American Institutions and Their Influence
Alexis de Tocqueville et al

Part 6 out of 11

It must, however, be allowed that a democratic state is most
parsimonious toward 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;[169] 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 conceptions 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 two or three hundred
a year, is a very fortunate and enviable being.[170] 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, while the others are raised above it. The
former may therefore excite his interest, but the latter begins to
arouse his envy.

This is very clearly seen in the United States, where the salaries seem
to decrease as the authority of those who receive them augments.[171]

Under the rule of an aristocracy it frequently happens, on the contrary,
that while 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 see 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 the 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

It is the parsimonious conduct of democracy toward 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.[172] 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 the aristocratic
countries, where the money of the state is expended to the profit of the
persons who are at the head of affairs.

* * * * *


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.

There 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.

* * * * *


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 in
Pennsylvania.--General Symptoms which may serve to indicate the Amount
of the public Charges in a given Nation.--Result of this Investigation
for the Union.

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

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.

Among 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 the nation, and which
eludes the strictest analysis by the diversity and 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 multitude 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
can 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 researches.

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 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 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.[173]

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
designs would be counteracted by the neglect of those subordinate
officers whom it would be obliged to employ.[174] 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.[175]

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
the central government of the former country, and that the expenditure
must consequently be much smaller. If I contrast the budgets of the
departments to 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 finance;
and it is, again, doubtful whether the corresponding expenses should be
referred to the budget of the state or to those of the municipal

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 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 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

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 of America. I will even add, that it would be dangerous to attempt
this comparison; for when statistics are not founded upon computations
which are strictly accurate, they mislead instead of guiding aright. The
mind is easily imposed upon by the false affectation of exactitude which
prevails even in the mis-statements of the science, and adopts with
confidence the errors which are apparelled 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 meliorate 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.[176] How, then, can the inhabitant of the Union be
called upon to contribute as largely as the inhabitant of France? No
parallel can be drawn between the finances of two countries so
differently situated.

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 among 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 expenditure.

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.

* * * * *


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

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; while
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, while 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 prevents it
from spreading abroad.

The people can never penetrate 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
practise in his turn.

In reality it is far less prejudicial to be a witness to the immorality
of the great, than to 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 of his defects; and an odious
mixture is thus formed of the ideas of turpitude and power, unworthiness
and success, utility and dishonor.

* * * * *


The Union has only had one struggle hitherto for its Existence.--
Enthusiasm at the Commencement of the War.--Indifference toward its
Close.--Difficulty of establishing a 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 the 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, while it exercises
that moral influence which belongs to the decisions of the majority, it
acts at the same time with the promptitude and the tenacity of a single

It is difficult to say what degree of exertion a democratic government
may be capable of making, at 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.[177] 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

The United States have not had any serious war to carry on 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

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 enlistments, that I do not imagine
that 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 engagement. 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.

[The remark that "in America the use of conscription is unknown, and men
are induced to enlist by bounties," is not exactly correct. During the
last war with Great Britain, the state of New York, in October, 1814
(see the laws of that session, p. 15), passed an act to raise troops for
the defence of the state, in which the whole body of the militia were
directed to be classed, and each class to furnish one soldier, so as to
make up the whole number of 12,000 directed to be raised. In case of the
refusal of a class to furnish a man, one was to be detached from them by
ballot, and was compelled to procure a substitute or serve personally.
The intervention of peace rendered proceedings under the act
unnecessary, and we have not, therefore, the light of experience to form
an opinion whether such a plan of raising a military force is
practicable. Other states passed similar laws. The system of classing
was borrowed from the practice of the revolution.--_American Editor_.]

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 system.

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 remainder.

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 pleasure 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.

* * * * *


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 in 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
every one 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.

Some one 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," I replied, "that the drinking
population constitutes the majority in your country and that temperance
is somewhat unpopular."

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 of reason. But a democracy can only obtain truth as the result
of experience; and many nations may forfeit their existence, while 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 civilisation. 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
cause 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 see 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 civilisation.

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
phrensy. 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.

* * * * *


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 intrusts the permanent
direction of the external interests of the nation to the president and
the senate;[178] 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. 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,
extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little
_political_ connexion as possible. So far as we have already formed
engagements, let them lie fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us

"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 patronising
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 toward another an
habitual hatred, or an habitual fondness, is, in some degree, a slave.
It is a slave to its animosity or 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, while 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 farther, and 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; while 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 among 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 a 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 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 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
interests 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.[179]

If the constitution and the favor of the public had not intrusted 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.

Almost all the nations which have 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--beside 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 its perpetuity.

* * * * *


[164] 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.

[165] See the act 27th February, 1813, General Collection of the Laws of
Massachusetts, vol. ii., p. 331. It should be added that the Jurors are
afterward drawn from these lists by lot.

[166] See the act of 28th February, 1787, General Collection of the Laws
of Massachusetts, vol. i., p. 302.

[167] 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.

[168] The word _poor_ is used here, and throughout the remainder of this
chapter, in a relative and 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 be styled poor in comparison with their more affluent

[169] 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 taste for economy.

[170] The state of Ohio, which contains a million of inhabitants, gives
its governor a salary of only $1,200 (260_l_.) a year.

[171] 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, to complete the comparison:--

_Treasury Department_. _Ministere des Finances_
Messenger . . . $ 700 150l. Huissier, 3,500 fr. . . 60l.
Clerk with lowest salary Clerk with lowest salary,
. . . 1,000 217 1,000 to 1,300 fr. . 40 to 72
Clerk with highest Clerk with highest salary
salary. . 1,600 347 3,200 to 3,600 fr. . 128 to 144
Chief clerk . 2,000 434 Secretaire-general, 20,000 fr. 800
Secretary of state . 6,000 1,300 The minister, 80,000 fr. . 3,200
The President . . 25,000 5,400 The king, 12,000,000 fr. 480,000

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 lowest 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.

[172] See the American budgets for the cost of indigent citizens and
gratuitous instruction. In 1831, 50,000_l_. were spent in the state of
New York for the maintenance of the poor; and at least 200,000_l_. were
devoted to gratuitous instruction. (Williams's New York Annual Register,
1832, pp. 205, 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.

[173] 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,
Allegany, 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 72,330_l_., or nearly 3_s_. for each
inhabitant, and calculating that each of them contributed in the same
year about 10_s_. 2_d_. toward the Union, and about 3_s_. 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
16_s_. 2_d_. 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 conjectural.

[174] 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 expenditures 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.

[175] 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 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, beside 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 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 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 subjected 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.

[176] See the details in the budget of the French minister of marine,
and for America, the National Calendar of 1833, p. 228.

[177] 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 and obscure sacrifice which was made by
a whole people.

[178] "The president," says the constitution, art. ii., sect. 2, sec. 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.

[179] 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 torrents 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."



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 be obtained only from the same laws.

* * * * *


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, while 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 a 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 a 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
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 officers. It is easy to
perceive that the American democracy frequently errs in the choice of
the individuals to whom it intrusts 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 country.

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 been sometimes
asserted, in favoring the prosperity of all, but simply in contributing
to the well-being of the greatest possible number.

The men who are entrusted with the direction of public affairs in the
United States, are frequently inferior, both in 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 mistake; 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 government.

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 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 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

But under aristocratic governments public men are swayed by the
interests 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 descendants.

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.

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; while 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.

* * * * *


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 acquire it.--
Interest of the Individual intimately connected with that of the

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 mansion 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 world."

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.
While the manners of a people are simple, and its faith unshaken, while
society is steadily based upon traditional institutions, whose
legitimacy has never been contested, this instinctive patriotism is wont
to endure.

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, while 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 intrench themselves within the dull precincts of a narrow egotism.
They are emancipated from prejudice, without having acknowledged the
empire of reason; they are animated neither by the instinctive
patriotism of monarchical subjects, nor by the thinking patriotism of
republican citizens; but they have stopped half-way 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 for ever.

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 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 every one takes as
zealous an interest in the affairs of his township, his country, and of
the whole state, as if they were his own, because every one, 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 regard 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 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

* * * * *


No great People without a Notion of Rights.--How the Notion of Rights
can be given to a People.--Respect of Rights in the United States.--
Whence it arises.

After the idea of virtue, I am acquainted with 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 also 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 purpose; 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 every one has property
of his own to defend, every one 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. While in Europe
the same classes sometimes recalcitrate even against the supreme power,
the American submits without a murmur to the authority of the pettiest

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?

The government of the 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 was 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 very 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 a 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.

* * * * *


Respect of the Americans for the Law.--Parental Affection which they
entertain for it.--Personal Interest of every one 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 contribute
indirectly to make the laws. Those who design to attack the laws must
consequently either modify the opinion of the nation or trample upon its

A second reason, which is still more weighty, may be farther adduced: in
the United States every one 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

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 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. Among 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, while the citizens whose interests
might be promoted by the infraction of them, are induced, by their
character and their station, to submit to the decisions of the
legislature, whatever they may be. Beside 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.

* * * * *


More difficult to conceive the political Activity which pervades the
United States than the Freedom and Equality which reign here.--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, melioration 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, while 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 melioration 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 among 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;
while 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

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 were addressing a meeting; and
if he should warm in the course of the discussion, he will infallibly
say "gentlemen," to the person with whom he is conversing.

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.[181] 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.

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 meliorations 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 great 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 while it is yet in
its early growth; and others are ready with their vows of adoration for
this new duty 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 are 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 for ever
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
men than genius; if your object be not to stimulate the virtues of
heroism, but to create habits of peace; if you had rather behold 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 condition
of men, and establishing democratic institutions.

But if the time be past at which such a choice was possible, and if some
superhuman power impel us toward 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.

* * * * *


[180] 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.

[181] 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.



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.--
Opinions as to its Infallibility.--Respect for its Rights, how augmented
in the United States.

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.[182]

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 passions 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

But while 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 completely 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

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 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 an equal rank among 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 while it retains its
exclusive privileges, and it cannot cede its privileges without ceasing
to be an aristocracy.

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 rights 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.

* * * * *


The Americans increase the mutability of the Laws which is inherent in
Democracy by changing the Legislature every Year, and by vesting it with
unbounded Authority.--The same Effect is produced upon the
Administration.--In America social Melioration is conducted more
energetically, but less perseveringly than in Europe.

I have already spoken of the natural defects of democratic institutions,
and they all of them increase in 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, while 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

The omnipotence of the majority and the rapid as well as absolute manner
in which its decisions are executed in the United States, have not only
the effect of rendering the law unstable, but they exercise 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; while 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 meliorations are undertaken with much more zeal and
activity than elsewhere; in Europe the same ends are promoted by much
less social effort, more continuously applied.

Some years ago several pious individuals undertook to meliorate 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. While the new penitentiaries were being erected (and it was the
pleasure of the majority 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
afterward 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.

* * * * *


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

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 myself?

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.[184] 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.

I do not think 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 vehemence.

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-predominate 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 instructions: if to the executive
power, it is appointed by the majority and is 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.[185]

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 its laws.

* * * * *


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 magistrates. 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

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 cooperation of the majority, they venture upon such manifestations


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