What part of the internal

policy of the country it may direct - The Government of the Union

in some respects more central than the King's Government in the

old French monarchy.

The external relations of a people may be compared to those

of private individuals, and they cannot be advantageously

maintained without the agency of a single head of a Government.

The exclusive right of making peace and war, of concluding

treaties of commerce, of raising armies, and equipping fleets,

was granted to the Union. *h The necessity of a national

Government was less imperiously felt in the conduct of the

internal policy of society; but there are certain general

interests which can only be attended to with advantage by a

general authority. The Union was invested with the power of

controlling the monetary system, of directing the post office,

and of opening the great roads which were to establish a

communication between the different parts of the country. *i The

independence of the Government of each State was formally

recognized in its sphere; nevertheless, the Federal Government

was authorized to interfere in the internal affairs of the States

*j in a few predetermined cases, in which an indiscreet abuse of

their independence might compromise the security of the Union at

large. Thus, whilst the power of modifying and changing their

legislation at pleasure was preserved in all the republics, they

were forbidden to enact ex post facto laws, or to create a class

of nobles in their community. *k Lastly, as it was necessary that

the Federal Government should be able to fulfil its engagements,

it was endowed with an unlimited power of levying taxes. *l

[Footnote h: See Constitution, sect. 8; "Federalist," Nos. 41 and

42; Kent's "Commentaries," vol. i. p. 207; Story, pp. 358-382;

Ibid. pp. 409-426.]

[Footnote i: Several other privileges of the same kind exist,

such as that which empowers the Union to legislate on bankruptcy,

to grant patents, and other matters in which its intervention is

clearly necessary.]

[Footnote j: Even in these cases its interference is indirect.

The Union interferes by means of the tribunals, as will be

hereafter shown.]

[Footnote k: Federal Constitution, sect. 10, art. I.]

[Footnote l: Constitution, sects. 8, 9, and 10; "Federalist,"

Nos. 30-36, inclusive, and 41-44; Kent's "Commentaries," vol. i.

pp. 207 and 381; Story, pp. 329 and 514.]

In examining the balance of power as established by the

Federal Constitution; in remarking on the one hand the portion of

sovereignty which has been reserved to the several States, and on

the other the share of power which the Union has assumed, it is

evident that the Federal legislators entertained the clearest and

most accurate notions on the nature of the centralization of

government. The United States form not only a republic, but a

confederation; nevertheless the authority of the nation is more

central than it was in several of the monarchies of Europe when

the American Constitution was formed. Take, for instance, the

two following examples.

Thirteen supreme courts of justice existed in France, which,

generally speaking, had the right of interpreting the law without

appeal; and those provinces which were styled pays d'etats were

authorized to refuse their assent to an impost which had been

levied by the sovereign who represented the nation. In the Union

there is but one tribunal to interpret, as there is one

legislature to make the laws; and an impost voted by the

representatives of the nation is binding upon all the citizens.

In these two essential points, therefore, the Union exercises

more central authority than the French monarchy possessed,

although the Union is only an assemblage of confederate


In Spain certain provinces had the right of establishing a

system of custom-house duties peculiar to themselves, although

that privilege belongs, by its very nature, to the national

sovereignty. In America the Congress alone has the right of

regulating the commercial relations of the States. The government

of the Confederation is therefore more centralized in this

respect than the kingdom of Spain. It is true that the power of

the Crown in France or in Spain was always able to obtain by

force whatever the Constitution of the country denied, and that

the ultimate result was consequently the same; but I am here

discussing the theory of the Constitution.

Federal Powers

After having settled the limits within which the Federal

Government was to act, the next point was to determine the powers

which it was to exert.

Legislative Powers *m

[Footnote m: [In this chapter the author points out the essence

of the conflict between the seceding States and the Union which

caused the Civil War of 1861.]]

Division of the Legislative Body into two branches - Difference

in the manner of forming the two Houses - The principle of the

independence of the States predominates in the formation of the

Senate - The principle of the sovereignty of the nation in the

composition of the House of Representatives - Singular effects of

the fact that a Constitution can only be logical in the early

stages of a nation.

The plan which had been laid down beforehand for the

Constitutions of the several States was followed, in many points,

in the organization of the powers of the Union. The Federal

legislature of the Union was composed of a Senate and a House of

Representatives. A spirit of conciliation prescribed the

observance of distinct principles in the formation of these two

assemblies. I have already shown that two contrary interests

were opposed to each other in the establishment of the Federal

Constitution. These two interests had given rise to two

opinions. It was the wish of one party to convert the Union into

a league of independent States, or a sort of congress, at which

the representatives of the several peoples would meet to discuss

certain points of their common interests. The other party

desired to unite the inhabitants of the American colonies into

one sole nation, and to establish a Government which should act

as the sole representative of the nation, as far as the limited

sphere of its authority would permit. The practical consequences

of these two theories were exceedingly different.

The question was, whether a league was to be established

instead of a national Government; whether the majority of the

State, instead of the majority of the inhabitants of the Union,

was to give the law: for every State, the small as well as the

great, would then remain in the full enjoyment of its

independence, and enter the Union upon a footing of perfect

equality. If, however, the inhabitants of the United States were

to be considered as belonging to one and the same nation, it

would be just that the majority of the citizens of the Union

should prescribe the law. Of course the lesser States could not

subscribe to the application of this doctrine without, in fact,

abdicating their existence in relation to the sovereignty of the

Confederation; since they would have passed from the condition of

a co-equal and co-legislative authority to that of an

insignificant fraction of a great people. But if the former

system would have invested them with an excessive authority, the

latter would have annulled their influence altogether. Under

these circumstances the result was, that the strict rules of

logic were evaded, as is usually the case when interests are

opposed to arguments. A middle course was hit upon by the

legislators, which brought together by force two systems

theoretically irreconcilable.

The principle of the independence of the States prevailed in

the formation of the Senate, and that of the sovereignty of the

nation predominated in the composition of the House of

Representatives. It was decided that each State should send two

senators to Congress, and a number of representatives

proportioned to its population. *n It results from this

arrangement that the State of New York has at the present day

forty representatives and only two senators; the State of

Delaware has two senators and only one representative; the State

of Delaware is therefore equal to the State of New York in the

Senate, whilst the latter has forty times the influence of the

former in the House of Representatives. Thus, if the minority of

the nation preponderates in the Senate,. it may paralyze the

decisions of the majority represented in the other House, which

is contrary to the spirit of constitutional


[Footnote n: Every ten years Congress fixes anew the number of

representatives which each State is to furnish. The total number

was 69 in 1789, and 240 in 1833. (See "American Almanac," 1834,

p. 194.) The Constitution decided that there should not be more

than one representative for every 30,000 persons; but no minimum

was fixed on. The Congress has not thought fit to augment the

number of representatives in proportion to the increase of

population. The first Act which was passed on the subject (April

14, 1792: see "Laws of the United States," by Story, vol. i. p.

235) decided that there should be one representative for every

33,000 inhabitants. The last Act, which was passed in 1832,

fixes the proportion at one for 48,000. The population

represented is composed of all the free men and of three-fifths

of the slaves.

[The last Act of apportionment, passed February 2, 1872,

fixes the representation at one to 134,684 inhabitants. There

are now (1875) 283 members of the lower House of Congress, and 9

for the States at large, making in all 292 members. The old

States have of course lost the representatives which the new

States have gained. - Translator's Note.]]

These facts show how rare and how difficult it is rationally

and logically to combine all the several parts of legislation.

In the course of time different interests arise, and different

principles are sanctioned by the same people; and when a general

constitution is to be established, these interests and principles

are so many natural obstacles to the rigorous application of any

political system, with all its consequences. The early stages of

national existence are the only periods at which it is possible

to maintain the complete logic of legislation; and when we

perceive a nation in the enjoyment of this advantage, before we

hasten to conclude that it is wise, we should do well to remember

that it is young. When the Federal Constitution was formed, the

interests of independence for the separate States, and the

interest of union for the whole people, were the only two

conflicting interests which existed amongst the Anglo-Americans,

and a compromise was necessarily made between them.

It is, however, just to acknowledge that this part of the

Constitution has not hitherto produced those evils which might

have been feared. All the States are young and contiguous; their

customs, their ideas, and their exigencies are not dissimilar;

and the differences which result from their size or inferiority

do not suffice to set their interests at variance. The small

States have consequently never been induced to league themselves

together in the Senate to oppose the designs of the larger ones;

and indeed there is so irresistible an authority in the

legitimate expression of the will of a people that the Senate

could offer but a feeble opposition to the vote of the majority

of the House of


It must not be forgotten, on the other hand, that it was not

in the power of the American legislators to reduce to a single

nation the people for whom they were making laws. The object of

the Federal Constitution was not to destroy the independence of

the States, but to restrain it. By acknowledging the real

authority of these secondary communities (and it was impossible

to deprive them of it), they disavowed beforehand the habitual

use of constraint in enforcing g the decisions of the majority.

Upon this principle the introduction of the influence of the

States into the mechanism of the Federal Government was by no

means to be wondered at, since it only attested the existence of

an acknowledged power, which was to be humored and not forcibly


A Further Difference Between The Senate
And The House Of Representatives

The Senate named by the provincial legislators, the

Representatives by the people - Double election of the former;

single election of the latter - Term of the different offices -

Peculiar functions of each House.

The Senate not only differs from the other House in the

principle which it represents, but also in the mode of its

election, in the term for which it is chosen, and in the nature

of its functions. The House of Representatives is named by the

people, the Senate by the legislators of each State; the former

is directly elected, the latter is elected by an elected body;

the term for which the representatives are chosen is only two

years, that of the senators is six. The functions of the House

of Representatives are purely legislative, and the only share it

takes in the judicial power is in the impeachment of public

officers. The Senate co-operates in the work of legislation, and

tries those political offences which the House of Representatives

submits to its decision. It also acts as the great executive

council of the nation; the treaties which are concluded by the

President must be ratified by the Senate, and the appointments he

may make must be definitely approved by the same body. *o

[Footnote o: See "The Federalist," Nos. 52-56, inclusive; Story,

pp. 199-314; Constitution of the United States, sects. 2 and 3.]

The Executive Power *p

[Footnote p: See "The Federalist," Nos. 67-77; Constitution of

the United States, art. 2; Story, p. 315, pp. 615-780; Kent's

"Commentaries," p. 255.]

Dependence of the President - He is elective and responsible - He

is free to act in his own sphere under the inspection, but not

under the direction, of the Senate - His salary fixed at his

entry into office - Suspensive veto.

The American legislators undertook a difficult task in

attempting to create an executive power dependent on the majority

of the people, and nevertheless sufficiently strong to act

without restraint in its own sphere. It was indispensable to the

maintenance of the republican form of government that the

representative of the executive power should be subject to the

will of the nation.

The President is an elective magistrate. His honor, his

property, his liberty, and his life are the securities which the

people has for the temperate use of his power. But in the

exercise of his authority he cannot be said to be perfectly

independent; the Senate takes cognizance of his relations with

foreign powers, and of the distribution of public appointments,

so that he can neither be bribed nor can he employ the means of

corruption. The legislators of the Union acknowledged that the

executive power would be incompetent to fulfil its task with

dignity and utility, unless it enjoyed a greater degree of

stability and of strength than had been granted to it in the

separate States.

The President is chosen for four years, and he may be

reelected; so that the chances of a prolonged administration may

inspire him with hopeful undertakings for the public good, and

with the means of carrying them into execution. The President

was made the sole representative of the executive power of the

Union, and care was taken not to render his decisions subordinate

to the vote of a council - a dangerous measure, which tends at

the same time to clog the action of the Government and to

diminish its responsibility. The Senate has the right of

annulling g certain acts of the President; but it cannot compel

him to take any steps, nor does it participate in the exercise of

the executive power.

The action of the legislature on the executive power may be

direct; and we have just shown that the Americans carefully

obviated this influence; but it may, on the other hand, be

indirect. Public assemblies which have the power of depriving an

officer of state of his salary encroach upon his independence;

and as they are free to make the laws, it is to be feared lest

they should gradually appropriate to themselves a portion of that

authority which the Constitution had vested in his hands. This

dependence of the executive power is one of the defects inherent

in republican constitutions. The Americans have not been able to

counteract the tendency which legislative assemblies have to get

possession of the government, but they have rendered this

propensity less irresistible. The salary of the President is

fixed, at the time of his entering upon office, for the whole

period of his magistracy. The President is, moreover, provided

with a suspensive veto, which allows him to oppose the passing of

such laws as might destroy the portion of independence which the

Constitution awards him. The struggle between the President and

the legislature must always be an unequal one, since the latter

is certain of bearing down all resistance by persevering in its

plans; but the suspensive veto forces it at least to reconsider

the matter, and, if the motion be persisted in, it must then be

backed by a majority of two-thirds of the whole house. The veto

is, in fact, a sort of appeal to the people. The executive power,

which, without this security, might have been secretly oppressed,

adopts this means of pleading its cause and stating its motives.

But if the legislature is certain of overpowering all resistance

by persevering in its plans, I reply, that in the constitutions

of all nations, of whatever kind they may be, a certain point

exists at which the legislator is obliged to have recourse to the

good sense and the virtue of his fellow-citizens. This point is

more prominent and more discoverable in republics, whilst it is

more remote and more carefully concealed in monarchies, but it

always exists somewhere. There is no country in the world in

which everything can be provided for by the laws, or in which

political institutions can prove a substitute for common sense

and public morality.

Differences Between The Position Of The President Of The United

States And That Of A Constitutional King Of France

Executive power in the Northern States as limited and as partial

as the supremacy which it represents - Executive power in France

as universal as the supremacy it represents - The King a branch

of the legislature - The President the mere executor of the law -

Other differences resulting from the duration of the two powers -

The President checked in the exercise of the executive authority

- The King independent in its exercise - Notwithstanding these

discrepancies France is more akin to a republic than the Union to

a monarchy -Comparison of the number of public officers depending

upon the executive power in the two countries.

The executive power has so important an influence on the

destinies of nations that I am inclined to pause for an instant

at this portion of my subject, in order more clearly to explain

the part it sustains in America. In order to form an accurate

idea of the position of the President of the United States, it

may not be irrelevant to compare it to that of one of the

constitutional kings of Europe. In this comparison I shall pay

but little attention to the external signs of power, which are

more apt to deceive the eye of the observer than to guide his

researches. When a monarchy is being gradually transformed into a

republic, the executive power retains the titles, the honors, the

etiquette, and even the funds of royalty long after its authority

has disappeared. The English, after having cut off the head of

one king and expelled another from his throne, were accustomed to

accost the successor of those princes upon their knees. On the

other hand, when a republic falls under the sway of a single

individual, the demeanor of the sovereign is simple and

unpretending, as if his authority was not yet paramount. When

the emperors exercised an unlimited control over the fortunes and

the lives of their fellow-citizens, it was customary to call them

Caesar in conversation, and they were in the habit of supping

without formality at their friends' houses. It is therefore

necessary to look below the surface.

The sovereignty of the United States is shared between the

Union and the States, whilst in France it is undivided and

compact: hence arises the first and the most notable difference

which exists between the President of the United States and the

King of France. In the United States the executive power is as

limited and partial as the sovereignty of the Union in whose name

it acts; in France it is as universal as the authority of the

State. The Americans have a federal and the French a national



Chapter VIII:
The Federal Constitution - Part II

This cause of inferiority results from the nature of things,

but it is not the only one; the second in importance is as

follows: Sovereignty may be defined to be the right of making

laws: in France, the King really exercises a portion of the

sovereign power, since the laws have no weight till he has given

his assent to them; he is, moreover, the executor of all they

ordain. The President is also the executor of the laws, but he

does not really co-operate in their formation, since the refusal

of his assent does not annul them. He is therefore merely to be

considered as the agent of the sovereign power. But not only

does the King of France exercise a portion of the sovereign

power, he also contributes to the nomination of the legislature,

which exercises the other portion. He has the privilege of

appointing the members of one chamber, and of dissolving the

other at his pleasure; whereas the President of the United States

has no share in the formation of the legislative body, and cannot

dissolve any part of it. The King has the same right of bringing

forward measures as the Chambers; a right which the President

does not possess. The King is represented in each assembly by

his ministers, who explain his intentions, support his opinions,

and maintain the principles of the Government. The President and

his ministers are alike excluded from Congress; so that his

influence and his opinions can only penetrate indirectly into

that great body. The King of France is therefore on an equal

footing with the legislature, which can no more act without him

than he can without it. The President exercises an authority

inferior to, and depending upon, that of the legislature.

Even in the exercise of the executive power, properly so

called - the point upon which his position seems to be most

analogous to that of the King of France - the President labors

under several causes of inferiority. The authority of the King,

in France, has, in the first place, the advantage of duration

over that of the President, and durability is one of the chief

elements of strength; nothing is either loved or feared but what

is likely to endure. The President of the United States is a

magistrate elected for four years; the King, in France, is an

hereditary sovereign. In the exercise of the executive power the

President of the United States is constantly subject to a jealous

scrutiny. He may make, but he cannot conclude, a treaty; he may

designate, but he cannot appoint, a public officer. *q The King

of France is absolute within the limits of his authority. The

President of the United States is responsible for his actions;

but the person of the King is declared inviolable by the French

Charter. *r

[Footnote q: The Constitution had left it doubtful whether the

President was obliged to consult the Senate in the removal as

well as in the appointment of Federal officers. "The Federalist"

(No. 77) seemed to establish the affirmative; but in 1789

Congress formally decided that, as the President was responsible

for his actions, he ought not to be forced to employ agents who

had forfeited his esteem. See Kent's "Commentaries, vol. i. p.


[Footnote r: [This comparison applied to the Constitutional King

of France and to the powers he held under the Charter of 1830,

till the overthrow of the monarchy in 1848. - Translator's


Nevertheless, the supremacy of public opinion is no less

above the head of the one than of the other. This power is less

definite, less evident, and less sanctioned by the laws in France

than in America, but in fact it exists. In America, it acts by

elections and decrees; in France it proceeds by revolutions; but

notwithstanding the different constitutions of these two

countries, public opinion is the predominant authority in both of

them. The fundamental principle of legislation - a principle

essentially republican - is the same in both countries, although

its consequences may be different, and its results more or less

extensive. Whence I am led to conclude that France with its King

is nearer akin to a republic than the Union with its President is

to a monarchy.

In what I have been saying I have only touched upon the main

points of distinction; and if I could have entered into details,

the contrast would have been rendered still more striking.

I have remarked that the authority of the President in the

United States is only exercised within the limits of a partial

sovereignty, whilst that of the King in France is undivided. I

might have gone on to show that the power of the King's

government in France exceeds its natural limits, however

extensive they may be, and penetrates in a thousand different

ways into the administration of private interests. Amongst the

examples of this influence may be quoted that which results from

the great number of public functionaries, who all derive their

appointments from the Government. This number now exceeds all

previous limits; it amounts to 138,000 *s nominations, each of

which may be considered as an element of power. The President of

the United States has not the exclusive right of making any

public appointments, and their whole number scarcely exceeds

12,000. *t

[Footnote s: The sums annually paid by the State to these

officers amount to 200,000,000 fr. ($40,000,000).]

[Footnote t: This number is extracted from the "National

Calendar" for 1833. The "National Calendar" is an American

almanac which contains the names of all the Federal officers. It

results from this comparison that the King of France has eleven

times as many places at his disposal as the President, although

the population of France is not much more than double that of the


[I have not the means of ascertaining the number of

appointments now at the disposal of the President of the United

States, but his patronage and the abuse of it have largely

increased since 1833. - Translator's Note, 1875.]]

Accidental Causes Which May Increase The Influence Of The

Executive Government

External security of the Union - Army of six thousand men - Few

ships - The President has no opportunity of exercising his great

prerogatives - In the prerogatives he exercises he is weak.

If the executive government is feebler in America than in

France, the cause is more attributable to the circumstances than

to the laws of the country.

It is chiefly in its foreign relations that the executive

power of a nation is called upon to exert its skill and its

vigor. If the existence of the Union were perpetually

threatened, and if its chief interests were in daily connection

with those of other powerful nations, the executive government

would assume an increased importance in proportion to the

measures expected of it, and those which it would carry into

effect. The President of the United States is the

commander-in-chief of the army, but of an army composed of only

six thousand men; he commands the fleet, but the fleet reckons

but few sail; he conducts the foreign relations of the Union, but

the United States are a nation without neighbors. Separated from

the rest of the world by the ocean, and too weak as yet to aim at

the dominion of the seas, they have no enemies, and their

interests rarely come into contact with those of any other nation

of the globe.

The practical part of a Government must not be judged by the

theory of its constitution. The President of the United States

is in the possession of almost royal prerogatives, which he has

no opportunity of exercising; and those privileges which he can

at present use are very circumscribed. The laws allow him to

possess a degree of influence which circumstances do not permit

him to employ.

On the other hand, the great strength of the royal

prerogative in France arises from circumstances far more than

from the laws. There the executive government is constantly

struggling against prodigious obstacles, and exerting all its

energies to repress them; so that it increases by the extent of

its achievements, and by the importance of the events it

controls, without modifying its constitution. If the laws had

made it as feeble and as circumscribed as it is in the Union, its

influence would very soon become still more preponderant.

Why The President Of The United States Does Not Require The

Majority Of The Two Houses In Order To Carry On The Government

It is an established axiom in Europe that a constitutional

King cannot persevere in a system of government which is opposed

by the two other branches of the legislature. But several

Presidents of the United States have been known to lose the

majority in the legislative body without being obliged to abandon

the supreme power, and without inflicting a serious evil upon

society. I have heard this fact quoted as an instance of the

independence and the power of the executive government in

America: a moment's reflection will convince us, on the contrary,

that it is a proof of its extreme weakness.

A King in Europe requires the support of the legislature to

enable him to perform the duties imposed upon him by the

Constitution, because those duties are enormous. A

constitutional King in Europe is not merely the executor of the

law, but the execution of its provisions devolves so completely

upon him that he has the power of paralyzing its influence if it

opposes his designs. He requires the assistance of the

legislative assemblies to make the law, but those assemblies

stand in need of his aid to execute it: these two authorities

cannot subsist without each other, and the mechanism of

government is stopped as soon as they are at variance.

In America the President cannot prevent any law from being

passed, nor can he evade the obligation of enforcing it. His

sincere and zealous co-operation is no doubt useful, but it is

not indispensable, in the carrying on of public affairs. All his

important acts are directly or indirectly submitted to the

legislature, and of his own free authority he can do but little.

It is therefore his weakness, and not his power, which enables

him to remain in opposition to Congress. In Europe, harmony must

reign between the Crown and the other branches of the

legislature, because a collision between them may prove serious;

in America, this harmony is not indispensable, because such a

collision is impossible.

Election Of The President

Dangers of the elective system increase in proportion to the

extent of the prerogative - This system possible in America

because no powerful executive authority is required - What

circumstances are favorable to the elective system - Why the

election of the President does not cause a deviation from the

principles of the Government - Influence of the election of the

President on secondary functionaries.

The dangers of the system of election applied to the head of

the executive government of a great people have been sufficiently

exemplified by experience and by history, and the remarks I am

about to make refer to America alone. These dangers may be more

or less formidable in proportion to the place which the executive

power occupies, and to the importance it possesses in the State;

and they may vary according to the mode of election and the

circumstances in which the electors are placed. The most weighty

argument against the election of a chief magistrate is, that it

offers so splendid a lure to private ambition, and is so apt to

inflame men in the pursuit of power, that when legitimate means

are wanting force may not unfrequently seize what right denied.

It is clear that the greater the privileges of the executive

authority are, the greater is the temptation; the more the

ambition of the candidates is excited, the more warmly are their

interests espoused by a throng of partisans who hope to share the

power when their patron has won the prize. The dangers of the

elective system increase, therefore, in the exact ratio of the

influence exercised by the executive power in the affairs of

State. The revolutions of Poland were not solely attributable to

the elective system in general, but to the fact that the elected

monarch was the sovereign of a powerful kingdom. Before we can

discuss the absolute advantages of the elective system we must

make preliminary inquiries as to whether the geographical

position, the laws, the habits, the manners, and the opinions of

the people amongst whom it is to be introduced will admit of the

establishment of a weak and dependent executive government; for

to attempt to render the representative of the State a powerful

sovereign, and at the same time elective, is, in my opinion, to

entertain two incompatible designs. To reduce hereditary royalty

to the condition of an elective authority, the only means that I

am acquainted with are to circumscribe its sphere of action

beforehand, gradually to diminish its prerogatives, and to

accustom the people to live without its protection. Nothing,

however, is further from the designs of the republicans of Europe

than this course: as many of them owe their hatred of tyranny to

the sufferings which they have personally undergone, it is

oppression, and not the extent of the executive power, which

excites their hostility, and they attack the former without

perceiving how nearly it is connected with the latter.

Hitherto no citizen has shown any disposition to expose his

honor and his life in order to become the President of the United

States; because the power of that office is temporary, limited,

and subordinate. The prize of fortune must be great to encourage

adventurers in so desperate a game. No candidate has as yet been

able to arouse the dangerous enthusiasm or the passionate

sympathies of the people in his favor, for the very simple reason

that when he is at the head of the Government he has but little

power, but little wealth, and but little glory to share amongst

his friends; and his influence in the State is too small for the

success or the ruin of a faction to depend upon the elevation of

an individual to power.

The great advantage of hereditary monarchies is, that as the

private interest of a family is always intimately connected with

the interests of the State, the executive government is never

suspended for a single instant; and if the affairs of a monarchy

are not better conducted than those of a republic, at least there

is always some one to conduct them, well or ill, according to his

capacity. In elective States, on the contrary, the wheels of

government cease to act, as it were, of their own accord at the

approach of an election, and even for some time previous to that

event. The laws may indeed accelerate the operation of the

election, which may be conducted with such simplicity and

rapidity that the seat of power will never be left vacant; but,

notwithstanding these precautions, a break necessarily occurs in

the minds of the people.

At the approach of an election the head of the executive

government is wholly occupied by the coming struggle; his future

plans are doubtful; he can undertake nothing new, and the he will

only prosecute with indifference those designs which another will

perhaps terminate. "I am so near the time of my retirement from

office," said President Jefferson on the 21st of January, 1809

(six weeks before the election), "that I feel no passion, I take

no part, I express no sentiment. It appears to me just to leave

to my successor the commencement of those measures which he will

have to prosecute, and for which he will be responsible."

On the other hand, the eyes of the nation are centred on a

single point; all are watching the gradual birth of so important

an event. The wider the influence of the executive power

extends, the greater and the more necessary is its constant

action, the more fatal is the term of suspense; and a nation

which is accustomed to the government, or, still more, one used

to the administrative protection of a powerful executive

authority would be infallibly convulsed by an election of this

kind. In the United States the action of the Government may be

slackened with impunity, because it is always weak and

circumscribed. *u

[Footnote u: [This, however, may be a great danger. The period

during which Mr. Buchanan retained office, after the election of

Mr. Lincoln, from November, 1860, to March, 1861, was that which

enabled the seceding States of the South to complete their

preparations for the Civil War, and the Executive Government was

paralyzed. No greater evil could befall a nation. -Translator's


One of the principal vices of the elective system is that it

always introduces a certain degree of instability into the

internal and external policy of the State. But this disadvantage

is less sensibly felt if the share of power vested in the elected

magistrate is small. In Rome the principles of the Government

underwent no variation, although the Consuls were changed every

year, because the Senate, which was an hereditary assembly,

possessed the directing authority. If the elective system were

adopted in Europe, the condition of most of the monarchical

States would be changed at every new election. In America the

President exercises a certain influence on State affairs, but he

does not conduct them; the preponderating power is vested in the

representatives of the whole nation. The political maxims of the

country depend therefore on the mass of the people, not on the

President alone; and consequently in America the elective system

has no very prejudicial influence on the fixed principles of the

Government. But the want of fixed principles is an evil so

inherent in the elective system that it is still extremely

perceptible in the narrow sphere to which the authority of the

President extends.

The Americans have admitted that the head of the executive

power, who has to bear the whole responsibility of the duties he

is called upon to fulfil, ought to be empowered to choose his own

agents, and to remove them at pleasure: the legislative bodies

watch the conduct of the President more than they direct it. The

consequence of this arrangement is, that at every new election

the fate of all the Federal public officers is in suspense. Mr.

Quincy Adams, on his entry into office, discharged the majority

of the individuals who had been appointed by his predecessor: and

I am not aware that General Jackson allowed a single removable

functionary employed in the Federal service to retain his place

beyond the first year which succeeded his election. It is

sometimes made a subject of complaint that in the constitutional

monarchies of Europe the fate of the humbler servants of an

Administration depends upon that of the Ministers. But in

elective Governments this evil is far greater. In a

constitutional monarchy successive ministries are rapidly formed;

but as the principal representative of the executive power does

not change, the spirit of innovation is kept within bounds; the

changes which take place are in the details rather than in the

principles of the administrative system; but to substitute one

system for another, as is done in America every four years, by

law, is to cause a sort of revolution. As to the misfortunes

which may fall upon individuals in consequence of this state of

things, it must be allowed that the uncertain situation of the

public officers is less fraught with evil consequences in America

than elsewhere. It is so easy to acquire an independent position

in the United States that the public officer who loses his place

may be deprived of the comforts of life, but not of the means of


I remarked at the beginning of this chapter that the dangers

of the elective system applied to the head of the State are

augmented or decreased by the peculiar circumstances of the

people which adopts it. However the functions of the executive

power may be restricted, it must always exercise a great

influence upon the foreign policy of the country, for a

negotiation cannot be opened or successfully carried on otherwise

than by a single agent. The more precarious and the more perilous

the position of a people becomes, the more absolute is the want

of a fixed and consistent external policy, and the more dangerous

does the elective system of the Chief Magistrate become. The

policy of the Americans in relation to the whole world is

exceedingly simple; for it may almost be said that no country

stands in need of them, nor do they require the co-operation of

any other people. Their independence is never threatened. In

their present condition, therefore, the functions of the

executive power are no less limited by circumstances than by the

laws; and the President may frequently change his line of policy

without involving the State in difficulty or destruction.

Whatever the prerogatives of the executive power may be, the

period which immediately precedes an election and the moment of

its duration must always be considered as a national crisis,

which is perilous in proportion to the internal embarrassments

and the external dangers of the country. Few of the nations of

Europe could escape the calamities of anarchy or of conquest

every time they might have to elect a new sovereign. In America

society is so constituted that it can stand without assistance

upon its own basis; nothing is to be feared from the pressure of

external dangers, and the election of the President is a cause of

agitation, but not of ruin.

Mode Of Election

Skill of the American legislators shown in the mode of election

adopted by them - Creation of a special electoral body - Separate

votes of these electors - Case in which the House of

Representatives is called upon to choose the President - Results

of the twelve elections which have taken place since the

Constitution has been established.

Besides the dangers which are inherent in the system, many

other difficulties may arise from the mode of election, which may

be obviated by the precaution of the legislator. When a people

met in arms on some public spot to choose its head, it was

exposed to all the chances of civil war resulting from so martial

a mode of proceeding, besides the dangers of the elective system

in itself. The Polish laws, which subjected the election of the

sovereign to the veto of a single individual, suggested the

murder of that individual or prepared the way to anarchy.

In the examination of the institutions and the political as

well as social condition of the United States, we are struck by

the admirable harmony of the gifts of fortune and the efforts of

man. The nation possessed two of the main causes of internal

peace; it was a new country, but it was inhabited by a people

grown old in the exercise of freedom. America had no hostile

neighbors to dread; and the American legislators, profiting by

these favorable circumstances, created a weak and subordinate

executive power which could without danger be made elective.

It then only remained for them to choose the least dangerous

of the various modes of election; and the rules which they laid

down upon this point admirably correspond to the securities which

the physical and political constitution of the country already

afforded. Their object was to find the mode of election which

would best express the choice of the people with the least

possible excitement and suspense. It was admitted in the first

place that the simple majority should be decisive; but the

difficulty was to obtain this majority without an interval of

delay which it was most important to avoid. It rarely happens

that an individual can at once collect the majority of the

suffrages of a great people; and this difficulty is enhanced in a

republic of confederate States, where local influences are apt to

preponderate. The means by which it was proposed to obviate this

second obstacle was to delegate the electoral powers of the

nation to a body of representatives. This mode of election

rendered a majority more probable; for the fewer the electors

are, the greater is the chance of their coming to a final

decision. It also offered an additional probability of a

judicious choice. It then remained to be decided whether this

right of election was to be entrusted to a legislative body, the

habitual representative assembly of the nation, or whether an

electoral assembly should be formed for the express purpose of

proceeding to the nomination of a President. The Americans chose

the latter alternative, from a belief that the individuals who

were returned to make the laws were incompetent to represent the

wishes of the nation in the election of its chief magistrate; and

that, as they are chosen for more than a year, the constituency

they represent might have changed its opinion in that time. It

was thought that if the legislature was empowered to elect the

head of the executive power, its members would, for some time

before the election, be exposed to the manoeuvres of corruption

and the tricks of intrigue; whereas the special electors would,

like a jury, remain mixed up with the crowd till the day of

action, when they would appear for the sole purpose of giving

their votes.

It was therefore established that every State should name a

certain number of electors, *v who in their turn should elect the

President; and as it had been observed that the assemblies to

which the choice of a chief magistrate had been entrusted in

elective countries inevitably became the centres of passion and

of cabal; that they sometimes usurped an authority which did not

belong to them; and that their proceedings, or the uncertainty

which resulted from them, were sometimes prolonged so much as to

endanger the welfare of the State, it was determined that the

electors should all vote upon the same day, without being

convoked to the same place. *w This double election rendered a

majority probable, though not certain; for it was possible that

as many differences might exist between the electors as between

their constituents. In this case it was necessary to have

recourse to one of three measures; either to appoint new

electors, or to consult a second time those already appointed,or

to defer the election to another authority. The first two of

these alternatives, independently of the uncertainty of their

results, were likely to delay the final decision, and to

perpetuate an agitation which must always be accompanied with

danger. The third expedient was therefore adopted, and it was

agreed that the votes should be transmitted sealed to the

President of the Senate, and that they should be opened and

counted in the presence of the Senate and the House of

Representatives. If none of the candidates has a majority, the

House of Representatives then proceeds immediately to elect a

President, but with the condition that it must fix upon one of

the three candidates who have the highest numbers. *x

[Footnote v: As many as it sends members to Congress. The number

of electors at the election of 1833 was 288. (See "The National

Calendar," 1833.)]

[Footnote w: The electors of the same State assemble, but they

transmit to the central government the list of their individual

votes, and not the mere result of the vote of the majority.]

[Footnote x: In this case it is the majority of the States, and

not the majority of the members, which decides the question; so

that New York has not more influence in the debate than Rhode

Island. Thus the citizens of the Union are first consulted as

members of one and the same community; and, if they cannot agree,

recourse is had to the division of the States, each of which has

a separate and independent vote. This is one of the

singularities of the Federal Constitution which can only be

explained by the jar of conflicting interests.]

Thus it is only in case of an event which cannot often

happen, and which can never be foreseen, that the election is

entrusted to the ordinary representatives of the nation; and even

then they are obliged to choose a citizen who has already been

designated by a powerful minority of the special electors. It is

by this happy expedient that the respect which is due to the

popular voice is combined with the utmost celerity of execution

and those precautions which the peace of the country demands.

But the decision of the question by the House of Representatives

does not necessarily offer an immediate solution of the

difficulty, for the majority of that assembly may still be

doubtful, and in this case the Constitution prescribes no remedy.

Nevertheless, by restricting the number of candidates to three,

and by referring the matter to the judgment of an enlightened

public body, it has smoothed all the obstacles *y which are not

inherent in the elective system.

[Footnote y: Jefferson, in 1801, was not elected until the

thirty- sixth time of balloting.]


In the forty-four years which have elapsed since the

promulgation of the Federal Constitution the United States have

twelve times chosen a President. Ten of these elections took

place simultaneously by the votes of the special electors in the

different States. The House of Representatives has only twice

exercised its conditional privilege of deciding in cases of

uncertainty; the first time was at the election of Mr. Jefferson

in 1801; the second was in 1825, when Mr. Quincy Adams was named.


[Footnote z: [General Grant is now (1874) the eighteenth

President of the United States.]]

Crises Of The Election

The Election may be considered as a national crisis - Why? -

Passions of the people - Anxiety of the President - Calm which

succeeds the agitation of the election.

I have shown what the circumstances are which favored the

adoption of the elective system in the United States, and what

precautions were taken by the legislators to obviate its dangers.

The Americans are habitually accustomed to all kinds of

elections, and they know by experience the utmost degree of

excitement which is compatible with security. The vast extent of

the country and the dissemination of the inhabitants render a

collision between parties less probable and less dangerous there

than elsewhere. The political circumstances under which the

elections have hitherto been carried on have presented no real

embarrassments to the nation.

Nevertheless, the epoch of the election of a President of

the United States may be considered as a crisis in the affairs of

the nation. The influence which he exercises on public business

is no doubt feeble and indirect; but the choice of the President,

which is of small importance to each individual citizen, concerns

the citizens collectively; and however trifling an interest may

be, it assumes a great degree of importance as soon as it becomes

general. The President possesses but few means of rewarding his

supporters in comparison to the kings of Europe, but the places

which are at his disposal are sufficiently numerous to interest,

directly or indirectly, several thousand electors in his success.

Political parties in the United States are led to rally round an

individual, in order to acquire a more tangible shape in the eyes

of the crowd, and the name of the candidate for the Presidency is

put forward as the symbol and personification of their theories.

For these reasons parties are strongly interested in gaining the

election, not so much with a view to the triumph of their

principles under the auspices of the President-elect as to show

by the majority which returned him, the strength of the

supporters of those principles.

For a long while before the appointed time is at hand the

election becomes the most important and the all-engrossing topic

of discussion. The ardor of faction is redoubled; and all the

artificial passions which the imagination can create in the bosom

of a happy and peaceful land are agitated and brought to light.

The President, on the other hand, is absorbed by the cares of

self- defence. He no longer governs for the interest of the

State, but for that of his re-election; he does homage to the

majority, and instead of checking its passions, as his duty

commands him to do, he frequently courts its worst caprices. As

the election draws near, the activity of intrigue and the

agitation of the populace increase; the citizens are divided into

hostile camps, each of which assumes the name of its favorite

candidate; the whole nation glows with feverish excitement; the

election is the daily theme of the public papers, the subject of

private conversation, the end of every thought and every action,

the sole interest of the present. As soon as the choice is

determined, this ardor is dispelled; and as a calmer season

returns, the current of the State, which had nearly broken its

banks, sinks to its usual level: *a but who can refrain from

astonishment at the causes of the storm.

[Footnote a: [Not always. The election of President Lincoln was

the signal of civil war. - Translator's Note.]]


Chapter VIII:
The Federal Constitution - Part III

Re-election Of The President

When the head of the executive power is re-eligible, it is the

State which is the source of intrigue and corruption - The desire

of being re-elected the chief aim of a President of the United

States - Disadvantage of the system peculiar to America - The

natural evil of democracy is that it subordinates all authority

to the slightest desires of the majority - The re-election of the

President encourages this evil.

It may be asked whether the legislators of the United States

did right or wrong in allowing the re-election of the President.

It seems at first sight contrary to all reason to prevent the

head of the executive power from being elected a second time.

The influence which the talents and the character of a single

individual may exercise upon the fate of a whole people, in

critical circumstances or arduous times, is well known: a law

preventing the re-election of the chief magistrate would deprive

the citizens of the surest pledge of the prosperity and the

security of the commonwealth; and, by a singular inconsistency, a

man would be excluded from the government at the very time when

he had shown his ability in conducting its affairs.

But if these arguments are strong, perhaps still more

powerful reasons may be advanced against them. Intrigue and

corruption are the natural defects of elective government; but

when the head of the State can be re-elected these evils rise to

a great height, and compromise the very existence of the country.

When a simple candidate seeks to rise by intrigue, his manoeuvres

must necessarily be limited to a narrow sphere; but when the

chief magistrate enters the lists, he borrows the strength of the

government for his own purposes. In the former case the feeble

resources of an individual are in action; in the latter, the

State itself, with all its immense influence, is busied in the

work of corruption and cabal. The private citizen, who employs

the most immoral practices to acquire power, can only act in a

manner indirectly prejudicial to the public prosperity. But if

the representative of the executive descends into the combat, the

cares of government dwindle into second-rate importance, and the

success of his election is his first concern. All laws and all

the negotiations he undertakes are to him nothing more than

electioneering schemes; places become the reward of services

rendered, not to the nation, but to its chief; and the influence

of the government, if not injurious to the country, is at least

no longer beneficial to the community for which it was created.

It is impossible to consider the ordinary course of affairs

in the United States without perceiving that the desire of being

re- elected is the chief aim of the President; that his whole

administration, and even his most indifferent measures, tend to

this object; and that, as the crisis approaches, his personal

interest takes the place of his interest in the public good. The

principle of re-eligibility renders the corrupt influence of

elective government still more extensive and pernicious.

In America it exercises a peculiarly fatal influence on the

sources of national existence. Every government seems to be

afflicted by some evil which is inherent in its nature, and the

genius of the legislator is shown in eluding its attacks. A

State may survive the influence of a host of bad laws, and the

mischief they cause is frequently exaggerated; but a law which

encourages the growth of the canker within must prove fatal in

the end, although its bad consequences may not be immediately


The principle of destruction in absolute monarchies lies in

the excessive and unreasonable extension of the prerogative of

the crown; and a measure tending to remove the constitutional

provisions which counterbalance this influence would be radically

bad, even if its immediate consequences were unattended with

evil. By a parity of reasoning, in countries governed by a

democracy, where the people is perpetually drawing all authority

to itself, the laws which increase or accelerate its action are

the direct assailants of the very principle of the government.

The greatest proof of the ability of the American

legislators is, that they clearly discerned this truth, and that

they had the courage to act up to it. They conceived that a

certain authority above the body of the people was necessary,

which should enjoy a degree of independence, without, however,

being entirely beyond the popular control; an authority which

would be forced to comply with the permanent determinations of

the majority, but which would be able to resist its caprices, and

to refuse its most dangerous demands. To this end they centred

the whole executive power of the nation in a single arm; they

granted extensive prerogatives to the President, and they armed

him with the veto to resist the encroachments of the legislature.

But by introducing the principle of re-election they partly

destroyed their work; and they rendered the President but little

inclined to exert the great power they had vested in his hands.

If ineligible a second time, the President would be far from

independent of the people, for his responsibility would not be

lessened; but the favor of the people would not be so necessary

to him as to induce him to court it by humoring its desires. If

re- eligible (and this is more especially true at the present

day, when political morality is relaxed, and when great men are

rare), the President of the United States becomes an easy tool in

the hands of the majority. He adopts its likings and its

animosities, he hastens to anticipate its wishes, he forestalls

its complaints, he yields to its idlest cravings, and instead of

guiding it, as the legislature intended that he should do, he is

ever ready to follow its bidding. Thus, in order not to deprive

the State of the talents of an individual, those talents have

been rendered almost useless; and to reserve an expedient for

extraordinary perils, the country has been exposed to daily


Federal Courts *b

[Footnote b: See chap. VI, entitled "Judicial Power in the

United States." This chapter explains the general principles of

the American theory of judicial institutions. See also the

Federal Constitution, Art. 3. See "The Federalists," Nos.

78-83, inclusive; and a work entitled "Constitutional Law," being

a view of the practice and jurisdiction of the courts of the

United States, by Thomas Sergeant. See Story, pp. 134, 162, 489,

511, 581, 668; and the organic law of September 24, 1789, in the

"Collection of the Laws of the United States," by Story, vol. i.

p. 53.]

Political importance of the judiciary in the United States -

Difficulty of treating this subject - Utility of judicial power

in confederations - What tribunals could be introduced into the

Union - Necessity of establishing federal courts of justice -

Organization of the national judiciary - The Supreme Court - In

what it differs from all known tribunals.

I have inquired into the legislative and executive power of

the Union, and the judicial power now remains to be examined; but

in this place I cannot conceal my fears from the reader. Their

judicial institutions exercise a great influence on the condition

of the Anglo-Americans, and they occupy a prominent place amongst

what are probably called political institutions: in this respect

they are peculiarly deserving of our attention. But I am at a

loss to explain the political action of the American tribunals

without entering into some technical details of their

constitution and their forms of proceeding; and I know not how to

descend to these minutiae without wearying the curiosity of the

reader by the natural aridity of the subject, or without risking

to fall into obscurity through a desire to be succinct. I can

scarcely hope to escape these various evils; for if I appear too

lengthy to a man of the world, a lawyer may on the other hand

complain of my brevity. But these are the natural disadvantages

of my subject, and more especially of the point which I am about

to discuss.

The great difficulty was, not to devise the Constitution to

the Federal Government, but to find out a method of enforcing its

laws. Governments have in general but two means of overcoming

the opposition of the people they govern, viz., the physical

force which is at their own disposal, and the moral force which

they derive from the decisions of the courts of justice.

A government which should have no other means of exacting

obedience than open war must be very near its ruin, for one of

two alternatives would then probably occur: if its authority was

small and its character temperate, it would not resort to

violence till the last extremity, and it would connive at a

number of partial acts of insubordination, in which case the

State would gradually fall into anarchy; if it was enterprising

and powerful, it would perpetually have recourse to its physical

strength, and would speedily degenerate into a military

despotism. So that its activity would not be less prejudicial to

the community than its inaction.

The great end of justice is to substitute the notion of

right for that of violence, and to place a legal barrier between

the power of the government and the use of physical force. The

authority which is awarded to the intervention of a court of

justice by the general opinion of mankind is so surprisingly

great that it clings to the mere formalities of justice, and

gives a bodily influence to the shadow of the law. The moral

force which courts of justice possess renders the introduction of

physical force exceedingly rare, and is very frequently

substituted for it; but if the latter proves to be indispensable,

its power is doubled by the association of the idea of law.

A federal government stands in greater need of the support

of judicial institutions than any other, because it is naturally

weak and exposed to formidable opposition. *c If it were always

obliged to resort to violence in the first instance, it could not

fulfil its task. The Union, therefore, required a national

judiciary to enforce the obedience of the citizens to the laws,

and to repeal the attacks which might be directed against them.

The question then remained as to what tribunals were to exercise

these privileges; were they to be entrusted to the courts of

justice which were already organized in every State? or was it

necessary to create federal courts? It may easily be proved that

the Union could not adapt the judicial power of the States to its

wants. The separation of the judiciary from the administrative

power of the State no doubt affects the security of every citizen

and the liberty of all. But it is no less important to the

existence of the nation that these several powers should have the

same origin, should follow the same principles, and act in the

same sphere; in a word, that they should be correlative and

homogeneous. No one, I presume, ever suggested the advantage of

trying offences committed in France by a foreign court of

justice, in order to secure the impartiality of the judges. The

Americans form one people in relation to their Federal

Government; but in the bosom of this people divers political

bodies have been allowed to subsist which are dependent on the

national Government in a few points, and independent in all the

rest; which have all a distinct origin, maxims peculiar to

themselves, and special means of carrying on their affairs. To

entrust the execution of the laws of the Union to tribunals

instituted by these political bodies would be to allow foreign

judges to preside over the nation. Nay, more; not only is each

State foreign to the Union at large, but it is in perpetual

opposition to the common interests, since whatever authority the

Union loses turns to the advantage of the States. Thus to

enforce the laws of the Union by means of the tribunals of the

States would be to allow not only foreign but partial judges to

preside over the nation.

[Footnote c: Federal laws are those which most require courts of

justice, and those at the same time which have most rarely

established them. The reason is that confederations have usually

been formed by independent States, which entertained no real

intention of obeying the central Government, and which very

readily ceded the right of command to the federal executive, and

very prudently reserved the right of non-compliance to


But the number, still more than the mere character, of the

tribunals of the States rendered them unfit for the service of

the nation. When the Federal Constitution was formed there were

already thirteen courts of justice in the United States which

decided causes without appeal. That number is now increased to

twenty-four. To suppose that a State can subsist when its

fundamental laws may be subjected to four-and-twenty different

interpretations at the same time is to advance a proposition

alike contrary to reason and to experience.

The American legislators therefore agreed to create a

federal judiciary power to apply the laws of the Union, and to

determine certain questions affecting general interests, which

were carefully determined beforehand. The entire judicial power

of the Union was centred in one tribunal, which was denominated

the Supreme Court of the United States. But, to facilitate the

expedition of business, inferior courts were appended to it,

which were empowered to decide causes of small importance without

appeal, and with appeal causes of more magnitude. The members of

the Supreme Court are named neither by the people nor the

legislature, but by the President of the United States, acting

with the advice of the Senate. In order to render them

independent of the other authorities, their office was made

inalienable; and it was determined that their salary, when once

fixed, should not be altered by the legislature. *d It was easy

to proclaim the principle of a Federal judiciary, but

difficulties multiplied when the extent of its jurisdiction was

to be determined.

[Footnote d: The Union was divided into districts, in each of

which a resident Federal judge was appointed, and the court in

which he presided was termed a "District Court." Each of the

judges of the Supreme Court annually visits a certain portion of

the Republic, in order to try the most important causes upon the

spot; the court presided over by this magistrate is styled a

"Circuit Court." Lastly, all the most serious cases of litigation

are brought before the Supreme Court, which holds a solemn

session once a year, at which all the judges of the Circuit

Courts must attend. The jury was introduced into the Federal

Courts in the same manner, and in the same cases, as into the

courts of the States.

It will be observed that no analogy exists between the

Supreme Court of the United States and the French Cour de

Cassation, since the latter only hears appeals on questions of

law. The Supreme Court decides upon the evidence of the fact as

well as upon the law of the case, whereas the Cour de Cassation

does not pronounce a decision of its own, but refers the cause to

the arbitration of another tribunal. See the law of September

24, 1789, "Laws of the United States," by Story, vol. i. p. 53.]

Means Of Determining The Jurisdiction Of The Federal Courts

Difficulty of determining the jurisdiction of separate courts of

justice in confederations - The courts of the Union obtained the

right of fixing their own jurisdiction - In what respect this

rule attacks the portion of sovereignty reserved to the several

States - The sovereignty of these States restricted by the laws,

and the interpretation of the laws - Consequently, the danger of

the several States is more apparent than real.

As the Constitution of the United States recognized two

distinct powers in presence of each other, represented in a

judicial point of view by two distinct classes of courts of

justice, the utmost care which could be taken in defining their

separate jurisdictions would have been insufficient to prevent

frequent collisions between those tribunals. The question then

arose to whom the right of deciding the competency of each court

was to be referred.

In nations which constitute a single body politic, when a

question is debated between two courts relating to their mutual

jurisdiction, a third tribunal is generally within reach to

decide the difference; and this is effected without difficulty,

because in these nations the questions of judicial competency

have no connection with the privileges of the national supremacy.

But it was impossible to create an arbiter between a superior

court of the Union and the superior court of a separate State

which would not belong to one of these two classes. It was,

therefore, necessary to allow one of these courts to judge its

own cause, and to take or to retain cognizance of the point which

was contested. To grant this privilege to the different courts

of the States would have been to destroy the sovereignty of the

Union de facto after having established it de jure; for the

interpretation of the Constitution would soon have restored that

portion of independence to the States of which the terms of that

act deprived them. The object of the creation of a Federal

tribunal was to prevent the courts of the States from deciding

questions affecting the national interests in their own

department, and so to form a uniform body of jurisprudene for the

interpretation of the laws of the Union. This end would not have

been accomplished if the courts of the several States had been

competent to decide upon cases in their separate capacities from

which they were obliged to abstain as Federal tribunals. The

Supreme Court of the United States was therefore invested with

the right of determining all questions of jurisdiction. *e

[Footnote e: In order to diminish the number of these suits, it

was decided that in a great many Federal causes the courts of the

States should be empowered to decide conjointly with those of the

Union, the losing party having then a right of appeal to the

Supreme Court of the United States. The Supreme Court of

Virginia contested the right of the Supreme Court of the United

States to judge an appeal from its decisions, but unsuccessfully.

See "Kent's Commentaries," vol. i. p. 300, pp. 370 et seq.;

Story's "Commentaries," p. 646; and "The Organic Law of the

United States," vol. i. p. 35.]

This was a severe blow upon the independence of the States,

which was thus restricted not only by the laws, but by the

interpretation of them; by one limit which was known, and by

another which was dubious; by a rule which was certain, and a

rule which was arbitrary. It is true the Constitution had laid

down the precise limits of the Federal supremacy, but whenever

this supremacy is contested by one of the States, a Federal

tribunal decides the question. Nevertheless, the dangers with

which the independence of the States was threatened by this mode

of proceeding are less serious than they appeared to be. We

shall see hereafter that in America the real strength of the

country is vested in the provincial far more than in the Federal

Government. The Federal judges are conscious of the relative

weakness of the power in whose name they act, and they are more

inclined to abandon a right of jurisdiction in cases where it is

justly their own than to assert a privilege to which they have no

legal claim.

Different Cases Of Jurisdiction

The matter and the party are the first conditions of the Federal

jurisdiction - Suits in which ambassadors are engaged - Suits of

the Union - Of a separate State - By whom tried - Causes

resulting from the laws of the Union - Why judged by the Federal

tribunals - Causes relating to the performance of contracts tried

by the Federal courts - Consequence of this arrangement.

After having appointed the means of fixing the competency of

the Federal courts, the legislators of the Union defined the

cases which should come within their jurisdiction. It was

established, on the one hand, that certain parties must always be

brought before the Federal courts, without any regard to the

special nature of the cause; and, on the other, that certain

causes must always be brought before the same courts, without any

regard to the quality of the parties in the suit. These

distinctions were therefore admitted to be the basis of the

Federal jurisdiction.

Ambassadors are the representatives of nations in a state of

amity with the Union, and whatever concerns these personages

concerns in some degree the whole Union. When an ambassador is a

party in a suit, that suit affects the welfare of the nation, and

a Federal tribunal is naturally called upon to decide it.

The Union itself may be invoked in legal proceedings, and in

this case it would be alike contrary to the customs of all

nations and to common sense to appeal to a tribunal representing

any other sovereignty than its own; the Federal courts,

therefore, take cognizance of these affairs.

When two parties belonging to two different States are

engaged in a suit, the case cannot with propriety be brought

before a court of either State. The surest expedient is to

select a tribunal like that of the Union, which can excite the

suspicions of neither party, and which offers the most natural as

well as the most certain remedy.

When the two parties are not private individuals, but

States, an important political consideration is added to the same

motive of equity. The quality of the parties in this case gives

a national importance to all their disputes; and the most

trifling litigation of the States may be said to involve the

peace of the whole Union. *f

[Footnote f: The Constitution also says that the Federal courts

shall decide "controversies between a State and the citizens of

another State." And here a most important question of a

constitutional nature arose, which was, whether the jurisdiction

given by the Constitution in cases in which a State is a party

extended to suits brought against a State as well as by it, or

was exclusively confined to the latter. The question was most

elaborately considered in the case of Chisholm v. Georgia, and

was decided by the majority of the Supreme Court in the

affirmative. The decision created general alarm among the

States, and an amendment was proposed and ratified by which the

power was entirely taken away, so far as it regards suits brought

against a State. See Story's "Commentaries," p. 624, or in the

large edition Section 1677.]


The nature of the cause frequently prescribes the rule of

competency. Thus all the questions which concern maritime

commerce evidently fall under the cognizance of the Federal

tribunals. *g Almost all these questions are connected with the

interpretation of the law of nations, and in this respect they

essentially interest the Union in relation to foreign powers.

Moreover, as the sea is not included within the limits of any

peculiar jurisdiction, the national courts can only hear causes

which originate in maritime affairs.

[Footnote g: As for instance, all cases of piracy.]

The Constitution comprises under one head almost all the

cases which by their very nature come within the limits of the

Federal courts. The rule which it lays down is simple, but

pregnant with an entire system of ideas, and with a vast

multitude of facts. It declares that the judicial power of the

Supreme Court shall extend to all cases in law and equity arising

under the laws of the United States.

Two examples will put the intention of the legislator in the

clearest light:

The Constitution prohibits the States from making laws on

the value and circulation of money: If, notwithstanding this

prohibition, a State passes a law of this kind, with which the

interested parties refuse to comply because it is contrary to the

Constitution, the case must come before a Federal court, because

it arises under the laws of the United States. Again, if

difficulties arise in the levying of import duties which have

been voted by Congress, the Federal court must decide the case,

because it arises under the interpretation of a law of the United


This rule is in perfect accordance with the fundamental

principles of the Federal Constitution. The Union, as it was

established in 1789, possesses, it is true, a limited supremacy;

but it was intended that within its limits it should form one and

the same people. *h Within those limits the Union is sovereign.

When this point is established and admitted, the inference is

easy; for if it be acknowledged that the United States constitute

one and the same people within the bounds prescribed by their

Constitution, it is impossible to refuse them the rights which

belong to other nations. But it has been allowed, from the

origin of society, that every nation has the right of deciding by

its own courts those questions which concern the execution of its

own laws. To this it is answered that the Union is in so

singular a position that in relation to some matters it

constitutes a people, and that in relation to all the rest it is

a nonentity. But the inference to be drawn is, that in the laws

relating to these matters the Union possesses all the rights of

absolute sovereignty. The difficulty is to know what these

matters are; and when once it is resolved (and we have shown how

it was resolved, in speaking of the means of determining the

jurisdiction of the Federal courts) no further doubt can arise;

for as soon as it is established that a suit is Federal - that is

to say, that it belongs to the share of sovereignty reserved by

the Constitution of the Union - the natural consequence is that

it should come within the jurisdiction of a Federal court.

[Footnote h: This principle was in some measure restricted by the

introduction of the several States as independent powers into the

Senate, and by allowing them to vote separately in the House of

Representatives when the President is elected by that body. But

these are exceptions, and the contrary principle is the rule.]

Whenever the laws of the United States are attacked, or

whenever they are resorted to in self-defence, the Federal courts

must be appealed to. Thus the jurisdiction of the tribunals of

the Union extends and narrows its limits exactly in the same

ratio as the sovereignty of the Union augments or decreases. We

have shown that the principal aim of the legislators of 1789 was

to divide the sovereign authority into two parts. In the one

they placed the control of all the general interests of the

Union, in the other the control of the special interests of its

component States. Their chief solicitude was to arm the Federal

Government with sufficient power to enable it to resist, within

its sphere, the encroachments of the several States. As for these

communities, the principle of independence within certain limits

of their own was adopted in their behalf; and they were concealed

from the inspection, and protected from the control, of the

central Government. In speaking of the division of authority, I

observed that this latter principle had not always been held

sacred, since the States are prevented from passing certain laws

which apparently belong to their own particular sphere of

interest. When a State of the Union passes a law of this kind,

the citizens who are injured by its execution can appeal to the

Federal courts.

Thus the jurisdiction of the Federal courts extends not only

to all the cases which arise under the laws of the Union, but

also to those which arise under laws made by the several States

in opposition to the Constitution. The States are prohibited

from making ex post facto laws in criminal cases, and any person

condemned by virtue of a law of this kind can appeal to the

judicial power of the Union. The States are likewise prohibited

from making laws which may have a tendency to impair the

obligations of contracts. *i If a citizen thinks that an

obligation of this kind is impaired by a law passed in his State,

he may refuse to obey it, and may appeal to the Federal courts.


[Footnote i: It is perfectly clear, says Mr. Story

("Commentaries," p. 503, or in the large edition Section 1379),

that any law which enlarges, abridges, or in any manner changes

the intention of the parties, resulting from the stipulations in

the contract, necessarily impairs it. He gives in the same place

a very long and careful definition of what is understood by a

contract in Federal jurisprudence. A grant made by the State to

a private individual, and accepted by him, is a contract, and

cannot be revoked by any future law. A charter granted by the

State to a company is a contract, and equally binding to the

State as to the grantee. The clause of the Constitution here

referred to insures, therefore, the existence of a great part of

acquired rights, but not of all. Property may legally be held,

though it may not have passed into the possessor's hands by means

of a contract; and its possession is an acquired right, not

guaranteed by the Federal Constitution.]

[Footnote j: A remarkable instance of this is given by Mr. Story

(p. 508, or in the large edition Section 1388): "Dartmouth

College in New Hampshire had been founded by a charter granted to

certain individuals before the American Revolution, and its

trustees formed a corporation under this charter. The

legislature of New Hampshire had, without the consent of this

corporation, passed an act changing the organization of the

original provincial charter of the college, and transferring all

the rights, privileges, and franchises from the old charter

trustees to new trustees appointed under the act. The

constitutionality of the act was contested, and, after solemn

arguments, it was deliberately held by the Supreme Court that the

provincial charter was a contract within the meaning of the

Constitution (Art. I. Section 10), and that the emendatory act

was utterly void, as impairing the obligation of that charter.

The college was deemed, like other colleges of private

foundation, to be a private eleemosynary institution, endowed by

its charter with a capacity to take property unconnected with the

Government. Its funds were bestowed upon the faith of the

charter, and those funds consisted entirely of private donations.

It is true that the uses were in some sense public, that is, for

the general benefit, and not for the mere benefit of the

corporators; but this did not make the corporation a public

corporation. It was a private institution for general charity.

It was not distinguishable in principle from a private donation,

vested in private trustees, for a public charity, or for a

particular purpose of beneficence. And the State itself, if it

had bestowed funds upon a charity of the same nature, could not

resume those funds."]

This provision appears to me to be the most serious attack

upon the independence of the States. The rights awarded to the

Federal Government for purposes of obvious national importance

are definite and easily comprehensible; but those with which this

last clause invests it are not either clearly appreciable or

accurately defined. For there are vast numbers of political laws

which influence the existence of obligations of contracts, which

may thus furnish an easy pretext for the aggressions of the

central authority.


Chapter VIII:
The Federal Constitution - Part IV

Procedure Of The Federal Courts

Natural weakness of the judiciary power in confederations -

Legislators ought to strive as much as possible to bring private

individuals, and not States, before the Federal Courts - How the

Americans have succeeded in this - Direct prosecution of private

individuals in the Federal Courts - Indirect prosecution of the

States which violate the laws of the Union - The decrees of the

Supreme Court enervate but do not destroy the provincial laws.

I have shown what the privileges of the Federal courts are,

and it is no less important to point out the manner in which they

are exercised. The irresistible authority of justice in

countries in which the sovereignty in undivided is derived from

the fact that the tribunals of those countries represent the

entire nation at issue with the individual against whom their

decree is directed, and the idea of power is thus introduced to

corroborate the idea of right. But this is not always the case

in countries in which the sovereignty is divided; in them the

judicial power is more frequently opposed to a fraction of the

nation than to an isolated individual, and its moral authority

and physical strength are consequently diminished. In federal

States the power of the judge is naturally decreased, and that of

the justiciable parties is augmented. The aim of the legislator

in confederate States ought therefore to be to render the

position of the courts of justice analogous to that which they

occupy in countries where the sovereignty is undivided; in other

words, his efforts ought constantly to tend to maintain the

judicial power of the confederation as the representative of the

nation, and the justiciable party as the representative of an

individual interest.

Every government, whatever may be its constitution, requires

the means of constraining its subjects to discharge their

obligations, and of protecting its privileges from their

assaults. As far as the direct action of the Government on the

community is concerned, the Constitution of the United States

contrived, by a master-stroke of policy, that the federal courts,

acting in the name of the laws, should only take cognizance of

parties in an individual capacity. For, as it had been declared

that the Union consisted of one and the same people within the

limits laid down by the Constitution, the inference was that the

Government created by this Constitution, and acting within these

limits, was invested with all the privileges of a national

government, one of the principal of which is the right of

transmitting its injunctions directly to the private citizen.

When, for instance, the Union votes an impost, it does not apply

to the States for the levying of it, but to every American

citizen in proportion to his assessment. The Supreme Court,

which is empowered to enforce the execution of this law of the

Union, exerts its influence not upon a refractory State, but upon

the private taxpayer; and, like the judicial power of other

nations, it is opposed to the person of an individual. It is to

be observed that the Union chose its own antagonist; and as that

antagonist is feeble, he is naturally worsted.


But the difficulty increases when the proceedings are not

brought forward by but against the Union. The Constitution

recognizes the legislative power of the States; and a law so

enacted may impair the privileges of the Union, in which case a

collision in unavoidable between that body and the State which

has passed the law: and it only remains to select the least

dangerous remedy, which is very clearly deducible from the

general principles I have before established. *k

[Footnote k: See Chapter VI. on "Judicial Power in America."]

It may be conceived that, in the case under consideration,

the Union might have used the State before a Federal court, which

would have annulled the act, and by this means it would have

adopted a natural course of proceeding; but the judicial power

would have been placed in open hostility to the State, and it was

desirable to avoid this predicament as much as possible. The

Americans hold that it is nearly impossible that a new law should

not impair the interests of some private individual by its

provisions: these private interests are assumed by the American

legislators as the ground of attack against such measures as may

be prejudicial to the Union, and it is to these cases that the

protection of the Supreme Court is extended.

Suppose a State vends a certain portion of its territory to

a company, and that a year afterwards it passes a law by which

the territory is otherwise disposed of, and that clause of the

Constitution which prohibits laws impairing the obligation of

contracts violated. When the purchaser under the second act

appears to take possession, the possessor under the first act

brings his action before the tribunals of the Union, and causes

the title of the claimant to be pronounced null and void. *l

Thus, in point of fact, the judicial power of the Union is

contesting the claims of the sovereignty of a State; but it only

acts indirectly and upon a special application of detail: it

attacks the law in its consequences, not in its principle, and it

rather weakens than destroys it.

[Footnote l: See Kent's "Commentaries," vol. i. p. 387.]

The last hypothesis that remained was that each State formed

a corporation enjoying a separate existence and distinct civil

rights, and that it could therefore sue or be sued before a

tribunal. Thus a State could bring an action against another

State. In this instance the Union was not called upon to contest

a provincial law, but to try a suit in which a State was a party.

This suit was perfectly similar to any other cause, except that

the quality of the parties was different; and here the danger

pointed out at the beginning of this chapter exists with less

chance of being avoided. The inherent disadvantage of the very

essence of Federal constitutions is that they engender parties in

the bosom of the nation which present powerful obstacles to the

free course of justice.

High Rank Of The Supreme Court Amongst The Great Powers Of State

No nation ever constituted so great a judicial power as the

Americans - Extent of its prerogative - Its political influence -

The tranquillity and the very existence of the Union depend on

the discretion of the seven Federal Judges.

When we have successively examined in detail the

organization of the Supreme Court, and the entire prerogatives

which it exercises, we shall readily admit that a more imposing

judicial power was never constituted by any people. The Supreme

Court is placed at the head of all known tribunals, both by the

nature of its rights and the class of justiciable parties which

it controls.

In all the civilized countries of Europe the Government has

always shown the greatest repugnance to allow the cases to which

it was itself a party to be decided by the ordinary course of

justice. This repugnance naturally attains its utmost height in

an absolute Government; and, on the other hand, the privileges of

the courts of justice are extended with the increasing liberties

of the people: but no European nation has at present held that

all judicial controversies, without regard to their origin, can

be decided by the judges of common law.

In America this theory has been actually put in practice,

and the Supreme Court of the United States is the sole tribunal

of the nation. Its power extends to all the cases arising under

laws and treaties made by the executive and legislative

authorities, to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction,

and in general to all points which affect the law of nations. It

may even be affirmed that, although its constitution is

essentially judicial, its prerogatives are almost entirely

political. Its sole object is to enforce the execution of the

laws of the Union; and the Union only regulates the relations of

the Government with the citizens, and of the nation with Foreign

Powers: the relations of citizens amongst themselves are almost

exclusively regulated by the sovereignty of the States.

A second and still greater cause of the preponderance of

this court may be adduced. In the nations of Europe the courts

of justice are only called upon to try the controversies of

private individuals; but the Supreme Court of the United States

summons sovereign powers to its bar. When the clerk of the court

advances on the steps of the tribunal, and simply says, "The

State of New York versus the State of Ohio," it is impossible not

to feel that the Court which he addresses is no ordinary body;

and when it is recollected that one of these parties represents

one million, and the other two millions of men, one is struck by

the responsibility of the seven judges whose decision is about to

satisfy or to disappoint so large a number of their


The peace, the prosperity, and the very existence of the

Union are vested in the hands of the seven judges. Without their

active co-operation the Constitution would be a dead letter: the

Executive appeals to them for assistance against the

encroachments of the legislative powers; the Legislature demands

their protection from the designs of the Executive; they defend

the Union from the disobedience of the States, the States from

the exaggerated claims of the Union, the public interest against

the interests of private citizens, and the conservative spirit of

order against the fleeting innovations of democracy. Their power

is enormous, but it is clothed in the authority of public

opinion. They are the all- powerful guardians of a people which

respects law, but they would be impotent against popular neglect

or popular contempt. The force of public opinion is the most

intractable of agents, because its exact limits cannot be

defined; and it is not less dangerous to exceed than to remain

below the boundary prescribed.

The Federal judges must not only be good citizens, and men

possessed of that information and integrity which are

indispensable to magistrates, but they must be statesmen -

politicians, not unread in the signs of the times, not afraid to

brave the obstacles which can be subdued, nor slow to turn aside

such encroaching elements as may threaten the supremacy of the

Union and the obedience which is due to the laws.

The President, who exercises a limited power, may err

without causing great mischief in the State. Congress may decide

amiss without destroying the Union, because the electoral body in

which Congress originates may cause it to retract its decision by

changing its members. But if the Supreme Court is ever composed

of imprudent men or bad citizens, the Union may be plunged into

anarchy or civil war.

The real cause of this danger, however, does not lie in the

constitution of the tribunal, but in the very nature of Federal

Governments. We have observed that in confederate peoples it is

especially necessary to consolidate the judicial authority,

because in no other nations do those independent persons who are

able to cope with the social body exist in greater power or in a

better condition to resist the physical strength of the

Government. But the more a power requires to be strengthened,

the more extensive and independent it must be made; and the

dangers which its abuse may create are heightened by its

independence and its strength. The source of the evil is not,

therefore, in the constitution of the power, but in the

constitution of those States which render its existence


In What Respects The Federal Constitution
Is Superior To That Of The States

In what respects the Constitution of the Union can be compared to

that of the States - Superiority of the Constitution of the Union

attributable to the wisdom of the Federal legislators -

Legislature of the Union less dependent on the people than that

of the States - Executive power more independent in its sphere -

Judicial power less subjected to the inclinations of the majority

-Practical consequence of these facts - The dangers inherent in a

democratic government eluded by the Federal legislators, and

increased by the legislators of the States.

The Federal Constitution differs essentially from that of

the States in the ends which it is intended to accomplish, but in

the means by which these ends are promoted a greater analogy

exists between them. The objects of the Governments are

different, but their forms are the same; and in this special

point of view there is some advantage in comparing them together.

I am of opinion that the Federal Constitution is superior to

all the Constitutions of the States, for several reasons.

The present Constitution of the Union was formed at a later

period than those of the majority of the States, and it may have

derived some ameliorations from past experience. But we shall be

led to acknowledge that this is only a secondary cause of its

superiority, when we recollect that eleven new States *n have

been added to the American Confederation since the promulgation

of the Federal Constitution, and that these new republics have

always rather exaggerated than avoided the defects which existed

in the former Constitutions.

[Footnote n: [The number of States has now risen to 46 (1874),

besides the District of Columbia.]]

The chief cause of the superiority of the Federal

Constitution lay in the character of the legislators who composed

it. At the time when it was formed the dangers of the

Confederation were imminent, and its ruin seemed inevitable. In

this extremity the people chose the men who most deserved the

esteem, rather than those who had gained the affections, of the

country. I have already observed that distinguished as almost

all the legislators of the Union were for their intelligence,

they were still more so for their patriotism. They had all been

nurtured at a time when the spirit of liberty was braced by a

continual struggle against a powerful and predominant authority.

When the contest was terminated, whilst the excited passions of

the populace persisted in warring with dangers which had ceased

to threaten them, these men stopped short in their career; they

cast a calmer and more penetrating look upon the country which

was now their own; they perceived that the war of independence

was definitely ended, and that the only dangers which America had

to fear were those which might result from the abuse of the

freedom she had won. They had the courage to say what they

believed to be true, because they were animated by a warm and

sincere love of liberty; and they ventured to propose

restrictions, because they were resolutely opposed to

destruction. *o

[Footnote o: At this time Alexander Hamilton, who was one of the

principal founders of the Constitution, ventured to express the

following sentiments in "The Federalist," No. 71: -


"There are some who would be inclined to regard the servile

pliancy of the Executive to a prevailing current, either in the

community or in the Legislature, as its best recommendation. But

such men entertain very crude notions, as well of the purposes

for which government was instituted as of the true means by which

the public happiness may be promoted. The Republican principle

demands that the deliberative sense of the community should

govern the conduct of those to whom they entrust the management

of their affairs; but it does not require an unqualified

complaisance to every sudden breeze of passion, or to every

transient impulse which the people may receive from the arts of

men who flatter their prejudices to betray their interests. It

is a just observation, that the people commonly intend the public

good. This often applies to their very errors. But their good

sense would despise the adulator who should pretend that they

always reason right about the means of promoting it. They know

from experience that they sometimes err; and the wonder is that

they so seldom err as they do, beset, as they continually are, by

the wiles of parasites and sycophants; by the snares of the

ambitious, the avaricious, the desperate; by the artifices of men

who possess their confidence more than they deserve it, and of

those who seek to possess rather than to deserve it. When

occasions present themselves in which the interests of the people

are at variance with their inclinations, it is the duty of

persons whom they have appointed to be the guardians of those

interests to withstand the temporary delusion, in order to give

them time and opportunity for more cool and sedate reflection.

Instances might be cited in which a conduct of this kind has

saved the people from very fatal consequences of their own

mistakes, and has procured lasting monuments of their gratitude

to the men who had courage and magnanimity enough to serve them

at the peril of their displeasure."]

The greater number of the Constitutions of the States assign

one year for the duration of the House of Representatives, and

two years for that of the Senate; so that members of the

legislative body are constantly and narrowly tied down by the

slightest desires of their constituents. The legislators of the

Union were of opinion that this excessive dependence of the

Legislature tended to alter the nature of the main consequences

of the representative system, since it vested the source, not

only of authority, but of government, in the people. They

increased the length of the time for which the representatives

were returned, in order to give them freer scope for the exercise

of their own judgment.

The Federal Constitution, as well as the Constitutions of

the different States, divided the legislative body into two

branches. But in the States these two branches were composed of

the same elements, and elected in the same manner. The

consequence was that the passions and inclinations of the

populace were as rapidly and as energetically represented in one

chamber as in the other, and that laws were made with all the

characteristics of violence and precipitation. By the Federal

Constitution the two houses originate in like manner in the

choice of the people; but the conditions of eligibility and the

mode of election were changed, to the end that, if, as is the

case in certain nations, one branch of the Legislature represents

the same interests as the other, it may at least represent a

superior degree of intelligence and discretion. A mature age was

made one of the conditions of the senatorial dignity, and the

Upper House was chosen by an elected assembly of a limited number

of members.

To concentrate the whole social force in the hands of the

legislative body is the natural tendency of democracies; for as

this is the power which emanates the most directly from the

people, it is made to participate most fully in the

preponderating authority of the multitude, and it is naturally

led to monopolize every species of influence. This concentration

is at once prejudicial to a well-conducted administration, and

favorable to the despotism of the majority. The legislators of

the States frequently yielded to these democratic propensities,

which were invariably and courageously resisted by the founders

of the Union.

In the States the executive power is vested in the hands of

a magistrate, who is apparently placed upon a level with the

Legislature, but who is in reality nothing more than the blind

agent and the passive instrument of its decisions. He can derive

no influence from the duration of his functions, which terminate

with the revolving year, or from the exercise of prerogatives

which can scarcely be said to exist. The Legislature can condemn

him to inaction by intrusting the execution of the laws to

special committees of its own members, and can annul his

temporary dignity by depriving him of his salary. The Federal

Constitution vests all the privileges and all the responsibility

of the executive power in a single individual. The duration of

the Presidency is fixed at four years; the salary of the

individual who fills that office cannot be altered during the

term of his functions; he is protected by a body of official

dependents, and armed with a suspensive veto. In short, every

effort was made to confer a strong and independent position upon

the executive authority within the limits which had been

prescribed to it.

In the Constitutions of all the States the judicial power is

that which remains the most independent of the legislative

authority; nevertheless, in all the States the Legislature has

reserved to itself the right of regulating the emoluments of the

judges, a practice which necessarily subjects these magistrates

to its immediate influence. In some States the judges are only

temporarily appointed, which deprives them of a great portion of

their power and their freedom. In others the legislative and

judicial powers are entirely confounded; thus the Senate of New

York, for instance, constitutes in certain cases the Superior

Court of the State. The Federal Constitution, on the other hand,

carefully separates the judicial authority from all external

influences; and it provides for the independence of the judges,

by declaring that their salary shall not be altered, and that

their functions shall be inalienable.

The practical consequences of these different systems may

easily be perceived. An attentive observer will soon remark that

the business of the Union is incomparably better conducted than

that of any individual State. The conduct of the Federal

Government is more fair and more temperate than that of the

States, its designs are more fraught with wisdom, its projects

are more durable and more skilfully combined, its measures are

put into execution with more vigor and consistency.

I recapitulate the substance of this chapter in a few words:

The existence of democracies is threatened by two dangers, viz.,

the complete subjection of the legislative body to the caprices

of the electoral body, and the concentration of all the powers of

the Government in the legislative authority. The growth of these

evils has been encouraged by the policy of the legislators of the

States, but it has been resisted by the legislators of the Union

by every means which lay within their control.

Characteristics Which Distinguish The Federal Constitution Of The

United States Of America From All Other Federal Constitutions

American Union appears to resemble all other confederations -

Nevertheless its effects are different - Reason of this -

Distinctions between the Union and all other confederations - The

American Government not a federal but an imperfect national


The United States of America do not afford either the first

or the only instance of confederate States, several of which have

existed in modern Europe, without adverting to those of

antiquity. Switzerland, the Germanic Empire, and the Republic of

the United Provinces either have been or still are

confederations. In studying the constitutions of these different

countries, the politician is surprised to observe that the powers

with which they invested the Federal Government are nearly

identical with the privileges awarded by the American

Constitution to the Government of the United States. They confer

upon the central power the same rights of making peace and war,

of raising money and troops, and of providing for the general

exigencies and the common interests of the nation. Nevertheless

the Federal Government of these different peoples has always been

as remarkable for its weakness and inefficiency as that of the

Union is for its vigorous and enterprising spirit. Again, the

first American Confederation perished through the excessive

weakness of its Government; and this weak Government was,

notwithstanding, in possession of rights even more extensive than

those of the Federal Government of the present day. But the more

recent Constitution of the United States contains certain

principles which exercise a most important influence, although

they do not at once strike the observer.

This Constitution, which may at first sight be confounded

with the federal constitutions which preceded it, rests upon a

novel theory, which may be considered as a great invention in

modern political science. In all the confederations which had

been formed before the American Constitution of 1789 the allied

States agreed to obey the injunctions of a Federal Government;

but they reserved to themselves the right of ordaining and

enforcing the execution of the laws of the Union. The American

States which combined in 1789 agreed that the Federal Government

should not only dictate the laws, but that it should execute it

own enactments. In both cases the right is the same, but the

exercise of the right is different; and this alteration produced

the most momentous consequences.

In all the confederations which had been formed before the

American Union the Federal Government demanded its supplies at

the hands of the separate Governments; and if the measure it

prescribed was onerous to any one of those bodies means were

found to evade its claims: if the State was powerful, it had

recourse to arms; if it was weak, it connived at the resistance

which the law of the Union, its sovereign, met with, and resorted

to inaction under the plea of inability. Under these

circumstances one of the two alternatives has invariably

occurred; either the most preponderant of the allied peoples has

assumed the privileges of the Federal authority and ruled all the

States in its name, *p or the Federal Government has been

abandoned by its natural supporters, anarchy has arisen between

the confederates, and the Union has lost all powers of action. *q

[Footnote p: This was the case in Greece, when Philip undertook

to execute the decree of the Amphictyons; in the Low Countries,

where the province of Holland always gave the law; and, in our

own time, in the Germanic Confederation, in which Austria and

Prussia assume a great degree of influence over the whole

country, in the name of the Diet.]

[Footnote q: Such has always been the situation of the Swiss

Confederation, which would have perished ages ago but for the

mutual jealousies of its neighbors.]

In America the subjects of the Union are not States, but

private citizens: the national Government levies a tax, not upon

the State of Massachusetts, but upon each inhabitant of

Massachusetts. All former confederate governments presided over

communities, but that of the Union rules individuals; its force

is not borrowed, but self-derived; and it is served by its own

civil and military officers, by its own army, and its own courts

of justice. It cannot be doubted that the spirit of the nation,

the passions of the multitude, and the provincial prejudices of

each State tend singularly to diminish the authority of a Federal

authority thus constituted, and to facilitate the means of

resistance to its mandates; but the comparative weakness of a

restricted sovereignty is an evil inherent in the Federal system.

In America, each State has fewer opportunities of resistance and

fewer temptations to non-compliance; nor can such a design be put

in execution (if indeed it be entertained) without an open

violation of the laws of the Union, a direct interruption of the

ordinary course of justice, and a bold declaration of revolt; in

a word, without taking a decisive step which men hesitate to


In all former confederations the privileges of the Union

furnished more elements of discord than of power, since they

multiplied the claims of the nation without augmenting the means

of enforcing them: and in accordance with this fact it may be

remarked that the real weakness of federal governments has almost

always been in the exact ratio of their nominal power. Such is

not the case in the American Union, in which, as in ordinary

governments, the Federal Government has the means of enforcing

all it is empowered to demand.

The human understanding more easily invents new things than

new words, and we are thence constrained to employ a multitude of

improper and inadequate expressions. When several nations form a

permanent league and establish a supreme authority, which,

although it has not the same influence over the members of the

community as a national government, acts upon each of the

Confederate States in a body, this Government, which is so

essentially different from all others, is denominated a Federal

one. Another form of society is afterwards discovered, in which

several peoples are fused into one and the same nation with

regard to certain common interests, although they remain

distinct, or at least only confederate, with regard to all their

other concerns. In this case the central power acts directly

upon those whom it governs, whom it rules, and whom it judges, in

the same manner, as, but in a more limited circle than, a

national government. Here the term Federal Government is clearly

no longer applicable to a state of things which must be styled an

incomplete national Government: a form of government has been

found out which is neither exactly national nor federal; but no

further progress has been made, and the new word which will one

day designate this novel invention does not yet exist.

The absence of this new species of confederation has been

the cause which has brought all Unions to Civil War, to

subjection, or to a stagnant apathy, and the peoples which formed

these leagues have been either too dull to discern, or too

pusillanimous to apply this great remedy. The American

Confederation perished by the same defects.

But the Confederate States of America had been long

accustomed to form a portion of one empire before they had won

their independence; they had not contracted the habit of

governing themselves, and their national prejudices had not taken

deep root in their minds. Superior to the rest of the world in

political knowledge, and sharing that knowledge equally amongst

themselves, they were little agitated by the passions which

generally oppose the extension of federal authority in a nation,

and those passions were checked by the wisdom of the chief

citizens. The Americans applied the remedy with prudent firmness

as soon as they were conscious of the evil; they amended their

laws, and they saved their country.


Chapter VIII:
The Federal Constitution - Part V

Advantages Of The Federal System
In General, And Its Special Utility In America

Happiness and freedom of small nations - Power of great nations -

Great empires favorable to the growth of civilization - Strength

often the first element of national prosperity - Aim of the

Federal system to unite the twofold advantages resulting from a

small and from a large territory -Advantages derived by the

United States from this system - The law adapts itself to the

exigencies of the population; population does not conform to the

exigencies of the law - Activity, amelioration, love and

enjoyment of freedom in the American communities - Public spirit

of the Union the abstract of provincial patriotism - Principles

and things circulate freely over the territory of the United

States - The Union is happy and free as a little nation, and

respected as a great empire.

In small nations the scrutiny of society penetrates into

every part, and the spirit of improvement enters into the most

trifling details; as the ambition of the people is necessarily

checked by its weakness, all the efforts and resources of the

citizens are turned to the internal benefit of the community, and

are not likely to evaporate in the fleeting breath of glory. The

desires of every individual are limited, because extraordinary

faculties are rarely to be met with. The gifts of an equal

fortune render the various conditions of life uniform, and the

manners of the inhabitants are orderly and simple. Thus, if one

estimate the gradations of popular morality and enlightenment, we

shall generally find that in small nations there are more persons

in easy circumstances, a more numerous population, and a more

tranquil state of society, than in great empires.

When tyranny is established in the bosom of a small nation,

it is more galling than elsewhere, because, as it acts within a

narrow circle, every point of that circle is subject to its

direct influence. It supplies the place of those great designs

which it cannot entertain by a violent or an exasperating

interference in a multitude of minute details; and it leaves the

political world, to which it properly belongs, to meddle with the

arrangements of domestic life. Tastes as well as actions are to

be regulated at its pleasure; and the families of the citizens as

well as the affairs of the State are to be governed by its

decisions. This invasion of rights occurs, however, but seldom,

and freedom is in truth the natural state of small communities.

The temptations which the Government offers to ambition are too

weak, and the resources of private individuals are too slender,

for the sovereign power easily to fall within the grasp of a

single citizen; and should such an event have occurred, the

subjects of the State can without difficulty overthrow the tyrant

and his oppression by a

simultaneous effort.

Small nations have therefore ever been the cradle of

political liberty; and the fact that many of them have lost their

immunities by extending their dominion shows that the freedom

they enjoyed was more a consequence of the inferior size than of

the character of the people.

The history of the world affords no instance of a great

nation retaining the form of republican government for a long

series of years, *r and this has led to the conclusion that such

a state of things is impracticable. For my own part, I cannot

but censure the imprudence of attempting to limit the possible

and to judge the future on the part of a being who is hourly

deceived by the most palpable realities of life, and who is

constantly taken by surprise in the circumstances with which he

is most familiar. But it may be advanced with confidence that

the existence of a great republic will always be exposed to far

greater perils than that of a small one.

[Footnote r: I do not speak of a confederation of small

republics, but of a great consolidated Republic.]

All the passions which are most fatal to republican

institutions spread with an increasing territory, whilst the

virtues which maintain their dignity do not augment in the same

proportion. The ambition of the citizens increases with the

power of the State; the strength of parties with the importance

of the ends they have in view; but that devotion to the common

weal which is the surest check on destructive passions is not

stronger in a large than in a small republic. It might, indeed,

be proved without difficulty that it is less powerful and less

sincere. The arrogance of wealth and the dejection of

wretchedness, capital cities of unwonted extent, a lax morality,

a vulgar egotism, and a great confusion of interests, are the

dangers which almost invariably arise from the magnitude of

States. But several of these evils are scarcely prejudicial to a

monarchy, and some of them contribute to maintain its existence.

In monarchical States the strength of the government is its own;

it may use, but it does not depend on, the community, and the

authority of the prince is proportioned to the prosperity of the

nation; but the only security which a republican government

possesses against these evils lies in the support of the

majority. This support is not, however, proportionably greater

in a large republic than it is in a small one; and thus, whilst

the means of attack perpetually increase both in number and in

influence, the power of resistance remains the same, or it may

rather be said to diminish, since the propensities and interests

of the people are diversified by the increase of the population,

and the difficulty of forming a compact majority is constantly

augmented. It has been observed, moreover, that the intensity of

human passions is heightened, not only by the importance of the

end which they propose to attain, but by the multitude of

individuals who are animated by them at the same time. Every one

has had occasion to remark that his emotions in the midst of a

sympathizing crowd are far greater than those which he would have

felt in solitude. In great republics the impetus of political

passion is irresistible, not only because it aims at gigantic

purposes, but because it is felt and shared by millions of men at

the same time.

It may therefore be asserted as a general proposition that

nothing is more opposed to the well-being and the freedom of man

than vast empires. Nevertheless it is important to acknowledge

the peculiar advantages of great States. For the very reason

which renders the desire of power more intense in these

communities than amongst ordinary men, the love of glory is also

more prominent in the hearts of a class of citizens, who regard

the applause of a great people as a reward worthy of their

exertions, and an elevating encouragement to man. If we would

learn why it is that great nations contribute more powerfully to

the spread of human improvement than small States, we shall

discover an adequate cause in the rapid and energetic circulation

of ideas, and in those great cities which are the intellectual

centres where all the rays of human genius are reflected and

combined. To this it may be added that most important

discoveries demand a display of national power which the

Government of a small State is unable to make; in great nations

the Government entertains a greater number of general notions,

and is more completely disengaged from the routine of precedent

and the egotism of local prejudice; its designs are conceived

with more talent, and executed with more boldness.

In time of peace the well-being of small nations is

undoubtedly more general and more complete, but they are apt to

suffer more acutely from the calamities of war than those great

empires whose distant frontiers may for ages avert the presence

of the danger from the mass of the people, which is therefore

more frequently afflicted than ruined by the evil.

But in this matter, as in many others, the argument derived

from the necessity of the case predominates over all others. If

none but small nations existed, I do not doubt that mankind would

be more happy and more free; but the existence of great nations

is unavoidable.

This consideration introduces the element of physical

strength as a condition of national prosperity. It profits a

people but little to be affluent and free if it is perpetually

exposed to be pillaged or subjugated; the number of its

manufactures and the extent of its commerce are of small

advantage if another nation has the empire of the seas and gives

the law in all the markets of the globe. Small nations are often

impoverished, not because they are small, but because they are

weak; the great empires prosper less because they are great than

because they are strong. Physical strength is therefore one of

the first conditions of the happiness and even of the existence

of nations. Hence it occurs that, unless very peculiar

circumstances intervene, small nations are always united to large

empires in the end, either by force or by their own consent: yet

I am unacquainted with a more deplorable spectacle than that of a

people unable either to defend or to maintain its independence.

The Federal system was created with the intention of

combining the different advantages which result from the greater

and the lesser extent of nations; and a single glance over the

United States of America suffices to discover the advantages

which they have derived from its adoption.

In great centralized nations the legislator is obliged to

impart a character of uniformity to the laws which does not

always suit the diversity of customs and of districts; as he

takes no cognizance of special cases, he can only proceed upon

general principles; and the population is obliged to conform to

the exigencies of the legislation, since the legislation cannot

adapt itself to the exigencies and the customs of the population,

which is the cause of endless trouble and misery. This

disadvantage does not exist in confederations. Congress

regulates the principal measures of the national Government, and

all the details of the administration are reserved to the

provincial legislatures. It is impossible to imagine how much

this division of sovereignty contributes to the well-being of

each of the States which compose the Union. In these small

communities, which are never agitated by the desire of

aggrandizement or the cares of self-defence, all public authority

and private energy is employed in internal amelioration. The

central government of each State, which is in immediate

juxtaposition to the citizens, is daily apprised of the wants

which arise in society; and new projects are proposed every year,

which are discussed either at town meetings or by the legislature

of the State, and which are transmitted by the press to stimulate

the zeal and to excite the interest of the citizens. This spirit

of amelioration is constantly alive in the American republics,

without compromising their tranquillity; the ambition of power

yields to the less refined and less dangerous love of comfort.

It is generally believed in America that the existence and the

permanence of the republican form of government in the New World

depend upon the existence and the permanence of the Federal

system; and it is not unusual to attribute a large share of the

misfortunes which have befallen the new States of South America

to the injudicious erection of great republics, instead of a

divided and confederate sovereignty.

It is incontestably true that the love and the habits of

republican government in the United States were engendered in the

townships and in the provincial assemblies. In a small State,

like that of Connecticut for instance, where cutting a canal or

laying down a road is a momentous political question, where the

State has no army to pay and no wars to carry on, and where much

wealth and much honor cannot be bestowed upon the chief citizens,

no form of government can be more natural or more appropriate

than that of a republic. But it is this same republican spirit,

it is these manners and customs of a free people, which are

engendered and nurtured in the different States, to be afterwards

applied to the country at large. The public spirit of the Union

is, so to speak, nothing more than an abstract of the patriotic

zeal of the provinces. Every citizen of the United States

transfuses his attachment to his little republic in the common

store of American patriotism. In defending the Union he defends

the increasing prosperity of his own district, the right of

conducting its affairs, and the hope of causing measures of

improvement to be adopted which may be favorable to his own

interest; and these are motives which are wont to stir men more

readily than the general interests of the country and the glory

of the nation.

On the other hand, if the temper and the manners of the

inhabitants especially fitted them to promote the welfare of a

great republic, the Federal system smoothed the obstacles which

they might have encountered. The confederation of all the

American States presents none of the ordinary disadvantages

resulting from great agglomerations of men. The Union is a great

republic in extent, but the paucity of objects for which its

Government provides assimilates it to a small State. Its acts

are important, but they are rare. As the sovereignty of th

Union is limited and incomplete, its exercise is not incompatible

with liberty; for it does not excite those insatiable desires of

fame and power which have proved so fatal to great republics. As

there is no common centre to the country, vast capital cities,

colossal wealth, abject poverty, and sudden revolutions are alike

unknown; and political passion, instead of spreading over the

land like a torrent of desolation, spends its strength against

the interests and the individual passions of every State.

Nevertheless, all commodities and ideas circulate throughout

the Union as freely as in a country inhabited by one people.

Nothing checks the spirit of enterprise. Government avails

itself of the assistance of all who have talents or knowledge to

serve it. Within the frontiers of the Union the profoundest

peace prevails, as within the heart of some great empire; abroad,

it ranks with the most powerful nations of the earth; two

thousand miles of coast are open to the commerce of the world;

and as it possesses the keys of the globe, its flags is respected

in the most remote seas. The Union is as happy and as free as a

small people, and as glorious and as strong as a great nation.

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

Every Federal system contains defects which baffle the efforts of

the legislator - The Federal system is complex - It demands a

daily exercise of discretion on the part of the citizens -

Practical knowledge of government common amongst the Americans -

Relative weakness of the Government of the Union, another defect

inherent in the Federal system - The Americans have diminished

without remedying it - The sovereignty of the separate States

apparently weaker, but really stronger, than that of the Union -

Why? -Natural causes of union must exist between confederate

peoples besides the laws - What these causes are amongst the

Anglo-Americans - Maine and Georgia, separated by a distance of a

thousand miles, more naturally united than Normandy and Brittany

- War, the main peril of confederations - This proved even by the

example of the United States - The Union has no great wars to

fear - Why? - Dangers to which Europeans would be exposed if they

adopted the Federal system of the Americans.

When a legislator succeeds, after persevering efforts, in

exercising an indirect influence upon the destiny of nations, his

genius is lauded by mankind, whilst, in point of fact, the

geographical position of the country which he is unable to

change, a social condition which arose without his co-operation,

manners and opinions which he cannot trace to their source, and

an origin with which he is unacquainted, exercise so irresistible

an influence over the courses of society that he is himself borne

away by the current, after an ineffectual resistance. Like the

navigator, he may direct the vessel which bears him along, but he

can neither change its structure, nor raise the winds, nor lull

the waters which swell beneath him.

I have shown the advantages which the Americans derive from

their federal system; it remains for me to point out the

circumstances which rendered that system practicable, as its

benefits are not to be enjoyed by all nations. The incidental

defects of the Federal system which originate in the laws may be

corrected by the skill of the legislator, but there are further

evils inherent in the system which cannot be counteracted by the

peoples which adopt it. These nations must therefore find the

strength necessary to support the natural imperfections of their


The most prominent evil of all Federal systems is the very

complex nature of the means they employ. Two sovereignties are

necessarily in presence of each other. The legislator may

simplify and equalize the action of these two sovereignties, by

limiting each of them to a sphere of authority accurately

defined; but he cannot combine them into one, or prevent them

from coming into collision at certain points. The Federal system

therefore rests upon a theory which is necessarily complicated,

and which demands the daily exercise of a considerable share of

discretion on the part of those it governs.

A proposition must be plain to be adopted by the

understanding of a people. A false notion which is clear and

precise will always meet with a greater number of adherents in

the world than a true principle which is obscure or involved.

Hence it arises that parties, which are like small communities in

the heart of the nation, invariably adopt some principle or some

name as a symbol, which very inadequately represents the end they

have in view and the means which are at their disposal, but

without which they could neither act nor subsist. The

governments which are founded upon a single principle or a single

feeling which is easily defined are perhaps not the best, but

they are unquestionably the strongest and the most durable in the


In examining the Constitution of the United States, which is

the most perfect federal constitution that ever existed, one is

startled, on the other hand, at the variety of information and

the excellence of discretion which it presupposes in the people

whom it is meant to govern. The government of the Union depends

entirely upon legal fictions; the Union is an ideal nation which

only exists in the mind, and whose limits and extent can only be

discerned by the understanding.

When once the general theory is comprehended, numberless

difficulties remain to be solved in its application; for the

sovereignty of the Union is so involved in that of the States

that it is impossible to distinguish its boundaries at the first

glance. The whole structure of the Government is artificial and

conventional; and it would be ill adapted to a people which has

not been long accustomed to conduct its own affairs, or to one in

which the science of politics has not descended to the humblest

classes of society. I have never been more struck by the good

sense and the practical judgment of the Americans than in the

ingenious devices by which they elude the numberless difficulties

resulting from their Federal Constitution. I scarcely ever met

with a plain American citizen who could not distinguish, with

surprising facility, the obligations created by the laws of

Congress from those created by the laws of his own State; and

who, after having discriminated between the matters which come

under the cognizance of the Union and those which the local

legislature is competent to regulate, could not point out the

exact limit of the several jurisdictions of the Federal courts

and the tribunals of the State.

The Constitution of the United States is like those

exquisite productions of human industry which ensure wealth and

renown to their inventors, but which are profitless in any other

hands. This truth is exemplified by the condition of Mexico at

the present time. The Mexicans were desirous of establishing a

federal system, and they took the Federal Constitution of their

neighbors, the Anglo-Americans, as their model, and copied it

with considerable accuracy. *s But although they had borrowed the

letter of the law, they were unable to create or to introduce the

spirit and the sense which give it life. They were involved in

ceaseless embarrassments between the mechanism of their double

government; the sovereignty of the States and that of the Union

perpetually exceeded their respective privileges, and entered

into collision; and to the present day Mexico is alternately the

victim of anarchy and the slave of military despotism.

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

The second and the most fatal of all the defects I have

alluded to, and that which I believe to be inherent in the

federal system, is the relative weakness of the government of the

Union. The principle upon which all confederations rest is that

of a divided sovereignty. The legislator may render this

partition less perceptible, he may even conceal it for a time

from the public eye, but he cannot prevent it from existing, and

a divided sovereignty must always be less powerful than an entire

supremacy. The reader has seen in the remarks I have made on the

Constitution of the United States that the Americans have

displayed singular ingenuity in combining the restriction of the

power of the Union within the narrow limits of a federal

government with the semblance and, to a certain extent, with the

force of a national government. By this means the legislators of

the Union have succeeded in diminishing, though not in

counteracting the natural danger of confederations.

It has been remarked that the American Government does not

apply itself to the States, but that it immediately transmits its

injunctions to the citizens, and compels them as isolated

individuals to comply with its demands. But if the Federal law

were to clash with the interests and the prejudices of a State,

it might be feared that all the citizens of that State would

conceive themselves to be interested in the cause of a single

individual who should refuse to obey. If all the citizens of the

State were aggrieved at the same time and in the same manner by

the authority of the Union, the Federal Government would vainly

attempt to subdue them individually; they would instinctively

unite in a common defence, and they would derive a ready-prepared

organization from the share of sovereignty which the institution

of their State allows them to enjoy. Fiction would give way to

reality, and an organized portion of the territory might then

contest the central authority. *t The same observation holds good

with regard to the Federal jurisdiction. If the courts of the

Union violated an important law of a State in a private case, the

real, if not the apparent, contest would arise between the

aggrieved State represented by a citizen and the Union

represented by its courts of justice. *u

[Footnote t: [This is precisely what occurred in 1862, and the

following paragraph describes correctly the feelings and notions

of the South. General Lee held that his primary allegiance was

due, not to the Union, but to Virginia.]]

[Footnote u: For instance, the Union possesses by the

Constitution the right of selling unoccupied lands for its own

profit. Supposing that the State of Ohio should claim the same

right in behalf of certain territories lying within its

boundaries, upon the plea that the Constitution refers to those

lands alone which do not belong to the jurisdiction of any

particular State, and consequently should choose to dispose of

them itself, the litigation would be carried on in the names of

the purchasers from the State of Ohio and the purchasers from the

Union, and not in the names of Ohio and the Union. But what would

become of this legal fiction if the Federal purchaser was

confirmed in his right by the courts of the Union, whilst the

other competitor was ordered to retain possession by the

tribunals of the State of Ohio?]

He would have but a partial knowledge of the world who

should imagine that it is possible, by the aid of legal fictions,

to prevent men from finding out and employing those means of

gratifying their passions which have been left open to them; and

it may be doubted whether the American legislators, when they

rendered a collision between the two sovereigns less probable,

destroyed the cause of such a misfortune. But it may even be

affirmed that they were unable to ensure the preponderance of the

Federal element in a case of this kind. The Union is possessed

of money and of troops, but the affections and the prejudices of

the people are in the bosom of the States. The sovereignty of the

Union is an abstract being, which is connected with but few

external objects; the sovereignty of the States is hourly

perceptible, easily understood, constantly active; and if the

former is of recent creation, the latter is coeval with the

people itself. The sovereignty of the Union is factitious, that

of the States is natural, and derives its existence from its own

simple influence, like the authority of a parent. The supreme

power of the nation only affects a few of the chief interests of

society; it represents an immense but remote country, and claims

a feeling of patriotism which is vague and ill defined; but the

authority of the States controls every individual citizen at

every hour and in all circumstances; it protects his property,

his freedom, and his life; and when we recollect the traditions,

the customs, the prejudices of local and familiar attachment with

which it is connected, we cannot doubt of the superiority of a

power which is interwoven with every circumstance that renders

the love of one's native country instinctive in the human heart.

Since legislators are unable to obviate such dangerous

collisions as occur between the two sovereignties which coexist

in the federal system, their first object must be, not only to

dissuade the confederate States from warfare, but to encourage

such institutions as may promote the maintenance of peace. Hence

it results that the Federal compact cannot be lasting unless

there exists in the communities which are leagued together a

certain number of inducements to union which render their common

dependence agreeable, and the task of the Government light, and

that system cannot succeed without the presence of favorable

circumstances added to the influence of good laws. All the

peoples which have ever formed a confederation have been held

together by a certain number of common interests, which served as

the intellectual ties of association.

But the sentiments and the principles of man must be taken

into consideration as well as his immediate interests. A certain

uniformity of civilization is not less necessary to the

durability of a confederation than a uniformity of interests in

the States which compose it. In Switzerland the difference which

exists between the Canton of Uri and the Canton of Vaud is equal

to that between the fifteenth and the nineteenth centuries; and,

properly speaking, Switzerland has never possessed a federal

government. The union between these two cantons only subsists

upon the map, and their discrepancies would soon be perceived if

an attempt were made by a central authority to prescribe the same

laws to the whole territory.

One of the circumstances which most powerfully contribute to

support the Federal Government in America is that the States have

not only similar interests, a common origin, and a common tongue,

but that they are also arrived at the same stage of civilization;

which almost always renders a union feasible. I do not know of

any European nation, how small soever it may be, which does not

present less uniformity in its different provinces than the

American people, which occupies a territory as extensive as

one-half of Europe. The distance from the State of Maine to that

of Georgia is reckoned at about one thousand miles; but the

difference between the civilization of Maine and that of Georgia

is slighter than the difference between the habits of Normandy

and those of Brittany. Maine and Georgia, which are placed at

the opposite extremities of a great empire, are consequently in

the natural possession of more real inducements to form a

confederation than Normandy and Brittany, which are only

separated by a bridge.

The geographical position of the country contributed to

increase the facilities which the American legislators derived

from the manners and customs of the inhabitants; and it is to

this circumstance that the adoption and the maintenance of the

Federal system are mainly attributable.

The most important occurrence which can mark the annals of a

people is the breaking out of a war. In war a people struggles

with the energy of a single man against foreign nations in the

defence of its very existence. The skill of a government, the

good sense of the community, and the natural fondness which men

entertain for their country, may suffice to maintain peace in the

interior of a district, and to favor its internal prosperity; but

a nation can only carry on a great war at the cost of more

numerous and more painful sacrifices; and to suppose that a great

number of men will of their own accord comply with these

exigencies of the State is to betray an ignorance of mankind.

All the peoples which have been obliged to sustain a long and

serious warfare have consequently been led to augment the power

of their government. Those which have not succeeded in this

attempt have been subjugated. A long war almost always places

nations in the wretched alternative of being abandoned to ruin by

defeat or to despotism by success. War therefore renders the

symptoms of the weakness of a government most palpable and most

alarming; and I have shown that the inherent defeat of federal

governments is that of being weak.

The Federal system is not only deficient in every kind of

centralized administration, but the central government itself is

imperfectly organized, which is invariably an influential cause

of inferiority when the nation is opposed to other countries

which are themselves governed by a single authority. In the

Federal Constitution of the United States, by which the central

government possesses more real force, this evil is still

extremely sensible. An example will illustrate the case to the


The Constitution confers upon Congress the right of calling

forth militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress

insurrections, and repel invasions; and another article declares

that the President of the United States is the commander-in-chief

of the militia. In the war of 1812 the President ordered the

militia of the Northern States to march to the frontiers; but

Connecticut and Massachusetts, whose interests were impaired by

the war, refused to obey the command. They argued that the

Constitution authorizes the Federal Government to call forth the

militia in case of insurrection or invasion, but that in the

present instance there was neither invasion nor insurrection.

They added, that the same Constitution which conferred upon the

Union the right of calling forth the militia reserved to the

States that of naming the officers; and that consequently (as

they understood the clause) no officer of the Union had any right

to command the militia, even during war, except the President in

person; and in this case they were ordered to join an army

commanded by another individual. These absurd and pernicious

doctrines received the sanction not only of the governors and the

legislative bodies, but also of the courts of justice in both

States; and the Federal Government was constrained to raise

elsewhere the troops which it required. *v

[Footnote v: Kent's "Commentaries," vol. i. p. 244. I have

selected an example which relates to a time posterior to the

promulgation of the present Constitution. If I had gone back to

the days of the Confederation, I might have given still more

striking instances. The whole nation was at that time in a state

of enthusiastic excitement; the Revolution was represented by a

man who was the idol of the people; but at that very period

Congress had, to say the truth, no resources at all at its

disposal. Troops and supplies were perpetually wanting. The

best-devised projects failed in the execution, and the Union,

which was constantly on the verge of destruction, was saved by

the weakness of its enemies far more than by its own strength.

[All doubt as to the powers of the Federal Executive was,

however, removed by its efforts in the Civil War, and those

powers were largely extended.]]

The only safeguard which the American Union, with all the

relative perfection of its laws, possesses against the

dissolution which would be produced by a great war, lies in its

probable exemption from that calamity. Placed in the centre of an

immense continent, which offers a boundless field for human

industry, the Union is almost as much insulated from the world as

if its frontiers were girt by the ocean. Canada contains only a

million of inhabitants, and its population is divided into two

inimical nations. The rigor of the climate limits the extension

of its territory, and shuts up its ports during the six months of

winter. From Canada to the Gulf of Mexico a few savage tribes

are to be met with, which retire, perishing in their retreat,

before six thousand soldiers. To the South, the Union has a

point of contact with the empire of Mexico; and it is thence that

serious hostilities may one day be expected to arise. But for a

long while to come the uncivilized state of the Mexican

community, the depravity of its morals, and its extreme poverty,

will prevent that country from ranking high amongst nations. *w

As for the Powers of Europe, they are too distant to be


[Footnote w: [War broke out between the United States and Mexico

in 1846, and ended in the conquest of an immense territory,

including California.]]

The great advantage of the United States does not, then,

consist in a Federal Constitution which allows them to carry on

great wars, but in a geographical position which renders such

enterprises extremely improbable.

No one can be more inclined than I am myself to appreciate

the advantages of the federal system, which I hold to be one of

the combinations most favorable to the prosperity and freedom of

man. I envy the lot of those nations which have been enabled to

adopt it; but I cannot believe that any confederate peoples could

maintain a long or an equal contest with a nation of similar

strength in which the government should be centralized. A people

which should divide its sovereignty into fractional powers, in

the presence of the great military monarchies of Europe, would,

in my opinion, by that very act, abdicate its power, and perhaps

its existence and its name. But such is the admirable position

of the New World that man has no other enemy than himself; and

that, in order to be happy and to be free, it suffices to seek

the gifts of prosperity and the knowledge of freedom.


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

I have hitherto examined the institutions of the United

States; I have passed their legislation in review, and I have

depicted the present characteristics of political society in that

country. But a sovereign power exists above these institutions

and beyond these characteristic features which may destroy or

modify them at its pleasure - I mean that of the people. It

remains to be shown in what manner this power, which regulates

the laws, acts: its propensities and its passions remain to be

pointed out, as well as the secret springs which retard,

accelerate, or direct its irresistible course; and the effects of

its unbounded authority, with the destiny which is probably

reserved for it.

In America the people appoints the legislative and the

executive power, and furnishes the jurors who punish all offences

against the laws. The American institutions are democratic, not

only in their principle but in all their consequences; and the

people elects its representatives directly, and for the most part

annually, in order to ensure their dependence. The people is

therefore the real directing power; and although the form of

government is representative, it is evident that the opinions,

the prejudices, the interests, and even the passions of the

community are hindered by no durable obstacles from exercising a

perpetual influence on society. In the United States the

majority governs in the name of the people, as is the case in all

the countries in which the people is supreme. The majority is

principally composed of peaceful citizens who, either by

inclination or by interest, are sincerely desirous of the welfare

of their country. But they are surrounded by the incessant

agitation of parties, which attempt to gain their co-operation

and to avail themselves of their support.

Chapter X:
Parties In The United States

Chapter Summary

Great distinction to be made between parties - Parties which are

to each other as rival nations - Parties properly so called -

Difference between great and small parties - Epochs which produce

them - Their characteristics - America has had great parties -

They are extinct - Federalists - Republicans - Defeat of the

Federalists - Difficulty of creating parties in the United States

-What is done with this intention - Aristocratic or democratic

character to be met with in all parties - Struggle of General

Jackson against the Bank.

Parties In The United States

A great distinction must be made between parties. Some

countries are so large that the different populations which

inhabit them have contradictory interests, although they are the

subjects of the same Government, and they may thence be in a

perpetual state of opposition. In this case the different

fractions of the people may more properly be considered as

distinct nations than as mere parties; and if a civil war breaks

out, the struggle is carried on by rival peoples rather than by

factions in the State.

But when the citizens entertain different opinions upon

subjects which affect the whole country alike, such, for

instance, as the principles upon which the government is to be

conducted, then distinctions arise which may correctly be styled

parties. Parties are a necessary evil in free governments; but

they have not at all times the same character and the same



At certain periods a nation may be oppressed by such

insupportable evils as to conceive the design of effecting a

total change in its political constitution; at other times the

mischief lies still deeper, and the existence of society itself


endangered. Such are the times of great revolutions and of great

parties. But between these epochs of misery and of confusion

there are periods during which human society seems to rest, and

mankind to make a pause. This pause is, indeed, only apparent,

for time does not stop its course for nations any more than for

men; they are all advancing towards a goal with which they are

unacquainted; and we only imagine them to be stationary when

their progress escapes our observation, as men who are going at a

foot-pace seem to be standing still to those who run.

But however this may be, there are certain epochs at which

the changes that take place in the social and political

constitution of nations are so slow and so insensible that men

imagine their present condition to be a final state; and the

human mind, believing itself to be firmly based upon certain

foundations, does not extend its researches beyond the horizon

which it descries. These are the times of small parties and of


The political parties which I style great are those which

cling to principles more than to their consequences; to general,

and not to especial cases; to ideas, and not to men. These

parties are usually distinguished by a nobler character, by more

generous passions, more genuine convictions, and a more bold and

open conduct than the others. In them private interest, which

always plays the chief part in political passions, is more

studiously veiled under the pretext of the public good; and it

may even be sometimes concealed from the eyes of the very persons

whom it excites and impels.

Minor parties are, on the other hand, generally deficient in

political faith. As they are not sustained or dignified by a

lofty purpose, they ostensibly display the egotism of their

character in their actions. They glow with a factitious zeal;

their language is vehement, but their conduct is timid and

irresolute. The means they employ are as wretched as the end at

which they aim. Hence it arises that when a calm state of things

succeeds a violent revolution, the leaders of society seem

suddenly to disappear, and the powers of the human mind to lie

concealed. Society is convulsed by great parties, by minor ones

it is agitated; it is torn by the former, by the latter it is

degraded; and if these sometimes save it by a salutary

perturbation, those invariably disturb it to no good end.

America has already lost the great parties which once

divided the nation; and if her happiness is considerably

increased, her morality has suffered by their extinction. When

the War of Independence was terminated, and the foundations of

the new Government were to be laid down, the nation was divided

between two opinions - two opinions which are as old as the

world, and which are perpetually to be met with under all the

forms and all the names which have ever obtained in free

communities - the one tending to limit, the other to extend

indefinitely, the power of the people. The conflict of these two

opinions never assumed that degree of violence in America which

it has frequently displayed elsewhere. Both parties of the

Americans were, in fact, agreed upon the most essential points;

and neither of them had to destroy a traditionary constitution,

or to overthrow the structure of society, in order to ensure its

own triumph. In neither of them, consequently, were a great

number of private interests affected by success or by defeat; but

moral principles of a high order, such as the love of equality

and of independence, were concerned in the struggle, and they

sufficed to kindle violent passions.

The party which desired to limit the power of the people

endeavored to apply its doctrines more especially to the

Constitution of the Union, whence it derived its name of Federal.

The other party, which affected to be more exclusively attached

to the cause of liberty, took that of Republican. America is a

land of democracy, and the Federalists were always in a minority;

but they reckoned on their side almost all the great men who had

been called forth by the War of Independence, and their moral

influence was very considerable. Their cause was, moreover,

favored by circumstances. The ruin of the Confederation had

impressed the people with a dread of anarchy, and the Federalists

did not fail to profit by this transient disposition of the

multitude. For ten or twelve years they were at the head of

affairs, and they were able to apply some, though not all, of

their principles; for the hostile current was becoming from day

to day too violent to be checked or stemmed. In 1801 the

Republicans got possession of the Government; Thomas Jefferson

was named President; and he increased the influence of their

party by the weight of his celebrity, the greatness of his

talents, and the immense extent of his popularity.

The means by which the Federalists had maintained their

position were artificial, and their resources were temporary; it

was by the virtues or the talents of their leaders that they had

risen to power. When the Republicans attained to that lofty

station, their opponents were overwhelmed by utter defeat. An

immense majority declared itself against the retiring party, and

the Federalists found themselves in so small a minority that they

at once despaired of their future success. From that moment the

Republican or Democratic party *a has proceeded from conquest to

conquest, until it has acquired absolute supremacy in the

country. The Federalists, perceiving that they were vanquished

without resource, and isolated in the midst of the nation, fell

into two divisions, of which one joined the victorious

Republicans, and the other abandoned its rallying-point and its

name. Many years have already elapsed since they ceased to exist

as a party.

[Footnote a: [It is scarcely necessary to remark that in more

recent times the signification of these terms has changed. The

Republicans are the representatives of the old Federalists, and

the Democrats of the old Republicans. - Trans. Note (1861).]] The

accession of the Federalists to power was, in my opinion, one of

the most fortunate incidents which accompanied the formation of

the great American Union; they resisted the inevitable

propensities of their age and of the country. But whether their

theories were good or bad, they had the effect of being

inapplicable, as a system, to the society which they professed to

govern, and that which occurred under the auspices of Jefferson

must therefore have taken place sooner or later. But their

Government gave the new republic time to acquire a certain

stability, and afterwards to support the rapid growth of the very

doctrines which they had combated. A considerable number of

their principles were in point of fact embodied in the political

creed of their opponents; and the Federal Constitution which

subsists at the present day is a lasting monument of their

patriotism and their wisdom.

Great political parties are not, then, to be met with in the

United States at the present time. Parties, indeed, may be found

which threaten the future tranquillity of the Union; but there

are none which seem to contest the present form of Government or

the present course of society. The parties by which the Union is

menaced do not rest upon abstract principles, but upon temporal

interests. These interests, disseminated in the provinces of so

vast an empire, may be said to constitute rival nations rather

than parties. Thus, upon a recent occasion, the North contended

for the system of commercial prohibition, and the South took up

arms in favor of free trade, simply because the North is a

manufacturing and the South an agricultural district; and that

the restrictive system which was profitable to the one was

prejudicial to the other. *b

[Footnote b: [The divisions of North and South have since

acquired a far greater degree of intensity, and the South, though

conquered, still presents a formidable spirit of opposition to

Northern government. - Translator's Note, 1875.]]

In the absence of great parties, the United States abound

with lesser controversies; and public opinion is divided into a

thousand minute shades of difference upon questions of very

little moment. The pains which are taken to create parties are

inconceivable, and at the present day it is no easy task. In the

United States there is no religious animosity, because all

religion is respected, and no sect is predominant; there is no

jealousy of rank, because the people is everything, and none can

contest its authority; lastly, there is no public indigence to

supply the means of agitation, because the physical position of

the country opens so wide a field to industry that man is able to

accomplish the most surprising undertakings with his own native

resources. Nevertheless, ambitious men are interbsted in the

creation of parties, since it is difficult to eject a person from

authority upon the mere ground that his place is coveted by

others. The skill of the actors in the political world lies

therefore in the art of creating parties. A political aspirant in

the United States begins by discriminating his own interest, and

by calculating upon those interests which may be collected around

and amalgamated with it; he then contrives to discover some

doctrine or some principle which may suit the purposes of this

new association, and which he adopts in order to bring forward

his party and to secure his popularity; just as the imprimatur of

a King was in former days incorporated with the volume which it

authorized, but to which it nowise belonged. When these

preliminaries are terminated, the new party is ushered into the

political world.

All the domestic controversies of the Americans at first

appear to a stranger to be so incomprehensible and so puerile

that he is at a loss whether to pity a people which takes such

arrant trifles in good earnest, or to envy the happiness which

enables it to discuss them. But when he comes to study the

secret propensities which govern the factions of America, he

easily perceives that the greater part of them are more or less

connected with one or the other of those two divisions which have

always existed in free communities. The deeper we penetrate into

the working of these parties, the more do we perceive that the

object of the one is to limit, and that of the other to extend,

the popular authority. I do not assert that the ostensible end,

or even that the secret aim, of American parties is to promote

the rule of aristocracy or democracy in the country; but I affirm

that aristocratic or democratic passions may easily be detected

at the bottom of all parties, and that, although they escape a

superficial observation, they are the main point and the very

soul of every faction in the United States.

To quote a recent example. When the President attacked the

Bank, the country was excited and parties were formed; the well-

informed classes rallied round the Bank, the common people round

the President. But it must not be imagined that the people had

formed a rational opinion upon a question which offers so many

difficulties to the most experienced statesmen. The Bank is a

great establishment which enjoys an independent existence, and

the people, accustomed to make and unmake whatsoever it pleases,

is startled to meet with this obstacle to its authority. In the

midst of the perpetual fluctuation of society the community is

irritated by so permanent an institution, and is led to attack it

in order to see whether it can be shaken and controlled, like all

the other institutions of the country.

Remains Of The Aristocratic Party In The United States

Secret opposition of wealthy individuals to democracy - Their

retirement -Their taste for exclusive pleasures and for luxury at

home - Their simplicity abroad - Their affected condescension

towards the people.

It sometimes happens in a people amongst which various

opinions prevail that the balance of the several parties is lost,

and one of them obtains an irresistible preponderance, overpowers

all obstacles, harasses its opponents, and appropriates all the

resources of society to its own purposes. The vanquished

citizens despair of success and they conceal their

dissatisfaction in silence and in general apathy. The nation

seems to be governed by a single principle, and the prevailing

party assumes the credit of having restored peace and unanimity

to the country. But this apparent unanimity is merely a cloak to

alarming dissensions and perpetual opposition.

This is precisely what occurred in America; when the

democratic party got the upper hand, it took exclusive possession

of the conduct of affairs, and from that time the laws and the

customs of society have been adapted to its caprices. At the

present day the more affluent classes of society are so entirely

removed from the direction of political affairs in the United

States that wealth, far from conferring a right to the exercise

of power, is rather an obstacle than a means of attaining to it.

The wealthy members of the community abandon the lists, through

unwillingness to contend, and frequently to contend in vain,

against the poorest classes of their fellow citizens. They

concentrate all their enjoyments in the privacy of their homes,

where they occupy a rank which cannot be assumed in public; and

they constitute a private society in the State, which has its own

tastes and its own pleasures. They submit to this state of things

as an irremediable evil, but they are careful not to show that

they are galled by its continuance; it is even not uncommon to

hear them laud the delights of a republican government, and the

advantages of democratic institutions when they are in public.

Next to hating their enemies, men are most inclined to flatter


Mark, for instance, that opulent citizen, who is as anxious

as a Jew of the Middle Ages to conceal his wealth. His dress is

plain, his demeanor unassuming; but the interior of his dwelling

glitters with luxury, and none but a few chosen guests whom he

haughtily styles his equals are allowed to penetrate into this

sanctuary. No European noble is more exclusive in his pleasures,

or more jealous of the smallest advantages which his privileged

station confers upon him. But the very same individual crosses

the city to reach a dark counting-house in the centre of traffic,

where every one may accost him who pleases. If he meets his

cobbler upon the way, they stop and converse; the two citizens

discuss the affairs of the State in which they have an equal

interest, and they shake hands before they part.

But beneath this artificial enthusiasm, and these obsequious

attentions to the preponderating power, it is easy to perceive

that the wealthy members of the community entertain a hearty

distaste to the democratic institutions of their country. The

populace is at once the object of their scorn and of their fears.

If the maladministration of the democracy ever brings about a

revolutionary crisis, and if monarchical institutions ever become

practicable in the United States, the truth of what I advance

will become obvious.

The two chief weapons which parties use in order to ensure

success are the public press and the formation of associations.

Chapter XI: Liberty Of The
Press In The United States

Chapter Summary

Difficulty of restraining the liberty of the press - Particular

reasons which some nations have to cherish this liberty - The

liberty of the press a necessary consequence of the sovereignty

of the people as it is understood in America - Violent language

of the periodical press in the United States -Propensities of the

periodical press - Illustrated by the United States -Opinion of

the Americans upon the repression of the abuse of the liberty of

the press by judicial prosecutions - Reasons for which the press

is less powerful in America than in France.

Liberty Of The Press In The United States

The influence of the liberty of the press does not affect

political opinions alone, but it extends to all the opinions of

men, and it modifies customs as well as laws. In another part of

this work I shall attempt to determinate the degree of influence

which the liberty of the press has exercised upon civil society

in the United States, and to point out the direction which it has

given to the ideas, as well as the tone which it has imparted to

the character and the feelings, of the Anglo-Americans, but at

present I purpose simply to examine the effects produced by the

liberty of the press in the political world.

I confess that I do not entertain that firm and complete

attachment to the liberty of the press which things that are

supremely good in their very nature are wont to excite in the

mind; and I approve of it more from a recollection of the evils

it prevents than from a consideration of the advantages it


If any one could point out an intermediate and yet a tenable

position between the complete independence and the entire

subjection of the public expression of opinion, I should perhaps

be inclined to adopt it; but the difficulty is to discover this

position. If it is your intention to correct the abuses of

unlicensed printing and to restore the use of orderly language,

you may in the first instance try the offender by a jury; but if

the jury acquits him, the opinion which was that of a single

individual becomes the opinion of the country at large. Too much

and too little has therefore hitherto been done. If you proceed,

you must bring the delinquent before a court of permanent judges.

But even here the cause must be heard before it can be decided;

and the very principles which no book would have ventured to avow

are blazoned forth in the pleadings, and what was obscurely

hinted at in a single composition is then repeated in a multitude

of other publications. The language in which a thought is

embodied is the mere carcass of the thought, and not the idea

itself; tribunals may condemn the form, but the sense and spirit

of the work is too subtle for their authority. Too much has still

been done to recede, too little to attain your end; you must

therefore proceed. If you establish a censorship of the press,

the tongue of the public speaker will still make itself heard,

and you have only increased the mischief. The powers of thought

do not rely, like the powers of physical strength, upon the

number of their mechanical agents, nor can a host of authors be

reckoned like the troops which compose an army; on the contrary,

the authority of a principle is often increased by the smallness

of the number of men by whom it is expressed. The words of a

strong-minded man, which penetrate amidst the passions of a

listening assembly, have more power than the vociferations of a

thousand orators; and if it be allowed to speak freely in any

public place, the consequence is the same as if free speaking was

allowed in every village. The liberty of discourse must

therefore be destroyed as well as the liberty of the press; this

is the necessary term of your efforts; but if your object was to

repress the abuses of liberty, they have brought you to the feet

of a despot. You have been led from the extreme of independence

to the extreme of subjection without meeting with a single

tenable position for shelter or repose.

There are certain nations which have peculiar reasons for

cherishing the liberty of the press, independently of the general

motives which I have just pointed out. For in certain countries

which profess to enjoy the privileges of freedom every individual

agent of the Government may violate the laws with impunity, since

those whom he oppresses cannot prosecute him before the courts of

justice. In this case the liberty of the press is not merely a

guarantee, but it is the only guarantee, of their liberty and

their security which the citizens possess. If the rulers of

these nations propose to abolish the independence of the press,

the people would be justified in saying: Give us the right of

prosecuting your offences before the ordinary tribunals, and

perhaps we may then waive our right of appeal to the tribunal of

public opinion.

But in the countries in which the doctrine of the

sovereignty of the people ostensibly prevails, the censorship of

the press is not only dangerous, but it is absurd. When the

right of every citizen to co-operate in the government of society

is acknowledged, every citizen must be presumed to possess the

power of discriminating between the different opinions of his

contemporaries, and of appreciating the different facts from

which inferences may be drawn. The sovereignty of the people and

the liberty of the press may therefore be looked upon as

correlative institutions; just as the censorship of the press and

universal suffrage are two things which are irreconcilably

opposed, and which cannot long be retained among the institutions

of the same people. Not a single individual of the twelve

millions who inhabit the territory of the United States has as

yet dared to propose any restrictions to the liberty of the

press. The first newspaper over which I cast my eyes, upon my

arrival in America, contained the following article:

In all this affair the language of Jackson has been that of

a heartless despot, solely occupied with the preservation of

his own authority. Ambition is his crime, and it will be his

punishment too: intrigue is his native element, and intrigue

will confound his tricks, and will deprive him of his power:

he governs by means of corruption, and his immoral practices

will redound to his shame and confusion. His conduct in the

political arena has been that of a shameless and lawless

gamester. He succeeded at the time, but the hour of

retribution approaches, and he will be obliged to disgorge

his winnings, to throw aside his false dice, and to end his

days in some retirement, where he may curse his madness at

his leisure; for repentance is a virtue with which his heart is

likely to remain forever unacquainted.

It is not uncommonly imagined in France that the virulence

of the press originates in the uncertain social condition, in the

political excitement, and the general sense of consequent evil

which prevail in that country; and it is therefore supposed that

as soon as society has resumed a certain degree of composure the

press will abandon its present vehemence. I am inclined to think

that the above causes explain the reason of the extraordinary

ascendency it has acquired over the nation, but that they do not

exercise much influence upon the tone of its language. The

periodical press appears to me to be actuated by passions and

propensities independent of the circumstances in which it is

placed, and the present position of America corroborates this


America is perhaps, at this moment, the country of the whole

world which contains the fewest germs of revolution; but the

press is not less destructive in its principles than in France,

and it displays the same violence without the same reasons for

indignation. In America, as in France, it constitutes a singular

power, so strangely composed of mingled good and evil that it is

at the same time indispensable to the existence of freedom, and

nearly incompatible with the maintenance of public order. Its

power is certainly much greater in France than in the United

States; though nothing is more rare in the latter country than to

hear of a prosecution having been instituted against it. The

reason of this is perfectly simple: the Americans, having once

admitted the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people, apply it

with perfect consistency. It was never their intention to found

a permanent state of things with elements which undergo daily

modifications; and there is consequently nothing criminal in an

attack upon the existing laws, provided it be not attended with a

violent infraction of them. They are moreover of opinion that

courts of justice are unable to check the abuses of the press;

and that as the subtilty of human language perpetually eludes the

severity of judicial analysis, offences of this nature are apt to

escape the hand which attempts to apprehend them. They hold that

to act with efficacy upon the press it would be necessary to find

a tribunal, not only devoted to the existing order of things, but

capable of surmounting the influence of public opinion; a

tribunal which should conduct its proceedings without publicity,

which should pronounce its decrees without assigning its motives,

and punish the intentions even more than the language of an

author. Whosoever should have the power of creating and

maintaining a tribunal of this kind would waste his time in

prosecuting the liberty of the press; for he would be the supreme

master of the whole community, and he would be as free to rid

himself of the authors as of their writings. In this question,

therefore, there is no medium between servitude and extreme

license; in order to enjoy the inestimable benefits which the

liberty of the press ensures, it is necessary to submit to the

inevitable evils which it engenders. To expect to acquire the

former and to escape the latter is to cherish one of those

illusions which commonly mislead nations in their times of

sickness, when, tired with faction and exhausted by effort, they

attempt to combine hostile opinions and contrary principles upon

the same soil.

The small influence of the American journals is attributable

to several reasons, amongst which are the following:

The liberty of writing, like all other liberty, is most

formidable when it is a novelty; for a people which has never

been accustomed to co-operate in the conduct of State affairs

places implicit confidence in the first tribune who arouses its

attention. The Anglo-Americans have enjoyed this liberty ever

since the foundation of the settlements; moreover, the press

cannot create human passions by its own power, however skillfully

it may kindle them where they exist. In America politics are

discussed with animation and a varied activity, but they rarely

touch those deep passions which are excited whenever the positive

interest of a part of the community is impaired: but in the

United States the interests of the community are in a most

prosperous condition. A single glance upon a French and an

American newspaper is sufficient to show the difference which

exists between the two nations on this head. In France the space

allotted to commercial advertisements is very limited, and the

intelligence is not considerable, but the most essential part of

the journal is that which contains the discussion of the politics

of the day. In America three-quarters of the enormous sheet

which is set before the reader are filled with advertisements,

and the remainder is frequently occupied by political

intelligence or trivial anecdotes: it is only from time to time

that one finds a corner devoted to passionate discussions like

those with which the journalists of France are wont to indulge

their readers.

It has been demonstrated by observation, and discovered by

the innate sagacity of the pettiest as well as the greatest of

despots, that the influence of a power is increased in proportion

as its direction is rendered more central. In France the press

combines a twofold centralization; almost all its power is

centred in the same spot, and vested in the same hands, for its

organs are far from numerous. The influence of a public press

thus constituted, upon a sceptical nation, must be unbounded. It

is an enemy with which a Government may sign an occasional truce,

but which it is difficult to resist for any length of time.

Neither of these kinds of centralization exists in America.

The United States have no metropolis; the intelligence as well as

the power of the country are dispersed abroad, and instead of

radiating from a point, they cross each other in every direction;

the Americans have established no central control over the

expression of opinion, any more than over the conduct of

business. These are circumstances which do not depend on human

foresight; but it is owing to the laws of the Union that there

are no licenses to be granted to printers, no securities demanded

from editors as in France, and no stamp duty as in France and

formerly in England. The consequence of this is that nothing is

easier than to set up a newspaper, and a small number of readers

suffices to defray the expenses of the editor.

The number of periodical and occasional publications which

appears in the United States actually surpasses belief. The most

enlightened Americans attribute the subordinate influence of the

press to this excessive dissemination; and it is adopted as an

axiom of political science in that country that the only way to

neutralize the effect of public journals is to multiply them

indefinitely. I cannot conceive that a truth which is so self-

evident should not already have been more generally admitted in

Europe; it is comprehensible that the persons who hope to bring

about revolutions by means of the press should be desirous of

confining its action to a few powerful organs, but it is

perfectly incredible that the partisans of the existing state of

things, and the natural supporters of the law, should attempt to

diminish the influence of the press by concentrating its

authority. The Governments of Europe seem to treat the press with

the courtesy of the knights of old; they are anxious to furnish

it with the same central power which they have found to be so

trusty a weapon, in order to enhance the glory of their

resistance to its attacks.

In America there is scarcely a hamlet which has not its own

newspaper. It may readily be imagined that neither discipline nor

unity of design can be communicated to so multifarious a host,

and each one is consequently led to fight under his own standard.

All the political journals of the United States are indeed

arrayed on the side of the administration or against it; but they

attack and defend in a thousand different ways. They cannot

succeed in forming those great currents of opinion which

overwhelm the most solid obstacles. This division of the

influence of the press produces a variety of other consequences

which are scarcely less remarkable. The facility with which

journals can be established induces a multitude of individuals to

take a part in them; but as the extent of competition precludes

the possibility of considerable profit, the most distinguished

classes of society are rarely led to engage in these

undertakings. But such is the number of the public prints that,

even if they were a source of wealth, writers of ability could

not be found to direct them all. The journalists of the United

States are usually placed in a very humble position, with a

scanty education and a vulgar turn of mind. The will of the

majority is the most general of laws, and it establishes certain

habits which form the characteristics of each peculiar class of

society; thus it dictates the etiquette practised at courts and

the etiquette of the bar. The characteristics of the French

journalist consist in a violent, but frequently an eloquent and

lofty, manner of discussing the politics of the day; and the

exceptions to this habitual practice are only occasional. The

characteristics of the American journalist consist in an open and

coarse appeal to the passions of the populace; and he habitually

abandons the principles of political science to assail the

characters of individuals, to track them into private life, and

disclose all their weaknesses and errors.

Nothing can be more deplorable than this abuse of the powers

of thought; I shall have occasion to point out hereafter the

influence of the newspapers upon the taste and the morality of

the American people, but my present subject exclusively concerns

the political world. It cannot be denied that the effects of

this extreme license of the press tend indirectly to the

maintenance of public order. The individuals who are already in

the possession of a high station in the esteem of their

fellow-citizens are afraid to write in the newspapers, and they

are thus deprived of the most powerful instrument which they can

use to excite the passions of the multitude to their own

advantage. *a

[Footnote a: They only write in the papers when they choose to

address the people in their own name; as, for instance, when they

are called upon to repel calumnious imputations, and to correct a

misstatement of facts.]

The personal opinions of the editors have no kind of weight

in the eyes of the public: the only use of a journal is, that it

imparts the knowledge of certain facts, and it is only by

altering or distorting those facts that a journalist can

contribute to the support of his own views.

But although the press is limited to these resources, its

influence in America is immense. It is the power which impels

the circulation of political life through all the districts of

that vast territory. Its eye is constantly open to detect the

secret springs of political designs, and to summon the leaders of

all parties to the bar of public opinion. It rallies the

interests of the community round certain principles, and it draws

up the creed which factions adopt; for it affords a means of

intercourse between parties which hear, and which address each

other without ever having been in immediate contact. When a

great number of the organs of the press adopt the same line of

conduct, their influence becomes irresistible; and public

opinion, when it is perpetually assailed from the same side,

eventually yields to the attack. In the United States each

separate journal exercises but little authority, but the power of

the periodical press is only second to that of the people. *b

[Footnote b: See Appendix, P.]

The opinions established in the United States under the

empire of the liberty of the press are frequently more

firmly rooted than those which are formed elsewhere under

the sanction of a censor.

In the United States the democracy perpetually raises fresh

individuals to the conduct of public affairs; and the measures of

the administration are consequently seldom regulated by the

strict rules of consistency or of order. But the general

principles of the Government are more stable, and the opinions

most prevalent in society are generally more durable than in many

other countries. When once the Americans have taken up an idea,

whether it be well or ill founded, nothing is more difficult than

to eradicate it from their minds. The same tenacity of opinion

has been observed in England, where, for the last century,

greater freedom of conscience and more invincible prejudices have

existed than in all the other countries of Europe. I attribute

this consequence to a cause which may at first sight appear to

have a very opposite tendency, namely, to the liberty of the

press. The nations amongst which this liberty exists are as apt

to cling to their opinions from pride as from conviction. They

cherish them because they hold them to be just, and because they

exercised their own free-will in choosing them; and they maintain

them not only because they are true, but because they are their

own. Several other reasons conduce to the same end.

It was remarked by a man of genius that "ignorance lies at

the two ends of knowledge." Perhaps it would have been more

correct to have said, that absolute convictions are to be met

with at the two extremities, and that doubt lies in the middle;

for the human intellect may be considered in three distinct

states, which frequently succeed one another. A man believes

implicitly, because he adopts a proposition without inquiry. He

doubts as soon as he is assailed by the objections which his

inquiries may have aroused. But he frequently succeeds in

satisfying these doubts, and then he begins to believe afresh: he

no longer lays hold on a truth in its most shadowy and uncertain

form, but he sees it clearly before him, and he advances onwards

by the light it gives him. *c

[Footnote c: It may, however, be doubted whether this rational

and self-guiding conviction arouses as much fervor or

enthusiastic devotedness in men as their first dogmatical


When the liberty of the press acts upon men who are in the

first of these three states, it does not immediately disturb

their habit of believing implicitly without investigation, but it

constantly modifies the objects of their intuitive convictions.

The human mind continues to discern but one point upon the whole

intellectual horizon, and that point is in continual motion.

Such are the symptoms of sudden revolutions, and of the

misfortunes which are sure to befall those generations which

abruptly adopt the unconditional freedom of the press.

The circle of novel ideas is, however, soon terminated; the

touch of experience is upon them, and the doubt and mistrust

which their uncertainty produces become universal. We may rest

assured that the majority of mankind will either believe they

know not wherefore, or will not know what to believe. Few are the

beings who can ever hope to attain to that state of rational and

independent conviction which true knowledge can beget in defiance

of the attacks of doubt.

It has been remarked that in times of great religious fervor

men sometimes change their religious opinions; whereas in times

of general scepticism everyone clings to his own persuasion. The

same thing takes place in politics under the liberty of the

press. In countries where all the theories of social science

have been contested in their turn, the citizens who have adopted

one of them stick to it, not so much because they are assured of

its excellence, as because they are not convinced of the

superiority of any other. In the present age men are not very

ready to die in defence of their opinions, but they are rarely

inclined to change them; and there are fewer martyrs as well as

fewer apostates.

Another still more valid reason may yet be adduced: when no

abstract opinions are looked upon as certain, men cling to the

mere propensities and external interests of their position, which

are naturally more tangible and more permanent than any opinions

in the world.

It is not a question of easy solution whether aristocracy or

democracy is most fit to govern a country. But it is certain

that democracy annoys one part of the community, and that

aristocracy oppresses another part. When the question is reduced

to the simple expression of the struggle between poverty and

wealth, the tendency of each side of the dispute becomes

perfectly evident without further controversy.



Chapter XII: Political
Associations In The United States

Chapter Summary

Daily use which the Anglo-Americans make of the right of

association - Three kinds of political associations - In what

manner the Americans apply the representative system to

associations - Dangers resulting to the State - Great Convention

of 1831 relative to the Tariff - Legislative character of this

Convention - Why the unlimited exercise of the right of

association is less dangerous in the United States than elsewhere

- Why it may be looked upon as necessary - Utility of

associations in a democratic people.

Political Associations In The United States

In no country in the world has the principle of association

been more successfully used, or more unsparingly applied to a

multitude of different objects, than in America. Besides the

permanent associations which are established by law under the

names of townships, cities, and counties, a vast number of others

are formed and maintained by the agency of private individuals.

The citizen of the United States is taught from his earliest

infancy to rely upon his own exertions in order to resist the

evils and the difficulties of life; he looks upon social

authority with an eye of mistrust and anxiety, and he only claims

its assistance when he is quite unable to shift without it. This

habit may even be traced in the schools of the rising generation,

where the children in their games are wont to submit to rules

which they have themselves established, and to punish

misdemeanors which they have themselves defined. The same spirit

pervades every act of social life. If a stoppage occurs in a

thoroughfare, and the circulation of the public is hindered, the

neighbors immediately constitute a deliberative body; and this

extemporaneous assembly gives rise to an executive power which

remedies the inconvenience before anybody has thought of

recurring to an authority superior to that of the persons

immediately concerned. If the public pleasures are concerned, an

association is formed to provide for the splendor and the

regularity of the entertainment. Societies are formed to resist

enemies which are exclusively of a moral nature, and to diminish

the vice of intemperance: in the United States associations are

established to promote public order, commerce, industry,

morality, and religion; for there is no end which the human will,

seconded by the collective exertions of individuals, despairs of


I shall hereafter have occasion to show the effects of

association upon the course of society, and I must confine myself

for the present to the political world. When once the right of

association is recognized, the citizens may employ it in several

different ways.

An association consists simply in the public assent which a

number of individuals give to certain doctrines, and in the

engagement which they contract to promote the spread of those

doctrines by their exertions. The right of association with

these views is very analogous to the liberty of unlicensed

writing; but societies thus formed possess more authority than

the press. When an opinion is represented by a society, it

necessarily assumes a more exact and explicit form. It numbers

its partisans, and compromises their welfare in its cause: they,

on the other hand, become acquainted with each other, and their

zeal is increased by their number. An association unites the

efforts of minds which have a tendency to diverge in one single

channel, and urges them vigorously towards one single end which

it points out.

The second degree in the right of association is the power

of meeting. When an association is allowed to establish centres

of action at certain important points in the country, its

activity is increased and its influence extended. Men have the

opportunity of seeing each other; means of execution are more

readily combined, and opinions are maintained with a degree of

warmth and energy which written language cannot approach.

Lastly, in the exercise of the right of political

association, there is a third degree: the partisans of an opinion

may unite in electoral bodies, and choose delegates to represent

them in a central assembly. This is, properly speaking, the

application of the representative system to a party.

Thus, in the first instance, a society is formed between

individuals professing the same opinion, and the tie which keeps

it together is of a purely intellectual nature; in the second

case, small assemblies are formed which only represent a fraction

of the party. Lastly, in the third case, they constitute a

separate nation in the midst of the nation, a government within

the Government. Their delegates, like the real delegates of the

majority, represent the entire collective force of their party;

and they enjoy a certain degree of that national dignity and

great influence which belong to the chosen representatives of the

people. It is true that they have not the right of making the

laws, but they have the power of attacking those which are in

being, and of drawing up beforehand those which they may

afterwards cause to be adopted.

If, in a people which is imperfectly accustomed to the

exercise of freedom, or which is exposed to violent political

passions, a deliberating minority, which confines itself to the

contemplation of future laws, be placed in juxtaposition to the

legislative majority, I cannot but believe that public

tranquillity incurs very great risks in that nation. There is

doubtless a very wide difference between proving that one law is

in itself better than another and proving that the former ought

to be substituted for the latter. But the imagination of the

populace is very apt to overlook this difference, which is so

apparent to the minds of thinking men. It sometimes happens that

a nation is divided into two nearly equal parties, each of which

affects to represent the majority. If, in immediate contiguity

to the directing power, another power be established, which

exercises almost as much moral authority as the former, it is not

to be believed that it will long be content to speak without

acting; or that it will always be restrained by the abstract

consideration of the nature of associations which are meant to

direct but not to enforce opinions, to suggest but not to make

the laws.

The more we consider the independence of the press in its

principal consequences, the more are we convinced that it is the

chief and, so to speak, the constitutive element of freedom in

the modern world. A nation which is determined to remain free is

therefore right in demanding the unrestrained exercise of this

independence. But the unrestrained liberty of political

association cannot be entirely assimilated to the liberty of the

press. The one is at the same time less necessary and more

dangerous than the other. A nation may confine it within certain

limits without forfeiting any part of its self-control; and it

may sometimes be obliged to do so in order to maintain its own


In America the liberty of association for political purposes

is unbounded. An example will show in the clearest light to what

an extent this privilege is tolerated.

The question of the tariff, or of free trade, produced a

great manifestation of party feeling in America; the tariff was

not only a subject of debate as a matter of opinion, but it

exercised a favorable or a prejudicial influence upon several

very powerful interests of the States. The North attributed a

great portion of its prosperity, and the South all its

sufferings, to this system; insomuch that for a long time the

tariff was the sole source of the political animosities which

agitated the Union.

In 1831, when the dispute was raging with the utmost

virulence, a private citizen of Massachusetts proposed to all the

enemies of the tariff, by means of the public prints, to send

delegates to Philadelphia in order to consult together upon the

means which were most fitted to promote freedom of trade. This

proposal circulated in a few days from Maine to New Orleans by

the power of the printing-press: the opponents of the tariff

adopted it with enthusiasm; meetings were formed on all sides,

and delegates were named. The majority of these individuals were

well known, and some of them had earned a considerable degree of

celebrity. South Carolina alone, which afterwards took up arms

in the same cause, sent sixty-three delegates. On October 1,

1831, this assembly, which according to the American custom had

taken the name of a Convention, met at Philadelphia; it consisted

of more than two hundred members. Its debates were public, and

they at once assumed a legislative character; the extent of the

powers of Congress, the theories of free trade, and the different

clauses of the tariff, were discussed in turn. At the end of ten

days' deliberation the Convention broke up, after having

published an address to the American people, in which it


I. That Congress had not the right of making a tariff, and

that the existing tariff was unconstitutional;

II. That the prohibition of free trade was prejudicial to

the interests of all nations, and to that of the American people

in particular.

It must be acknowledged that the unrestrained liberty of

political association has not hitherto produced, in the United

States, those fatal consequences which might perhaps be expected

from it elsewhere. The right of association was imported from

England, and it has always existed in America; so that the

exercise of this privilege is now amalgamated with the manners

and customs of the people. At the present time the liberty of

association is become a necessary guarantee against the tyranny

of the majority. In the United States, as soon as a party is

become preponderant, all public authority passes under its

control; its private supporters occupy all the places, and have

all the force of the administration at their disposal. As the

most distinguished partisans of the other side of the question

are unable to surmount the obstacles which exclude them from

power, they require some means of establishing themselves upon

their own basis, and of opposing the moral authority of the

minority to the physical power which domineers over it. Thus a

dangerous expedient is used to obviate a still more formidable


The omnipotence of the majority appears to me to present

such extreme perils to the American Republics that the dangerous

measure which is used to repress it seems to be more advantageous

than prejudicial. And here I am about to advance a proposition

which may remind the reader of what I said before in speaking of

municipal freedom: There are no countries in which associations

are more needed, to prevent the despotism of faction or the

arbitrary power of a prince, than those which are democratically

constituted. In aristocratic nations the body of the nobles and

the more opulent part of the community are in themselves natural

associations, which act as checks upon the abuses of power. In

countries in which these associations do not exist, if private

individuals are unable to create an artificial and a temporary

substitute for them, I can imagine no permanent protection

against the most galling tyranny; and a great people may be

oppressed by a small faction, or by a single individual, with


The meeting of a great political Convention (for there are

Conventions of all kinds), which may frequently become a

necessary measure, is always a serious occurrence, even in

America, and one which is never looked forward to, by the

judicious friends of the country, without alarm. This was very

perceptible in the Convention of 1831, at which the exertions of

all the most distinguished members of the Assembly tended to

moderate its language, and to restrain the subjects which it

treated within certain limits. It is probable, in fact, that the

Convention of 1831 exercised a very great influence upon the

minds of the malcontents, and prepared them for the open revolt

against the commercial laws of the Union which took place in


It cannot be denied that the unrestrained liberty of

association for political purposes is the privilege which a

people is longest in learning how to exercise. If it does not

throw the nation into anarchy, it perpetually augments the

chances of that calamity. On one point, however, this perilous

liberty offers a security against dangers of another kind; in

countries where associations are free, secret societies are

unknown. In America there are numerous factions, but no


Different ways in which the right of association is

understood in Europe and in the United States - Different

use which is made of it.

The most natural privilege of man, next to the right of

acting for himself, is that of combining his exertions with those

of his fellow-creatures, and of acting in common with them. I am

therefore led to conclude that the right of association is almost

as inalienable as the right of personal liberty. No legislator

can attack it without impairing the very foundations of society.

Nevertheless, if the liberty of association is a fruitful source

of advantages and prosperity to some nations, it may be perverted

or carried to excess by others, and the element of life may be

changed into an element of destruction. A comparison of the

different methods which associations pursue in those countries in

which they are managed with discretion, as well as in those where

liberty degenerates into license, may perhaps be thought useful

both to governments and to parties.

The greater part of Europeans look upon an association as a

weapon which is to be hastily fashioned, and immediately tried in

the conflict. A society is formed for discussion, but the idea

of impending action prevails in the minds of those who constitute

it: it is, in fact, an army; and the time given to parley serves

to reckon up the strength and to animate the courage of the host,

after which they direct their march against the enemy. Resources

which lie within the bounds of the law may suggest themselves to

the persons who compose it as means, but never as the only means,

of success.

Such, however, is not the manner in which the right of

association is understood in the United States. In America the

citizens who form the minority associate, in order, in the first

place, to show their numerical strength, and so to diminish the

moral authority of the majority; and, in the second place, to

stimulate competition, and to discover those arguments which are

most fitted to act upon the majority; for they always entertain

hopes of drawing over their opponents to their own side, and of

afterwards disposing of the supreme power in their name.

Political associations in the United States are therefore

peaceable in their intentions, and strictly legal in the means

which they employ; and they assert with perfect truth that they

only aim at success by lawful expedients.

The difference which exists between the Americans and

ourselves depends on several causes. In Europe there are

numerous parties so diametrically opposed to the majority that

they can never hope to acquire its support, and at the same time

they think that they are sufficiently strong in themselves to

struggle and to defend their cause. When a party of this kind

forms an association, its object is, not to conquer, but to

fight. In America the individuals who hold opinions very much

opposed to those of the majority are no sort of impediment to its

power, and all other parties hope to win it over to their own

principles in the end. The exercise of the right of association

becomes dangerous in proportion to the impossibility which

excludes great parties from acquiring the majority. In a country

like the United States, in which the differences of opinion are

mere differences of hue, the right of association may remain

unrestrained without evil consequences. The inexperience of many

of the European nations in the enjoyment of liberty leads them

only to look upon the liberty of association as a right of

attacking the Government. The first notion which presents itself

to a party, as well as to an individual, when it has acquired a

consciousness of its own strength, is that of violence: the

notion of persuasion arises at a later period and is only derived

from experience. The English, who are divided into parties which

differ most essentially from each other, rarely abuse the right

of association, because they have long been accustomed to

exercise it. In France the passion for war is so intense that

there is no undertaking so mad, or so injurious to the welfare of

the State, that a man does not consider himself honored in

defending it, at the risk of his life.

But perhaps the most powerful of the causes which tend to

mitigate the excesses of political association in the United

States is Universal Suffrage. In countries in which universal

suffrage exists the majority is never doubtful, because neither

party can pretend to represent that portion of the community

which has not voted. The associations which are formed are

aware, as well as the nation at large, that they do not represent

the majority: this is, indeed, a condition inseparable from their

existence; for if they did represent the preponderating power,

they would change the law instead of soliciting its reform. The

consequence of this is that the moral influence of the Government

which they attack is very much increased, and their own power is

very much enfeebled.

In Europe there are few associations which do not affect to

represent the majority, or which do not believe that they

represent it. This conviction or this pretension tends to

augment their force amazingly, and contributes no less to

legalize their measures. Violence may seem to be excusable in

defence of the cause of oppressed right. Thus it is, in the vast

labyrinth of human laws, that extreme liberty sometimes corrects

the abuses of license, and that extreme democracy obviates the

dangers of democratic government. In Europe, associations

consider themselves, in some degree, as the legislative and

executive councils of the people, which is unable to speak for

itself. In America, where they only represent a minority of the

nation, they argue and they petition.

The means which the associations of Europe employ are in

accordance with the end which they propose to obtain. As the

principal aim of these bodies is to act, and not to debate, to

fight rather than to persuade, they are naturally led to adopt a

form of organization which differs from the ordinary customs of

civil bodies, and which assumes the habits and the maxims of

military life. They centralize the direction of their resources

as much as possible, and they intrust the power of the whole

party to a very small number of leaders.

The members of these associations respond to a watchword,

like soldiers on duty; they profess the doctrine of passive

obedience; say rather, that in uniting together they at once

abjure the exercise of their own judgment and free will; and the

tyrannical control which these societies exercise is often far

more insupportable than the authority possessed over society by

the Government which they attack. Their moral force is much

diminished by these excesses, and they lose the powerful interest

which is always excited by a struggle between oppressors and the

oppressed. The man who in given cases consents to obey his

fellows with servility, and who submits his activity and even his

opinions to their control, can have no claim to rank as a free


The Americans have also established certain forms of

government which are applied to their associations, but these are

invariably borrowed from the forms of the civil administration.

The independence of each individual is formally recognized; the

tendency of the members of the association points, as it does in

the body of the community, towards the same end, but they are not

obliged to follow the same track. No one abjures the exercise of

his reason and his free will; but every one exerts that reason

and that will for the benefit of a common undertaking.


Chapter XIII:
Government Of The Democracy
In America - Part I

I am well aware of the difficulties which attend this part

of my subject, but although every expression which I am about to

make use of may clash, upon some one point, with the feelings of

the different parties which divide my country, I shall speak my

opinion with the most perfect openness.

In Europe we are at a loss how to judge the true character

and the more permanent propensities of democracy, because in

Europe two conflicting principles exist, and we do not know what

to attribute to the principles themselves, and what to refer to

the passions which they bring into collision. Such, however, is

not the case in America; there the people reigns without any

obstacle, and it has no perils to dread and no injuries to

avenge. In America, democracy is swayed by its own free

propensities; its course is natural and its activity is

unrestrained; the United States consequently afford the most

favorable opportunity of studying its real character. And to no

people can this inquiry be more vitally interesting than to the

French nation, which is blindly driven onwards by a daily and

irresistible impulse towards a state of things which may prove

either despotic or republican, but which will assuredly be


Universal Suffrage

I have already observed that universal suffrage has been

adopted in all the States of the Union; it consequently occurs

amongst different populations which occupy very different

positions in the scale of society. I have had opportunities of

observing its effects in different localities, and amongst races

of men who are nearly strangers to each other by their language,

their religion, and their manner of life; in Louisiana as well as

in New England, in Georgia and in Canada. I have remarked that

Universal Suffrage is far from producing in America either all

the good or all the evil consequences which are assigned to it in

Europe, and that its effects differ very widely from those which

are usually attributed to it.

Choice Of The People, And Instinctive
Preferences Of The American Democracy

In the United States the most able men are rarely placed at the

head of affairs - Reason of this peculiarity - The envy which

prevails in the lower orders of France against the higher classes

is not a French, but a purely democratic sentiment - For what

reason the most distinguished men in America frequently seclude

themselves from public affairs.

Many people in Europe are apt to believe without saying it,

or to say without believing it, that one of the great advantages

of universal suffrage is, that it entrusts the direction of

public affairs to men who are worthy of the public confidence.

They admit that the people is unable to govern for itself, but

they aver that it is always sincerely disposed to promote the

welfare of the State, and that it instinctively designates those

persons who are animated by the same good wishes, and who are the

most fit to wield the supreme authority. I confess that the

observations I made in America by no means coincide with these

opinions. On my arrival in the United States I was surprised to

find so much distinguished talent among the subjects, and so

little among the heads of the Government. It is a

well-authenticated fact, that at the present day the most able

men in the United States are very rarely placed at the head of

affairs; and it must be acknowledged that such has been the

result in proportion as democracy has outstepped all its former

limits. The race of American statesmen has evidently dwindled

most remarkably in the course of the last fifty years.

Several causes may be assigned to this phenomenon. It is

impossible, notwithstanding the most strenuous exertions, to

raise the intelligence of the people above a certain level.

Whatever may be the facilities of acquiring information, whatever

may be the profusion of easy methods and of cheap science, the

human mind can never be instructed and educated without devoting

a considerable space of time to those objects.

The greater or the lesser possibility of subsisting without

labor is therefore the necessary boundary of intellectual

improvement. This boundary is more remote in some countries and

more restricted in others; but it must exist somewhere as long as

the people is constrained to work in order to procure the means

of physical subsistence, that is to say, as long as it retains

its popular character. It is therefore quite as difficult to

imagine a State in which all the citizens should be very well

informed as a State in which they should all be wealthy; these

two difficulties may be looked upon as correlative. It may very

readily be admitted that the mass of the citizens are sincerely

disposed to promote the welfare of their country; nay more, it

may even be allowed that the lower classes are less apt to be

swayed by considerations of personal interest than the higher

orders: but it is always more or less impossible for them to

discern the best means of attaining the end which they desire

with sincerity. Long and patient observation, joined to a

multitude of different notions, is required to form a just

estimate of the character of a single individual; and can it be

supposed that the vulgar have the power of succeeding in an

inquiry which misleads the penetration of genius itself? The

people has neither the time nor the means which are essential to

the prosecution of an investigation of this kind: its conclusions

are hastily formed from a superficial inspection of the more

prominent features of a question. Hence it often assents to the

clamor of a mountebank who knows the secret of stimulating its

tastes, while its truest friends frequently fail in their


Moreover, the democracy is not only deficient in that

soundness of judgment which is necessary to select men really

deserving of its confidence, but it has neither the desire nor

the inclination to find them out. It cannot be denied that

democratic institutions have a very strong tendency to promote

the feeling of envy in the human heart; not so much because they

afford to every one the means of rising to the level of any of

his fellow-citizens, as because those means perpetually

disappoint the persons who employ them. Democratic institutions

awaken and foster a passion for equality which they can never

entirely satisfy. This complete equality eludes the grasp of the

people at the very moment at which it thinks to hold it fast, and

"flies," as Pascal says, "with eternal flight"; the people is

excited in the pursuit of an advantage, which is more precious

because it is not sufficiently remote to be unknown, or

sufficiently near to be enjoyed. The lower orders are agitated by

the chance of success, they are irritated by its uncertainty; and

they pass from the enthusiasm of pursuit to the exhaustion of

ill-success, and lastly to the acrimony of disappointment.

Whatever transcends their own limits appears to be an obstacle to

their desires, and there is no kind of superiority, however

legitimate it may be, which is not irksome in their sight.

It has been supposed that the secret instinct which leads

the lower orders to remove their superiors as much as possible

from the direction of public affairs is peculiar to France.

This, however, is an error; the propensity to which I allude is

not inherent in any particular nation, but in democratic

institutions in general; and although it may have been heightened

by peculiar political circumstances, it owes its origin to a

higher cause.

In the United States the people is not disposed to hate the

superior classes of society; but it is not very favorably

inclined towards them, and it carefully excludes them from the

exercise of authority. It does not entertain any dread of

distinguished talents, but it is rarely captivated by them; and

it awards its approbation very sparingly to such as have risen

without the popular support.

Whilst the natural propensities of democracy induce the

people to reject the most distinguished citizens as its rulers,

these individuals are no less apt to retire from a political

career in which it is almost impossible to retain their

independence, or to advance without degrading themselves. This

opinion has been very candidly set forth by Chancellor Kent, who

says, in speaking with great eulogiums of that part of the

Constitution which empowers the Executive to nominate the judges:

"It is indeed probable that the men who are best fitted to

discharge the duties of this high office would have too much

reserve in their manners, and too much austerity in their

principles, for them to be returned by the majority at an

election where universal suffrage is adopted." Such were the

opinions which were printed without contradiction in America in

the year 1830!

I hold it to be sufficiently demonstrated that universal

suffrage is by no means a guarantee of the wisdom of the popular

choice, and that, whatever its advantages may be, this is not one

of them.


Causes Which May Partly Correct
These Tendencies Of The Democracy

Contrary effects produced on peoples as well as on individuals by

great dangers - Why so many distinguished men stood at the head

of affairs in America fifty years ago - Influence which the

intelligence and the manners of the people exercise upon its

choice - Example of New England - States of the Southwest -

Influence of certain laws upon the choice of the people -

Election by an elected body - Its effects upon the composition of

the Senate.

When a State is threatened by serious dangers, the people

frequently succeeds in selecting the citizens who are the most

able to save it. It has been observed that man rarely retains

his customary level in presence of very critical circumstances;

he rises above or he sinks below his usual condition, and the

same thing occurs in nations at large. Extreme perils sometimes

quench the energy of a people instead of stimulating it; they

excite without directing its passions, and instead of clearing

they confuse its powers of perception. The Jews deluged the

smoking ruins of their temple with the carnage of the remnant of

their host. But it is more common, both in the case of nations

and in that of individuals, to find extraordinary virtues arising

from the very imminence of the danger. Great characters are then

thrown into relief, as edifices which are concealed by the gloom

of night are illuminated by the glare of a conflagration. At

those dangerous times genius no longer abstains from presenting

itself in the arena; and the people, alarmed by the perils of its

situation, buries its envious passions in a short oblivion. Great

names may then be drawn from the balloting-box.

I have already observed that the American statesmen of the

present day are very inferior to those who stood at the head of

affairs fifty years ago. This is as much a consequence of the

circumstances as of the laws of the country. When America was

struggling in the high cause of independence to throw off the

yoke of another country, and when it was about to usher a new

nation into the world, the spirits of its inhabitants were roused

to the height which their great efforts required. In this

general excitement the most distinguished men were ready to

forestall the wants of the community, and the people clung to

them for support, and placed them at its head. But events of

this magnitude are rare, and it is from an inspection of the

ordinary course of affairs that our judgment must be formed.

If passing occurrences sometimes act as checks upon the

passions of democracy, the intelligence and the manners of the

community exercise an influence which is not less powerful and

far more permanent. This is extremely perceptible in the United


In New England the education and the liberties of the

communities were engendered by the moral and religious principles

of their founders. Where society has acquired a sufficient

degree of stability to enable it to hold certain maxims and to

retain fixed habits, the lower orders are accustomed to respect

intellectual superiority and to submit to it without complaint,

although they set at naught all those privileges which wealth and

birth have introduced among mankind. The democracy in New

England consequently makes a more judicious choice than it does


But as we descend towards the South, to those States in

which the constitution of society is more modern and less strong,

where instruction is less general, and where the principles of

morality, of religion, and of liberty are less happily combined,

we perceive that the talents and the virtues of those who are in

authority become more and more rare.

Lastly, when we arrive at the new South-western States, in

which the constitution of society dates but from yesterday, and

presents an agglomeration of adventurers and speculators, we are

amazed at the persons who are invested with public authority, and

we are led to ask by what force, independent of the legislation

and of the men who direct it, the State can be protected, and

society be made to flourish.

There are certain laws of a democratic nature which

contribute, nevertheless, to correct, in some measure, the

dangerous tendencies of democracy. On entering the House of

Representatives of Washington one is struck by the vulgar

demeanor of that great assembly. The eye frequently does not

discover a man of celebrity within its walls. Its members are

almost all obscure individuals whose names present no

associations to the mind: they are mostly village lawyers, men in

trade, or even persons belonging to the lower classes of society.

In a country in which education is very general, it is said that

the representatives of the people do not always know how to write


At a few yards' distance from this spot is the door of the

Senate, which contains within a small space a large proportion of

the celebrated men of America. Scarcely an individual is to be

perceived in it who does not recall the idea of an active and

illustrious career: the Senate is composed of eloquent advocates,

distinguished generals, wise magistrates, and statesmen of note,

whose language would at all times do honor to the most remarkable

parliamentary debates of Europe.

What then is the cause of this strange contrast, and why are

the most able citizens to be found in one assembly rather than in

the other? Why is the former body remarkable for its vulgarity

and its poverty of talent, whilst the latter seems to enjoy a

monopoly of intelligence and of sound judgment? Both of these

assemblies emanate from the people; both of them are chosen by

universal suffrage; and no voice has hitherto been heard to

assert in America that the Senate is hostile to the interests of

the people. From what cause, then, does so startling a

difference arise? The only reason which appears to me adequately

to account for it is, that the House of Representatives is

elected by the populace directly, and that the Senate is elected

by elected bodies. The whole body of the citizens names the

legislature of each State, and the Federal Constitution converts

these legislatures into so many electoral bodies, which return

the members of the Senate. The senators are elected by an

indirect application of universal suffrage; for the legislatures

which name them are not aristocratic or privileged bodies which

exercise the electoral franchise in their own right; but they are

chosen by the totality of the citizens; they are generally

elected every year, and new members may constantly be chosen who

will employ their electoral rights in conformity with the wishes

of the public. But this transmission of the popular authority

through an assembly of chosen men operates an important change in

it, by refining its discretion and improving the forms which it

adopts. Men who are chosen in this manner accurately represent

the majority of the nation which governs them; but they represent

the elevated thoughts which are current in the community, the

propensities which prompt its nobler actions, rather than the

petty passions which disturb or the vices which disgrace it.

The time may be already anticipated at which the American

Republics will be obliged to introduce the plan of election by an

elected body more frequently into their system of representation,

or they will incur no small risk of perishing miserably amongst

the shoals of democracy.

And here I have no scruple in confessing that I look upon

this peculiar system of election as the only means of bringing

the exercise of political power to the level of all classes of

the people. Those thinkers who regard this institution as the

exclusive weapon of a party, and those who fear, on the other

hand, to make use of it, seem to me to fall into as great an

error in the one case as in the other.

Influence Which The American Democracy Has
Exercised On The Laws Relating To Elections

When elections are rare, they expose the State to a violent

crisis - When they are frequent, they keep up a degree of

feverish excitement - The Americans have preferred the second of

these two evils - Mutability of the laws -Opinions of Hamilton

and Jefferson on this subject.

When elections recur at long intervals the State is exposed

to violent agitation every time they take place. Parties exert

themselves to the utmost in order to gain a prize which is so

rarely within their reach; and as the evil is almost irremediable

for the candidates who fail, the consequences of their

disappointed ambition may prove most disastrous; if, on the other

hand, the legal struggle can be repeated within a short space of

time, the defeated parties take patience. When elections occur

frequently, their recurrence keeps society in a perpetual state

of feverish excitement, and imparts a continual instability to

public affairs.


Thus, on the one hand the State is exposed to the perils of

a revolution, on the other to perpetual mutability; the former

system threatens the very existence of the Government, the latter

is an obstacle to all steady and consistent policy. The

Americans have preferred the second of these evils to the first;

but they were led to this conclusion by their instinct much more

than by their reason; for a taste for variety is one of the

characteristic passions of democracy. An extraordinary

mutability has, by this means, been introduced into their

legislation. Many of the Americans consider the instability of

their laws as a necessary consequence of a system whose general

results are beneficial. But no one in the United States affects

to deny the fact of this instability, or to contend that it is

not a great evil.

Hamilton, after having demonstrated the utility of a power

which might prevent, or which might at least impede, the

promulgation of bad laws, adds: "It might perhaps be said that

the power of preventing bad laws includes that of preventing good

ones, and may be used to the one purpose as well as to the other.

But this objection will have little weight with those who can

properly estimate the mischiefs of that inconstancy and

mutability in the laws which form the greatest blemish in the

character and genius of our governments." (Federalist, No. 73.)

And again in No. 62 of the same work he observes: "The facility

and excess of law-making seem to be the diseases to which our

governments are most liable. . . . The mischievous effects of the

mutability in the public councils arising from a rapid succession

of new members would fill a volume: every new election in the

States is found to change one-half of the representatives. From

this change of men must proceed a change of opinions and of

measures, which forfeits the respect and confidence of other

nations, poisons the blessings of liberty itself, and diminishes

the attachment and reverence of the people toward a political

system which betrays so many marks of infirmity."

Jefferson himself, the greatest Democrat whom the democracy

of America has yet produced, pointed out the same evils. "The

instability of our laws," said he in a letter to Madison, "is

really a very serious inconvenience. I think that we ought to

have obviated it by deciding that a whole year should always be

allowed to elapse between the bringing in of a bill and the final

passing of it. It should afterward be discussed and put to the

vote without the possibility of making any alteration in it; and

if the circumstances of the case required a more speedy decision,

the question should not be decided by a simple majority, but by a

majority of at least two-thirds of both houses."

Public Officers Under The Control
Of The Democracy In America

Simple exterior of the American public officers - No official

costume - All public officers are remunerated - Political

consequences of this system - No public career exists in America

- Result of this.

Public officers in the United States are commingled with the

crowd of citizens; they have neither palaces, nor guards, nor

ceremonial costumes. This simple exterior of the persons in

authority is connected not only with the peculiarities of the

American character, but with the fundamental principles of that

society. In the estimation of the democracy a government is not

a benefit, but a necessary evil. A certain degree of power must

be granted to public officers, for they would be of no use

without it. But the ostensible semblance of authority is by no

means indispensable to the conduct of affairs, and it is

needlessly offensive to the susceptibility of the public. The

public officers themselves are well aware that they only enjoy

the superiority over their fellow-citizens which they derive from

their authority upon condition of putting themselves on a level

with the whole community by their manners. A public officer in

the United States is uniformly civil, accessible to all the

world, attentive to all requests, and obliging in his replies. I

was pleased by these characteristics of a democratic government;

and I was struck by the manly independence of the citizens, who

respect the office more than the officer, and who are less

attached to the emblems of authority than to the man who bears


I am inclined to believe that the influence which costumes

really exercise, in an age like that in which we live, has been a

good deal exaggerated. I never perceived that a public officer

in America was the less respected whilst he was in the discharge

of his duties because his own merit was set off by no

adventitious signs. On the other hand, it is very doubtful

whether a peculiar dress contributes to the respect which public

characters ought to have for their own position, at least when

they are not otherwise inclined to respect it. When a magistrate

(and in France such instances are not rare) indulges his trivial

wit at the expense of the prisoner, or derides the predicament in

which a culprit is placed, it would be well to deprive him of his

robes of office, to see whether he would recall some portion of

the natural dignity of mankind when he is reduced to the apparel

of a private citizen.

A democracy may, however, allow a certain show of

magisterial pomp, and clothe its officers in silks and gold,

without seriously compromising its principles. Privileges of

this kind are transitory; they belong to the place, and are

distinct from the individual: but if public officers are not

uniformly remunerated by the State, the public charges must be

entrusted to men of opulence and independence, who constitute the

basis of an aristocracy; and if the people still retains its

right of election, that election can only be made from a certain

class of citizens. When a democratic republic renders offices

which had formerly been remunerated gratuitous, it may safely be

believed that the State is advancing to monarchical institutions;

and when a monarchy begins to remunerate such officers as had

hitherto been unpaid, it is a sure sign that it is approaching

toward a despotic or a republican form of government. The

substitution of paid for unpaid functionaries is of itself, in my

opinion, sufficient to constitute a serious revolution.

I look upon the entire absence of gratuitous functionaries

in America as one of the most prominent signs of the absolute

dominion which democracy exercises in that country. All public

services, of whatsoever nature they may be, are paid; so that

every one has not merely the right, but also the means of

performing them. Although, in democratic States, all the

citizens are qualified to occupy stations in the Government, all

are not tempted to try for them. The number and the capacities

of the candidates are more apt to restrict the choice of electors

than the coneitions of the candidateship.

In nations in which the principle of election extends to

every place in the State no political career can, properly

speaking, be said to exist. Men are promoted as if by chance to

the rank which they enjoy, and they are by no means sure of

retaining it. The consequence is that in tranquil times public

functions offer but few lures to ambition. In the United States

the persons who engage in the perplexities of political life are

individuals of very moderate pretensions. The pursuit of wealth

generally diverts men of great talents and of great passions from

the pursuit of power, and it very frequently happens that a man

does not undertake to direct the fortune of the State until he

has discovered his incompetence to conduct his own affairs. The

vast number of very ordinary men who occupy public stations is

quite as attributable to these causes as to the bad choice of the

democracy. In the United States, I am not sure that the people

would return the men of superior abilities who might solicit its

support, but it is certain that men of this description do not

come forward.

Arbitrary Power Of Magistrates Under
The Rule Of The American Democracy

For what reason the arbitrary power of Magistrates is greater in

absolute monarchies and in democratic republics than it is in

limited monarchies -Arbitrary power of the Magistrates in New


In two different kinds of government the magistrates *a

exercise a considerable degree of arbitrary power; namely, under

the absolute government of a single individual, and under that of

a democracy. This identical result proceeds from causes which

are nearly analogous.

[Footnote a: I here use the word magistrates in the widest sense

in which it can be taken; I apply it to all the officers to whom

the execution of the laws is intrusted.]

In despotic States the fortune of no citizen is secure; and

public officers are not more safe than private individuals. The

sovereign, who has under his control the lives, the property, and

sometimes the honor of the men whom he employs, does not scruple

to allow them a great latitude of action, because he is convinced

that they will not use it to his prejudice. In despotic States

the sovereign is so attached to the exercise of his power, that

he dislikes the constraint even of his own regulations; and he is

well pleased that his agents should follow a somewhat fortuitous

line of conduct, provided he be certain that their actions will

never counteract his desires.

In democracies, as the majority has every year the right of

depriving the officers whom it has appointed of their power, it

has no reason to fear any abuse of their authority. As the

people is always able to signify its wishes to those who conduct

the Government, it prefers leaving them to make their own

exertions to prescribing an invariable rule of conduct which

would at once fetter their activity and the popular authority.

It may even be observed, on attentive consideration, that

under the rule of a democracy the arbitrary power of the

magistrate must be still greater than in despotic States. In the

latter the sovereign has the power of punishing all the faults

with which he becomes acquainted, but it would be vain for him to

hope to become acquainted with all those which are committed. In

the former the sovereign power is not only supreme, but it is

universally present. The American functionaries are, in point of

fact, much more independent in the sphere of action which the law

traces out for them than any public officer in Europe. Very

frequently the object which they are to accomplish is simply

pointed out to them, and the choice of the means is left to their

own discretion.

In New England, for instance, the selectmen of each township

are bound to draw up the list of persons who are to serve on the

jury; the only rule which is laid down to guide them in their

choice is that they are to select citizens possessing the

elective franchise and enjoying a fair reputation. *b In France

the lives and liberties of the subjects would be thought to be in

danger if a public officer of any kind was entrusted with so

formidable a right. In New England the same magistrates are

empowered to post the names of habitual drunkards in

public-houses, and to prohibit the inhabitants of a town from

supplying them with liquor. *c A censorial power of this

excessive kind would be revolting to the population of the most

absolute monarchies; here, however, it is submitted to without


[Footnote b: See the Act of February 27, 1813. "General

Collection of the Laws of Massachusetts," vol. ii. p. 331. It

should be added that the jurors are afterwards drawn from these

lists by lot.]

[Footnote c: See Act of February 28, 1787. "General Collection

of the Laws of Massachusetts," vol. i. p. 302.]

Nowhere has so much been left by the law to the arbitrary

determination of the magistrate as in democratic republics,

because this arbitrary power is unattended by any alarming

consequences. It may even be asserted that the freedom of the

magistrate increases as the elective franchise is extended, and

as the duration of the time of office is shortened. Hence arises

the great difficulty which attends the conversion of a democratic

republic into a monarchy. The magistrate ceases to be elective,

but he retains the rights and the habits of an elected officer,

which lead directly to despotism.

It is only in limited monarchies that the law, which

prescribes the sphere in which public officers are to act,

superintends all their measures. The cause of this may be easily

detected. In limited monarchies the power is divided between the

King and the people, both of whom are interested in the stability

of the magistrate. The King does not venture to place the public

officers under the control of the people, lest they should be

tempted to betray his interests; on the other hand, the people

fears lest the magistrates should serve to oppress the liberties

of the country, if they were entirely dependent upon the Crown;

they cannot therefore be said to depend on either one or the

other. The same cause which induces the king and the people to

render public officers independent suggests the necessity of such

securities as may prevent their independence from encroaching

upon the authority of the former and the liberties of the latter.

They consequently agree as to the necessity of restricting the

functionary to a line of conduct laid down beforehand, and they

are interested in confining him by certain regulations which he

cannot evade.

Chapter XIII:
Government Of The Democracy
In America - Part II

Instability Of The Administration
In The United States

In America the public acts of a community frequently leave fewer

traces than the occurrences of a family - Newspapers the only

historical remains -Instability of the administration prejudicial

to the art of government.

The authority which public men possess in America is so

brief, and they are so soon commingled with the ever-changing

population of the country, that the acts of a community

frequently leave fewer traces than the occurrences of a private

family. The public administration is, so to speak, oral and

traditionary. But little is committed to writing, and that

little is wafted away forever, like the leaves of the Sibyl, by

the smallest breeze.

The only historical remains in the United States are the

newspapers; but if a number be wanting, the chain of time is

broken, and the present is severed from the past. I am convinced

that in fifty years it will be more difficult to collect

authentic documents concerning the social condition of the

Americans at the present day than it is to find remains of the

administration of France during the Middle Ages; and if the

United States were ever invaded by barbarians, it would be

necessary to have recourse to the history of other nations in

order to learn anything of the people which now inhabits them.

The instability of the administration has penetrated into

the habits of the people: it even appears to suit the general

taste, and no one cares for what occurred before his time. No

methodical system is pursued; no archives are formed; and no

documents are brought together when it would be very easy to do

so. Where they exist, little store is set upon them; and I have

amongst my papers several original public documents which were

given to me in answer to some of my inquiries. In America

society seems to live from hand to mouth, like an army in the

field. Nevertheless, the art of administration may undoubtedly

be ranked as a science, and no sciences can be improved if the

discoveries and observations of successive generations are not

connected together in the order in which they occur. One man, in

the short space of his life remarks a fact; another conceives an

idea; the former invents a means of execution, the latter reduces

a truth to a fixed proposition; and mankind gathers the fruits of

individual experience upon its way and gradually forms the

sciences. But the persons who conduct the administration in

America can seldom afford any instruction to each other; and when

they assume the direction of society, they simply possess those

attainments which are most widely disseminated in the community,

and no experience peculiar to themselves. Democracy, carried to

its furthest limits, is therefore prejudicial to the art of

government; and for this reason it is better adapted to a people

already versed in the conduct of an administration than to a

nation which is uninitiated in public affairs.

This remark, indeed, is not exclusively applicable to the

science of administration. Although a democratic government is

founded upon a very simple and natural principle, it always

presupposes the existence of a high degree of culture and

enlightenment in society. *d At the first glance it may be

imagined to belong to the earliest ages of the world; but maturer

observation will convince us that it could only come last in the

succession of human history.

[Footnote d: It is needless to observe that I speak here of the

democratic form of government as applied to a people, not merely

to a tribe.]

Charges Levied By The State Under The Rule Of The American


In all communities citizens divisible into three classes - Habits

of each of these classes in the direction of public finances -

Why public expenditure must tend to increase when the people

governs - What renders the extravagance of a democracy less to be

feared in America - Public expenditure under a democracy.

Before we can affirm whether a democratic form of government

is economical or not, we must establish a suitable standard of

comparison. The question would be one of easy solution if we

were to attempt to draw a parallel between a democratic republic

and an absolute monarchy. The public expenditure would be found

to be more considerable under the former than under the latter;

such is the case with all free States compared to those which are

not so. It is certain that despotism ruins individuals by

preventing them from producing wealth, much more than by

depriving them of the wealth they have produced; it dries up the

source of riches, whilst it usually respects acquired property.

Freedom, on the contrary, engenders far more benefits than it

destroys; and the nations which are favored by free institutions

invariably find that their resources increase even more rapidly

than their taxes.

My present object is to compare free nations to each other,

and to point out the influence of democracy upon the finances of

a State.

Communities, as well as organic bodies, are subject to

certain fixed rules in their formation which they cannot evade.

They are composed of certain elements which are common to them at

all times and under all circumstances. The people may always be

mentally divided into three distinct classes. The first of these

classes consists of the wealthy; the second, of those who are in

easy circumstances; and the third is composed of those who have

little or no property, and who subsist more especially by the

work which they perform for the two superior orders. The

proportion of the individuals who are included in these three

divisions may vary according to the condition of society, but the

divisions themselves can never be obliterated.

It is evident that each of these classes will exercise an

influence peculiar to its own propensities upon the

administration of the finances of the State. If the first of the

three exclusively possesses the legislative power, it is probable

that it will not be sparing of the public funds, because the

taxes which are levied on a large fortune only tend to diminish

the sum of superfluous enjoyment, and are, in point of fact, but

little felt. If the second class has the power of making the

laws, it will certainly not be lavish of taxes, because nothing

is so onerous as a large impost which is levied upon a small

income. The government of the middle classes appears to me to be

the most economical, though perhaps not the most enlightened, and

certainly not the most generous, of free governments.

But let us now suppose that the legislative authority is

vested in the lowest orders: there are two striking reasons which

show that the tendency of the expenditure will be to increase,

not to diminish. As the great majority of those who create the

laws are possessed of no property upon which taxes can be

imposed, all the money which is spent for the community appears

to be spent to their advantage, at no cost of their own; and

those who are possessed of some little property readily find

means of regulating the taxes so that they are burdensome to the

wealthy and profitable to the poor, although the rich are unable

to take the same advantage when they are in possession of the


In countries in which the poor *e should be exclusively

invested with the power of making the laws no great economy of

public expenditure ought to be expected: that expenditure will

always be considerable; either because the taxes do not weigh

upon those who levy them, or because they are levied in such a

manner as not to weigh upon those classes. In other words, the

government of the democracy is the only one under which the power

which lays on taxes escapes the payment of them.

[Footnote e: The word poor is used here, and throughout the

remainder of this chapter, in a relative, not in an absolute

sense. Poor men in America would often appear rich in comparison

with the poor of Europe; but they may with propriety by styled

poor in comparison with their more affluent countrymen.]

It may be objected (but the argument has no real weight)

that the true interest of the people is indissolubly connected

with that of the wealthier portion of the community, since it

cannot but suffer by the severe measures to which it resorts.

But is it not the true interest of kings to render their subjects

happy, and the true interest of nobles to admit recruits into

their order on suitable grounds? If remote advantages had power

to prevail over the passions and the exigencies of the moment, no

such thing as a tyrannical sovereign or an exclusive aristocracy

could ever exist.

Again, it may be objected that the poor are never invested

with the sole power of making the laws; but I reply, that

wherever universal suffrage has been established the majority of

the community unquestionably exercises the legislative authority;

and if it be proved that the poor always constitute the majority,

it may be added, with perfect truth, that in the countries in

which they possess the elective franchise they possess the sole

power of making laws. But it is certain that in all the nations

of the world the greater number has always consisted of those

persons who hold no property, or of those whose property is

insufficient to exempt them from the necessity of working in

order to procure an easy subsistence. Universal suffrage does

therefore, in point of fact, invest the poor with the government

of society.

The disastrous influence which popular authority may

sometimes exercise upon the finances of a State was very clearly

seen in some of the democratic republics of antiquity, in which

the public treasure was exhausted in order to relieve indigent

citizens, or to supply the games and theatrical amusements of the

populace. It is true that the representative system was then

very imperfectly known, and that, at the present time, the

influence of popular passion is less felt in the conduct of

public affairs; but it may be believed that the delegate will in

the end conform to the principles of his constituents, and favor

their propensities as much as their interests.

The extravagance of democracy is, however, less to be

dreaded in proportion as the people acquires a share of property,

because on the one hand the contributions of the rich are then

less needed, and, on the other, it is more difficult to lay on

taxes which do not affect the interests of the lower classes. On

this account universal suffrage would be less dangerous in France

than in England, because in the latter country the property on

which taxes may be levied is vested in fewer hands. America,

where the great majority of the citizens possess some fortune, is

in a still more favorable position than France.

There are still further causes which may increase the sum of

public expenditure in democratic countries. When the aristocracy

governs, the individuals who conduct the affairs of State are

exempted by their own station in society from every kind of

privation; they are contented with their position; power and

renown are the objects for which they strive; and, as they are

placed far above the obscurer throng of citizens, they do not

always distinctly perceive how the well-being of the mass of the

people ought to redound to their own honor. They are not indeed

callous to the sufferings of the poor, but they cannot feel those

miseries as acutely as if they were themselves partakers of them.

Provided that the people appear to submit to its lot, the rulers

are satisfied, and they demand nothing further from the

Government. An aristocracy is more intent upon the means of

maintaining its influence than upon the means of improving its


When, on the contrary, the people is invested with the

supreme authority, the perpetual sense of their own miseries

impels the rulers of society to seek for perpetual ameliorations.

A thousand different objects are subjected to improvement; the

most trivial details are sought out as susceptible of amendment;

and those changes which are accompanied with considerable expense

are more especially advocated, since the object is to render the

condition of the poor more tolerable, who cannot pay for


Moreover, all democratic communities are agitated by an ill-

defined excitement and by a kind of feverish impatience, that

engender a multitude of innovations, almost all of which are

attended with expense.

In monarchies and aristocracies the natural taste which the

rulers have for power and for renown is stimulated by the

promptings of ambition, and they are frequently incited by these

temptations to very costly undertakings. In democracies, where

the rulers labor under privations, they can only be courted by

such means as improve their well-being, and these improvements

cannot take place without a sacrifice of money. When a people

begins to reflect upon its situation, it discovers a multitude of

wants to which it had not before been subject, and to satisfy

these exigencies recourse must be had to the coffers of the

State. Hence it arises that the public charges increase in

proportion as civilization spreads, and that imposts are

augmented as knowledge pervades the community.

The last cause which frequently renders a democratic

government dearer than any other is, that a democracy does not

always succeed in moderating its expenditure, because it does not

understand the art of being economical. As the designs which it

entertains are frequently changed, and the agents of those

designs are still more frequently removed, its undertakings are

often ill conducted or left unfinished: in the former case the

State spends sums out of all proportion to the end which it

proposes to accomplish; in the second, the expense itself is

unprofitable. *f

[Footnote f: The gross receipts of the Treasury of the United

States in 1832 were about $28,000,000; in 1870 they had risen to

$411,000,000. The gross expenditure in 1832 was $30,000,000; in

1870, $309,000,000.]

Tendencies Of The American Democracy As Regards The Salaries Of

Public Officers

In the democracies those who establish high salaries have no

chance of profiting by them - Tendency of the American democracy

to increase the salaries of subordinate officers and to lower

those of the more important functionaries - Reason of this -

Comparative statement of the salaries of public officers in the

United States and in France.

There is a powerful reason which usually induces democracies

to economize upon the salaries of public officers. As the number

of citizens who dispense the remuneration is extremely large in

democratic countries, so the number of persons who can hope to be

benefited by the receipt of it is comparatively small. In

aristocratic countries, on the contrary, the individuals who fix

high salaries have almost always a vague hope of profiting by

them. These appointments may be looked upon as a capital which

they create for their own use, or at least as a resource for

their children.

It must, however, be allowed that a democratic State is most

parsimonious towards its principal agents. In America the

secondary officers are much better paid, and the dignitaries of

the administration much worse, than they are elsewhere.

These opposite effects result from the same cause; the

people fixes the salaries of the public officers in both cases;

and the scale of remuneration is determined by the consideration

of its own wants. It is held to be fair that the servants of the

public should be placed in the same easy circumstances as the

public itself; *g but when the question turns upon the salaries

of the great officers of State, this rule fails, and chance alone

can guide the popular decision. The poor have no adequate

conception of the wants which the higher classes of society may

feel. The sum which is scanty to the rich appears enormous to

the poor man whose wants do not extend beyond the necessaries of

life; and in his estimation the Governor of a State, with his

twelve or fifteen hundred dollars a year, is a very fortunate and

enviable being. *h If you undertake to convince him that the

representative of a great people ought to be able to maintain

some show of splendor in the eyes of foreign nations, he will

perhaps assent to your meaning; but when he reflects on his own

humble dwelling, and on the hard- earned produce of his wearisome

toil, he remembers all that he could do with a salary which you

say is insufficient, and he is startled or almost frightened at

the sight of such uncommon wealth. Besides, the secondary public

officer is almost on a level with the people, whilst the others

are raised above it. The former may therefore excite his

interest, but the latter begins to arouse his envy.

[Footnote g: The easy circumstances in which secondary

functionaries are placed in the United States result also from

another cause, which is independent of the general tendencies of

democracy; every kind of private business is very lucrative, and

the State would not be served at all if it did not pay its

servants. The country is in the position of a commercial

undertaking, which is obliged to sustain an expensive

competition, notwithstanding its tastes for economy.]

[Footnote h: The State of Ohio, which contains a million of

inhabitants, gives its Governor a salary of only $1,200 a year.]

This is very clearly seen in the United States, where the

salaries seem to decrease as the authority of those who receive

them augments *i

[Footnote i: To render this assertion perfectly evident, it will

suffice to examine the scale of salaries of the agents of the

Federal Government. I have added the salaries attached to the

corresponding officers in France under the constitutional

monarchy to complete the comparison.

United States

Treasury Department

Messenger ............................ $700

Clerk with lowest salary ............. 1,000

Clerk with highest salary ............ 1,600

Chief Clerk .......................... 2,000

Secretary of State ................... 6,000

The President ........................ 25,000


Ministere des Finances

Hussier ........................... 1,500 fr.

Clerk with lowest salary, 1,000 to 1,800 fr.

Clerk with highest salary 3,200 to 8,600 fr.

Secretaire-general ................20,000 fr.

The Minister ......................80,000 fr.

The King ......................12,000,000 fr.

I have perhaps done wrong in selecting France as my standard

of comparison. In France the democratic tendencies of the nation

exercise an ever-increasing influence upon the Government, and

the Chambers show a disposition to raise the low salaries and to

lower the principal ones. Thus, the Minister of Finance, who

received 160,000 fr. under the Empire, receives 80,000 fr. in

1835: the Directeurs-generaux of Finance, who then received

50,000 fr. now receive only 20,000 fr. [This comparison is based

on the state of things existing in France and the United States

in 1831. It has since materially altered in both countries, but

not so much as to impugn the truth of the author's observation.]]

Under the rule of an aristocracy it frequently happens, on

the contrary, that whilst the high officers are receiving

munificent salaries, the inferior ones have not more than enough

to procure the necessaries of life. The reason of this fact is

easily discoverable from causes very analogous to those to which

I have just alluded. If a democracy is unable to conceive the

pleasures of the rich or to witness them without envy, an

aristocracy is slow to understand, or, to speak more correctly,

is unacquainted with, the privations of the poor. The poor man

is not (if we use the term aright) the fellow of the rich one;

but he is a being of another species. An aristocracy is

therefore apt to care but little for the fate of its subordinate

agents; and their salaries are only raised when they refuse to

perform their service for too scanty a remuneration.

It is the parsimonious conduct of democracy towards its

principal officers which has countenanced a supposition of far

more economical propensities than any which it really possesses.

It is true that it scarcely allows the means of honorable

subsistence to the individuals who conduct its affairs; but

enormous sums are lavished to meet the exigencies or to

facilitate the enjoyments of the people. *j The money raised by

taxation may be better employed, but it is not saved. In

general, democracy gives largely to the community, and very

sparingly to those who govern it. The reverse is the case in

aristocratic countries, where the money of the State is expended

to the profit of the persons who are at the head of affairs.

[Footnote j: See the American budgets for the cost of indigent

citizens and gratuitous instruction. In 1831 $250,000 were spent

in the State of New York for the maintenance of the poor, and at

least $1,000,000 were devoted to gratuitous instruction.

(William's "New York Annual Register," 1832, pp. 205 and 243.)

The State of New York contained only 1,900,000 inhabitants in the

year 1830, which is not more than double the amount of population

in the Department du Nord in France.]

Difficulty of Distinguishing The Causes Which Contribute To The

Economy Of The American Government

We are liable to frequent errors in the research of those

facts which exercise a serious influence upon the fate of

mankind, since nothing is more difficult than to appreciate their

real value. One people is naturally inconsistent and

enthusiastic; another is sober and calculating; and these

characteristics originate in their physical constitution or in

remote causes with which we are unacquainted.

These are nations which are fond of parade and the bustle of

festivity, and which do not regret the costly gaieties of an

hour. Others, on the contrary, are attached to more retiring

pleasures, and seem almost ashamed of appearing to be pleased.

In some countries the highest value is set upon the beauty of

public edifices; in others the productions of art are treated

with indifference, and everything which is unproductive is looked

down upon with contempt. In some renown, in others money, is the

ruling passion.

Independently of the laws, all these causes concur to

exercise a very powerful influence upon the conduct of the

finances of the State. If the Americans never spend the money of

the people in galas, it is not only because the imposition of

taxes is under the control of the people, but because the people

takes no delight in public rejoicings. If they repudiate all

ornament from their architecture, and set no store on any but the

more practical and homely advantages, it is not only because they

live under democratic institutions, but because they are a

commercial nation. The habits of private life are continued in

public; and we ought carefully to distinguish that economy which

depends upon their institutions from that which is the natural

result of their manners and customs.

Whether The Expenditure Of The United States Can Be Compared To

That Of France

Two points to be established in order to estimate the extent of

the public charges, viz., the national wealth and the rate of

taxation - The wealth and the charges of France not accurately

known - Why the wealth and charges of the Union cannot be

accurately known - Researches of the author with a view to

discover the amount of taxation of Pennsylvania - General

symptoms which may serve to indicate the amount of the public

charges in a given nation - Result of this investigation for the


Many attempts have recently been made in France to compare

the public expenditure of that country with the expenditure of

the United States; all these attempts have, however, been

unattended by success, and a few words will suffice to show that

they could not have had a satisfactory result.


In order to estimate the amount of the public charges of a

people two preliminaries are indispensable: it is necessary, in

the first place, to know the wealth of that people; and in the

second, to learn what portion of that wealth is devoted to the

expenditure of the State. To show the amount of taxation without

showing the resources which are destined to meet the demand, is

to undertake a futile labor; for it is not the expenditure, but

the relation of the expenditure to the revenue, which it is

desirable to know.

The same rate of taxation which may easily be supported by a

wealthy contributor will reduce a poor one to extreme misery.

The wealth of nations is composed of several distinct elements,

of which population is the first, real property the second, and

personal property the third. The first of these three elements

may be discovered without difficulty. Amongst civilized nations

it is easy to obtain an accurate census of the inhabitants; but

the two others cannot be determined with so much facility. It is

difficult to take an exact account of all the lands in a country

which are under cultivation, with their natural or their acquired

value; and it is still more impossible to estimate the entire

personal property which is at the disposal of a nation, and which

eludes the strictest analysis by the diversity and the number of

shapes under which it may occur. And, indeed, we find that the

most ancient civilized nations of Europe, including even those in

which the administration is most central, have not succeeded, as

yet, in determining the exact condition of their wealth.

In America the attempt has never been made; for how would

such an investigation be possible in a country where society has

not yet settled into habits of regularity and tranquillity; where

the national Government is not assisted by a multiple of agents

whose exertions it can command and direct to one sole end; and

where statistics are not studied, because no one is able to

collect the necessary documents, or to find time to peruse them?

Thus the primary elements of the calculations which have been

made in France cannot be obtained in the Union; the relative

wealth of the two countries is unknown; the property of the

former is not accurately determined, and no means exist of

computing that of the latter.

I consent, therefore, for the sake of the discussion, to

abandon this necessary term of the comparison, and I confine

myself to a computation of the actual amount of taxation, without

investigating the relation which subsists between the taxation

and the revenue. But the reader will perceive that my task has

not been facilitated by the limits which I here lay down for my


It cannot be doubted that the central administration of

France, assisted by all the public officers who are at its

disposal, might determine with exactitude the amount of the

direct and indirect taxes levied upon the citizens. But this

investigation, which no private individual can undertake, has not

hitherto been completed by the French Government, or, at least,

its results have not been made public. We are acquainted with

the sum total of the charges of the State; we know the amount of

the departmental expenditure; but the expenses of the communal

divisions have not been computed, and the amount of the public

expenses of France is consequently unknown.

If we now turn to America, we shall perceive that the

difficulties are multiplied and enhanced. The Union publishes an

exact return of the amount of its expenditure; the budgets of the

four and twenty States furnish similar returns of their revenues;

but the expenses incident to the affairs of the counties and the

townships are unknown. *k

[Footnote k: The Americans, as we have seen, have four separate

budgets, the Union, the States, the Counties, and the Townships

having each severally their own. During my stay in America I

made every endeavor to discover the amount of the public

expenditure in the townships and counties of the principal States

of the Union, and I readily obtained the budget of the larger

townships, but I found it quite impossible to procure that of the

smaller ones. I possess, however, some documents relating to

county expenses, which, although incomplete, are still curious.

I have to thank Mr. Richards, Mayor of Philadelphia, for the

budgets of thirteen of the counties of Pennsylvania, viz.,

Lebanon, Centre, Franklin, Fayette, Montgomery, Luzerne, Dauphin,

Butler, Alleghany, Columbia, Northampton, Northumberland, and

Philadelphia, for the year 1830. Their population at that time

consisted of 495,207 inhabitants. On looking at the map of

Pennsylvania, it will be seen that these thirteen counties are

scattered in every direction, and so generally affected by the

causes which usually influence the condition of a country, that

they may easily be supposed to furnish a correct average of the

financial state of the counties of Pennsylvania in general; and

thus, upon reckoning that the expenses of these counties amounted

in the year 1830 to about $361,650, or nearly 75 cents for each

inhabitant, and calculating that each of them contributed in the

same year about $2.55 towards the Union, and about 75 cents to

the State of Pennsylvania, it appears that they each contributed

as their share of all the public expenses (except those of the

townships) the sum of $4.05. This calculation is doubly

incomplete, as it applies only to a single year and to one part

of the public charges; but it has at least the merit of not being


The authority of the Federal government cannot oblige the

provincial governments to throw any light upon this point; and

even if these governments were inclined to afford their

simultaneous co- operation, it may be doubted whether they

possess the means of procuring a satisfactory answer.

Independently of the natural difficulties of the task, the

political organization of the country would act as a hindrance to

the success of their efforts. The county and town magistrates

are not appointed by the authorities of the State, and they are

not subjected to their control. It is therefore very allowable

to suppose that, if the State was desirous of obtaining the

returns which we require, its design would be counteracted by the

neglect of those subordinate officers whom it would be obliged to

employ. *l It is, in point of fact, useless to inquire what the

Americans might do to forward this inquiry, since it is certain

that they have hitherto done nothing at all. There does not exist

a single individual at the present day, in America or in Europe,

who can inform us what each citizen of the Union annually

contributes to the public charges of the nation. *m

[Footnote l: Those who have attempted to draw a comparison

between the expenses of France and America have at once perceived

that no such comparison could be drawn between the total

expenditure of the two countries; but they have endeavored to

contrast detached portions of this expenditure. It may readily

be shown that this second system is not at all less defective

than the first. If I attempt to compare the French budget with

the budget of the Union, it must be remembered that the latter

embraces much fewer objects than then central Government of the

former country, and that the expenditure must consequently be

much smaller. If I contrast the budgets of the Departments with

those of the States which constitute the Union, it must be

observed that, as the power and control exercised by the States

is much greater than that which is exercised by the Departments,

their expenditure is also more considerable. As for the budgets

of the counties, nothing of the kind occurs in the French system

of finances; and it is, again, doubtful whether the corresponding

expenses should be referred to the budget of the State or to

those of the municipal divisions. Municipal expenses exist in

both countries, but they are not always analogous. In America

the townships discharge a variety of offices which are reserved

in France to the Departments or to the State. It may, moreover,

be asked what is to be understood by the municipal expenses of

America. The organization of the municipal bodies or townships

differs in the several States. Are we to be guided by what

occurs in New England or in Georgia, in Pennsylvania or in the

State of Illinois? A kind of analogy may very readily be

perceived between certain budgets in the two countries; but as

the elements of which they are composed always differ more or

less, no fair comparison can be instituted between them. [The

same difficulty exists, perhaps to a greater degree at the

present time, when the taxation of America has largely increased.

- 1874.]]

[Footnote m: Even if we knew the exact pecuniary contributions of

every French and American citizen to the coffers of the State, we

should only come at a portion of the truth. Governments do not

only demand supplies of money, but they call for personal

services, which may be looked upon as equivalent to a given sum.

When a State raises an army, besides the pay of the troops, which

is furnished by the entire nation, each soldier must give up his

time, the value of which depends on the use he might make of it

if he were not in the service. The same remark applies to the

militia; the citizen who is in the militia devotes a certain

portion of valuable time to the maintenance of the public peace,

and he does in reality surrender to the State those earnings

which he is prevented from gaining. Many other instances might

be cited in addition to these. The governments of France and of

America both levy taxes of this kind, which weigh upon the

citizens; but who can estimate with accuracy their relative

amount in the two countries?

This, however, is not the last of the difficulties which

prevent us from comparing the expenditure of the Union with that

of France. The French Government contracts certain obligations

which do not exist in America, and vice versa. The French

Government pays the clergy; in America the voluntary principle

prevails. In America there is a legal provision for the poor; in

France they are abandoned to the charity of the public. The

French public officers are paid by a fixed salary; in America

they are allowed certain perquisites. In France contributions in

kind take place on very few roads; in America upon almost all the

thoroughfares: in the former country the roads are free to all

travellers; in the latter turnpikes abound. All these

differences in the manner in which contributions are levied in

the two countries enhance the difficulty of comparing their

expenditure; for there are certain expenses which the citizens

would not be subject to, or which would at any rate be much less

considerable, if the State did not take upon itself to act in the

name of the public.]

Hence we must conclude that it is no less difficult to

compare the social expenditure than it is to estimate the

relative wealth of France and America. I will even add that it

would be dangerous to attempt this comparison; for when

statistics are not based upon computations which are strictly

accurate, they mislead instead of guiding aright. The mind is

easily imposed upon by the false affectation of exactness, which

prevails even in the misstatements of science, and it adopts with

confidence errors which are dressed in the forms of mathematical


We abandon, therefore, our numerical investigation, with the

hope of meeting with data of another kind. In the absence of

positive documents, we may form an opinion as to the proportion

which the taxation of a people bears to its real prosperity, by

observing whether its external appearance is flourishing;

whether, after having discharged the calls of the State, the poor

man retains the means of subsistence, and the rich the means of

enjoyment; and whether both classes are contented with their

position, seeking, however, to ameliorate it by perpetual

exertions, so that industry is never in want of capital, nor

capital unemployed by industry. The observer who draws his

inferences from these signs will, undoubtedly, be led to the

conclusion that the American of the United States contributes a

much smaller portion of his income to the State than the citizen

of France. Nor, indeed, can the result be otherwise.

A portion of the French debt is the consequence of two

successive invasions; and the Union has no similar calamity to

fear. A nation placed upon the continent of Europe is obliged to

maintain a large standing army; the isolated position of the

Union enables it to have only 6,000 soldiers. The French have a

fleet of 300 sail; the Americans have 52 vessels. *n How, then,

can the inhabitants of the Union be called upon to contribute as

largely as the inhabitants of France? No parallel can be drawn

between the finances of two countries so differently situated.

[Footnote n: See the details in the Budget of the French Minister

of Marine; and for America, the National Calendar of 1833, p.

228. [But the public debt of the United States in 1870, caused

by the Civil War, amounted to $2,480,672,427; that of France was

more than doubled by the extravagance of the Second Empire and by

the war of 1870.]]

It is by examining what actually takes place in the Union,

and not by comparing the Union with France, that we may discover

whether the American Government is really economical. On casting

my eyes over the different republics which form the

confederation, I perceive that their Governments lack

perseverance in their undertakings, and that they exercise no

steady control over the men whom they employ. Whence I naturally

infer that they must often spend the money of the people to no

purpose, or consume more of it than is really necessary to their

undertakings. Great efforts are made, in accordance with the

democratic origin of society, to satisfy the exigencies of the

lower orders, to open the career of power to their endeavors, and

to diffuse knowledge and comfort amongst them. The poor are

maintained, immense sums are annually devoted to public

instruction, all services whatsoever are remunerated, and the

most subordinate agents are liberally paid. If this kind of

government appears to me to be useful and rational, I am

nevertheless constrained to admit that it is expensive.

Wherever the poor direct public affairs and dispose of the

national resources, it appears certain that, as they profit by

the expenditure of the State, they are apt to augment that


I conclude, therefore, without having recourse to inaccurate

computations, and without hazarding a comparison which might

prove incorrect, that the democratic government of the Americans

is not a cheap government, as is sometimes asserted; and I have

no hesitation in predicting that, if the people of the United

States is ever involved in serious difficulties, its taxation

will speedily be increased to the rate of that which prevails in

the greater part of the aristocracies and the monarchies of

Europe. *o

[Footnote o: [That is precisely what has since occurred.]]

Chapter XIII: Government Of The Democracy In America - Part III

Corruption And Vices Of The Rulers In A Democracy, And Consequent

Effects Upon Public Morality

In aristocracies rulers sometimes endeavor to corrupt the people

- In democracies rulers frequently show themselves to be corrupt

- In the former their vices are directly prejudicial to the

morality of the people - In the latter their indirect influence

is still more pernicious.

A distinction must be made, when the aristocratic and the

democratic principles mutually inveigh against each other, as

tending to facilitate corruption. In aristocratic governments

the individuals who are placed at the head of affairs are rich

men, who are solely desirous of power. In democracies statesmen

are poor, and they have their fortunes to make. The consequence

is that in aristocratic States the rulers are rarely accessible

to corruption, and have very little craving for money; whilst the

reverse is the case in democratic nations.

But in aristocracies, as those who are desirous of arriving

at the head of affairs are possessed of considerable wealth, and

as the number of persons by whose assistance they may rise is

comparatively small, the government is, if I may use the

expression, put up to a sort of auction. In democracies, on the

contrary, those who are covetous of power are very seldom

wealthy, and the number of citizens who confer that power is

extremely great. Perhaps in democracies the number of men who

might be bought is by no means smaller, but buyers are rarely to

be met with; and, besides, it would be necessary to buy so many

persons at once that the attempt is rendered nugatory.

Many of the men who have been in the administration in

France during the last forty years have been accused of making

their fortunes at the expense of the State or of its allies; a

reproach which was rarely addressed to the public characters of

the ancient monarchy. But in France the practice of bribing

electors is almost unknown, whilst it is notoriously and publicly

carried on in England. In the United States I never heard a man

accused of spending his wealth in corrupting the populace; but I

have often heard the probity of public officers questioned; still

more frequently have I heard their success attributed to low

intrigues and immoral practices.

If, then, the men who conduct the government of an

aristocracy sometimes endeavor to corrupt the people, the heads

of a democracy are themselves corrupt. In the former case the

morality of the people is directly assailed; in the latter an

indirect influence is exercised upon the people which is still

more to be dreaded.

As the rulers of democratic nations are almost always

exposed to the suspicion of dishonorable conduct, they in some

measure lend the authority of the Government to the base

practices of which they are accused. They thus afford an example

which must prove discouraging to the struggles of virtuous

independence, and must foster the secret calculations of a

vicious ambition. If it be asserted that evil passions are

displayed in all ranks of society, that they ascend the throne by

hereditary right, and that despicable characters are to be met

with at the head of aristocratic nations as well as in the sphere

of a democracy, this objection has but little weight in my

estimation. The corruption of men who have casually risen to

power has a coarse and vulgar infection in it which renders it

contagious to the multitude. On the contrary, there is a kind of

aristocratic refinement and an air of grandeur in the depravity

of the great, which frequently prevent it from spreading abroad.

The people can never penetrate into the perplexing labyrinth

of court intrigue, and it will always have difficulty in

detecting the turpitude which lurks under elegant manners,

refined tastes, and graceful language. But to pillage the public

purse, and to vend the favors of the State, are arts which the

meanest villain may comprehend, and hope to practice in his turn.

In reality it is far less prejudicial to witness the

immorality of the great than to witness that immorality which

leads to greatness. In a democracy private citizens see a man of

their own rank in life, who rises from that obscure position, and

who becomes possessed of riches and of power in a few years; the

spectacle excites their surprise and their envy, and they are led

to inquire how the person who was yesterday their equal is to-day

their ruler. To attribute his rise to his talents or his virtues

is unpleasant; for it is tacitly to acknowledge that they are

themselves less virtuous and less talented than he was. They are

therefore led (and not unfrequently their conjecture is a correct

one) to impute his success mainly to some one of his defects; and

an odious mixture is thus formed of the ideas of turpitude and

power, unworthiness and success, utility and dishonor.

Efforts Of Which A Democracy Is Capable

The Union has only had one struggle hitherto for its existence -

Enthusiasm at the commencement of the war - Indifference towards

its close - Difficulty of establishing military conscription or

impressment of seamen in America - Why a democratic people is

less capable of sustained effort than another.

I here warn the reader that I speak of a government which

implicitly follows the real desires of a people, and not of a

government which simply commands in its name. Nothing is so

irresistible as a tyrannical power commanding in the name of the

people, because, whilst it exercises that moral influence which

belongs to the decision of the majority, it acts at the same time

with the promptitude and the tenacity of a single man.

It is difficult to say what degree of exertion a democratic

government may be capable of making a crisis in the history of

the nation. But no great democratic republic has hitherto

existed in the world. To style the oligarchy which ruled over

France in 1793 by that name would be to offer an insult to the

republican form of government. The United States afford the

first example of the kind.

The American Union has now subsisted for half a century, in

the course of which time its existence has only once been

attacked, namely, during the War of Independence. At the

commencement of that long war, various occurrences took place

which betokened an extraordinary zeal for the service of the

country. *p But as the contest was prolonged, symptoms of private

egotism began to show themselves. No money was poured into the

public treasury; few recruits could be raised to join the army;

the people wished to acquire independence, but was very

ill-disposed to undergo the privations by which alone it could be

obtained. "Tax laws," says Hamilton in the "Federalist" (No.

12), "have in vain been multiplied; new methods to enforce the

collection have in vain been tried; the public expectation has

been uniformly disappointed and the treasuries of the States have

remained empty. The popular system of administration inherent in

the nature of popular government, coinciding with the real

scarcity of money incident to a languid and mutilated state of

trade, has hitherto defeated every experiment for extensive

collections, and has at length taught the different legislatures

the folly of attempting them."

[Footnote p: One of the most singular of these occurrences was

the resolution which the Americans took of temporarily abandoning

the use of tea. Those who know that men usually cling more to

their habits than to their life will doubtless admire this great

though obscure sacrifice which was made by a whole people.]

The United States have not had any serious war to carry on

ever since that period. In order, therefore, to appreciate the

sacrifices which democratic nations may impose upon themselves,

we must wait until the American people is obliged to put half its

entire income at the disposal of the Government, as was done by

the English; or until it sends forth a twentieth part of its

population to the field of battle, as was done by France. *q

[Footnote q: [The Civil War showed that when the necessity arose

the American people, both in the North and in the South, are

capable of making the most enormous sacrifices, both in money and

in men.]]

In America the use of conscription is unknown, and men are

induced to enlist by bounties. The notions and habits of the

people of the United States are so opposed to compulsory

enlistment that I do not imagine it can ever be sanctioned by the

laws. What is termed the conscription in France is assuredly the

heaviest tax upon the population of that country; yet how could a

great continental war be carried on without it? The Americans

have not adopted the British impressment of seamen, and they have

nothing which corresponds to the French system of maritime

conscription; the navy, as well as the merchant service, is

supplied by voluntary service. But it is not easy to conceive

how a people can sustain a great maritime war without having

recourse to one or the other of these two systems. Indeed, the

Union, which has fought with some honor upon the seas, has never

possessed a very numerous fleet, and the equipment of the small

number of American vessels has always been excessively expensive.

I have heard American statesmen confess that the Union will

have great difficulty in maintaining its rank on the seas without

adopting the system of impressment or of maritime conscription;

but the difficulty is to induce the people, which exercises the

supreme authority, to submit to impressment or any compulsory


It is incontestable that in times of danger a free people

displays far more energy than one which is not so. But I incline

to believe that this is more especially the case in those free

nations in which the democratic element preponderates. Democracy

appears to me to be much better adapted for the peaceful conduct

of society, or for an occasional effort of remarkable vigor, than

for the hardy and prolonged endurance of the storms which beset

the political existence of nations. The reason is very evident;

it is enthusiasm which prompts men to expose themselves to

dangers and privations, but they will not support them long

without reflection. There is more calculation, even in the

impulses of bravery, than is generally attributed to them; and

although the first efforts are suggested by passion, perseverance

is maintained by a distinct regard of the purpose in view. A

portion of what we value is exposed, in order to save the


But it is this distinct perception of the future, founded

upon a sound judgment and an enlightened experience, which is

most frequently wanting in democracies. The populace is more apt

to feel than to reason; and if its present sufferings are great,

it is to be feared that the still greater sufferings attendant

upon defeat will be forgotten.

Another cause tends to render the efforts of a democratic

government less persevering than those of an aristocracy. Not

only are the lower classes less awakened than the higher orders

to the good or evil chances of the future, but they are liable to

suffer far more acutely from present privations. The noble

exposes his life, indeed, but the chance of glory is equal to the

chance of harm. If he sacrifices a large portion of his income

to the State, he deprives himself for a time of the pleasures of

affluence; but to the poor man death is embellished by no pomp or

renown, and the imposts which are irksome to the rich are fatal

to him.

This relative impotence of democratic republics is, perhaps,

the greatest obstacle to the foundation of a republic of this

kind in Europe. In order that such a State should subsist in one

country of the Old World, it would be necessary that similar

institutions should be introduced into all the other nations.

I am of opinion that a democratic government tends in the

end to increase the real strength of society; but it can never

combine, upon a single point and at a given time, so much power

as an aristocracy or a monarchy. If a democratic country

remained during a whole century subject to a republican

government, it would probably at the end of that period be more

populous and more prosperous than the neighboring despotic

States. But it would have incurred the risk of being conquered

much oftener than they would in that lapse of years.

Self-Control Of The American Democracy

The American people acquiesces slowly, or frequently does not

acquiesce, in what is beneficial to its interests - The faults of

the American democracy are for the most part reparable.

The difficulty which a democracy has in conquering the

passions and in subduing the exigencies of the moment, with a

view to the future, is conspicuous in the most trivial

occurrences of the United States. The people, which is

surrounded by flatterers, has great difficulty in surmounting its

inclinations, and whenever it is solicited to undergo a privation

or any kind of inconvenience, even to attain an end which is

sanctioned by its own rational conviction, it almost always

refuses to comply at first. The deference of the Americans to

the laws has been very justly applauded; but it must be added

that in America the legislation is made by the people and for the

people. Consequently, in the United States the law favors those

classes which are most interested in evading it elsewhere. It

may therefore be supposed that an offensive law, which should not

be acknowledged to be one of immediate utility, would either not

be enacted or would not be obeyed.

In America there is no law against fraudulent bankruptcies;

not because they are few, but because there are a great number of

bankruptcies. The dread of being prosecuted as a bankrupt acts

with more intensity upon the mind of the majority of the people

than the fear of being involved in losses or ruin by the failure

of other parties, and a sort of guilty tolerance is extended by

the public conscience to an offence which everyone condemns in

his individual capacity. In the new States of the Southwest the

citizens generally take justice into their own hands, and murders

are of very frequent occurrence. This arises from the rude

manners and the ignorance of the inhabitants of those deserts,

who do not perceive the utility of investing the law with

adequate force, and who prefer duels to prosecutions.

Someone observed to me one day, in Philadelphia, that almost

all crimes in America are caused by the abuse of intoxicating

liquors, which the lower classes can procure in great abundance,

from their excessive cheapness. "How comes it," said I, "that

you do not put a duty upon brandy?" "Our legislators," rejoined

my informant, "have frequently thought of this expedient; but the

task of putting it in operation is a difficult one; a revolt

might be apprehended, and the members who should vote for a law

of this kind would be sure of losing their seats." "Whence I am

to infer," replied I, "that the drinking population constitutes

the majority in your country, and that temperance is somewhat


When these things are pointed out to the American statesmen,

they content themselves with assuring you that time will operate

the necessary change, and that the experience of evil will teach

the people its true interests. This is frequently true, although

a democracy is more liable to error than a monarch or a body of

nobles; the chances of its regaining the right path when once it

has acknowledged its mistake, are greater also; because it is

rarely embarrassed by internal interests, which conflict with

those of the majority, and resist the authority ofreason. But a

democracy can only obtain truth as the result of experience, and

many nations may forfeit their existence whilst they are awaiting

the consequences of their errors.

The great privilege of the Americans does not simply consist

in their being more enlightened than other nations, but in their

being able to repair the faults they may commit. To which it

must be added, that a democracy cannot derive substantial benefit

from past experience, unless it be arrived at a certain pitch of

knowledge and civilization. There are tribes and peoples whose

education has been so vicious, and whose character presents so

strange a mixture of passion, of ignorance, and of erroneous

notions upon all subjects, that they are unable to discern the

causes of their own wretchedness, and they fall a sacrifice to

ills with which they are unacquainted.

I have crossed vast tracts of country that were formerly

inhabited by powerful Indian nations which are now extinct; I

have myself passed some time in the midst of mutilated tribes,

which witness the daily decline of their numerical strength and

of the glory of their independence; and I have heard these

Indians themselves anticipate the impending doom of their race.

Every European can perceive means which would rescue these

unfortunate beings from inevitable destruction. They alone are

insensible to the expedient; they feel the woe which year after

year heaps upon their heads, but they will perish to a man

without accepting the remedy. It would be necessary to employ

force to induce them to submit to the protection and the

constraint of civilization.

The incessant revolutions which have convulsed the South

American provinces for the last quarter of a century have

frequently been adverted to with astonishment, and expectations

have been expressed that those nations would speedily return to

their natural state. But can it be affirmed that the turmoil of

revolution is not actually the most natural state of the South

American Spaniards at the present time? In that country society

is plunged into difficulties from which all its efforts are

insufficient to rescue it. The inhabitants of that fair portion

of the Western Hemisphere seem obstinately bent on pursuing the

work of inward havoc. If they fall into a momentary repose from

the effects of exhaustion, that repose prepares them for a fresh

state of frenzy. When I consider their condition, which

alternates between misery and crime, I should be inclined to

believe that despotism itself would be a benefit to them, if it

were possible that the words despotism and benefit could ever be

united in my mind.

Conduct Of Foreign Affairs
By The American Democracy

Direction given to the foreign policy of the United States by

Washington and Jefferson - Almost all the defects inherent in

democratic institutions are brought to light in the conduct of

foreign affairs - Their advantages are less perceptible.

We have seen that the Federal Constitution entrusts the

permanent direction of the external interests of the nation to

the President and the Senate, *r which tends in some degree to

detach the general foreign policy of the Union from the control

of the people. It cannot therefore be asserted with truth that

the external affairs of State are conducted by the democracy.

[Footnote r: "The President," says the Constitution, Art. II,

sect. 2, Section 2, "shall have power, by and with the advice and

consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two-thirds of

the senators present concur." The reader is reminded that the

senators are returned for a term of six years, and that they are

chosen by the legislature of each State.]

The policy of America owes its rise to Washington, and after

him to Jefferson, who established those principles which it

observes at the present day. Washington said in the admirable

letter which he addressed to his fellow-citizens, and which may

be looked upon as his political bequest to the country: "The

great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in

extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little

political connection as possible. So far as we have already

formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good

faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests

which to us have none, or a very remote relation. Hence, she must

be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are

essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must

be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificial ties, in

the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary

combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities. Our

detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a

different course. If we remain one people, under an efficient

government, the period is not far off when we may defy material

injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude

as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to

be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the

impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly

hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or

war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel. Why

forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our

own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our

destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and

prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship,

interest, humor, or caprice? It is our true policy to steer

clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign

world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let

me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to

existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to

public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best

policy. I repeat it; therefore, let those engagements be

observed in their genuine sense; but in my opinion it is

unnecessary, and would be unwise, to extend them. Taking care

always to keep ourselves, by suitable establishments, in a

respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary

alliances for extraordinary emergencies." In a previous part of

the same letter Washington makes the following admirable and just

remark: "The nation which indulges towards another an habitual

hatred or an habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is

a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is

sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest."

The political conduct of Washington was always guided by

these maxims. He succeeded in maintaining his country in a state

of peace whilst all the other nations of the globe were at war;

and he laid it down as a fundamental doctrine, that the true

interest of the Americans consisted in a perfect neutrality with

regard to the internal dissensions of the European Powers.

Jefferson went still further, and he introduced a maxim into

the policy of the Union, which affirms that "the Americans ought

never to solicit any privileges from foreign nations, in order

not to be obliged to grant similar privileges themselves."

These two principles, which were so plain and so just as to

be adapted to the capacity of the populace, have greatly

simplified the foreign policy of the United States. As the Union

takes no part in the affairs of Europe, it has, properly

speaking, no foreign interests to discuss, since it has at

present no powerful neighbors on the American continent. The

country is as much removed from the passions of the Old World by

its position as by the line of policy which it has chosen, and it

is neither called upon to repudiate nor to espouse the

conflicting interests of Europe; whilst the dissensions of the

New World are still concealed within the bosom of the future.

The Union is free from all pre-existing obligations, and it

is consequently enabled to profit by the experience of the old

nations of Europe, without being obliged, as they are, to make

the best of the past, and to adapt it to their present

circumstances; or to accept that immense inheritance which they

derive from their forefathers - an inheritance of glory mingled

with calamities, and of alliances conflicting with national

antipathies. The foreign policy of the United States is reduced

by its very nature to await the chances of the future history of

the nation, and for the present it consists more in abstaining

from interference than in exerting its activity.

It is therefore very difficult to ascertain, at present,

what degree of sagacity the American democracy will display in

the conduct of the foreign policy of the country; and upon this

point its adversaries, as well as its advocates, must suspend

their judgment. As for myself I have no hesitation in avowing my

conviction, that it is most especially in the conduct of foreign

relations that democratic governments appear to me to be

decidedly inferior to governments carried on upon different

principles. Experience, instruction, and habit may almost always

succeed in creating a species of practical discretion in

democracies, and that science of the daily occurrences of life

which is called good sense. Good sense may suffice to direct the

ordinary course of society; and amongst a people whose education

has been provided for, the advantages of democratic liberty in

the internal affairs of the country may more than compensate for

the evils inherent in a democratic government. But such is not

always the case in the mutual relations of foreign nations.

Foreign politics demand scarcely any of those qualities

which a democracy possesses; and they require, on the contrary,

the perfect use of almost all those faculties in which it is

deficient. Democracy is favorable to the increase of the

internal resources of the State; it tends to diffuse a moderate

independence; it promotes the growth of public spirit, and

fortifies the respect which is entertained for law in all classes

of society; and these are advantages which only exercise an

indirect influence over the relations which one people bears to

another. But a democracy is unable to regulate the details of an

important undertaking, to persevere in a design, and to work out

its execution in the presence of serious obstacles. It cannot

combine its measures with secrecy, and it will not await their

consequences with patience. These are qualities which more

especially belong to an individual or to an aristocracy; and they

are precisely the means by which an individual people attains to

a predominant position.

If, on the contrary, we observe the natural defects of

aristocracy, we shall find that their influence is comparatively

innoxious in the direction of the external affairs of a State.

The capital fault of which aristocratic bodies may be accused is

that they are more apt to contrive their own advantage than that

of the mass of the people. In foreign politics it is rare for

the interest of the aristocracy to be in any way distinct from

that of the people.

The propensity which democracies have to obey the impulse of

passion rather than the suggestions of prudence, and to abandon a

mature design for the gratification of a momentary caprice, was

very clearly seen in America on the breaking out of the French

Revolution. It was then as evident to the simplest capacity as

it is at the present time that the interest of the Americans

forbade them to take any part in the contest which was about to

deluge Europe with blood, but which could by no means injure the

welfare of their own country. Nevertheless the sympathies of the

people declared themselves with so much violence in behalf of

France that nothing but the inflexible character of Washington,

and the immense popularity which he enjoyed, could have prevented

the Americans from declaring war against England. And even then,

the exertions which the austere reason of that great man made to

repress the generous but imprudent passions of his

fellow-citizens, very nearly deprived him of the sole recompense

which he had ever claimed - that of his country's love. The

majority then reprobated the line of policy which he adopted, and

which has since been unanimously approved by the nation. *s If

the Constitution and the favor of the public had not entrusted

the direction of the foreign affairs of the country to

Washington, it is certain that the American nation would at that

time have taken the very measures which it now condemns.

[Footnote s: See the fifth volume of Marshall's "Life of

Washington." In a government constituted like that of the United

States," he says, "it is impossible for the chief magistrate,

however firm he may be, to oppose for any length of time the

torrent of popular opinion; and the prevalent opinion of that day

seemed to incline to war. In fact, in the session of Congress

held at the time, it was frequently seen that Washington had lost

the majority in the House of Representatives." The violence of

the language used against him in public was extreme, and in a

political meeting they did not scruple to compare him indirectly

to the treacherous Arnold. "By the opposition," says Marshall,

"the friends of the administration were declared to be an

aristocratic and corrupt faction, who, from a desire to introduce

monarchy, were hostile to France and under the influence of

Britain; that they were a paper nobility, whose extreme

sensibility at every measure which threatened the funds, induced

a tame submission to injuries and insults, which the interests

and honor of the nation required them to resist."]

Almost all the nations which have ever exercised a powerful

influence upon the destinies of the world by conceiving,

following up, and executing vast designs - from the Romans to the

English - have been governed by aristocratic institutions. Nor

will this be a subject of wonder when we recollect that nothing

in the world has so absolute a fixity of purpose as an

aristocracy. The mass of the people may be led astray by

ignorance or passion; the mind of a king may be biased, and his

perseverance in his designs may be shaken - besides which a king

is not immortal - but an aristocratic body is too numerous to be

led astray by the blandishments of intrigue, and yet not numerous

enough to yield readily to the intoxicating influence of

unreflecting passion: it has the energy of a firm and enlightened

individual, added to the power which it derives from perpetuity.


Chapter XIV: Advantages American
Society Derive From Democracy - Part I

What The Real Advantages Are Which
American Society Derives From
The Government Of The Democracy

Before I enter upon the subject of the present chapter I am

induced to remind the reader of what I have more than once

adverted to in the course of this book. The political

institutions of the United States appear to me to be one of the

forms of government which a democracy may adopt; but I do not

regard the American Constitution as the best, or as the only one,

which a democratic people may establish. In showing the

advantages which the Americans derive from the government of

democracy, I am therefore very far from meaning, or from

believing, that similar advantages can only be obtained from the

same laws.

General Tendency Of The Laws Under The Rule Of The American

Democracy, And Habits Of Those Who Apply Them

Defects of a democratic government easy to be discovered - Its

advantages only to be discerned by long observation - Democracy

in America often inexpert, but the general tendency of the laws

advantageous - In the American democracy public officers have no

permanent interests distinct from those of the majority - Result

of this state of things.

The defects and the weaknesses of a democratic government

may very readily be discovered; they are demonstrated by the most

flagrant instances, whilst its beneficial influence is less

perceptibly exercised. A single glance suffices to detect its

evil consequences, but its good qualities can only be discerned

by long observation. The laws of the American democracy are

frequently defective or incomplete; they sometimes attack vested

rights, or give a sanction to others which are dangerous to the

community; but even if they were good, the frequent changes which

they undergo would be an evil. How comes it, then, that the

American republics prosper and maintain their position?

In the consideration of laws a distinction must be carefully

observed between the end at which they aim and the means by which

they are directed to that end, between their absolute and their

relative excellence. If it be the intention of the legislator to

favor the interests of the minority at the expense of the

majority, and if the measures he takes are so combined as to

accomplish the object he has in view with the least possible

expense of time and exertion, the law may be well drawn up,

although its purpose be bad; and the more efficacious it is, the

greater is the mischief which it causes.

Democratic laws generally tend to promote the welfare of the

greatest possible number; for they emanate from the majority of

the citizens, who are subject to error, but who cannot have an

interest opposed to their own advantage. The laws of an

aristocracy tend, on the contrary, to concentrate wealth and

power in the hands of the minority, because an aristocracy, by

its very nature,

constitutes a minority. It may therefore be asserted, as a

general proposition, that the purpose of a democracy in the

conduct of its legislation is useful to a greater number of

citizens than that of an aristocracy. This is, however, the sum

total of its advantages.

Aristocracies are infinitely more expert in the science of

legislation than democracies ever can be. They are possessed of

a self-control which protects them from the errors of temporary

excitement, and they form lasting designs which they mature with

the assistance of favorable opportunities. Aristocratic

government proceeds with the dexterity of art; it understands how

to make the collective force of all its laws converge at the same

time to a given point. Such is not the case with democracies,

whose laws are almost always ineffective or inopportune. The

means of democracy are therefore more imperfect than those of

aristocracy, and the measures which it unwittingly adopts are

frequently opposed to its own cause; but the object it has in

view is more useful.

Let us now imagine a community so organized by nature, or by

its constitution, that it can support the transitory action of

bad laws, and that it can await, without destruction, the general

tendency of the legislation: we shall then be able to conceive

that a democratic government, notwithstanding its defects, will

be most fitted to conduce to the prosperity of this community.

This is precisely what has occurred in the United States; and I

repeat, what I have before remarked, that the great advantage of

the Americans consists in their being able to commit faults which

they may afterward repair.

An analogous observation may be made respecting public

officers. It is easy to perceive that the American democracy

frequently errs in the choice of the individuals to whom it

entrusts the power of the administration; but it is more

difficult to say why the State prospers under their rule. In the

first place it is to be remarked, that if in a democratic State

the governors have less honesty and less capacity than elsewhere,

the governed, on the other hand, are more enlightened and more

attentive to their interests. As the people in democracies is

more incessantly vigilant in its affairs and more jealous of its

rights, it prevents its representatives from abandoning that

general line of conduct which its own interest prescribes. In

the second place, it must be remembered that if the democratic

magistrate is more apt to misuse his power, he possesses it for a

shorter period of time. But there is yet another reason which is

still more general and conclusive. It is no doubt of importance

to the welfare of nations that they should be governed by men of

talents and virtue; but it is perhaps still more important that

the interests of those men should not differ from the interests

of the community at large; for, if such were the case, virtues of

a high order might become useless, and talents might be turned to

a bad account. I say that it is important that the interests of

the persons in authority should not conflict with or oppose the

interests of the community at large; but I do not insist upon

their having the same interests as the whole population, because

I am not aware that such a state of things ever existed in any


No political form has hitherto been discovered which is

equally favorable to the prosperity and the development of all

the classes into which society is divided. These classes

continue to form, as it were, a certain number of distinct

nations in the same nation; and experience has shown that it is

no less dangerous to place the fate of these classes exclusively

in the hands of any one of them than it is to make one people the

arbiter of the destiny of another. When the rich alone govern,

the interest of the poor is always endangered; and when the poor

make the laws, that of the rich incurs very serious risks. The

advantage of democracy does not consist, therefore, as has

sometimes been asserted, in favoring the prosperity of all, but

simply in contributing to the well-being of the greatest possible


The men who are entrusted with the direction of public

affairs in the United States are frequently inferior, both in

point of capacity and of morality, to those whom aristocratic

institutions would raise to power. But their interest is

identified and confounded with that of the majority of their

fellow-citizens. They may frequently be faithless and frequently

mistaken, but they will never systematically adopt a line of

conduct opposed to the will of the majority; and it is impossible

that they should give a dangerous or an exclusive tendency to the


The mal-administration of a democratic magistrate is a mere

isolated fact, which only occurs during the short period for

which he is elected. Corruption and incapacity do not act as

common interests, which may connect men permanently with one

another. A corrupt or an incapable magistrate will not concert

his measures with another magistrate, simply because that

individual is as corrupt and as incapable as himself; and these

two men will never unite their endeavors to promote the

corruption and inaptitude of their remote posterity. The

ambition and the manoeuvres of the one will serve, on the

contrary, to unmask the other. The vices of a magistrate, in

democratic states, are usually peculiar to his own person.

But under aristocratic governments public men are swayed by

the interest of their order, which, if it is sometimes confounded

with the interests of the majority, is very frequently distinct

from them. This interest is the common and lasting bond which

unites them together; it induces them to coalesce, and to combine

their efforts in order to attain an end which does not always

ensure the greatest happiness of the greatest number; and it

serves not only to connect the persons in authority, but to unite

them to a considerable portion of the community, since a numerous

body of citizens belongs to the aristocracy, without being

invested with official functions. The aristocratic magistrate is

therefore constantly supported by a portion of the community, as

well as by the Government of which he is a member.

The common purpose which connects the interest of the

magistrates in aristocracies with that of a portion of their

contemporaries identifies it with that of future generations;

their influence belongs to the future as much as to the present.

The aristocratic magistrate is urged at the same time toward the

same point by the passions of the community, by his own, and I

may almost add by those of his posterity. Is it, then, wonderful

that he does not resist such repeated impulses? And indeed

aristocracies are often carried away by the spirit of their order

without being corrupted by it; and they unconsciously fashion

society to their own ends, and prepare it for their own


The English aristocracy is perhaps the most liberal which

ever existed, and no body of men has ever, uninterruptedly,

furnished so many honorable and enlightened individuals to the

government of a country. It cannot, however, escape observation

that in the legislation of England the good of the poor has been

sacrificed to the advantage of the rich, and the rights of the

majority to the privileges of the few. The consequence is, that

England, at the present day, combines the extremes of fortune in

the bosom of her society, and her perils and calamities are

almost equal to her power and her renown. *a

[Footnote a: [The legislation of England for the forty years is

certainly not fairly open to this criticism, which was written

before the Reform Bill of 1832, and accordingly Great Britain has

thus far escaped and surmounted the perils and calamities to

which she seemed to be exposed.]]

In the United States, where the public officers have no

interests to promote connected with their caste, the general and

constant influence of the Government is beneficial, although the

individuals who conduct it are frequently unskilful and sometimes

contemptible. There is indeed a secret tendency in democratic

institutions to render the exertions of the citizens subservient

to the prosperity of the community, notwithstanding their private

vices and mistakes; whilst in aristocratic institutions there is

a secret propensity which, notwithstanding the talents and the

virtues of those who conduct the government, leads them to

contribute to the evils which oppress their fellow-creatures. In

aristocratic governments public men may frequently do injuries

which they do not intend, and in democratic states they produce

advantages which they never thought of.

Public Spirit In The United States

Patriotism of instinct - Patriotism of reflection - Their

different characteristics - Nations ought to strive to acquire

the second when the first has disappeared - Efforts of the

Americans to it - Interest of the individual intimately connected

with that of the country.

There is one sort of patriotic attachment which principally

arises from that instinctive, disinterested, and undefinable

feeling which connects the affections of man with his birthplace.

This natural fondness is united to a taste for ancient customs,

and to a reverence for ancestral traditions of the past; those

who cherish it love their country as they love the mansions of

their fathers. They enjoy the tranquillity which it affords

them; they cling to the peaceful habits which they have

contracted within its bosom; they are attached to the

reminiscences which it awakens, and they are even pleased by the

state of obedience in which they are placed. This patriotism is

sometimes stimulated by religious enthusiasm, and then it is

capable of making the most prodigious efforts. It is in itself a

kind of religion; it does not reason, but it acts from the

impulse of faith and of sentiment. By some nations the monarch

has been regarded as a personification of the country; and the

fervor of patriotism being converted into the fervor of loyalty,

they took a sympathetic pride in his conquests, and gloried in

his power. At one time, under the ancient monarchy, the French

felt a sort of satisfaction in the sense of their dependence upon

the arbitrary pleasure of their king, and they were wont to say

with pride, "We are the subjects of the most powerful king in the


But, like all instinctive passions, this kind of patriotism

is more apt to prompt transient exertion than to supply the

motives of continuous endeavor. It may save the State in

critical circumstances, but it will not unfrequently allow the

nation to decline in the midst of peace. Whilst the manners of a

people are simple and its faith unshaken, whilst society is

steadily based upon traditional institutions whose legitimacy has

never been contested, this instinctive patriotism is wont to


But there is another species of attachment to a country

which is more rational than the one we have been describing. It

is perhaps less generous and less ardent, but it is more fruitful

and more lasting; it is coeval with the spread of knowledge, it

is nurtured by the laws, it grows by the exercise of civil

rights, and, in the end, it is confounded with the personal

interest of the citizen. A man comprehends the influence which

the prosperity of his country has upon his own welfare; he is

aware that the laws authorize him to contribute his assistance to

that prosperity, and he labors to promote it as a portion of his

interest in the first place, and as a portion of his right in the


But epochs sometimes occur, in the course of the existence

of a nation, at which the ancient customs of a people are

changed, public morality destroyed, religious belief disturbed,

and the spell of tradition broken, whilst the diffusion of

knowledge is yet imperfect, and the civil rights of the community

are ill secured, or confined within very narrow limits. The

country then assumes a dim and dubious shape in the eyes of the

citizens; they no longer behold it in the soil which they

inhabit, for that soil is to them a dull inanimate clod; nor in

the usages of their forefathers, which they have been taught to

look upon as a debasing yoke; nor in religion, for of that they

doubt; nor in the laws, which do not originate in their own

authority; nor in the legislator, whom they fear and despise.

The country is lost to their senses, they can neither discover it

under its own nor under borrowed features, and they entrench

themselves within the dull precincts of a narrow egotism. They

are emancipated from prejudice without having acknowledged the

empire of reason; they are neither animated by the instinctive

patriotism of monarchical subjects nor by the thinking patriotism

of republican citizens; but they have stopped halfway between the

two, in the midst of confusion and of distress.

In this predicament, to retreat is impossible; for a people

cannot restore the vivacity of its earlier times, any more than a

man can return to the innocence and the bloom of childhood; such

things may be regretted, but they cannot be renewed. The only

thing, then, which remains to be done is to proceed, and to

accelerate the union of private with public interests, since the

period of disinterested patriotism is gone by forever.

I am certainly very far from averring that, in order to

obtain this result, the exercise of political rights should be

immediately granted to all the members of the community. But I

maintain that the most powerful, and perhaps the only, means of

interesting men in the welfare of their country which we still

possess is to make them partakers in the Government. At the

present time civic zeal seems to me to be inseparable from the

exercise of political rights; and I hold that the number of

citizens will be found to augment or to decrease in Europe in

proportion as those rights are extended.

In the United States the inhabitants were thrown but as

yesterday upon the soil which they now occupy, and they brought

neither customs nor traditions with them there; they meet each

other for the first time with no previous acquaintance; in short,

the instinctive love of their country can scarcely exist in their

minds; but everyone takes as zealous an interest in the affairs

of his township, his county, and of the whole State, as if they

were his own, because everyone, in his sphere, takes an active

part in the government of society.

The lower orders in the United States are alive to the

perception of the influence exercised by the general prosperity

upon their own welfare; and simple as this observation is, it is

one which is but too rarely made by the people. But in America

the people regards this prosperity as the result of its own

exertions; the citizen looks upon the fortune of the public as

his private interest, and he co-operates in its success, not so

much from a sense of pride or of duty, as from what I shall

venture to term cupidity.

It is unnecessary to study the institutions and the history

of the Americans in order to discover the truth of this remark,

for their manners render it sufficiently evident. As the

American participates in all that is done in his country, he

thinks himself obliged to defend whatever may be censured; for it

is not only his country which is attacked upon these occasions,

but it is himself. The consequence is, that his national pride

resorts to a thousand artifices, and to all the petty tricks of

individual vanity.

Nothing is more embarrassing in the ordinary intercourse of

life than this irritable patriotism of the Americans. A stranger

may be very well inclined to praise many of the institutions of

their country, but he begs permission to blame some of the

peculiarities which he observes - a permission which is, however,

inexorably refused. America is therefore a free country, in

which, lest anybody should be hurt by your remarks, you are not

allowed to speak freely of private individuals, or of the State,

of the citizens or of the authorities, of public or of private

undertakings, or, in short, of anything at all, except it be of

the climate and the soil; and even then Americans will be found

ready to defend either the one or the other, as if they had been

contrived by the inhabitants of the country.

In our times option must be made between the patriotism of

all and the government of a few; for the force and activity which

the first confers are irreconcilable with the guarantees of

tranquillity which the second furnishes.

Notion Of Rights In The United States

No great people without a notion of rights - How the notion of

rights can be given to people - Respect of rights in the United

States - Whence it arises.

After the idea of virtue, I know no higher principle than

that of right; or, to speak more accurately, these two ideas are

commingled in one. The idea of right is simply that of virtue

introduced into the political world. It is the idea of right

which enabled men to define anarchy and tyranny; and which taught

them to remain independent without arrogance, as well as to obey

without servility. The man who submits to violence is debased by

his compliance; but when he obeys the mandate of one who

possesses that right of authority which he acknowledges in a

fellow-creature, he rises in some measure above the person who

delivers the command. There are no great men without virtue, and

there are no great nations - it may almost be added that there

would be no society - without the notion of rights; for what is

the condition of a mass of rational and intelligent beings who

are only united together by the bond of force?

I am persuaded that the only means which we possess at the

present time of inculcating the notion of rights, and of

rendering it, as it were, palpable to the senses, is to invest

all the members of the community with the peaceful exercise of

certain rights: this is very clearly seen in children, who are

men without the strength and the experience of manhood. When a

child begins to move in the midst of the objects which surround

him, he is instinctively led to turn everything which he can lay

his hands upon to his own purposes; he has no notion of the

property of others; but as he gradually learns the value of

things, and begins to perceive that he may in his turn be

deprived of his possessions, he becomes more circumspect, and he

observes those rights in others which he wishes to have respected

in himself. The principle which the child derives from the

possession of his toys is taught to the man by the objects which

he may call his own. In America those complaints against

property in general which are so frequent in Europe are never

heard, because in America there are no paupers; and as everyone

has property of his own to defend, everyone recognizes the

principle upon which he holds it.

The same thing occurs in the political world. In America

the lowest classes have conceived a very high notion of political

rights, because they exercise those rights; and they refrain from

attacking those of other people, in order to ensure their own

from attack. Whilst in Europe the same classes sometimes

recalcitrate even against the supreme power, the American submits

without a murmur to the authority of the pettiest magistrate.

This truth is exemplified by the most trivial details of

national peculiarities. In France very few pleasures are

exclusively reserved for the higher classes; the poor are

admitted wherever the rich are received, and they consequently

behave with propriety, and respect whatever contributes to the

enjoyments in which they themselves participate. In England,

where wealth has a monopoly of amusement as well as of power,

complaints are made that whenever the poor happen to steal into

the enclosures which are reserved for the pleasures of the rich,

they commit acts of wanton mischief: can this be wondered at,

since care has been taken that they should have nothing to lose?


[Footnote b: [This, too, has been amended by much larger

provisions for the amusements of the people in public parks,

gardens, museums, etc.; and the conduct of the people in these

places of amusement has improved in the same proportion.]]

The government of democracy brings the notion of political

rights to the level of the humblest citizens, just as the

dissemination of wealth brings the notion of property within the

reach of all the members of the community; and I confess that, to

my mind, this is one of its greatest advantages. I do not assert

that it is easy to teach men to exercise political rights; but I

maintain that, when it is possible, the effects which result from

it are highly important; and I add that, if there ever was a time

at which such an attempt ought to be made, that time is our own.

It is clear that the influence of religious belief is shaken, and

that the notion of divine rights is declining; it is evident that

public morality is vitiated, and the notion of moral rights is

also disappearing: these are general symptoms of the substitution

of argument for faith, and of calculation for the impulses of

sentiment. If, in the midst of this general disruption, you do

not succeed in connecting the notion of rights with that of

personal interest, which is the only immutable point in the human

heart, what means will you have of governing the world except by

fear? When I am told that, since the laws are weak and the

populace is wild, since passions are excited and the authority of

virtue is paralyzed, no measures must be taken to increase the

rights of the democracy, I reply, that it is for these very

reasons that some measures of the kind must be taken; and I am

persuaded that governments are still more interested in taking

them than society at large, because governments are liable to be

destroyed and society cannot perish.

I am not, however, inclined to exaggerate the example which

America furnishes. In those States the people are invested with

political rights at a time when they could scarcely be abused,

for the citizens were few in number and simple in their manners.

As they have increased, the Americans have not augmented the

power of the democracy, but they have, if I may use the

expression, extended its dominions. It cannot be doubted that the

moment at which political rights are granted to a people that had

before been without them is a very critical, though it be a

necessary one. A child may kill before he is aware of the value

of life; and he may deprive another person of his property before

he is aware that his own may be taken away from him. The lower

orders, when first they are invested with political rights,

stand, in relation to those rights, in the same position as the

child does to the whole of nature, and the celebrated adage may

then be applied to them, Homo puer robustus. This truth may even

be perceived in America. The States in which the citizens have

enjoyed their rights longest are those in which they make the

best use of them.

It cannot be repeated too often that nothing is more fertile

in prodigies than the art of being free; but there is nothing

more arduous than the apprenticeship of liberty. Such is not the

case with despotic institutions: despotism often promises to make

amends for a thousand previous ills; it supports the right, it

protects the oppressed, and it maintains public order. The nation

is lulled by the temporary prosperity which accrues to it, until

it is roused to a sense of its own misery. Liberty, on the

contrary, is generally established in the midst of agitation, it

is perfected by civil discord, and its benefits cannot be

appreciated until it is already old.


Chapter XIV:
Advantages American Society
Derive From Democracy - Part II

Respect For The Law In The United States

Respect of the Americans for the law - Parental affection which

they entertain for it - Personal interest of everyone to increase

the authority of the law.

It is not always feasible to consult the whole people,

either directly or indirectly, in the formation of the law; but

it cannot be denied that, when such a measure is possible the

authority of the law is very much augmented. This popular origin,

which impairs the excellence and the wisdom of legislation,

contributes prodigiously to increase its power. There is an

amazing strength in the expression of the determination of a

whole people, and when it declares itself the imagination of

those who are most inclined to contest it is overawed by its

authority. The truth of this fact is very well known by parties,

and they consequently strive to make out a majority whenever they

can. If they have not the greater number of voters on their

side, they assert that the true majority abstained from voting;

and if they are foiled even there, they have recourse to the body

of those persons who had no votes to give.

In the United States, except slaves, servants, and paupers

in the receipt of relief from the townships, there is no class of

persons who do not exercise the elective franchise, and who do

not indirectly contribute to make the laws. Those who design to

attack the laws must consequently either modify the opinion of

the nation or trample upon its decision.

A second reason, which is still more weighty, may be further

adduced; in the United States everyone is personally interested

in enforcing the obedience of the whole community to the law; for

as the minority may shortly rally the majority to its principles,

it is interested in professing that respect for the decrees of

the legislator which it may soon have occasion to claim for its

own. However irksome an enactment may be, the citizen of the

United States complies with it, not only because it is the work

of the majority, but because it originates in his own authority,

and he regards it as a contract to which he is himself a party.

In the United States, then, that numerous and turbulent

multitude does not exist which always looks upon the law as its

natural enemy, and accordingly surveys it with fear and with fear

and with distrust. It is impossible, on the other hand, not to

perceive that all classes display the utmost reliance upon the

legislation of their country, and that they are attached to it by

a kind of parental affection.

I am wrong, however, in saying all classes; for as in

America the European scale of authority is inverted, the wealthy

are there placed in a position analogous to that of the poor in

the Old World, and it is the opulent classes which frequently

look upon the law with suspicion. I have already observed that

the advantage of democracy is not, as has been sometimes

asserted, that it protects the interests of the whole community,

but simply that it protects those of the majority. In the United

States, where the poor rule, the rich have always some reason to

dread the abuses of their power. This natural anxiety of the rich

may produce a sullen dissatisfaction, but society is not

disturbed by it; for the same reason which induces the rich to

withhold their confidence in the legislative authority makes them

obey its mandates; their wealth, which prevents them from making

the law, prevents them from withstanding it. Amongst civilized

nations revolts are rarely excited, except by such persons as

have nothing to lose by them; and if the laws of a democracy are

not always worthy of respect, at least they always obtain it; for

those who usually infringe the laws have no excuse for not

complying with the enactments they have themselves made, and by

which they are themselves benefited, whilst the citizens whose

interests might be promoted by the infraction of them are

induced, by their character and their stations, to submit to the

decisions of the legislature, whatever they may be. Besides

which, the people in America obeys the law not only because it

emanates from the popular authority, but because that authority

may modify it in any points which may prove vexatory; a law is

observed because it is a self-imposed evil in the first place,

and an evil of transient duration in the second.

Activity Which Pervades All The Branches Of The Body Politic In

The United States; Influence Which It Exercises Upon Society

More difficult to conceive the political activity which pervades

the United States than the freedom and equality which reign there

- The great activity which perpetually agitates the legislative

bodies is only an episode to the general activity - Difficult for

an American to confine himself to his own business - Political

agitation extends to all social intercourse - Commercial activity

of the Americans partly attributable to this cause - Indirect

advantages which society derives from a democratic government.

On passing from a country in which free institutions are

established to one where they do not exist, the traveller is

struck by the change; in the former all is bustle and activity,

in the latter everything is calm and motionless. In the one,

amelioration and progress are the general topics of inquiry; in

the other, it seems as if the community only aspired to repose in

the enjoyment of the advantages which it has acquired.

Nevertheless, the country which exerts itself so strenuously to

promote its welfare is generally more wealthy and more prosperous

than that which appears to be so contented with its lot; and when

we compare them together, we can scarcely conceive how so many

new wants are daily felt in the former, whilst so few seem to

occur in the latter.

If this remark is applicable to those free countries in

which monarchical and aristocratic institutions subsist, it is

still more striking with regard to democratic republics. In

these States it is not only a portion of the people which is

busied with the amelioration of its social condition, but the

whole community is engaged in the task; and it is not the

exigencies and the convenience of a single class for which a

provision is to be made, but the exigencies and the convenience

of all ranks of life.

It is not impossible to conceive the surpassing liberty

which the Americans enjoy; some idea may likewise be formed of

the extreme equality which subsists amongst them, but the

political activity which pervades the United States must be seen

in order to be understood. No sooner do you set foot upon the

American soil than you are stunned by a kind of tumult; a

confused clamor is heard on every side; and a thousand

simultaneous voices demand the immediate satisfaction of their

social wants. Everything is in motion around you; here, the

people of one quarter of a town are met to decide upon the

building of a church; there, the election of a representative is

going on; a little further the delegates of a district are

posting to the town in order to consult upon some local

improvements; or in another place the laborers of a village quit

their ploughs to deliberate upon the project of a road or a

public school. Meetings are called for the sole purpose of

declaring their disapprobation of the line of conduct pursued by

the Government; whilst in other assemblies the citizens salute

the authorities of the day as the fathers of their country.

Societies are formed which regard drunkenness as the principal

cause of the evils under which the State labors, and which

solemnly bind themselves to give a constant example of

temperance. *c

[Footnote c: At the time of my stay in the United States the

temperance societies already consisted of more than 270,000

members, and their effect had been to diminish the consumption of

fermented liquors by 500,000 gallons per annum in the State of

Pennsylvania alone.]

The great political agitation of the American legislative

bodies, which is the only kind of excitement that attracts the

attention of foreign countries, is a mere episode or a sort of

continuation of that universal movement which originates in the

lowest classes of the people and extends successively to all the

ranks of society. It is impossible to spend more efforts in the

pursuit of enjoyment.

The cares of political life engross a most prominent place

in the occupation of a citizen in the United States, and almost

the only pleasure of which an American has any idea is to take a

part in the Government, and to discuss the part he has taken.

This feeling pervades the most trifling habits of life; even the

women frequently attend public meetings and listen to political

harangues as a recreation after their household labors. Debating

clubs are to a certain extent a substitute for theatrical

entertainments: an American cannot converse, but he can discuss;

and when he attempts to talk he falls into a dissertation. He

speaks to you as if he was addressing a meeting; and if he should

chance to warm in the course of the discussion, he will

infallibly say, "Gentlemen," to the person with whom he is


In some countries the inhabitants display a certain

repugnance to avail themselves of the political privileges with

which the law invests them; it would seem that they set too high

a value upon their time to spend it on the interests of the

community; and they prefer to withdraw within the exact limits of

a wholesome egotism, marked out by four sunk fences and a

quickset hedge. But if an American were condemned to confine his

activity to his own affairs, he would be robbed of one half of

his existence; he would feel an immense void in the life which he

is accustomed to lead, and his wretchedness would be unbearable.

*d I am persuaded that, if ever a despotic government is

established in America, it will find it more difficult to

surmount the habits which free institutions have engendered than

to conquer the attachment of the citizens to freedom.

[Footnote d: The same remark was made at Rome under the first

Caesars. Montesquieu somewhere alludes to the excessive

despondency of certain Roman citizens who, after the excitement

of political life, were all at once flung back into the

stagnation of private life.]

This ceaseless agitation which democratic government has

introduced into the political world influences all social

intercourse. I am not sure that upon the whole this is not the

greatest advantage of democracy. And I am much less inclined to

applaud it for what it does than for what it causes to be done.

It is incontestable that the people frequently conducts

public business very ill; but it is impossible that the lower

orders should take a part in public business without extending

the circle of their ideas, and without quitting the ordinary

routine of their mental acquirements. The humblest individual

who is called upon to co-operate in the government of society

acquires a certain degree of self-respect; and as he possesses

authority, he can command the services of minds much more

enlightened than his own. He is canvassed by a multitude of

applicants, who seek to deceive him in a thousand different ways,

but who instruct him by their deceit. He takes a part in

political undertakings which did not originate in his own

conception, but which give him a taste for undertakings of the

kind. New ameliorations are daily pointed out in the property

which he holds in common with others, and this gives him the

desire of improving that property which is more peculiarly his

own. He is perhaps neither happier nor better than those who

came before him, but he is better informed and more active. I

have no doubt that the democratic institutions of the United

States, joined to the physical constitution of the country, are

the cause (not the direct, as is so often asserted, but the

indirect cause) of the prodigious commercial activity of the

inhabitants. It is not engendered by the laws, but the people

learns how to promote it by the experience derived from


When the opponents of democracy assert that a single

individual performs the duties which he undertakes much better

than the government of the community, it appears to me that they

are perfectly right. The government of an individual, supposing

an equality of instruction on either side, is more consistent,

more persevering, and more accurate than that of a multitude, and

it is much better qualified judiciously to discriminate the

characters of the men it employs. If any deny what I advance,

they have certainly never seen a democratic government, or have

formed their opinion upon very partial evidence. It is true that

even when local circumstances and the disposition of the people

allow democratic institutions to subsist, they never display a

regular and methodical system of government. Democratic liberty

is far from accomplishing all the projects it undertakes, with

the skill of an adroit despotism. It frequently abandons them

before they have borne their fruits, or risks them when the

consequences may prove dangerous; but in the end it produces more

than any absolute government, and if it do fewer things well, it

does a greater number of things. Under its sway the transactions

of the public administration are not nearly so important as what

is done by private exertion. Democracy does not confer the most

skilful kind of government upon the people, but it produces that

which the most skilful governments are frequently unable to

awaken, namely, an all-pervading and restless activity, a

superabundant force, and an energy which is inseparable from it,

and which may, under favorable circumstances, beget the most

amazing benefits. These are the true advantages of democracy.

In the present age, when the destinies of Christendom seem

to be in suspense, some hasten to assail democracy as its foe

whilst it is yet in its early growth; and others are ready with

their vows of adoration for this new deity which is springing

forth from chaos: but both parties are very imperfectly

acquainted with the object of their hatred or of their desires;

they strike in the dark, and distribute their blows by mere


We must first understand what the purport of society and the

aim of government is held to be. If it be your intention to

confer a certain elevation upon the human mind, and to teach it

to regard the things of this world with generous feelings, to

inspire men with a scorn of mere temporal advantage, to give

birth to living convictions, and to keep alive the spirit of

honorable devotedness; if you hold it to be a good thing to

refine the habits, to embellish the manners, to cultivate the

arts of a nation, and to promote the love of poetry, of beauty,

and of renown; if you would constitute a people not unfitted to

act with power upon all other nations, nor unprepared for those

high enterprises which, whatever be the result of its efforts,

will leave a name forever famous in time - if you believe such to

be the principal object of society, you must avoid the government

of democracy, which would be a very uncertain guide to the end

you have in view.

But if you hold it to be expedient to divert the moral and

intellectual activity of man to the production of comfort, and to

the acquirement of the necessaries of life; if a clear

understanding be more profitable to man than genius; if your

object be not to stimulate the virtues of heroism, but to create

habits of peace; if you had rather witness vices than crimes and

are content to meet with fewer noble deeds, provided offences be

diminished in the same proportion; if, instead of living in the

midst of a brilliant state of society, you are contented to have

prosperity around you; if, in short, you are of opinion that the

principal object of a Government is not to confer the greatest

possible share of power and of glory upon the body of the nation,

but to ensure the greatest degree of enjoyment and the least

degree of misery to each of the individuals who compose it - if

such be your desires, you can have no surer means of satisfying

them than by equalizing the conditions of men, and establishing

democratic institutions.

But if the time be passed at which such a choice was

possible, and if some superhuman power impel us towards one or

the other of these two governments without consulting our wishes,

let us at least endeavor to make the best of that which is

allotted to us; and let us so inquire into its good and its evil

propensities as to be able to foster the former and repress the

latter to the utmost.

Chapter XV:
Unlimited Power Of Majority,
And Its Consequences -

Part I Chapter Summary

Natural strength of the majority in democracies - Most of the

American Constitutions have increased this strength by artificial

means - How this has been done - Pledged delegates - Moral power

of the majority - Opinion as to its infallibility - Respect for

its rights, how augmented in the United States.

Unlimited Power Of The Majority In
The United States, And Its Consequences

The very essence of democratic government consists in the

absolute sovereignty of the majority; for there is nothing in

democratic States which is capable of resisting it. Most of the

American Constitutions have sought to increase this natural

strength of the majority by artificial means. *a

[Footnote a: We observed, in examining the Federal Constitution,

that the efforts of the legislators of the Union had been

diametrically opposed to the present tendency. The consequence

has been that the Federal Government is more independent in its

sphere than that of the States. But the Federal Government

scarcely ever interferes in any but external affairs; and the

governments of the State are in the governments of the States are

in reality the authorities which direct society in America.]

The legislature is, of all political institutions, the one

which is most easily swayed by the wishes of the majority. The

Americans determined that the members of the legislature should

be elected by the people immediately, and for a very brief term,

in order to subject them, not only to the general convictions,

but even to the daily passion, of their constituents. The

members of both houses are taken from the same class in society,

and are nominated in the same manner; so that the modifications

of the legislative bodies are almost as rapid and quite as

irresistible as those of a single assembly. It is to a

legislature thus constituted that almost all the authority of the

government has been entrusted.

But whilst the law increased the strength of those

authorities which of themselves were strong, it enfeebled more

and more those which were naturally weak. It deprived the

representatives of the executive of all stability and

independence, and by subjecting them completely to the caprices

of the legislature, it robbed them of the slender influence which

the nature of a democratic government might have allowed them to

retain. In several States the judicial power was also submitted

to the elective discretion of the majority, and in all of them

its existence was made to depend on the pleasure of the

legislative authority, since the representatives were empowered

annually to regulate the stipend of the judges.

Custom, however, has done even more than law. A proceeding

which will in the end set all the guarantees of representative

government at naught is becoming more and more general in the

United States; it frequently happens that the electors, who

choose a delegate, point out a certain line of conduct to him,

and impose upon him a certain number of positive obligations

which he is pledged to fulfil. With the exception of the tumult,

this comes to the same thing as if the majority of the populace

held its deliberations in the market-place.

Several other circumstances concur in rendering the power of

the majority in America not only preponderant, but irresistible.

The moral authority of the majority is partly based upon the

notion that there is more intelligence and more wisdom in a great

number of men collected together than in a single individual, and

that the quantity of legislators is more important than their

quality. The theory of equality is in fact applied to the

intellect of man: and human pride is thus assailed in its last

retreat by a doctrine which the minority hesitate to admit, and

in which they very slowly concur. Like all other powers, and

perhaps more than all other powers, the authority of the many

requires the sanction of time; at first it enforces obedience by

constraint, but its laws are not respected until they have long

been maintained.

The right of governing society, which the majority supposes

itself to derive from its superior intelligence, was introduced

into the United States by the first settlers, and this idea,

which would be sufficient of itself to create a free nation, has

now been amalgamated with the manners of the people and the minor

incidents of social intercourse.

The French, under the old monarchy, held it for a maxim

(which is still a fundamental principle of the English

Constitution) that the King could do no wrong; and if he did do

wrong, the blame was imputed to his advisers. This notion was

highly favorable to habits of obedience, and it enabled the

subject to complain of the law without ceasing to love and honor

the lawgiver. The Americans entertain the same opinion with

respect to the majority.

The moral power of the majority is founded upon yet another

principle, which is, that the interests of the many are to be

preferred to those of the few. It will readily be perceived that

the respect here professed for the rights of the majority must

naturally increase or diminish according to the state of parties.

When a nation is divided into several irreconcilable factions,

the privilege of the majority is often overlooked, because it is

intolerable to comply with its demands.

If there existed in America a class of citizens whom the

legislating majority sought to deprive of exclusive privileges

which they had possessed for ages, and to bring down from an

elevated station to the level of the ranks of the multitude, it

is probable that the minority would be less ready to comply with

its laws. But as the United States were colonized by men holding

equal rank amongst themselves, there is as yet no natural or

permanent source of dissension between the interests of its

different inhabitants.

There are certain communities in which the persons who

constitute the minority can never hope to draw over the majority

to their side, because they must then give up the very point

which is at issue between them. Thus, an aristocracy can never

become a majority whilst it retains its exclusive privileges, and

it cannot cede its privileges without ceasing to be an


In the United States political questions cannot be taken up

in so general and absolute a manner, and all parties are willing

to recognize the right of the majority, because they all hope to

turn those rights to their own advantage at some future time.

The majority therefore in that country exercises a prodigious

actual authority, and a moral influence which is scarcely less

preponderant; no obstacles exist which can impede or so much as

retard its progress, or which can induce it to heed the

complaints of those whom it crushes upon its path. This state of

things is fatal in itself and dangerous for the future.

How The Unlimited Power Of The Majority Increases In America The

Instability Of Legislation And Administration Inherent In

Democracy The Americans increase the mutability of the laws which

is inherent in democracy by changing the legislature every year,

and by investing it with unbounded authority - The same effect is

produced upon the administration - In America social amelioration

is conducted more energetically but less perseveringly than in


I have already spoken of the natural defects of democratic

institutions, and they all of them increase at the exact ratio of

the power of the majority. To begin with the most evident of them

all; the mutability of the laws is an evil inherent in democratic

government, because it is natural to democracies to raise men to

power in very rapid succession. But this evil is more or less

sensible in proportion to the authority and the means of action

which the legislature possesses.

In America the authority exercised by the legislative bodies

is supreme; nothing prevents them from accomplishing their wishes

with celerity, and with irresistible power, whilst they are

supplied by new representatives every year. That is to say, the

circumstances which contribute most powerfully to democratic

instability, and which admit of the free application of caprice

to every object in the State, are here in full operation. In

conformity with this principle, America is, at the present day,

the country in the world where laws last the shortest time.

Almost all the American constitutions have been amended within

the course of thirty years: there is therefore not a single

American State which has not modified the principles of its

legislation in that lapse of time. As for the laws themselves, a

single glance upon the archives of the different States of the

Union suffices to convince one that in America the activity of

the legislator never slackens. Not that the American democracy is

naturally less stable than any other, but that it is allowed to

follow its capricious propensities in the formation of the laws.


[Footnote b: The legislative acts promulgated by the State of

Massachusetts alone, from the year 1780 to the present time,

already fill three stout volumes; and it must not be forgotten

that the collection to which I allude was published in 1823, when

many old laws which had fallen into disuse were omitted. The

State of Massachusetts, which is not more populous than a

department of France, may be considered as the most stable, the

most consistent, and the most sagacious in its undertakings of

the whole Union.]

The omnipotence of the majority, and the rapid as well as

absolute manner in which its decisions are executed in the United

States, has not only the effect of rendering the law unstable,

but it exercises the same influence upon the execution of the law

and the conduct of the public administration. As the majority is

the only power which it is important to court, all its projects

are taken up with the greatest ardor, but no sooner is its

attention distracted than all this ardor ceases; whilst in the

free States of Europe the administration is at once independent

and secure, so that the projects of the legislature are put into

execution, although its immediate attention may be directed to

other objects.

In America certain ameliorations are undertaken with much

more zeal and activity than elsewhere; in Europe the same ends

are promoted by much less social effort, more continuously


Some years ago several pious individuals undertook to

ameliorate the condition of the prisons. The public was excited

by the statements which they put forward, and the regeneration of

criminals became a very popular undertaking. New prisons were

built, and for the first time the idea of reforming as well as of

punishing the delinquent formed a part of prison discipline. But

this happy alteration, in which the public had taken so hearty an

interest, and which the exertions of the citizens had

irresistibly accelerated, could not be completed in a moment.

Whilst the new penitentiaries were being erected (and it was the

pleasure of the majority that they should be terminated with all

possible celerity), the old prisons existed, which still

contained a great number of offenders. These jails became more

unwholesome and more corrupt in proportion as the new

establishments were beautified and improved, forming a contrast

which may readily be understood. The majority was so eagerly

employed in founding the new prisons that those which already

existed were forgotten; and as the general attention was diverted

to a novel object, the care which had hitherto been bestowed upon

the others ceased. The salutary regulations of discipline were

first relaxed, and afterwards broken; so that in the immediate

neighborhood of a prison which bore witness to the mild and

enlightened spirit of our time, dungeons might be met with which

reminded the visitor of the barbarity of the Middle Ages.


Chapter XV:
Unlimited Power Of Majority,
And Its Consequences -

Part II Tyranny Of The Majority

How the principle of the sovereignty of the people is to be

understood -Impossibility of conceiving a mixed government - The

sovereign power must centre somewhere - Precautions to be taken

to control its action - These precautions have not been taken in

the United States - Consequences.

I hold it to be an impious and an execrable maxim that,

politically speaking, a people has a right to do whatsoever it

pleases, and yet I have asserted that all authority originates in

the will of the majority. Am I then, in contradiction with


A general law - which bears the name of Justice - has been

made and sanctioned, not only by a majority of this or that

people, but by a majority of mankind. The rights of every people

are consequently confined within the limits of what is just. A

nation may be considered in the light of a jury which is

empowered to represent society at large, and to apply the great

and general law of justice. Ought such a jury, which represents

society, to have more power than the society in which the laws it

applies originate?

When I refuse to obey an unjust law, I do not contest the

right which the majority has of commanding, but I simply appeal

from the sovereignty of the people to the sovereignty of mankind.

It has been asserted that a people can never entirely outstep the

boundaries of justice and of reason in those affairs which are

more peculiarly its own, and that consequently, full power may

fearlessly be given to the majority by which it is represented.

But this language is that of a slave.

A majority taken collectively may be regarded as a being

whose opinions, and most frequently whose interests, are opposed

to those of another being, which is styled a minority. If it be

admitted that a man, possessing absolute power, may misuse that

power by wronging his adversaries, why should a majority not be

liable to the same reproach? Men are not apt to change their

characters by agglomeration; nor does their patience in the

presence of obstacles increase with the consciousness of their

strength. *c And for these reasons I can never willingly invest

any number of my fellow- creatures with that unlimited authority

which I should refuse to any one of them.

[Footnote c: No one will assert that a people cannot forcibly

wrong another people; but parties may be looked upon as lesser

nations within a greater one, and they are aliens to each other:

if, therefore, it be admitted that a nation can act tyrannically

towards another nation, it cannot be denied that a party may do

the same towards another party.]

I do not think that it is possible to combine several

principles in the same government, so as at the same time to

maintain freedom, and really to oppose them to one another. The

form of government which is usually termed mixed has always

appeared to me to be a mere chimera. Accurately speaking there

is no such thing as a mixed government (with the meaning usually

given to that word), because in all communities some one

principle of action may be discovered which preponderates over

the others. England in the last century, which has been more

especially cited as an example of this form of Government, was in

point of fact an essentially aristocratic State, although it

comprised very powerful elements of democracy; for the laws and

customs of the country were such that the aristocracy could not

but preponderate in the end, and subject the direction of public

affairs to its own will. The error arose from too much attention

being paid to the actual struggle which was going on between the

nobles and the people, without considering the probable issue of

the contest, which was in reality the important point. When a

community really has a mixed government, that is to say, when it

is equally divided between two adverse principles, it must either

pass through a revolution or fall into complete dissolution.

I am therefore of opinion that some one social power must

always be made to predominate over the others; but I think that

liberty is endangered when this power is checked by no obstacles

which may retard its course, and force it to moderate its own


Unlimited power is in itself a bad and dangerous thing;

human beings are not competent to exercise it with discretion,

and God alone can be omnipotent, because His wisdom and His

justice are always equal to His power. But no power upon earth is

so worthy of honor for itself, or of reverential obedience to the

rights which it represents, that I would consent to admit its

uncontrolled and all-predominant authority. When I see that the

right and the means of absolute command are conferred on a people

or upon a king, upon an aristocracy or a democracy, a monarchy or

a republic, I recognize the germ of tyranny, and I journey onward

to a land of more hopeful institutions.

In my opinion the main evil of the present democratic

institutions of the United States does not arise, as is often

asserted in Europe, from their weakness, but from their

overpowering strength; and I am not so much alarmed at the

excessive liberty which reigns in that country as at the very

inadequate securities which exist against tyranny.

When an individual or a party is wronged in the United

States, to whom can he apply for redress? If to public opinion,

public opinion constitutes the majority; if to the legislature,

it represents the majority, and implicitly obeys its injunctions;

if to the executive power, it is appointed by the majority, and

remains a passive tool in its hands; the public troops consist of

the majority under arms; the jury is the majority invested with

the right of hearing judicial cases; and in certain States even

the judges are elected by the majority. However iniquitous or

absurd the evil of which you complain may be, you must submit to

it as well as you can. *d

[Footnote d: A striking instance of the excesses which may be

occasioned by the despotism of the majority occurred at Baltimore

in the year 1812. At that time the war was very popular in

Baltimore. A journal which had taken the other side of the

question excited the indignation of the inhabitants by its

opposition. The populace assembled, broke the printing-presses,

and attacked the houses of the newspaper editors. The militia

was called out, but no one obeyed the call; and the only means of

saving the poor wretches who were threatened by the frenzy of the

mob was to throw them into prison as common malefactors. But

even this precaution was ineffectual; the mob collected again

during the night, the magistrates again made a vain attempt to

call out the militia, the prison was forced, one of the newspaper

editors was killed upon the spot, and the others were left for

dead; the guilty parties were acquitted by the jury when they

were brought to trial.

I said one day to an inhabitant of Pennsylvania, "Be so good

as to explain to me how it happens that in a State founded by

Quakers, and celebrated for its toleration, freed blacks are not

allowed to exercise civil rights. They pay the taxes; is it not

fair that they should have a vote?"

"You insult us," replied my informant, "if you imagine that

our legislators could have committed so gross an act of injustice

and intolerance."

"What! then the blacks possess the right of voting in this


"Without the smallest doubt."

"How comes it, then, that at the polling-booth this morning

I did not perceive a single negro in the whole meeting?"

"This is not the fault of the law: the negroes have an

undisputed right of voting, but they voluntarily abstain from

making their appearance."

"A very pretty piece of modesty on their parts!" rejoined I.

"Why, the truth is, that they are not disinclined to vote,

but they are afraid of being maltreated; in this country the law

is sometimes unable to maintain its authority without the support

of the majority. But in this case the majority entertains very

strong prejudices against the blacks, and the magistrates are

unable to protect them in the exercise of their legal


"What! then the majority claims the right not only of

making the laws, but of breaking the laws it has made?"]

If, on the other hand, a legislative power could be so

constituted as to represent the majority without necessarily

being the slave of its passions; an executive, so as to retain a

certain degree of uncontrolled authority; and a judiciary, so as

to remain independent of the two other powers; a government would

be formed which would still be democratic without incurring any

risk of tyrannical abuse.

I do not say that tyrannical abuses frequently occur in

America at the present day, but I maintain that no sure barrier

is established against them, and that the causes which mitigate

the government are to be found in the circumstances and the

manners of the country more than in its laws.

Effects Of The Unlimited Power Of
The Majority Upon The Arbitrary
Authority Of The American Public Officers

Liberty left by the American laws to public officers
within a certain sphere -Their power.

A distinction must be drawn between tyranny and arbitrary

power. Tyranny may be exercised by means of the law, and in that

case it is not arbitrary; arbitrary power may be exercised for

the good of the community at large, in which case it is not

tyrannical. Tyranny usually employs arbitrary means, but, if

necessary, it can rule without them.

In the United States the unbounded power of the majority,

which is favorable to the legal despotism of the legislature, is

likewise favorable to the arbitrary authority of the magistrate.

The majority has an entire control over the law when it is made

and when it is executed; and as it possesses an equal authority

over those who are in power and the community at large, it

considers public officers as its passive agents, and readily

confides the task of serving its designs to their vigilance. The

details of their office and the privileges which they are to

enjoy are rarely defined beforehand; but the majority treats them

as a master does his servants when they are always at work in his

sight, and he has the power of directing or reprimanding them at

every instant.

In general the American functionaries are far more

independent than the French civil officers within the sphere

which is prescribed to them. Sometimes, even, they are allowed by

the popular authority to exceed those bounds; and as they are

protected by the opinion, and backed by the co-operation, of the

majority, they venture upon such manifestations of their power as

astonish a European. By this means habits are formed in the

heart of a free country which may some day prove fatal to its


Power Exercised By The Majority In America Upon Opinion

In America, when the majority has once irrevocably decided a

question, all discussion ceases - Reason of this - Moral power

exercised by the majority upon opinion - Democratic republics

have deprived despotism of its physical instruments - Their

despotism sways the minds of men.

It is in the examination of the display of public opinion in

the United States that we clearly perceive how far the power of

the majority surpasses all the powers with which we are

acquainted in Europe. Intellectual principles exercise an

influence which is so invisible, and often so inappreciable, that

they baffle the toils of oppression. At the present time the

most absolute monarchs in Europe are unable to prevent certain

notions, which are opposed to their authority, from circulating

in secret throughout their dominions, and even in their courts.

Such is not the case in America; as long as the majority is still

undecided, discussion is carried on; but as soon as its decision

is irrevocably pronounced, a submissive silence is observed, and

the friends, as well as the opponents, of the measure unite in

assenting to its propriety. The reason of this is perfectly

clear: no monarch is so absolute as to combine all the powers of

society in his own hands, and to conquer all opposition with the

energy of a majority which is invested with the right of making

and of executing the laws.

The authority of a king is purely physical, and it controls

the actions of the subject without subduing his private will; but

the majority possesses a power which is physical and moral at the

same time; it acts upon the will as well as upon the actions of

men, and it represses not only all contest, but all controversy.

I know no country in which there is so little true

independence of mind and freedom of discussion as in America. In

any constitutional state in Europe every sort of religious and

political theory may be advocated and propagated abroad; for

there is no country in Europe so subdued by any single authority

as not to contain citizens who are ready to protect the man who

raises his voice in the cause of truth from the consequences of

his hardihood. If he is unfortunate enough to live under an

absolute government, the people is upon his side; if he inhabits

a free country, he may find a shelter behind the authority of the

throne, if he require one. The aristocratic part of society

supports him in some countries, and the democracy in others. But

in a nation where democratic institutions exist, organized like

those of the United States, there is but one sole authority, one

single element of strength and of success, with nothing beyond


In America the majority raises very formidable barriers to

the liberty of opinion: within these barriers an author may write

whatever he pleases, but he will repent it if he ever step beyond

them. Not that he is exposed to the terrors of an auto-da-fe,

but he is tormented by the slights and persecutions of daily

obloquy. His political career is closed forever, since he has

offended the only authority which is able to promote his success.

Every sort of compensation, even that of celebrity, is refused to

him. Before he published his opinions he imagined that he held

them in common with many others; but no sooner has he declared

them openly than he is loudly censured by his overbearing

opponents, whilst those who think without having the courage to

speak, like him, abandon him in silence. He yields at length,

oppressed by the daily efforts he has been making, and he

subsides into silence, as if he was tormented by remorse for

having spoken the truth.

Fetters and headsmen were the coarse instruments which

tyranny formerly employed; but the civilization of our age has

refined the arts of despotism which seemed, however, to have been

sufficiently perfected before. The excesses of monarchical power

had devised a variety of physical means of oppression: the

democratic republics of the present day have rendered it as

entirely an affair of the mind as that will which it is intended

to coerce. Under the absolute sway of an individual despot the

body was attacked in order to subdue the soul, and the soul

escaped the blows which were directed against it and rose

superior to the attempt; but such is not the course adopted by

tyranny in democratic republics; there the body is left free, and

the soul is enslaved. The sovereign can no longer say, "You

shall think as I do on pain of death;" but he says, "You are free

to think differently from me, and to retain your life, your

property, and all that you possess; but if such be your

determination, you are henceforth an alien among your people. You

may retain your civil rights, but they will be useless to you,

for you will never be chosen by your fellow-citizens if you

solicit their suffrages, and they will affect to scorn you if you

solicit their esteem. You will remain among men, but you will be

deprived of the rights of mankind. Your fellow-creatures will

shun you like an impure being, and those who are most persuaded

of your innocence will abandon you too, lest they should be

shunned in their turn. Go in peace! I have given you your life,

but it is an existence in comparably worse than death."

Monarchical institutions have thrown an odium upon

despotism; let us beware lest democratic republics should restore

oppression, and should render it less odious and less degrading

in the eyes of the many, by making it still more onerous to the


Works have been published in the proudest nations of the Old

World expressly intended to censure the vices and deride the

follies of the times; Labruyere inhabited the palace of Louis XIV

when he composed his chapter upon the Great, and Moliere

criticised the courtiers in the very pieces which were acted

before the Court. But the ruling power in the United States is

not to be made game of; the smallest reproach irritates its

sensibility, and the slightest joke which has any foundation in

truth renders it indignant; from the style of its language to the

more solid virtues of its character, everything must be made the

subject of encomium. No writer, whatever be his eminence, can

escape from this tribute of adulation to his fellow-citizens. The

majority lives in the perpetual practice of self-applause, and

there are certain truths which the Americans can only learn from

strangers or from experience.

If great writers have not at present existed in America, the

reason is very simply given in these facts; there can be no

literary genius without freedom of opinion, and freedom of

opinion does not exist in America. The Inquisition has never

been able to prevent a vast number of anti-religious books from

circulating in Spain. The empire of the majority succeeds much

better in the United States, since it actually removes the wish

of publishing them. Unbelievers are to be met with in America,

but, to say the truth, there is no public organ of infidelity.

Attempts have been made by some governments to protect the

morality of nations by prohibiting licentious books. In the

United States no one is punished for this sort of works, but no

one is induced to write them; not because all the citizens are

immaculate in their manners, but because the majority of the

community is decent and orderly.


In these cases the advantages derived from the exercise of

this power are unquestionable, and I am simply discussing the

nature of the power itself. This irresistible authority is a

constant fact, and its judicious exercise is an accidental


Effects Of The Tyranny Of
The Majority Upon The National
Character Of The Americans

Effects of the tyranny of the majority more sensibly felt

hitherto in the manners than in the conduct of society - They

check the development of leading characters - Democratic

republics organized like the United States bring the practice of

courting favor within the reach of the many - Proofs of this

spirit in the United States - Why there is more patriotism in the

people than in those who govern in its name.

The tendencies which I have just alluded to are as yet very

slightly perceptible in political society, but they already begin

to exercise an unfavorable influence upon the national character

of the Americans. I am inclined to attribute the singular

paucity of distinguished political characters to the

ever-increasing activity of the despotism of the majority in the

United States. When the American Revolution broke out they arose

in great numbers, for public opinion then served, not to

tyrannize over, but to direct the exertions of individuals.

Those celebrated men took a full part in the general agitation of

mind common at that period, and they attained a high degree of

personal fame, which was reflected back upon the nation, but

which was by no means borrowed from it.

In absolute governments the great nobles who are nearest to

the throne flatter the passions of the sovereign, and voluntarily

truckle to his caprices. But the mass of the nation does not

degrade itself by servitude: it often submits from weakness, from

habit, or from ignorance, and sometimes from loyalty. Some

nations have been known to sacrifice their own desires to those

of the sovereign with pleasure and with pride, thus exhibiting a

sort of independence in the very act of submission. These

peoples are miserable, but they are not degraded. There is a

great difference between doing what one does not approve and

feigning to approve what one does; the one is the necessary case

of a weak person, the other befits the temper of a lackey.

In free countries, where everyone is more or less called

upon to give his opinion in the affairs of state; in democratic

republics, where public life is incessantly commingled with

domestic affairs, where the sovereign authority is accessible on

every side, and where its attention can almost always be

attracted by vociferation, more persons are to be met with who

speculate upon its foibles and live at the cost of its passions

than in absolute monarchies. Not because men are naturally worse

in these States than elsewhere, but the temptation is stronger,

and of easier access at the same time. The result is a far more

extensive debasement of the characters of citizens.


Democratic republics extend the practice of currying favor

with the many, and they introduce it into a greater number of

classes at once: this is one of the most serious reproaches that

can be addressed to them. In democratic States organized on the

principles of the American republics, this is more especially the

case, where the authority of the majority is so absolute and so

irresistible that a man must give up his rights as a citizen, and

almost abjure his quality as a human being, if te intends to

stray from the track which it lays down.

In that immense crowd which throngs the avenues to power in

the United States I found very few men who displayed any of that

manly candor and that masculine independence of opinion which

frequently distinguished the Americans in former times, and which

constitutes the leading feature in distinguished characters,

wheresoever they may be found. It seems, at first sight, as if

all the minds of the Americans were formed upon one model, so

accurately do they correspond in their manner of judging. A

stranger does, indeed, sometimes meet with Americans who dissent

from these rigorous formularies; with men who deplore the defects

of the laws, the mutability and the ignorance of democracy; who

even go so far as to observe the evil tendencies which impair the

national character, and to point out such remedies as it might be

possible to apply; but no one is there to hear these things

besides yourself, and you, to whom these secret reflections are

confided, are a stranger and a bird of passage. They are very

ready to communicate truths which are useless to you, but they

continue to hold a different language in public.

If ever 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 voices to condemn me; and in the second place, that

very many of them will acquit me at the bottom of their


I have heard of patriotism in the United States, and it is a

virtue which may be found among the people, but never among the

leaders of the people. This may be explained by analogy;

despotism debases the oppressed much more than the oppressor: in

absolute monarchies the king has often great virtues, but the

courtiers are invariably servile. It is true that the American

courtiers do not say "Sire," or "Your Majesty" - a distinction

without a difference. They are forever talking of the natural

intelligence of the populace they serve; they do not debate the

question as to which of the virtues of their master is

pre-eminently worthy of admiration, for they assure him that he

possesses all the virtues under heaven without having acquired

them, or without caring to acquire them; they do not give him

their daughters and their wives to be raised at his pleasure to

the rank of his concubines, but, by sacrificing their opinions,

they prostitute themselves. Moralists and philosophers in America

are not obliged to conceal their opinions under the veil of

allegory; but, before they venture upon a harsh truth, they say,

"We are aware that the people which we are addressing is too

superior to all the weaknesses of human nature to lose the

command of its temper for an instant; and we should not hold this

language if we were not speaking to men whom their virtues and

their intelligence render more worthy of freedom than all the

rest of the world." It would have been impossible for the

sycophants of Louis XIV to flatter more dexterously. For my

part, I am persuaded that in all governments, whatever their

nature may be, servility will cower to force, and adulation will

cling to power. The only means of preventing men from degrading

themselves is to invest no one with that unlimited authority

which is the surest method of debasing them.

The Greatest Dangers Of The American
Republics Proceed From The
Unlimited Power Of The Majority

Democratic republics liable to perish from a misuse of their

power, and not by impotence - The Governments of the American

republics are more centralized and more energetic than those of

the monarchies of Europe - Dangers resulting from this - Opinions

of Hamilton and Jefferson upon this point.

Governments usually fall a sacrifice to impotence or to

tyranny. In the former case their power escapes from them; it is

wrested from their grasp in the latter. Many observers, who have

witnessed the anarchy of democratic States, have imagined that

the government of those States was naturally weak and impotent.

The truth is, that when once hostilities are begun between

parties, the government loses its control over society. But I do

not think that a democratic power is naturally without force or

without resources: say, rather, that it is almost always by the

abuse of its force and the misemployment of its resources that a

democratic government fails. Anarchy is almost always produced

by its tyranny or its mistakes, but not by its want of strength.

It is important not to confound stability with force, or the

greatness of a thing with its duration. In democratic republics,

the power which directs *e society is not stable; for it often

changes hands and assumes a new direction. But whichever way it

turns, its force is almost irresistible. The Governments of the

American republics appear to me to be as much centralized as

those of the absolute monarchies of Europe, and more energetic

than they are. I do not, therefore, imagine that they will

perish from weakness. *f

[Footnote e: This power may be centred in an assembly, in which

case it will be strong without being stable; or it may be centred

in an individual, in which case it will be less strong, but more


[Footnote f: I presume that it is scarcely necessary to remind

the reader here, as well as throughout the remainder of this

chapter, that I am speaking, not of the Federal Government, but

of the several governments of each State, which the majority

controls at its pleasure.]

If ever the free institutions of America are destroyed, that

event may be attributed to the unlimited authority of the

majority, which may at some future time urge the minorities to

desperation, and oblige them to have recourse to physical force.

Anarchy will then be the result, but it will have been brought

about by despotism.

Mr. Hamilton expresses the same opinion in the "Federalist,"

No. 51. "It is of great importance in a republic not only to

guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to

guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other

part. Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil

society. It ever has been, and ever will be, pursued until it be

obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit. In a society,

under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite

and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as

in a state of nature, where the weaker individual is not secured

against the violence of the stronger: and as in the latter state

even the stronger individuals are prompted by the uncertainty of

their condition to submit to a government which may protect the

weak as well as themselves, so in the former state will the more

powerful factions be gradually induced by a like motive to wish

for a government which will protect all parties, the weaker as

well as the more powerful. It can be little doubted that, if the

State of Rhode Island was separated from the Confederacy and left

to itself, the insecurity of right under the popular form of

government within such narrow limits would be displayed by such

reiterated oppressions of the factious majorities, that some

power altogether independent of the people would soon be called

for by the voice of the very factions whose misrule had proved

the necessity of it."

Jefferson has also thus expressed himself in a letter to

Madison: *g "The executive power in our Government is not the

only, perhaps not even the principal, object of my solicitude.

The tyranny of the Legislature is really the danger most to be

feared, and will continue to be so for many years to come. The

tyranny of the executive power will come in its turn, but at a

more distant period." I am glad to cite the opinion of Jefferson

upon this subject rather than that of another, because I consider

him to be the most powerful advocate democracy has ever sent


[Footnote g: March 15, 1789.]


Chapter XVI:
Causes Mitigating Tyranny
In The United States - Part I

Chapter Summary

The national majority does not pretend to conduct all business -

Is obliged to employ the town and county magistrates to execute

its supreme decisions.

I have already pointed out the distinction which is to be

made between a centralized government and a centralized

administration. The former exists in America, but the latter is

nearly unknown there. If the directing power of the American

communities had both these instruments of government at its

disposal, and united the habit of executing its own commands to

the right of commanding; if, after having established the general

principles of government, it descended to the details of public

business; and if, having regulated the great interests of the

country, it could penetrate into the privacy of individual

interests, freedom would soon be banished from the New World.

But in the United States the majority, which so frequently

displays the tastes and the propensities of a despot, is still

destitute of the more perfect instruments of tyranny. In the

American republics the activity of the central Government has

never as yet been extended beyond a limited number of objects

sufficiently prominent to call forth its attention. The

secondary affairs of society have never been regulated by its

authority, and nothing has hitherto betrayed its desire of

interfering in them. The majority is become more and more

absolute, but it has not increased the prerogatives of the

central government; those great prerogatives have been confined

to a certain sphere; and although the despotism of the majority

may be galling upon one point, it cannot be said to extend to

all. However the predominant party in the nation may be carried

away by its passions, however ardent it may be in the pursuit of

its projects, it cannot oblige all the citizens to comply with

its desires in the same manner and at the same time throughout

the country. When the central Government which represents that

majority has issued a decree, it must entrust the execution of

its will to agents, over whom it frequently has no control, and

whom it cannot perpetually direct. The townships, municipal

bodies, and counties may therefore be looked upon as concealed

break-waters, which check or part the tide of popular excitement.

If an oppressive law were passed, the liberties of the people

would still be protected by the means by which that law would be

put in execution: the majority cannot descend to the details and

(as I will venture to style them) the puerilities of

administrative tyranny. Nor does the people entertain that full

consciousness of its authority which would prompt it to interfere

in these matters; it knows the extent of its natural powers, but

it is unacquainted with the increased resources which the art of

government might furnish.

This point deserves attention, for if a democratic republic

similar to that of the United States were ever founded in a

country where the power of a single individual had previously

subsisted, and the effects of a centralized administration had

sunk deep into the habits and the laws of the people, I do not

hesitate to assert, that in that country a more insufferable

despotism would prevail than any which now exists in the

monarchical States of Europe, or indeed than any which could be

found on this side of the confines of Asia.

The Profession Of The Law
In The United States Serves
To Counterpoise The Democracy

Utility of discriminating the natural propensities of the members

of the legal profession - These men called upon to act a

prominent part in future society -In what manner the peculiar

pursuits of lawyers give an aristocratic turn to their ideas -

Accidental causes which may check this tendency - Ease with which

the aristocracy coalesces with legal men - Use of lawyers to a

despot - The profession of the law constitutes the only

aristocratic element with which the natural elements of democracy

will combine - Peculiar causes which tend to give an aristocratic

turn of mind to the English and American lawyers - The

aristocracy of America is on the bench and at the bar - Influence

of lawyers upon American society - Their peculiar magisterial

habits affect the legislature, the administration, and even the


In visiting the Americans and in studying their laws we

perceive that the authority they have entrusted to members of the

legal profession, and the influence which these individuals

exercise in the Government, is the most powerful existing

security against the excesses of democracy. This effect seems to

me to result from a general cause which it is useful to

investigate, since it may produce analogous consequences


The members of the legal profession have taken an important

part in all the vicissitudes of political society in Europe

during the last five hundred years. At one time they have been

the instruments of those who were invested with political

authority, and at another they have succeeded in converting

political authorities into their instrument. In the Middle Ages

they afforded a powerful support to the Crown, and since that

period they have exerted themselves to the utmost to limit the

royal prerogative. In England they have contracted a close

alliance with the aristocracy; in France they have proved to be

the most dangerous enemies of that class. It is my object to

inquire whether, under all these circumstances, the members of

the legal profession have been swayed by sudden and momentary

impulses; or whether they have been impelled by principles which

are inherent in their pursuits, and which will always recur in

history. I am incited to this investigation by reflecting that

this particular class of men will most likely play a prominent

part in that order of things to which the events of our time are

giving birth.

Men who have more especially devoted themselves to legal

pursuits derive from those occupations certain habits of order, a

taste for formalities, and a kind of instinctive regard for the

regular connection of ideas, which naturally render them very

hostile to the revolutionary spirit and the unreflecting passions

of the multitude.

The special information which lawyers derive from their

studies ensures them a separate station in society, and they

constitute a sort of privileged body in the scale of

intelligence. This notion of their superiority perpetually

recurs to them in the practice of their profession: they are the

masters of a science which is necessary, but which is not very

generally known; they serve as arbiters between the citizens; and

the habit of directing the blind passions of parties in

litigation to their purpose inspires them with a certain contempt

for the judgment of the multitude. To this it may be added that

they naturally constitute a body, not by any previous

understanding, or by an agreement which directs them to a common

end; but the analogy of their studies and the uniformity of their

proceedings connect their minds together, as much as a common

interest could combine their endeavors.

A portion of the tastes and of the habits of the aristocracy

may consequently be discovered in the characters of men in the

profession of the law. They participate in the same instinctive

love of order and of formalities; and they entertain the same

repugnance to the actions of the multitude, and the same secret

contempt of the government of the people. I do not mean to say

that the natural propensities of lawyers are sufficiently strong

to sway them irresistibly; for they, like most other men, are

governed by their private interests and the advantages of the


In a state of society in which the members of the legal

profession are prevented from holding that rank in the political

world which they enjoy in private life, we may rest assured that

they will be the foremost agents of revolution. But it must then

be inquired whether the cause which induces them to innovate and

to destroy is accidental, or whether it belongs to some lasting

purpose which they entertain. It is true that lawyers mainly

contributed to the overthrow of the French monarchy in 1789; but

it remains to be seen whether they acted thus because they had

studied the laws, or because they were prohibited from

co-operating in the work of legislation.

Five hundred years ago the English nobles headed the people,

and spoke in its name; at the present time the aristocracy

supports the throne, and defends the royal prerogative. But

aristocracy has, notwithstanding this, its peculiar instincts and

propensities. We must be careful not to confound isolated

members of a body with the body itself. In all free governments,

of whatsoever form they may be, members of the legal profession

will be found at the head of all parties. The same remark is

also applicable to the aristocracy; for almost all the democratic

convulsions which have agitated the world have been directed by


A privileged body can never satisfy the ambition of all its

members; it has always more talents and more passions to content

and to employ than it can find places; so that a considerable

number of individuals are usually to be met with who are inclined

to attack those very privileges which they find it impossible to

turn to their own account.

I do not, then, assert that all the members of the legal

profession are at all times the friends of order and the

opponents of innovation, but merely that most of them usually are

so. In a community in which lawyers are allowed to occupy,

without opposition, that high station which naturally belongs to

them, their general spirit will be eminently conservative and

anti-democratic. When an aristocracy excludes the leaders of that

profession from its ranks, it excites enemies which are the more

formidable to its security as they are independent of the

nobility by their industrious pursuits; and they feel themselves

to be its equal in point of intelligence, although they enjoy

less opulence and less power. But whenever an aristocracy

consents to impart some of its privileges to these same

individuals, the two classes coalesce very readily, and assume,

as it were, the consistency of a single order of family


I am, in like manner, inclined to believe that a monarch

will always be able to convert legal practitioners into the most

serviceable instruments of his authority. There is a far greater

affinity between this class of individuals and the executive

power than there is between them and the people; just as there is

a greater natural affinity between the nobles and the monarch

than between the nobles and the people, although the higher

orders of society have occasionally resisted the prerogative of

the Crown in concert with the lower classes.

Lawyers are attached to public order beyond every other

consideration, and the best security of public order is

authority. It must not be forgotten that, if they prize the free

institutions of their country much, they nevertheless value the

legality of those institutions far more: they are less afraid of

tyranny than of arbitrary power; and provided that the

legislature take upon itself to deprive men of their

independence, they are not dissatisfied.

I am therefore convinced that the prince who, in presence of

an encroaching democracy, should endeavor to impair the judicial

authority in his dominions, and to diminish the political

influence of lawyers, would commit a great mistake. He would let

slip the substance of authority to grasp at the shadow. He would

act more wisely in introducing men connected with the law into

the government; and if he entrusted them with the conduct of a

despotic power, bearing some marks of violence, that power would

most likely assume the external features of justice and of

legality in their hands.


The government of democracy is favorable to the political

power of lawyers; for when the wealthy, the noble, and the prince

are excluded from the government, they are sure to occupy the

highest stations, in their own right, as it were, since they are

the only men of information and sagacity, beyond the sphere of

the people, who can be the object of the popular choice. If,

then, they are led by their tastes to combine with the

aristocracy and to support the Crown, they are naturally brought

into contact with the people by their interests. They like the

government of democracy, without participating in its

propensities and without imitating its weaknesses; whence they

derive a twofold authority, from it and over it. The people in

democratic states does not mistrust the members of the legal

profession, because it is well known that they are interested in

serving the popular cause; and it listens to them without

irritation, because it does not attribute to them any sinister

designs. The object of lawyers is not, indeed, to overthrow the

institutions of democracy, but they constantly endeavor to give

it an impulse which diverts it from its real tendency, by means

which are foreign to its nature. Lawyers belong to the people by

birth and interest, to the aristocracy by habit and by taste, and

they may be looked upon as the natural bond and connecting link

of the two great classes of society.

The profession of the law is the only aristocratic element

which can be amalgamated without violence with the natural

elements of democracy, and which can be advantageously and

permanently combined with them. I am not unacquainted with the

defects which are inherent in the character of that body of men;

but without this admixture of lawyer-like sobriety with the

democratic principle, I question whether democratic institutions

could long be maintained, and I cannot believe that a republic

could subsist at the present time if the influence of lawyers in

public business did not increase in proportion to the power of

the people.

This aristocratic character, which I hold to be common to

the legal profession, is much more distinctly marked in the

United States and in England than in any other country. This

proceeds not only from the legal studies of the English and

American lawyers, but from the nature of the legislation, and the

position which those persons occupy in the two countries. The

English and the Americans have retained the law of precedents;

that is to say, they continue to found their legal opinions and

the decisions of their courts upon the opinions and the decisions

of their forefathers. In the mind of an English or American

lawyer a taste and a reverence for what is old is almost always

united to a love of regular and lawful proceedings.

This predisposition has another effect upon the character of

the legal profession and upon the general course of society. The

English and American lawyers investigate what has been done; the

French advocate inquires what should have been done; the former

produce precedents, the latter reasons. A French observer is

surprised to hear how often an English dr an American lawyer

quotes the opinions of others, and how little he alludes to his

own; whilst the reverse occurs in France. There the most

trifling litigation is never conducted without the introduction

of an entire system of ideas peculiar to the counsel employed;

and the fundamental principles of law are discussed in order to

obtain a perch of land by the decision of the court. This

abnegation of his own opinion, and this implicit deference to the

opinion of his forefathers, which are common to the English and

American lawyer, this subjection of thought which he is obliged

to profess, necessarily give him more timid habits and more

sluggish inclinations in England and America than in France.

The French codes are often difficult of comprehension, but

they can be read by every one; nothing, on the other hand, can be

more impenetrable to the uninitiated than a legislation founded

upon precedents. The indispensable want of legal assistance

which is felt in England and in the United States, and the high

opinion which is generally entertained of the ability of the

legal profession, tend to separate it more and more from the

people, and to place it in a distinct class. The French lawyer

is simply a man extensively acquainted with the statutes of his

country; but the English or American lawyer resembles the

hierophants of Egypt, for, like them, he is the sole interpreter

of an occult science.

The station which lawyers occupy in England and America

exercises no less an influence upon their habits and their

opinions. The English aristocracy, which has taken care to

attract to its sphere whatever is at all analogous to itself, has

conferred a high degree of importance and of authority upon the

members of the legal profession. In English society lawyers do

not occupy the first rank, but they are contented with the

station assigned to them; they constitute, as it were, the

younger branch of the English aristocracy, and they are attached

to their elder brothers, although they do not enjoy all their

privileges. The English lawyers consequently mingle the taste

and the ideas of the aristocratic circles in which they move with

the aristocratic interests of their profession.

And indeed the lawyer-like character which I am endeavoring

to depict is most distinctly to be met with in England: there

laws are esteemed not so much because they are good as because

they are old; and if it be necessary to modify them in any

respect, or to adapt them the changes which time operates in

society, recourse is had to the most inconceivable contrivances

in order to uphold the traditionary fabric, and to maintain that

nothing has been done which does not square with the intentions

and complete the labors of former generations. The very

individuals who conduct these changes disclaim all intention of

innovation, and they had rather resort to absurd expedients than

plead guilty to so great a crime. This spirit appertains more

especially to the English lawyers; they seem indifferent to the

real meaning of what they treat, and they direct all their

attention to the letter, seeming inclined to infringe the rules

of common sense and of humanity rather than to swerve one title

from the law. The English legislation may be compared to the

stock of an old tree, upon which lawyers have engrafted the most

various shoots, with the hope that, although their fruits may

differ, their foliage at least will be confounded with the

venerable trunk which supports them all.

In America there are no nobles or men of letters, and the

people is apt to mistrust the wealthy; lawyers consequently form

the highest political class, and the most cultivated circle of

society. They have therefore nothing to gain by innovation,

which adds a conservative interest to their natural taste for

public order. If I were asked where I place the American

aristocracy, I should reply without hesitation that it is not

composed of the rich, who are united together by no common tie,

but that it occupies the judicial bench and the bar.

The more we reflect upon all that occurs in the United

States the more shall we be persuaded that the lawyers as a body

form the most powerful, if not the only, counterpoise to the

democratic element. In that country we perceive how eminently

the legal profession is qualified by its powers, and even by its

defects, to neutralize the vices which are inherent in popular

government. When the American people is intoxicated by passion,

or carried away by the impetuosity of its ideas, it is checked

and stopped by the almost invisible influence of its legal

counsellors, who secretly oppose their aristocratic propensities

to its democratic instincts, their superstitious attachment to

what is antique to its love of novelty, their narrow views to its

immense designs, and their habitual procrastination to its ardent


The courts of justice are the most visible organs by which

the legal profession is enabled to control the democracy. The

judge is a lawyer, who, independently of the taste for regularity

and order which he has contracted in the study of legislation,

derives an additional love of stability from his own inalienable

functions. His legal attainments have already raised him to a

distinguished rank amongst his fellow-citizens; his political

power completes the distinction of his station, and gives him the

inclinations natural to privileged classes.

Armed with the power of declaring the laws to be

unconstitutional, *a the American magistrate perpetually

interferes in political affairs. He cannot force the people to

make laws, but at least he can oblige it not to disobey its own

enactments; or to act inconsistently with its own principles. I

am aware that a secret tendency to diminish the judicial power

exists in the United States, and by most of the constitutions of

the several States the Government can, upon the demand of the two

houses of the legislature, remove the judges from their station.

By some other constitutions the members of the tribunals are

elected, and they are even subjected to frequent re-elections. I

venture to predict that these innovations will sooner or later be

attended with fatal consequences, and that it will be found out

at some future period that the attack which is made upon the

judicial power has affected the democratic republic itself.

[Footnote a: See chapter VI. on the "Judicial Power in the United


It must not, however, be supposed that the legal spirit of

which I have been speaking has been confined, in the United

States, to the courts of justice; it extends far beyond them. As

the lawyers constitute the only enlightened class which the

people does not mistrust, they are naturally called upon to

occupy most of the public stations. They fill the legislative

assemblies, and they conduct the administration; they

consequently exercise a powerful influence upon the formation of

the law, and upon its execution. The lawyers are, however,

obliged to yield to the current of public opinion, which is too

strong for them to resist it, but it is easy to find indications

of what their conduct would be if they were free to act as they

chose. The Americans, who have made such copious innovations in

their political legislation, have introduced very sparing

alterations in their civil laws, and that with great difficulty,

although those laws are frequently repugnant to their social

condition. The reason of this is, that in matters of civil law

the majority is obliged to defer to the authority of the legal

profession, and that the American lawyers are disinclined to

innovate when they are left to their own choice.

It is curious for a Frenchman, accustomed to a very

different state of things, to hear the perpetual complaints which

are made in the United States against the stationary propensities

of legal men, and their prejudices in favor of existing


The influence of the legal habits which are common in

America extends beyond the limits I have just pointed out.

Scarcely any question arises in the United States which does not

become, sooner or later, a subject of judicial debate; hence all

parties are obliged to borrow the ideas, and even the language,

usual in judicial proceedings in their daily controversies. As

most public men are, or have been, legal practitioners, they

introduce the customs and technicalities of their profession into

the affairs of the country. The jury extends this habitude to

all classes. The language of the law thus becomes, in some

measure, a vulgar tongue; the spirit of the law, which is

produced in the schools and courts of justice, gradually

penetrates beyond their walls into the bosom of society, where it

descends to the lowest classes, so that the whole people

contracts the habits and the tastes of the magistrate. The

lawyers of the United States form a party which is but little

feared and scarcely perceived, which has no badge peculiar to

itself, which adapts itself with great flexibility to the

exigencies of the time, and accommodates itself to all the

movements of the social body; but this party extends over the

whole community, and it penetrates into all classes of society;

it acts upon the country imperceptibly, but it finally fashions

it to suit its purposes.


Chapter XVI: Causes Mitigating
Tyranny In The United States - Part II

Trial By Jury In The United States
Considered As A Political Institution

Trial by jury, which is one of the instruments of the sovereignty

of the people, deserves to be compared with the other laws which

establish that sovereignty - Composition of the jury in the

United States - Effect of trial by jury upon the national

character - It educates the people - It tends to establish the

authority of the magistrates and to extend a knowledge of law

among the people.

Since I have been led by my subject to recur to the

administration of justice in the United States, I will not pass

over this point without adverting to the institution of the jury.

Trial by jury may be considered in two separate points of view,

as a judicial and as a political institution. If it entered into

my present purpose to inquire how far trial by jury (more

especially in civil cases) contributes to insure the best

administration of justice, I admit that its utility might be

contested. As the jury was first introduced at a time when

society was in an uncivilized state, and when courts of justice

were merely called upon to decide on the evidence of facts, it is

not an easy task to adapt it to the wants of a highly civilized

community when the mutual relations of men are multiplied to a

surprising extent, and have assumed the enlightened and

intellectual character of the age. *b

[Footnote b: The investigation of trial by jury as a judicial

institution, and the appreciation of its effects in the United

States, together with the advantages the Americans have derived

from it, would suffice to form a book, and a book upon a very

useful and curious subject. The State of Louisiana would in

particular afford the curious phenomenon of a French and English

legislation, as well as a French and English population, which

are gradually combining with each other. See the "Digeste des

Lois de la Louisiane," in two volumes; and the "Traite sur les

Regles des Actions civiles," printed in French and English at New

Orleans in 1830.]

My present object is to consider the jury as a political

institution, and any other course would divert me from my

subject. Of trial by jury, considered as a judicial institution,

I shall here say but very few words. When the English adopted

trial by jury they were a semi-barbarous people; they are become,

in course of time, one of the most enlightened nations of the

earth; and their attachment to this institution seems to have

increased with their increasing cultivation. They soon spread

beyond their insular boundaries to every corner of the habitable

globe; some have formed colonies, others independent states; the

mother-country has maintained its monarchical constitution; many

of its offspring have founded powerful republics; but wherever

the English have been they have boasted of the privilege of trial

by jury. *c They have established it, or hastened to re-establish

it, in all their settlements. A judicial institution which

obtains the suffrages of a great people for so long a series of

ages, which is zealously renewed at every epoch of civilization,

in all the climates of the earth and under every form of human

government, cannot be contrary to the spirit of justice. *d

[Footnote c: All the English and American jurists are unanimous

upon this head. Mr. Story, judge of the Supreme Court of the

United States, speaks, in his "Treatise on the Federal

Constitution," of the advantages of trial by jury in civil cases:

- " The inestimable privilege of a trial by jury in civil cases -

a privilege scarcely inferior to that in criminal cases, which is

counted by all persons to be essential to political and civil

liberty. . . ." (Story, book iii., chap. xxxviii.)]

[Footnote d: If it were our province to point out the utility of

the jury as a judicial institution in this place, much might be

said, and the following arguments might be brought forward

amongst others: -

By introducing the jury into the business of the courts you

are enabled to diminish the number of judges, which is a very

great advantage. When judges are very numerous, death is

perpetually thinning the ranks of the judicial functionaries, and

laying places vacant for newcomers. The ambition of the

magistrates is therefore continually excited, and they are

naturally made dependent upon the will of the majority, or the

individual who fills up the vacant appointments; the officers of

the court then rise like the officers of an army. This state of

things is entirely contrary to the sound administration of

justice, and to the intentions of the legislator. The office of

a judge is made inalienable in order that he may remain

independent: but of what advantage is it that his independence

should be protected if he be tempted to sacrifice it of his own

accord? When judges are very numerous many of them must

necessarily be incapable of performing their important duties,

for a great magistrate is a man of no common powers; and I am

inclined to believe that a half-enlightened tribunal is the

worst of all instruments for attaining those objects which it is

the purpose of courts of justice to accomplish. For my own part,

I had rather submit the decision of a case to ignorant jurors

directed by a skilful judge than to judges a majority of whom are

imperfectly acquainted with jurisprudence and with the laws.]

I turn, however, from this part of the subject. To look

upon the jury as a mere judicial institution is to confine our

attention to a very narrow view of it; for however great its

influence may be upon the decisions of the law courts, that

influence is very subordinate to the powerful effects which it

produces on the destinies of the community at large. The jury is

above all a political institution, and it must be regarded in

this light in order to be duly appreciated.

By the jury I mean a certain number of citizens chosen

indiscriminately, and invested with a temporary right of judging.

Trial by jury, as applied to the repression of crime, appears to

me to introduce an eminently republican element into the

government upon the following grounds:-

The institution of the jury may be aristocratic or

democratic, according to the class of society from which the

jurors are selected; but it always preserves its republican

character, inasmuch as it places the real direction of society in

the hands of the governed, or of a portion of the governed,

instead of leaving it under the authority of the Government.

Force is never more than a transient element of success; and

after force comes the notion of right. A government which should

only be able to crush its enemies upon a field of battle would

very soon be destroyed. The true sanction of political laws is

to be found in penal legislation, and if that sanction be wanting

the law will sooner or later lose its cogency. He who punishes

infractions of the law is therefore the real master of society.

Now the institution of the jury raises the people itself, or at

least a class of citizens, to the bench of judicial authority.

The institution of the jury consequently invests the people, or

that class of citizens, with the direction of society. *e

[Footnote e: An important remark must, however, be made. Trial

by jury does unquestionably invest the people with a general

control over the actions of citizens, but it does not furnish

means of exercising this control in all cases, or with an

absolute authority. When an absolute monarch has the right of

trying offences by his representatives, the fate of the prisoner

is, as it were, decided beforehand. But even if the people were

predisposed to convict, the composition and the

non-responsibility of the jury would still afford some chances

favorable to the protection of innocence.]

In England the jury is returned from the aristocratic

portion of the nation; *f the aristocracy makes the laws, applies

the laws, and punishes all infractions of the laws; everything is

established upon a consistent footing, and England may with truth

be said to constitute an aristocratic republic. In the United

States the same system is applied to the whole people. Every

American citizen is qualified to be an elector, a juror, and is

eligible to office. *g The system of the jury, as it is

understood in America, appears to me to be as direct and as

extreme a consequence of the sovereignty of the people as

universal suffrage. These institutions are two instruments of

equal power, which contribute to the supremacy of the majority.

All the sovereigns who have chosen to govern by their own

authority, and to direct society instead of obeying its

directions, have destroyed or enfeebled the institution of the

jury. The monarchs of the House of Tudor sent to prison jurors

who refused to convict, and Napoleon caused them to be returned

by his agents.

[Footnote f: [This may be true to some extent of special juries,

but not of common juries. The author seems not to have been

aware that the qualifications of jurors in England vary


[Footnote g: See Appendix, Q.]

However clear most of these truths may seem to be, they do

not command universal assent, and in France, at least, the

institution of trial by jury is still very imperfectly

understood. If the question arises as to the proper

qualification of jurors, it is confined to a discussion of the

intelligence and knowledge of the citizens who may be returned,

as if the jury was merely a judicial institution. This appears

to me to be the least part of the subject. The jury is

pre-eminently a political institution; it must be regarded as one

form of the sovereignty of the people; when that sovereignty is

repudiated, it must be rejected, or it must be adapted to the

laws by which that sovereignty is established. The jury is that

portion of the nation to which the execution of the laws is

entrusted, as the Houses of Parliament constitute that part of

the nation which makes the laws; and in order that society may be

governed with consistency and uniformity, the list of citizens

qualified to serve on juries must increase and diminish with the

list of electors. This I hold to be the point of view most

worthy of the attention of the legislator, and all that remains

is merely accessory.

I am so entirely convinced that the jury is pre-eminently a

political institution that I still consider it in this light when

it is applied in civil causes. Laws are always unstable unless

they are founded upon the manners of a nation; manners are the

only durable and resisting power in a people. When the jury is

reserved for criminal offences, the people only witnesses its

occasional action in certain particular cases; the ordinary

course of life goes on without its interference, and it is

considered as an instrument, but not as the only instrument, of

obtaining justice. This is true a fortiori when the jury is only

applied to certain criminal causes.

When, on the contrary, the influence of the jury is extended

to civil causes, its application is constantly palpable; it

affects all the interests of the community; everyone co-operates

in its work: it thus penetrates into all the usages of life, it

fashions the human mind to its peculiar forms, and is gradually

associated with the idea of justice itself.

The institution of the jury, if confined to criminal causes,

is always in danger, but when once it is introduced into civil

proceedings it defies the aggressions of time and of man. If it

had been as easy to remove the jury from the manners as from the

laws of England, it would have perished under Henry VIII, and

Elizabeth, and the civil jury did in reality, at that period,

save the liberties of the country. In whatever manner the jury

be applied, it cannot fail to exercise a powerful influence upon

the national character; but this influence is prodigiously

increased when it is introduced into civil causes. The jury, and

more especially the jury in civil cases, serves to communicate

the spirit of the judges to the minds of all the citizens; and

this spirit, with the habits which attend it, is the soundest

preparation for free institutions. It imbues all classes with a

respect for the thing judged, and with the notion of right. If

these two elements be removed, the love of independence is

reduced to a mere destructive passion. It teaches men to practice

equity, every man learns to judge his neighbor as he would

himself be judged; and this is especially true of the jury in

civil causes, for, whilst the number of persons who have reason

to apprehend a criminal prosecution is small, every one is liable

to have a civil action brought against him. The jury teaches

every man not to recoil before the responsibility of his own

actions, and impresses him with that manly confidence without

which political virtue cannot exist. It invests each citizen

with a kind of magistracy, it makes them all feel the duties

which they are bound to discharge towards society, and the part

which they take in the Government. By obliging men to turn their

attention to affairs which are not exclusively their own, it rubs

off that individual egotism which is the rust of society.

The jury contributes most powerfully to form the judgement

and to increase the natural intelligence of a people, and this

is, in my opinion, its greatest advantage. It may be regarded as

a gratuitous public school ever open, in which every juror learns

to exercise his rights, enters into daily communication with the

most learned and enlightened members of the upper classes, and

becomes practically acquainted with the laws of his country,

which are brought within the reach of his capacity by the efforts

of the bar, the advice of the judge, and even by the passions of

the parties. I think that the practical intelligence and

political good sense of the Americans are mainly attributable to

the long use which they have made of the jury in civil causes. I

do not know whether the jury is useful to those who are in

litigation; but I am certain it is highly beneficial to those who

decide the litigation; and I look upon it as one of the most

efficacious means for the education of the people which society

can employ.

What I have hitherto said applies to all nations, but the

remark I am now about to make is peculiar to the Americans and to

democratic peoples. I have already observed that in democracies

the members of the legal profession and the magistrates

constitute the only aristocratic body which can check the

irregularities of the people. This aristocracy is invested with

no physical power, but it exercises its conservative influence

upon the minds of men, and the most abundant source of its

authority is the institution of the civil jury. In criminal

causes, when society is armed against a single individual, the

jury is apt to look upon the judge as the passive instrument of

social power, and to mistrust his advice. Moreover, criminal

causes are entirely founded upon the evidence of facts which

common sense can readily appreciate; upon this ground the judge

and the jury are equal. Such, however, is not the case in civil

causes; then the judge appears as a disinterested arbiter between

the conflicting passions of the parties. The jurors look up to

him with confidence and listen to him with respect, for in this

instance their intelligence is completely under the control of

his learning. It is the judge who sums up the various arguments

with which their memory has been wearied out, and who guides them

through the devious course of the proceedings; he points their

attention to the exact question of fact which they are called

upon to solve, and he puts the answer to the question of law into

their mouths. His influence upon their verdict is almost


If I am called upon to explain why I am but little moved by

the arguments derived from the ignorance of jurors in civil

causes, I reply, that in these proceedings, whenever the question

to be solved is not a mere question of fact, the jury has only

the semblance of a judicial body. The jury sanctions the

decision of the judge, they by the authority of society which

they represent, and he by that of reason and of law. *h

[Footnote h: See Appendix, R.]

In England and in America the judges exercise an influence

upon criminal trials which the French judges have never

possessed. The reason of this difference may easily be

discovered; the English and American magistrates establish their

authority in civil causes, and only transfer it afterwards to

tribunals of another kind, where that authority was not acquired.

In some cases (and they are frequently the most important ones)

the American judges have the right of deciding causes alone. *i

Upon these occasions they are accidentally placed in the position

which the French judges habitually occupy, but they are invested

with far more power than the latter; they are still surrounded by

the reminiscence of the jury, and their judgment has almost as

much authority as the voice of the community at large,

represented by that institution. Their influence extends beyond

the limits of the courts; in the recreations of private life as

well as in the turmoil of public business, abroad and in the

legislative assemblies, the American judge is constantly

surrounded by men who are accustomed to regard his intelligence

as superior to their own, and after having exercised his power in

the decision of causes, he continues to influence the habits of

thought and the characters of the individuals who took a part in

his judgment.


[Footnote i: The Federal judges decide upon their own authority

almost all the questions most important to the country.]

The jury, then, which seems to restrict the rights of

magistracy, does in reality consolidate its power, and in no

country are the judges so powerful as there, where the people

partakes their privileges. It is more especially by means of the

jury in civil causes that the American magistrates imbue all

classes of society with the spirit of their profession. Thus the

jury, which is the most energetic means of making the people

rule, is also the most efficacious means of teaching it to rule


Chapter XVII:
Principal Causes Maintaining
The Democratic Republic - Part I

Principal Causes Which Tend To Maintain
The Democratic Republic In The United States

A democratic republic subsists in the United States, and the

principal object of this book has been to account for the fact of

its existence. Several of the causes which contribute to maintain

the institutions of America have been involuntarily passed by or

only hinted at as I was borne along by my subject. Others I have

been unable to discuss, and those on which I have dwelt most are,

as it were, buried in the details of the former parts of this

work. I think, therefore, that before I proceed to speak of the

future, I cannot do better than collect within a small compass

the reasons which best explain the present. In this

retrospective chapter I shall be succinct, for I shall take care

to remind the reader very summarily of what he already knows; and

I shall only select the most prominent of those facts which I

have not yet pointed out.

All the causes which contribute to the maintenance of the

democratic republic in the United States are reducible to three

heads: -

I. The peculiar and accidental situation in which Providence

has placed the Americans.

II. The laws.

III. The manners and customs of the people.

Accidental Or Providential Causes Which Contribute To The

Maintenance Of The Democratic Republic In The United States

The Union has no neighbors - No metropolis - The Americans have

had the chances of birth in their favor - America an empty

country - How this circumstance contributes powerfully to the

maintenance of the democratic republic in America - How the

American wilds are peopled - Avidity of the Anglo-Americans in

taking possession of the solitudes of the New World -Influence of

physical prosperity upon the political opinions of the Americans.

A thousand circumstances, independent of the will of man,

concur to facilitate the maintenance of a democratic republic in

the United States. Some of these peculiarities are known, the

others may easily be pointed out; but I shall confine myself to

the most prominent amongst them.

The Americans have no neighbors, and consequently they have

no great wars, or financial crises, or inroads, or conquest to

dread; they require neither great taxes, nor great armies, nor

great generals; and they have nothing to fear from a scourge

which is more formidable to republics than all these evils

combined, namely, military glory. It is impossible to deny the

inconceivable influence which military glory exercises upon the

spirit of a nation. General Jackson, whom the Americans have

twice elected to the head of their Government, is a man of a

violent temper and mediocre talents; no one circumstance in the

whole course of his career ever proved that he is qualified to

govern a free people, and indeed the majority of the enlightened

classes of the Union has always been opposed to him. But he was

raised to the Presidency, and has been maintained in that lofty

station, solely by the recollection of a victory which he gained

twenty years ago under the walls of New Orleans, a victory which

was, however, a very ordinary achievement, and which could only

be remembered in a country where battles are rare. Now the

people which is thus carried away by the illusions of glory is

unquestionably the most cold and calculating, the most unmilitary

(if I may use the expression), and the most prosaic of all the

peoples of the earth.

America has no great capital *a city, whose influence is

directly or indirectly felt over the whole extent of the country,

which I hold to be one of the first causes of the maintenance of

republican institutions in the United States. In cities men

cannot be prevented from concerting together, and from awakening

a mutual excitement which prompts sudden and passionate

resolutions. Cities may be looked upon as large assemblies, of

which all the inhabitants are members; their populace exercises a

prodigious influence upon the magistrates, and frequently

executes its own wishes without their intervention.

[Footnote a: The United States have no metropolis, but they

already contain several very large cities. Philadelphia reckoned

161,000 inhabitants and New York 202,000 in the year 1830. The

lower orders which inhabit these cities constitute a rabble even

more formidable than the populace of European towns. They consist

of freed blacks in the first place, who are condemned by the laws

and by public opinion to a hereditary state of misery and

degradation. They also contain a multitude of Europeans who have

been driven to the shores of the New World by their misfortunes

or their misconduct; and these men inoculate the United States

with all our vices, without bringing with them any of those

interests which counteract their baneful influence. As

inhabitants of a country where they have no civil rights, they

are ready to turn all the passions which agitate the community to

their own advantage; thus, within the last few months serious

riots have broken out in Philadelphia and in New York.

Disturbances of this kind are unknown in the rest of the country,

which is nowise alarmed by them, because the population of the

cities has hitherto exercised neither power nor influence over

the rural districts. Nevertheless, I look upon the size of

certain American cities, and especially on the nature of their

population, as a real danger which threatens the future security

of the democratic republics of the New World; and I venture to

predict that they will perish from this circumstance unless the

government succeeds in creating an armed force, which, whilst it

remains under the control of the majority of the nation, will be

independent of the town population, and able to repress its


[The population of the city of New York had risen, in 1870,

to 942,292, and that of Philadelphia to 674,022. Brooklyn, which

may be said to form part of New York city, has a population of

396,099, in addition to that of New York. The frequent

disturbances in the great cities of America, and the excessive

corruption of their local governments - over which there is no

effectual control - are amongst the greatest evils and dangers of

the country.]]

To subject the provinces to the metropolis is therefore not

only to place the destiny of the empire in the hands of a portion

of the community, which may be reprobated as unjust, but to place

it in the hands of a populace acting under its own impulses,

which must be avoided as dangerous. The preponderance of capital

cities is therefore a serious blow upon the representative

system, and it exposes modern republics to the same defect as the

republics of antiquity, which all perished from not having been

acquainted with that form of government.

It would be easy for me to adduce a great number of

secondary causes which have contributed to establish, and which

concur to maintain, the democratic republic of the United States.

But I discern two principal circumstances amongst these favorable

elements, which I hasten to point out. I have already observed

that the origin of the American settlements may be looked upon as

the first and most efficacious cause to which the present

prosperity of the United States may be attributed. The Americans

had the chances of birth in their favor, and their forefathers

imported that equality of conditions into the country whence the

democratic republic has very naturally taken its rise. Nor was

this all they did; for besides this republican condition of

society, the early settler bequeathed to their descendants those

customs, manners, and opinions which contribute most to the

success of a republican form of government. When I reflect upon

the consequences of this primary circumstance, methinks I see the

destiny of America embodied in the first Puritan who landed on

those shores, just as the human race was represented by the first


The chief circumstance which has favored the establishment

and the maintenance of a democratic republic in the United States

is the nature of the territory which the American inhabit. Their

ancestors gave them the love of equality and of freedom, but God

himself gave them the means of remaining equal and free, by

placing them upon a boundless continent, which is open to their

exertions. General prosperity is favorable to the stability of

all governments, but more particularly of a democratic

constitution, which depends upon the dispositions of the

majority, and more particularly of that portion of the community

which is most exposed to feel the pressure of want. When the

people rules, it must be rendered happy, or it will overturn the

State, and misery is apt to stimulate it to those excesses to

which ambition rouses kings. The physical causes, independent of

the laws, which contribute to promote general prosperity, are

more numerous in America than they have ever been in any other

country in the world, at any other period of history. In the

United States not only is legislation democratic, but nature

herself favors the cause of the people.

In what part of human tradition can be found anything at all

similar to that which is occurring under our eyes in North

America? The celebrated communities of antiquity were all

founded in the midst of hostile nations, which they were obliged

to subjugate before they could flourish in their place. Even the

moderns have found, in some parts of South America, vast regions

inhabited by a people of inferior civilization, but which

occupied and cultivated the soil. To found their new states it

was necessary to extirpate or to subdue a numerous population,

until civilization has been made to blush for their success. But

North America was only inhabited by wandering tribes, who took no

thought of the natural riches of the soil, and that vast country

was still, properly speaking, an empty continent, a desert land

awaiting its inhabitants.

Everything is extraordinary in America, the social condition

of the inhabitants, as well as the laws; but the soil upon which

these institutions are founded is more extraordinary than all the

rest. When man was first placed upon the earth by the Creator,

the earth was inexhaustible in its youth, but man was weak and

ignorant; and when he had learned to explore the treasures which

it contained, hosts of his fellow creatures covered its surface,

and he was obliged to earn an asylum for repose and for freedom

by the sword. At that same period North America was discovered,

as if it had been kept in reserve by the Deity, and had just

risen from beneath the waters of the deluge.

That continent still presents, as it did in the primeval

time, rivers which rise from never-failing sources, green and

moist solitudes, and fields which the ploughshare of the

husbandman has never turned. In this state it is offered to man,

not in the barbarous and isolated condition of the early ages,

but to a being who is already in possession of the most potent

secrets of the natural world, who is united to his fellow-men,

and instructed by the experience of fifty centuries. At this

very time thirteen millions of civilized Europeans are peaceably

spreading over those fertile plains, with whose resources and

whose extent they are not yet themselves accurately acquainted.

Three or four thousand soldiers drive the wandering races of the

aborigines before them; these are followed by the pioneers, who

pierce the woods, scare off the beasts of prey, explore the

courses of the inland streams, and make ready the triumphal

procession of civilization across the waste.

The favorable influence of the temporal prosperity of

America upon the institutions of that country has been so often

described by others, and adverted to by myself, that I shall not

enlarge upon it beyond the addition of a few facts. An erroneous

notion is generally entertained that the deserts of America are

peopled by European emigrants, who annually disembark upon the

coasts of the New World, whilst the American population increases

and multiplies upon the soil which its forefathers tilled. The

European settler, however, usually arrives in the United States

without friends, and sometimes without resources; in order to

subsist he is obliged to work for hire, and he rarely proceeds

beyond that belt of industrious population which adjoins the

ocean. The desert cannot be explored without capital or credit;

and the body must be accustomed to the rigors of a new climate

before it can be exposed to the chances of forest life. It is

the Americans themselves who daily quit the spots which gave them

birth to acquire extensive domains in a remote country. Thus the

European leaves his cottage for the trans-Atlantic shores; and

the American, who is born on that very coast, plunges in his turn

into the wilds of Central America. This double emigration is

incessant; it begins in the remotest parts of Europe, it crosses

the Atlantic Ocean, and it advances over the solitudes of the New

World. Millions of men are marching at once towards the same

horizon; their language, their religion, their manners differ,

their object is the same. The gifts of fortune are promised in

the West, and to the West they bend their course. *b

[Footnote b: [The number of foreign immigrants into the United

States in the last fifty years (from 1820 to 1871) is stated to

be 7,556,007. Of these, 4,104,553 spoke English - that is, they

came from Great Britain, Ireland, or the British colonies;

2,643,069 came from Germany or northern Europe; and about half a

million from the south of Europe.]]

No event can be compared with this continuous removal of the

human race, except perhaps those irruptions which preceded the

fall of the Roman Empire. Then, as well as now, generations of

men were impelled forwards in the same direction to meet and

struggle on the same spot; but the designs of Providence were not

the same; then, every newcomer was the harbinger of destruction

and of death; now, every adventurer brings with him the elements

of prosperity and of life. The future still conceals from us the

ulterior consequences of this emigration of the Americans towards

the West; but we can readily apprehend its more immediate

results. As a portion of the inhabitants annually leave the

States in which they were born, the population of these States

increases very slowly, although they have long been established:

thus in Connecticut, which only contains fifty-nine inhabitants

to the square mile, the population has not increased by more than

one-quarter in forty years, whilst that of England has been

augmented by one-third in the lapse of the same period. The

European emigrant always lands, therefore, in a country which is

but half full, and where hands are in request: he becomes a

workman in easy circumstances; his son goes to seek his fortune

in unpeopled regions, and he becomes a rich landowner. The

former amasses the capital which the latter invests, and the

stranger as well as the native is unacquainted with want.

The laws of the United States are extremely favorable to the

division of property; but a cause which is more powerful than the

laws prevents property from being divided to excess. *c This is

very perceptible in the States which are beginning to be thickly

peopled; Massachusetts is the most populous part of the Union,

but it contains only eighty inhabitants to the square mile, which

is must less than in France, where 162 are reckoned to the same

extent of country. But in Massachusetts estates are very rarely

divided; the eldest son takes the land, and the others go to seek

their fortune in the desert. The law has abolished the rights of

primogeniture, but circumstances have concurred to re-establish

it under a form of which none can complain, and by which no just

rights are impaired.

[Footnote c: In New England the estates are exceedingly small,

but they are rarely subjected to further division.]

A single fact will suffice to show the prodigious number of

individuals who leave New England, in this manner, to settle

themselves in the wilds. We were assured in 1830 that thirty-six

of the members of Congress were born in the little State of

Connecticut. The population of Connecticut, which constitutes

only one forty-third part of that of the United States, thus

furnished one-eighth of the whole body of representatives. The

States of Connecticut, however, only sends five delegates to

Congress; and the thirty-one others sit for the new Western

States. If these thirty-one individuals had remained in

Connecticut, it is probable that instead of becoming rich

landowners they would have remained humble laborers, that they

would have lived in obscurity without being able to rise into

public life, and that, far from becoming useful members of the

legislature, they might have been unruly citizens.

These reflections do not escape the observation of the

Americans any more than of ourselves. "It cannot be doubted,"

says Chancellor Kent in his "Treatise on American Law," "that the

division of landed estates must produce great evils when it is

carried to such excess as that each parcel of land is

insufficient to support a family; but these disadvantages have

never been felt in the United States, and many generations must

elapse before they can be felt. The extent of our inhabited

territory, the abundance of adjacent land, and the continual

stream of emigration flowing from the shores of the Atlantic

towards the interior of the country, suffice as yet, and will

long suffice, to prevent the parcelling out of estates."

It is difficult to describe the rapacity with which the

American rushes forward to secure the immense booty which fortune

proffers to him. In the pursuit he fearlessly braves the arrow

of the Indian and the distempers of the forest; he is unimpressed

by the silence of the woods; the approach of beasts of prey does

not disturb him; for he is goaded onwards by a passion more

intense than the love of life. Before him lies a boundless

continent, and he urges onwards as if time pressed, and he was

afraid of finding no room for his exertions. I have spoken of

the emigration from the older States, but how shall I describe

that which takes place from the more recent ones? Fifty years

have scarcely elapsed since that of Ohio was founded; the greater

part of its inhabitants were not born within its confines; its

capital has only been built thirty years, and its territory is

still covered by an immense extent of uncultivated fields;

nevertheless the population of Ohio is already proceeding

westward, and most of the settlers who descend to the fertile

savannahs of Illinois are citizens of Ohio. These men left their

first country to improve their condition; they quit their

resting-place to ameliorate it still more; fortune awaits them

everywhere, but happiness they cannot attain. The desire of

prosperity is become an ardent and restless passion in their

minds which grows by what it gains. They early broke the ties

which bound them to their natal earth, and they have

contracted no fresh ones on their way. Emigration was at first

necessary to them as a means of subsistence; and it soon becomes

a sort of game of chance, which they pursue for the emotions it

excites as much as for the gain it procures.

Sometimes the progress of man is so rapid that the desert

reappears behind him. The woods stoop to give him a passage, and

spring up again when he has passed. It is not uncommon in

crossing the new States of the West to meet with deserted

dwellings in the midst of the wilds; the traveller frequently

discovers the vestiges of a log house in the most solitary

retreats, which bear witness to the power, and no less to the

inconstancy of man. In these abandoned fields, and over these

ruins of a day, the primeval forest soon scatters a fresh

vegetation, the beasts resume the haunts which were once their

own, and Nature covers the traces of man's path with branches and

with flowers, which obliterate his evanescent track.

I remember that, in crossing one of the woodland districts

which still cover the State of New York, I reached the shores of

a lake embosomed in forests coeval with the world. A small

island, covered with woods whose thick foliage concealed its

banks, rose from the centre of the waters. Upon the shores of

the lake no object attested the presence of man except a column

of smoke which might be seen on the horizon rising from the tops

of the trees to the clouds, and seeming to hang from heaven

rather than to be mounting to the sky. An Indian shallop was

hauled up on the sand, which tempted me to visit the islet that

had first attracted my attention, and in a few minutes I set foot

upon its banks. The whole island formed one of those delicious

solitudes of the New World which almost lead civilized man to

regret the haunts of the savage. A luxuriant vegetation bore

witness to the incomparable fruitfulness of the soil. The deep

silence which is common to the wilds of North America was only

broken by the hoarse cooing of the wood-pigeon, and the tapping

of the woodpecker upon the bark of trees. I was far from

supposing that this spot had ever been inhabited, so completely

did Nature seem to be left to her own caprices; but when I

reached the centre of the isle I thought that I discovered some

traces of man. I then proceeded to examine the surrounding

objects with care, and I soon perceived that a European had

undoubtedly been led to seek a refuge in this retreat. Yet what

changes had taken place in the scene of his labors! The logs

which he had hastily hewn to build himself a shed had sprouted

afresh; the very props were intertwined with living verdure, and

his cabin was transformed into a bower. In the midst of these

shrubs a few stones were to be seen, blackened with fire and

sprinkled with thin ashes; here the hearth had no doubt been, and

the chimney in falling had covered it with rubbish. I stood for

some time in silent admiration of the exuberance of Nature and

the littleness of man: and when I was obliged to leave that

enchanting solitude, I exclaimed with melancholy, "Are ruins,

then, already here?"

In Europe we are wont to look upon a restless disposition,

an unbounded desire of riches, and an excessive love of

independence, as propensities very formidable to society. Yet

these are the very elements which ensure a long and peaceful

duration to the republics of America. Without these unquiet

passions the population would collect in certain spots, and would

soon be subject to wants like those of the Old World, which it is

difficult to satisfy; for such is the present good fortune of the

New World, that the vices of its inhabitants are scarcely less

favorable to society than their virtues. These circumstances

exercise a great influence on the estimation in which human

actions are held in the two hemispheres. The Americans

frequently term what we should call cupidity a laudable industry;

and they blame as faint-heartedness what we consider to be the

virtue of moderate desires.

In France, simple tastes, orderly manners, domestic

affections, and the attachments which men feel to the place of

their birth, are looked upon as great guarantees of the

tranquillity and happiness of the State. But in America nothing

seems to be more prejudicial to society than these virtues. The

French Canadians, who have faithfully preserved the traditions of

their pristine manners, are already embarrassed for room upon

their small territory; and this little community, which has so

recently begun to exist, will shortly be a prey to the calamities

incident to old nations. In Canada, the most enlightened,

patriotic, and humane inhabitants make extraordinary efforts to

render the people dissatisfied with those simple enjoyments which

still content it. There, the seductions of wealth are vaunted

with as much zeal as the charms of an honest but limited income

in the Old World, and more exertions are made to excite the

passions of the citizens there than to calm them elsewhere. If

we listen to their eulogies, we shall hear that nothing is more

praiseworthy than to exchange the pure and homely pleasures which

even the poor man tastes in his own country for the dull delights

of prosperity under a foreign sky; to leave the patrimonial

hearth and the turf beneath which his forefathers sleep; in

short, to abandon the living and the dead in quest of fortune.

At the present time America presents a field for human

effort far more extensive than any sum of labor which can be

applied to work it. In America too much knowledge cannot be

diffused; for all knowledge, whilst it may serve him who

possesses it, turns also to the advantage of those who are

without it. New wants are not to be feared, since they can be

satisfied without difficulty; the growth of human passions need

not be dreaded, since all passions may find an easy and a

legitimate object; nor can men be put in possession of too much

freedom, since they are scarcely ever tempted to misuse their


The American republics of the present day are like companies

of adventurers formed to explore in common the waste lands of the

New World, and busied in a flourishing trade. The passions which

agitate the Americans most deeply are not their political but

their commercial passions; or, to speak more correctly, they

introduce the habits they contract in business into their

political life. They love order, without which affairs do not

prosper; and they set an especial value upon a regular conduct,

which is the foundation of a solid business; they prefer the good

sense which amasses large fortunes to that enterprising spirit

which frequently dissipates them; general ideas alarm their

minds, which are accustomed to positive calculations, and they

hold practice in more honor than theory.

It is in America that one learns to understand the influence

which physical prosperity exercises over political actions, and

even over opinions which ought to acknowledge no sway but that of

reason; and it is more especially amongst strangers that this

truth is perceptible. Most of the European emigrants to the New

World carry with them that wild love of independence and of

change which our calamities are so apt to engender. I sometimes

met with Europeans in the United States who had been obliged to

leave their own country on account of their political opinions.

They all astonished me by the language they held, but one of them

surprised me more than all the rest. As I was crossing one of

the most remote districts of Pennsylvania I was benighted, and

obliged to beg for hospitality at the gate of a wealthy planter,

who was a Frenchman by birth. He bade me sit down beside his

fire, and we began to talk with that freedom which befits persons

who meet in the backwoods, two thousand leagues from their native

country. I was aware that my host had been a great leveller and

an ardent demagogue forty years ago, and that his name was not

unknown to fame. I was, therefore, not a little surprised to

hear him discuss the rights of property as an economist or a

landowner might have done: he spoke of the necessary gradations

which fortune establishes among men, of obedience to established

laws, of the influence of good morals in commonwealths, and of

the support which religious opinions give to order and to

freedom; he even went to far as to quote an evangelical authority

in corroboration of one of his political tenets.

I listened, and marvelled at the feebleness of human reason.

A proposition is true or false, but no art can prove it to be one

or the other, in the midst of the uncertainties of science and

the conflicting lessons of experience, until a new incident

disperses the clouds of doubt; I was poor, I become rich, and I

am not to expect that prosperity will act upon my conduct, and

leave my judgment free; my opinions change with my fortune, and

the happy circumstances which I turn to my advantage furnish me

with that decisive argument which was before wanting. The

influence of prosperity acts still more freely upon the American

than upon strangers. The American has always seen the connection

of public order and public prosperity, intimately united as they

are, go on before his eyes; he does not conceive that one can

subsist without the other; he has therefore nothing to forget;

nor has he, like so many Europeans, to unlearn the lessons of his

early education.

Chapter XVII:
Principal Causes Maintaining
The Democratic Republic - Part II

Influence Of The Laws Upon The
Maintenance Of The Democratic
Republic In The United States

Three principal causes of the maintenance of the democratic
republic - Federal Constitutions - Municipal institutions -
Judicial power.

The principal aim of this book has been to make known the

laws of the United States; if this purpose has been accomplished,

the reader is already enabled to judge for himself which are the

laws that really tend to maintain the democratic republic, and

which endanger its existence. If I have not succeeded in

explaining this in the whole course of my work, I cannot hope to

do so within the limits of a single chapter. It is not my

intention to retrace the path I have already pursued, and a very

few lines will suffice to recapitulate what I have previously



Three circumstances seem to me to contribute most powerfully

to the maintenance of the democratic republic in the United


The first is that Federal form of Government which the

Americans have adopted, and which enables the Union to combine

the power of a great empire with the security of a small State.

The second consists in those municipal institutions which

limit the despotism of the majority, and at the same time impart

a taste for freedom and a knowledge of the art of being free to

the people.

The third is to be met with in the constitution of the

judicial power. I have shown in what manner the courts of justice

serve to repress the excesses of democracy, and how they check

and direct the impulses of the majority without stopping its



Influence Of Manners Upon
The Maintenance Of The Democratic
Republic In The United States

I have previously remarked that the manners of the people

may be considered as one of the general causes to which the

maintenance of a democratic republic in the United States is

attributable. I here used the word manners with the meaning

which the ancients attached to the word mores, for I apply it not

only to manners in their proper sense of what constitutes the

character of social intercourse, but I extend it to the various

notions and opinions current among men, and to the mass of those

ideas which constitute their character of mind. I comprise,

therefore, under this term the whole moral and intellectual

condition of a people. My intention is not to draw a picture of

American manners, but simply to point out such features of them

as are favorable to the maintenance of political institutions.

Religion Considered As A Political Institution, Which Powerfully

Contributes To The Maintenance Of The Democratic Republic Amongst

The Americans

North America peopled by men who professed a democratic and

republican Christianity - Arrival of the Catholics - For what

reason the Catholics form the most democratic and the most

republican class at the present time.

Every religion is to be found in juxtaposition to a

political opinion which is connected with it by affinity. If the

human mind be left to follow its own bent, it will regulate the

temporal and spiritual institutions of society upon one uniform

principle; and man will endeavor, if I may use the expression, to

harmonize the state in which he lives upon earth with the state

which he believes to await him in heaven. The greatest part of

British America was peopled by men who, after having shaken off

the authority of the Pope, acknowledged no other religious

supremacy; they brought with them into the New World a form of

Christianity which I cannot better describe than by styling it a

democratic and republican religion. This sect contributed

powerfully to the establishment of a democracy and a republic,

and from the earliest settlement of the emigrants politics and

religion contracted an alliance which has never been dissolved.

About fifty years ago Ireland began to pour a Catholic

population into the United States; on the other hand, the

Catholics of America made proselytes, and at the present moment

more than a million of Christians professing the truths of the

Church of Rome are to be met with in the Union. *d The Catholics

are faithful to the observances of their religion; they are

fervent and zealous in the support and belief of their doctrines.

Nevertheless they constitute the most republican and the most

democratic class of citizens which exists in the United States;

and although this fact may surprise the observer at first, the

causes by which it is occasioned may easily be discovered upon


[Footnote d: [It is difficult to ascertain with accuracy the

amount of the Roman Catholic population of the United States, but

in 1868 an able writer in the "Edinburgh Review" (vol. cxxvii. p.

521) affirmed that the whole Catholic population of the United

States was then about 4,000,000, divided into 43 dioceses, with

3,795 churches, under the care of 45 bishops and 2,317 clergymen.

But this rapid increase is mainly supported by immigration from

the Catholic countries of Europe.]]

I think that the Catholic religion has erroneously been

looked upon as the natural enemy of democracy. Amongst the

various sects of Christians, Catholicism seems to me, on the

contrary, to be one of those which are most favorable to the

equality of conditions. In the Catholic Church, the religious

community is composed of only two elements, the priest and the

people. The priest alone rises above the rank of his flock, and

all below him are equal.

On doctrinal points the Catholic faith places all human

capacities upon the same level; it subjects the wise and

ignorant, the man of genius and the vulgar crowd, to the details

of the same creed; it imposes the same observances upon the rich

and needy, it inflicts the same austerities upon the strong and

the weak, it listens to no compromise with mortal man, but,

reducing all the human race to the same standard, it confounds

all the distinctions of society at the foot of the same altar,

even as they are confounded in the sight of God. If Catholicism

predisposes the faithful to obedience, it certainly does not

prepare them for inequality; but the contrary may be said of

Protestantism, which generally tends to make men independent,

more than to render them equal.

Catholicism is like an absolute monarchy; if the sovereign

be removed, all the other classes of society are more equal than

they are in republics. It has not unfrequently occurred that the

Catholic priest has left the service of the altar to mix with the

governing powers of society, and to take his place amongst the

civil gradations of men. This religious influence has sometimes

been used to secure the interests of that political state of

things to which he belonged. At other times Catholics have taken

the side of aristocracy from a spirit of religion.

But no sooner is the priesthood entirely separated from the

government, as is the case in the United States, than is found

that no class of men are more naturally disposed than the

Catholics to transfuse the doctrine of the equality of conditions

into the political world. If, then, the Catholic citizens of the

United States are not forcibly led by the nature of their tenets

to adopt democratic and republican principles, at least they are

not necessarily opposed to them; and their social position, as

well as their limited number, obliges them to adopt these

opinions. Most of the Catholics are poor, and they have no

chance of taking a part in the government unless it be open to

all the citizens. They constitute a minority, and all rights

must be respected in order to insure to them the free exercise of

their own privileges. These two causes induce them,

unconsciously, to adopt political doctrines, which they would

perhaps support with less zeal if they were rich and


The Catholic clergy of the United States has never attempted

to oppose this political tendency, but it seeks rather to justify

its results. The priests in America have divided the

intellectual world into two parts: in the one they place the

doctrines of revealed religion, which command their assent; in

the other they leave those truths which they believe to have been

freely left open to the researches of political inquiry. Thus

the Catholics of the United States are at the same time the most

faithful believers and the most zealous citizens.

It may be asserted that in the United States no religious

doctrine displays the slightest hostility to democratic and

republican institutions. The clergy of all the different sects

hold the same language, their opinions are consonant to the laws,

and the human intellect flows onwards in one sole current.

I happened to be staying in one of the largest towns in the

Union, when I was invited to attend a public meeting which had

been called for the purpose of assisting the Poles, and of

sending them supplies of arms and money. I found two or three

thousand persons collected in a vast hall which had been prepared

to receive them. In a short time a priest in his ecclesiastical

robes advanced to the front of the hustings: the spectators rose,

and stood

uncovered, whilst he spoke in the following terms: -

"Almighty God! the God of Armies! Thou who didst

strengthen the hearts and guide the arms of our fathers when they

were fighting for the sacred rights of national independence;

Thou who didst make them triumph over a hateful oppression, and

hast granted to our people the benefits of liberty and peace;

Turn, O Lord, a favorable eye upon the other hemisphere;

pitifully look down upon that heroic nation which is even now

struggling as we did in the former time, and for the same rights

which we defended with our blood. Thou, who didst create Man in

the likeness of the same image, let not tyranny mar Thy work, and

establish inequality upon the earth. Almighty God! do Thou

watch over the destiny of the Poles, and render them worthy to be

free. May Thy wisdom direct their councils, and may Thy strength

sustain their arms! Shed forth Thy terror over their enemies,

scatter the powers which take counsel against them; and vouchsafe

that the injustice which the world has witnessed for fifty years,

be not consummated in our time. O Lord, who holdest alike the

hearts of nations and of men in Thy powerful hand; raise up

allies to the sacred cause of right; arouse the French nation

from the apathy in which its rulers retain it, that it go forth

again to fight for the liberties of the world.

"Lord, turn not Thou Thy face from us, and grant that we may

always be the most religious as well as the freest people of the

earth. Almighty God, hear our supplications this day. Save the

Poles, we beseech Thee, in the name of Thy well-beloved Son, our

Lord Jesus Christ, who died upon the cross for the salvation of

men. Amen."

The whole meeting responded "Amen!" with devotion.


Indirect Influence Of Religious
Opinions Upon Political
Society In The United States

Christian morality common to all sects - Influence of religion

upon the manners of the Americans - Respect for the marriage tie

- In what manner religion confines the imagination of the

Americans within certain limits, and checks the passion of

innovation - Opinion of the Americans on the political utility of

religion - Their exertions to extend and secure its predominance.

I have just shown what the direct influence of religion upon

politics is in the United States, but its indirect influence

appears to me to be still more considerable, and it never

instructs the Americans more fully in the art of being free than

when it says nothing of freedom.

The sects which exist in the United States are innumerable.

They all differ in respect to the worship which is due from man

to his Creator, but they all agree in respect to the duties which

are due from man to man. Each sect adores the Deity in its own

peculiar manner, but all the sects preach the same moral law in

the name of God. If it be of the highest importance to man, as

an individual, that his religion should be true, the case of

society is not the same. Society has no future life to hope for

or to fear; and provided the citizens profess a religion, the

peculiar tenets of that religion are of very little importance to

its interests. Moreover, almost all the sects of the United

States are comprised within the great unity of Christianity, and

Christian morality is everywhere the same.


It may be believed without unfairness that a certain number

of Americans pursue a peculiar form of worship, from habit more

than from conviction. In the United States the sovereign

authority is religious, and consequently hypocrisy must be

common; but there is no country in the whole world in which the

Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of

men than in America; and there can be no greater proof of its

utility, and of its conformity to human nature, than that its

influence is most powerfully felt over the most enlightened and

free nation of the earth.

I have remarked that the members of the American clergy in

general, without even excepting those who do not admit religious

liberty, are all in favor of civil freedom; but they do not

support any particular political system. They keep aloof from

parties and from public affairs. In the United States religion

exercises but little influence upon the laws and upon the details

of public opinion, but it directs the manners of the community,

and by regulating domestic life it regulates the State.

I do not question that the great austerity of manners which

is observable in the United States, arises, in the first

instance, from religious faith. Religion is often unable to

restrain man from the numberless temptations of fortune; nor can

it check that passion for gain which every incident of his life

contributes to arouse, but its influence over the mind of woman

is supreme, and women are the protectors of morals. There is

certainly no country in the world where the tie of marriage is so

much respected as in America, or where conjugal happiness is more

highly or worthily appreciated. In Europe almost all the

disturbances of society arise from the irregularities of domestic

life. To despise the natural bonds and legitimate pleasures of

home, is to contract a taste for excesses, a restlessness of

heart, and the evil of fluctuating desires. Agitated by the

tumultuous passions which frequently disturb his dwelling, the

European is galled by the obedience which the legislative powers

of the State exact. But when the American retires from the

turmoil of public life to the bosom of his family, he finds in it

the image of order and of peace. There his pleasures are simple

and natural, his joys are innocent and calm; and as he finds that

an orderly life is the surest path to happiness, he accustoms

himself without difficulty to moderate his opinions as well as

his tastes. Whilst the European endeavors to forget his domestic

troubles by agitating society, the American derives from his own

home that love of order which he afterwards carries with him into

public affairs.

In the United States the influence of religion is not

confined to the manners, but it extends to the intelligence of

the people. Amongst the Anglo-Americans, there are some who

profess the doctrines of Christianity from a sincere belief in

them, and others who do the same because they are afraid to be

suspected of unbelief. Christianity, therefore, reigns without

any obstacle, by universal consent; the consequence is, as I have

before observed, that every principle of the moral world is fixed

and determinate, although the political world is abandoned to the

debates and the experiments of men. Thus the human mind is never

left to wander across a boundless field; and, whatever may be its

pretensions, it is checked from time to time by barriers which it

cannot surmount. Before it can perpetrate innovation, certain

primal and immutable principles are laid down, and the boldest

conceptions of human device are subjected to certain forms which

retard and stop their completion.

The imagination of the Americans, even in its greatest

flights, is circumspect and undecided; its impulses are checked,

and its works unfinished. These habits of restraint recur in

political society, and are singularly favorable both to the

tranquillity of the people and to the durability of the

institutions it has established. Nature and circumstances

concurred to make the inhabitants of the United States bold men,

as is sufficiently attested by the enterprising spirit with which

they seek for fortune. If the mind of the Americans were free

from all trammels, they would very shortly become the most daring

innovators and the most implacable disputants in the world. But

the revolutionists of America are obliged to profess an

ostensible respect for Christian morality and equity, which does

not easily permit them to violate the laws that oppose their

designs; nor would they find it easy to surmount the scruples of

their partisans, even if they were able to get over their own.

Hitherto no one in the United States has dared to advance the

maxim, that everything is permissible with a view to the

interests of society; an impious adage which seems to have been

invented in an age of freedom to shelter all the tyrants of

future ages. Thus whilst the law permits the Americans to do what

they please, religion prevents them from conceiving, and forbids

them to commit, what is rash or unjust.

Religion in America takes no direct part in the government

of society, but it must nevertheless be regarded as the foremost

of the political institutions of that country; for if it does not

impart a taste for freedom, it facilitates the use of free

institutions. Indeed, it is in this same point of view that the

inhabitants of the United States themselves look upon religious

belief. I do not know whether all the Americans have a sincere

faith in their religion, for who can search the human heart? but

I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable to the

maintenance of republican institutions. This opinion is not

peculiar to a class of citizens or to a party, but it belongs to

the whole nation, and to every rank of society.

In the United States, if a political character attacks a

sect, this may not prevent even the partisans of that very sect

from supporting him; but if he attacks all the sects together,

everyone abandons him, and he remains alone.

Whilst I was in America, a witness, who happened to be

called at the assizes of the county of Chester (State of New

York), declared that he did not believe in the existence of God,

or in the immortality of the soul. The judge refused to admit

his evidence, on the ground that the witness had destroyed

beforehand all the confidence of the Court in what he was about

to say. *e The newspapers related the fact without any further


[Footnote e: The New York "Spectator" of August 23, 1831, relates

the fact in the following terms: - "The Court of Common Pleas of

Chester county (New York) a few days since rejected a witness who

declared his disbelief in the existence of God. The presiding

judge remarked that he had not before been aware that there was a

man living who did not believe in the existence of God; that this

belief constituted the sanction of all testimony in a court of

justice, and that he knew of no cause in a Christian country

where a witness had been permitted to testify without such


The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of

liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to

make them conceive the one without the other; and with them this

conviction does not spring from that barren traditionary faith

which seems to vegetate in the soul rather than to live.

I have known of societies formed by the Americans to send

out ministers of the Gospel into the new Western States to found

schools and churches there, lest religion should be suffered to

die away in those remote settlements, and the rising States be

less fitted to enjoy free institutions than the people from which

they emanated. I met with wealthy New Englanders who abandoned

the country in which they were born in order to lay the

foundations of Christianity and of freedom on the banks of the

Missouri, or in the prairies of Illinois. Thus religious zeal is

perpetually stimulated in the United States by the duties of

patriotism. These men do not act from an exclusive consideration

of the promises of a future life; eternity is only one motive of

their devotion to the cause; and if you converse with these

missionaries of Christian civilization, you will be surprised to

find how much value they set upon the goods of this world, and

that you meet with a politician where you expected to find a

priest. They will tell you that "all the American republics are

collectively involved with each other; if the republics of the

West were to fall into anarchy, or to be mastered by a despot,

the republican institutions which now flourish upon the shores of

the Atlantic Ocean would be in great peril. It is, therefore,

our interest that the new States should be religious, in order to

maintain our liberties."

Such are the opinions of the Americans, and if any hold that

the religious spirit which I admire is the very thing most amiss

in America, and that the only element wanting to the freedom and

happiness of the human race is to believe in some blind

cosmogony, or to assert with Cabanis the secretion of thought by

the brain, I can only reply that those who hold this language

have never been in America, and that they have never seen a

religious or a free nation. When they return from their

expedition, we shall hear what they have to say.

There are persons in France who look upon republican

institutions as a temporary means of power, of wealth, and

distinction; men who are the condottieri of liberty, and who

fight for their own advantage, whatever be the colors they wear:

it is not to these that I address myself. But there are others

who look forward to the republican form of government as a

tranquil and lasting state, towards which modern society is daily

impelled by the ideas and manners of the time, and who sincerely

desire to prepare men to be free. When these men attack

religious opinions, they obey the dictates of their passions to

the prejudice of their interests. Despotism may govern without

faith, but liberty cannot. Religion is much more necessary in

the republic which they set forth in glowing colors than in the

monarchy which they attack; and it is more needed in democratic

republics than in any others. How is it possible that society

should escape destruction if the moral tie be not strengthened in

proportion as the political tie is relaxed? and what can be done

with a people which is its own master, if it be not submissive to

the Divinity?


Chapter XVII:
Principal Causes Maintaining
The Democratic Republic - Part III

Principal Causes Which Render
Religion Powerful In America

Care taken by the Americans to separate the Church from the State

- The laws, public opinion, and even the exertions of the clergy

concur to promote this end - Influence of religion upon the mind

in the United States attributable to this cause - Reason of this

- What is the natural state of men with regard to religion at the

present time - What are the peculiar and incidental causes which

prevent men, in certain countries, from arriving at this state.

The philosophers of the eighteenth century explained the

gradual decay of religious faith in a very simple manner.

Religious zeal, said they, must necessarily fail, the more

generally liberty is established and knowledge diffused.

Unfortunately, facts are by no means in accordance with their

theory. There are certain populations in Europe whose unbelief

is only equalled by their ignorance and their debasement, whilst

in America one of the freest and most enlightened nations in the

world fulfils all the outward duties of religious fervor.

Upon my arrival in the United States, the religious aspect

of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and

the longer I stayed there the more did I perceive the great

political consequences resulting from this state of things, to

which I was unaccustomed. In France I had almost always seen the

spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom pursuing courses

diametrically opposed to each other; but in America I found that

they were intimately united, and that they reigned in common over

the same country. My desire to discover the causes of this

phenomenon increased from day to day. In order to satisfy it I

questioned the members of all the different sects; and I more

especially sought the society of the clergy, who are the

depositaries of the different persuasions, and who are more

especially interested in their duration. As a member of the

Roman Catholic Church I was more particularly brought into

contact with several of its priests, with whom I became

intimately acquainted. To each of these men I expressed my

astonishment and I explained my doubts; I found that they

differed upon matters of detail alone; and that they mainly

attributed the peaceful dominion of religion in their country to

the separation of Church and State. I do not hesitate to affirm

that during my stay in America I did not meet with a single

individual, of the clergy or of the laity, who was not of the

same opinion upon this point.

This led me to examine more attentively than I had hitherto

done, the station which the American clergy occupy in political

society. I learned with surprise that they filled no public

appointments; *f not one of them is to be met with in the

administration, and they are not even represented in the

legislative assemblies. In several States *g the law excludes

them from political life, public opinion in all. And when I came

to inquire into the prevailing spirit of the clergy I found that

most of its members seemed to retire of their own accord from the

exercise of power, and that they made it the pride of their

profession to abstain from politics.

[Footnote f: Unless this term be applied to the functions which

many of them fill in the schools. Almost all education is

entrusted to the clergy.]

[Footnote g: See the Constitution of New York, art. 7, Section 4:


"And whereas the ministers of the gospel are, by their

profession, dedicated to the service of God and the care of

souls, and ought not to be diverted from the great duties of

their functions: therefore no minister of the gospel, or priest

of any denomination whatsoever, shall at any time hereafter,

under any pretence or description whatever, be eligible to, or

capable of holding, any civil or military office or place within

this State."

See also the constitutions of North Carolina, art. 31;

Virginia; South Carolina, art. I, Section 23; Kentucky, art. 2,

Section 26; Tennessee, art. 8, Section I; Louisiana, art. 2,

Section 22.]

I heard them inveigh against ambition and deceit, under

whatever political opinions these vices might chance to lurk; but

I learned from their discourses that men are not guilty in the

eye of God for any opinions concerning political government which

they may profess with sincerity, any more than they are for their

mistakes in building a house or in driving a furrow. I perceived

that these ministers of the gospel eschewed all parties with the

anxiety attendant upon personal interest. These facts convinced

me that what I had been told was true; and it then became my

object to investigate their causes, and to inquire how it

happened that the real authority of religion was increased by a

state of things which diminished its apparent force: these causes

did not long escape my researches.

The short space of threescore years can never content the

imagination of man; nor can the imperfect joys of this world

satisfy his heart. Man alone, of all created beings, displays a

natural contempt of existence, and yet a boundless desire to

exist; he scorns life, but he dreads annihilation. These

different feelings incessantly urge his soul to the contemplation

of a future state, and religion directs his musings thither.

Religion, then, is simply another form of hope; and it is no less

natural to the human heart than hope itself. Men cannot abandon

their religious faith without a kind of aberration of intellect,

and a sort of violent distortion of their true natures; but they

are invincibly brought back to more pious sentiments; for

unbelief is an accident, and faith is the only permanent state of

mankind. If we only consider religious institutions in a purely

human point of view, they may be said to derive an inexhaustible

element of strength from man himself, since they belong to one of

the constituent principles of human nature.

I am aware that at certain times religion may strengthen

this influence, which originates in itself, by the artificial

power of the laws, and by the support of those temporal

institutions which direct society. Religions, intimately united

to the governments of the earth, have been known to exercise a

sovereign authority derived from the twofold source of terror and

of faith; but when a religion contracts an alliance of this

nature, I do not hesitate to affirm that it commits the same

error as a man who should sacrifice his future to his present

welfare; and in obtaining a power to which it has no claim, it

risks that authority which is rightfully its own. When a religion

founds its empire upon the desire of immortality which lives in

every human heart, it may aspire to universal dominion; but when

it connects itself with a government, it must necessarily adopt

maxims which are only applicable to certain nations. Thus, in

forming an alliance with a political power, religion augments its

authority over a few, and forfeits the hope of reigning over all.

As long as a religion rests upon those sentiments which are

the consolation of all affliction, it may attract the affections

of mankind. But if it be mixed up with the bitter passions of

the world, it may be constrained to defend allies whom its

interests, and not the principle of love, have given to it; or to

repel as antagonists men who are still attached to its own

spirit, however opposed they may be to the powers to which it is

allied. The Church cannot share the temporal power of the State

without being the object of a portion of that animosity which the

latter excites.

The political powers which seem to be most firmly

established have frequently no better guarantee for their

duration than the opinions of a generation, the interests of the

time, or the life of an individual. A law may modify the social

condition which seems to be most fixed and determinate; and with

the social condition everything else must change. The powers of

society are more or less fugitive, like the years which we spend

upon the earth; they succeed each other with rapidity, like the

fleeting cares of life; and no government has ever yet been

founded upon an invariable disposition of the human heart, or

upon an imperishable interest.

As long as a religion is sustained by those feelings,

propensities, and passions which are found to occur under the

same forms, at all the different periods of history, it may defy

the efforts of time; or at least it can only be destroyed by

another religion. But when religion clings to the interests of

the world, it becomes almost as fragile a thing as the powers of

earth. It is the only one of them all which can hope for

immortality; but if it be connected with their ephemeral

authority, it shares their fortunes, and may fall with those

transient passions which supported them for a day. The alliance

which religion contracts with political powers must needs be

onerous to itself; since it does not require their assistance to

live, and by giving them its assistance to live, and by giving

them its assistance it may be exposed to decay.

The danger which I have just pointed out always exists, but

it is not always equally visible. In some ages governments seem

to be imperishable; in others, the existence of society appears

to be more precarious than the life of man. Some constitutions

plunge the citizens into a lethargic somnolence, and others rouse

them to feverish excitement. When governments appear to be so

strong, and laws so stable, men do not perceive the dangers which

may accrue from a union of Church and State. When governments

display so much weakness, and laws so much inconstancy, the

danger is self-evident, but it is no longer possible to avoid it;

to be effectual, measures must be taken to discover its approach.

In proportion as a nation assumes a democratic condition of

society, and as communities display democratic propensities, it

becomes more and more dangerous to connect religion with

political institutions; for the time is coming when authority

will be bandied from hand to hand, when political theories will

succeed each other, and when men, laws, and constitutions will

disappear, or be modified from day to day, and this, not for a

season only, but unceasingly. Agitation and mutability are

inherent in the nature of democratic republics, just as

stagnation and inertness are the law of absolute monarchies.

If the Americans, who change the head of the Government once

in four years, who elect new legislators every two years, and

renew the provincial officers every twelvemonth; if the

Americans, who have abandoned the political world to the attempts

of innovators, had not placed religion beyond their reach, where

could it abide in the ebb and flow of human opinions? where would

that respect which belongs to it be paid, amidst the struggles of

faction? and what would become of its immortality, in the midst

of perpetual decay? The American clergy were the first to

perceive this truth, and to act in conformity with it. They saw

that they must renounce their religious influence, if they were

to strive for political power; and they chose to give up the

support of the State, rather than to share its vicissitudes.

In America, religion is perhaps less powerful than it has

been at certain periods in the history of certain peoples; but

its influence is more lasting. It restricts itself to its own

resources, but of those none can deprive it: its circle is

limited to certain principles, but those principles are entirely

its own, and under its undisputed control.

On every side in Europe we hear voices complaining of the

absence of religious faith, and inquiring the means of restoring

to religion some remnant of its pristine authority. It seems to

me that we must first attentively consider what ought to be the

natural state of men with regard to religion at the present time;

and when we know what we have to hope and to fear, we may discern

the end to which our efforts ought to be directed.

The two great dangers which threaten the existence of

religions are schism and indifference. In ages of fervent

devotion, men sometimes abandon their religion, but they only

shake it off in order to adopt another. Their faith changes the

objects to which it is directed, but it suffers no decline. The

old religion then excites enthusiastic attachment or bitter

enmity in either party; some leave it with anger, others cling to

it with increased devotedness, and although persuasions differ,

irreligion is unknown. Such, however, is not the case when a

religious belief is secretly undermined by doctrines which may be

termed negative, since they deny the truth of one religion

without affirming that of any other. Progidious revolutions then

take place in the human mind, without the apparent co-operation

of the passions of man, and almost without his knowledge. Men

lose the objects of their fondest hopes, as if through

forgetfulness. They are carried away by an imperceptible current

which they have not the courage to stem, but which they follow

with regret, since it bears them from a faith they love, to a

scepticism that plunges them into despair.

In ages which answer to this description, men desert their

religious opinions from lukewarmness rather than from dislike;

they do not reject them, but the sentiments by which they were

once fostered disappear. But if the unbeliever does not admit

religion to be true, he still considers it useful. Regarding

religious institutions in a human point of view, he acknowledges

their influence upon manners and legislation. He admits that

they may serve to make men live in peace with one another, and to

prepare them gently for the hour of death. He regrets the faith

which he has lost; and as he is deprived of a treasure which he

has learned to estimate at its full value, he scruples to take it

from those who still possess it.

On the other hand, those who continue to believe are not

afraid openly to avow their faith. They look upon those who do

not share their persuasion as more worthy of pity than of

opposition; and they are aware that to acquire the esteem of the

unbelieving, they are not obliged to follow their example. They

are hostile to no one in the world; and as they do not consider

the society in which they live as an arena in which religion is

bound to face its thousand deadly foes, they love their

contemporaries, whilst they condemn their weaknesses and lament

their errors.

As those who do not believe, conceal their incredulity; and

as those who believe, display their faith, public opinion

pronounces itself in favor of religion: love, support, and honor

are bestowed upon it, and it is only by searching the human soul

that we can detect the wounds which it has received. The mass of

mankind, who are never without the feeling of religion, do not

perceive anything at variance with the established faith. The

instinctive desire of a future life brings the crowd about the

altar, and opens the hearts of men to the precepts and

consolations of religion.

But this picture is not applicable to us: for there are men

amongst us who have ceased to believe in Christianity, without

adopting any other religion; others who are in the perplexities

of doubt, and who already affect not to believe; and others,

again, who are afraid to avow that Christian faith which they

still cherish in secret.

Amidst these lukewarm partisans and ardent antagonists a

small number of believers exist, who are ready to brave all

obstacles and to scorn all dangers in defence of their faith.

They have done violence to human weakness, in order to rise

superior to public opinion. Excited by the effort they have

made, they scarcely knew where to stop; and as they know that the

first use which the French made of independence was to attack

religion, they look upon their contemporaries with dread, and

they recoil in alarm from the liberty which their fellow-citizens

are seeking to obtain. As unbelief appears to them to be a

novelty, they comprise all that is new in one indiscriminate

animosity. They are at war with their age and country, and they

look upon every opinion which is put forth there as the necessary

enemy of the faith.

Such is not the natural state of men with regard to religion

at the present day; and some extraordinary or incidental cause

must be at work in France to prevent the human mind from

following its original propensities and to drive it beyond the

limits at which it ought naturally to stop. I am intimately

convinced that this extraordinary and incidental cause is the

close connection of politics and religion. The unbelievers of

Europe attack the Christians as their political opponents, rather

than as their religious adversaries; they hate the Christian

religion as the opinion of a party, much more than as an error of

belief; and they reject the clergy less because they are the

representatives of the Divinity than because they are the allies

of authority.

In Europe, Christianity has been intimately united to the

powers of the earth. Those powers are now in decay, and it is,

as it were, buried under their ruins. The living body of

religion has been bound down to the dead corpse of superannuated

polity: cut but the bonds which restrain it, and that which is

alive will rise once more. I know not what could restore the

Christian Church of Europe to the energy of its earlier days;

that power belongs to God alone; but it may be the effect of

human policy to leave the faith in the full exercise of the

strength which it still retains.


How The Instruction, The Habits, And
The Practical Experience Of The Americans
Promote The Success Of Their Democratic Institutions

What is to be understood by the instruction of the American

people - The human mind more superficially instructed in the

United States than in Europe - No one completely uninstructed -

Reason of this - Rapidity with which opinions are diffused even

in the uncultivated States of the West - Practical experience

more serviceable to the Americans than book-learning.

I have but little to add to what I have already said

concerning the influence which the instruction and the habits of

the Americans exercise upon the maintenance of their political


America has hitherto produced very few writers of

distinction; it possesses no great historians, and not a single

eminent poet. The inhabitants of that country look upon what are

properly styled literary pursuits with a kind of disapprobation;

and there are towns of very second-rate importance in Europe in

which more literary works are annually published than in the

twenty-four States of the Union put together. The spirit of the

Americans is averse to general ideas; and it does not seek

theoretical discoveries. Neither politics nor manufactures direct

them to these occupations; and although new laws are perpetually

enacted in the United States, no great writers have hitherto

inquired into the general principles of their legislation. The

Americans have lawyers and commentators, but no jurists; *h and

they furnish examples rather than lessons to the world. The same

observation applies to the mechanical arts. In America, the

inventions of Europe are adopted with sagacity; they are

perfected, and adapted with admirable skill to the wants of the

country. Manufactures exist, but the science of manufacture is

not cultivated; and they have good workmen, but very few

inventors. Fulton was obliged to proffer his services to foreign

nations for a long time before he was able to devote them to his

own country.


[Footnote h: [This cannot be said with truth of the country of

Kent, Story, and Wheaton.]]

The observer who is desirous of forming an opinion on the

state of instruction amongst the Anglo-Americans must consider

the same object from two different points of view. If he only

singles out the learned, he will be astonished to find how rare

they are; but if he counts the ignorant, the American people will

appear to be the most enlightened community in the world. The

whole population, as I observed in another place, is situated

between these two extremes. In New England, every citizen

receives the elementary notions of human knowledge; he is

moreover taught the doctrines and the evidences of his religion,

the history of his country, and the leading features of its

Constitution. In the States of Connecticut and Massachusetts, it

is extremely rare to find a man imperfectly acquainted with all

these things, and a person wholly ignorant of them is a sort of


When I compare the Greek and Roman republics with these

American States; the manuscript libraries of the former, and

their rude population, with the innumerable journals and the

enlightened people of the latter; when I remember all the

attempts which are made to judge the modern republics by the

assistance of those of antiquity, and to infer what will happen

in our time from what took place two thousand years ago, I am

tempted to burn my books, in order to apply none but novel ideas

to so novel a condition of society.

What I have said of New England must not, however, be

applied indistinctly to the whole Union; as we advance towards

the West or the South, the instruction of the people diminishes.

In the States which are adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico, a certain

number of individuals may be found, as in our own countries, who

are devoid of the rudiments of instruction. But there is not a

single district in the United States sunk in complete ignorance;

and for a very simple reason: the peoples of Europe started from

the darkness of a barbarous condition, to advance toward the

light of civilization; their progress has been unequal; some of

them have improved apace, whilst others have loitered in their

course, and some have stopped, and are still sleeping upon the

way. *i

[Footnote i: [In the Northern States the number of persons

destitute of instruction is inconsiderable, the largest number

being 241,152 in the State of New York (according to Spaulding's

"Handbook of American Statistics" for 1874); but in the South no

less than 1,516,339 whites and 2,671,396 colored persons are

returned as "illiterate."]]

Such has not been the case in the United States. The Anglo-

Americans settled in a state of civilization, upon that territory

which their descendants occupy; they had not to begin to learn,

and it was sufficient for them not to forget. Now the children

of these same Americans are the persons who, year by year,

transport their dwellings into the wilds; and with their

dwellings their acquired information and their esteem for

knowledge. Education has taught them the utility of instruction,

and has enabled them to transmit that instruction to their

posterity. In the United States society has no infancy, but it

is born in man's estate.

The Americans never use the word "peasant," because they

have no idea of the peculiar class which that term denotes; the

ignorance of more remote ages, the simplicity of rural life, and

the rusticity of the villager have not been preserved amongst

them; and they are alike unacquainted with the virtues, the

vices, the coarse habits, and the simple graces of an early stage

of civilization. At the extreme borders of the Confederate

States, upon the confines of society and of the wilderness, a

population of bold adventurers have taken up their abode, who

pierce the solitudes of the American woods, and seek a country

there, in order to escape that poverty which awaited them in

their native provinces. As soon as the pioneer arrives upon the

spot which is to serve him for a retreat, he fells a few trees

and builds a loghouse. Nothing can offer a more miserable aspect

than these isolated dwellings. The traveller who approaches one

of them towards nightfall, sees the flicker of the hearth-flame

through the chinks in the walls; and at night, if the wind rises,

he hears the roof of boughs shake to and fro in the midst of the

great forest trees. Who would not suppose that this poor hut is

the asylum of rudeness and ignorance? Yet no sort of comparison

can be drawn between the pioneer and the dwelling which shelters

him. Everything about him is primitive and unformed, but he is

himself the result of the labor and the experience of eighteen

centuries. He wears the dress, and he speaks the language of

cities; he is acquainted with the past, curious of the future,

and ready for argument upon the present; he is, in short, a

highly civilized being, who consents, for a time, to inhabit the

backwoods, and who penetrates into the wilds of the New World

with the Bible, an axe, and a file of newspapers.

It is difficult to imagine the incredible rapidity with

which public opinion circulates in the midst of these deserts. *j

I do not think that so much intellectual intercourse takes place

in the most enlightened and populous districts of France. *k It

cannot be doubted that, in the United States, the instruction of

the people powerfully contributes to the support of a democratic

republic; and such must always be the case, I believe, where

instruction which awakens the understanding is not separated from

moral education which amends the heart. But I by no means

exaggerate this benefit, and I am still further from thinking, as

so many people do think in Europe, that men can be

instantaneously made citizens by teaching them to read and write.

True information is mainly derived from experience; and if the

Americans had not been gradually accustomed to govern themselves,

their book-learning would not assist them much at the present


[Footnote j: I travelled along a portion of the frontier of the

United States in a sort of cart which was termed the mail. We

passed, day and night, with great rapidity along the roads which

were scarcely marked out, t