American Institutions and Their Influence
Alexis de Tocqueville et al

Part 7 out of 11

of their power as astonish a European. By this means habits are formed
in the heart of a free country which may some day prove fatal to its

* * * * *


In America, when the Majority has once irrevocably decided a Question,
all Discussion ceases.--Reason of this.--Moral Power exercised by the
Majority upon Opinion.--Democratic Republics have deprived Despotism of
its physical Instruments.--Their Despotism sways the Minds of Men.

It is in the examination of the display of public opinion in the United
States, that we clearly perceive how far the power of the majority
surpasses all the powers with which we are acquainted in Europe.
Intellectual principles exercise an influence which is so invisible and
often so inappreciable, that they baffle the toils of oppression. At the
present time the most absolute monarchs in Europe are unable to prevent
certain notions, which are opposed to their authority, from circulating
in secret throughout their dominions, and even in their courts. Such is
not the case in America; so long as the majority is still undecided,
discussion is carried on; but as soon as its decision is irrevocably
pronounced, a submissive silence is observed; and the friends, as well
as the opponents of the measure, unite in assenting to its propriety.
The reason of this is perfectly clear: no monarch is so absolute as to
combine all the powers of society in his own hands, and to conquer all
opposition, with the energy of a majority, which is invested with the
right of making and of executing the laws.

The authority of a king is purely physical, and it controls the actions
of the subject without subduing his private will; but the majority
possesses a power which is physical and moral at the same time; it acts
upon the will as well as upon the actions of men, and it represses not
only all contest, but all controversy.

I know no country in which there is so little true independence of mind
and freedom of discussion as in America. In any constitutional state in
Europe every sort of religious and political theory may be advocated and
propagated abroad; for there is no country in Europe so subdued by any
single authority, as not to contain citizens who are ready to protect
the man who raises his voice in the cause of truth, from the
consequences of his hardihood. If he is unfortunate enough to live under
an absolute government, the people is upon his side; if he inhabits a
free country, he may find a shelter behind the authority of the throne,
if he require one. The aristocratic part of society supports him in some
countries, and the democracy in others. But in a nation where democratic
institutions exist, organized like those of the United States, there is
but one sole authority, one single element of strength and success, with
nothing beyond it.

In America, the majority raises very formidable barriers to the liberty
of opinion: within these barriers an author may write whatever he
pleases, but he will repent it if he ever step beyond them. Not that he
is exposed to the terrors of an auto-da-fe, but he is tormented by the
slights and persecutions of daily obloquy. His political career is
closed for ever, since he has offended the only authority which is able
to promote his success. Every sort of compensation, even that of
celebrity, is refused to him. Before he published his opinions, he
imagined that he held them in common with many others; but no sooner has
he declared them openly, than he is loudly censured by his overbearing
opponents, while those who think, without having the courage to speak,
like him, abandon him in silence. He yields at length, oppressed by the
daily efforts he has been making, and he subsides into silence as if he
was tormented by remorse for having spoken the truth.

Fetters and headsmen were the coarse instruments which tyranny formerly
employed; but the civilisation of our age has refined the arts of
despotism, which seemed however to have been sufficiently perfected
before. The excesses of monarchical power had devised a variety of
political means of oppression; the democratic republics of the present
day have rendered it as entirely an affair of the mind, as that will
which it is intended to coerce. Under the absolute sway of an individual
despot, the body was attacked in order to subdue the soul; and the soul
escaped the blows which were directed against it, and rose superior to
the attempt; but such is not the course adopted by tyranny in democratic
republics; there the body is left free, and the soul is enslaved. The
sovereign can no longer say, "You shall think as I do on pain of death;"
but he says, "You are free to think differently from me, and to retain
your life, your property, and all that you possess; but if such be your
determination, you are henceforth an alien among your people. You may
retain your civil rights, but they will be useless to you, for you will
never be chosen by your fellow-citizens, if you solicit their suffrages;
and they will affect to scorn you, if you solicit their esteem. You will
remain among men, but you will be deprived of the rights of mankind.
Your fellow-creatures will shun you like an impure being; and those who
are most persuaded of your innocence will abandon you too, lest they
should be shunned in their turn. Go in peace! I have given you your
life, but it is an existence incomparably worse than death."

Absolute monarchies have thrown an odium upon despotism; let us beware
lest democratic republics should restore oppression, and should render
it less odious and less degrading in the eyes of the many, by making it
still more onerous to the few.

Works have been published in the proudest nations of the Old World,
expressly intended to censure the vices and deride the follies of the
time; Labruyere inhabited the palace of Louis XIV. when he composed his
chapter upon the Great, and Moliere criticised the courtiers in the very
pieces which were acted before the court. But the ruling power in the
United States is not to be made game of; the smallest reproach irritates
its sensibility, and the slightest joke which has any foundation in
truth, renders it indignant; from the style of its language to the more
solid virtues of its character, everything must be made the subject of
encomium. No writer, whatever be his eminence, can escape from this
tribute of adulation to his fellow-citizens. The majority lives in the
perpetual exercise of self-applause; and there are certain truths which
the Americans can only learn from strangers or from experience.

If great writers have not at present existed in America, the reason is
very simply given in these facts; there can be no literary genius
without freedom of opinion, and freedom of opinion does not exist in
America. The inquisition has never been able to prevent a vast number of
anti-religious books from circulating in Spain. The empire of the
majority succeeds much better in the United States, since it actually
removes the wish of publishing them. Unbelievers are to be met with in
America, but, to say the truth, there is no public organ of infidelity.
Attempts have been made by some governments to protect the morality of
nations by prohibiting licentious books. In the United States no one is
punished for this sort of works, but no one is induced to write them;
not because all the citizens are immaculate in their manners, but
because the majority of the community is decent and orderly.

In these cases the advantages derived from the exercise of this power
are unquestionable; and I am simply discussing the nature of the power
itself. This irresistible authority is a constant fact, and its
beneficent exercise is an accidental occurrence.

* * * * *


Effects of the Tyranny of the Majority more sensibly felt hitherto in
the Manners than in the Conduct of Society.--They check the development
of leading Characters.--Democratic Republics, organized like the United
States, bring the Practice of courting favor within the reach of the
many.--Proofs of this Spirit in the United States.--Why there is more
Patriotism in the People than in those who govern in its name.

The tendencies which I have just alluded to are as yet very slightly
perceptible in political society; but they already begin to exercise an
unfavorable influence upon the national character of the Americans. I am
inclined to attribute the paucity of distinguished political characters
to the ever-increasing activity of the despotism of the majority in the
United States.

When the American revolution broke out, they arose in great numbers; for
public opinion then served, not to tyrannize over, but to direct the
exertions of individuals. Those celebrated men took a full part in the
general agitation of mind common at that period, and they attained a
high degree of personal fame, which was reflected back upon the nation,
but which was by no means borrowed from it.

In absolute governments, the great nobles who are nearest to the throne
flatter the passions of the sovereign, and voluntarily truckle to his
caprices. But the mass of the nation does not degrade itself by
servitude; it often submits from weakness, from habit, or from
ignorance, and sometimes from loyalty. Some nations have been known to
sacrifice their own desires to those of the sovereign with pleasure and
with pride; thus exhibiting a sort of independence in the very act of
submission. These peoples are miserable, but they are not degraded.
There is a great difference between doing what one does not approve, and
feigning to approve what one does; the one is the necessary case of a
weak person, the other befits the temper of a lacquey.

In free countries, where every one is more or less called upon to give
his opinions in the affairs of state; in democratic republics, where
public life is incessantly commingled with domestic affairs, where the
sovereign authority is accessible on every side, and where its attention
can almost always be attracted by vociferation, more persons are to be
met with who speculate upon its foibles, and live at the cost of its
passions, than in absolute monarchies. Not because men are naturally
worse in these states than elsewhere, but the temptation is stronger,
and of easier access at the same time. The result is a far more
extensive debasement of the characters of citizens.

Democratic republics extend the practice of currying favor with the
many, and they introduce it into a great number of classes at once: this
is one of the most serious reproaches that can be addressed to them. In
democratic states organized on the principles of the American republics,
this is more especially the case, where the authority of the majority is
so absolute and so irresistible, that a man must give up his rights as a
citizen, and almost abjure his quality as a human being, if he intends
to stray from the track which it lays down.

In that immense crowd which throngs the avenues to power in the United
States, I found very few men who displayed any of that manly candor, and
that masculine independence of opinion, which frequently distinguished
the Americans in former times, and which constitute the leading feature
in distinguished characters wheresoever they may be found. It seems, at
first sight, as if all the minds of the Americans were formed upon one
model, so accurately do they correspond in their manner of judging. A
stranger does, indeed, sometimes meet with Americans who dissent from
these rigorous formularies; with men who deplore the defects of the
laws, the mutability and the ignorance of democracy; who even go so far
as to observe the evil tendencies which impair the national character,
and to point out such remedies as it might be possible to apply; but no
one is there to hear these things besides yourself, and you, to whom
these secret reflections are confided, are a stranger and a bird of
passage. They are very ready to communicate truths which are useless to
you, but they continue to hold a different language in public.

If ever these lines are read in America, I am well assured of two
things: in the first place, that all who peruse them will raise their
voices to condemn me; and in the second place, that very many of them
will acquit me at the bottom of their conscience.

[The author's views upon what he terms the tyranny of the majority, the
despotism of public opinion in the United States, have already excited
some remarks in this country, and will probably give occasion to more.
As stated in the preface to this edition, the editor does not conceive
himself called upon to discuss the speculative opinions of the author
and supposes he will best discharge his duty by confining his
observations to what he deems errors of fact or law. But in reference to
this particular subject, it seems due to the author to remark, that he
visited the United States at a particular time, when a successful
political chieftain had succeeded in establishing his party in power, as
it seemed, firmly and permanently; when the preponderance of that party
was immense, and when there seemed little prospect of any change. He may
have met with men, who sank under the astonishing popularity of General
Jackson, who despaired of the republic, and who therefore shrank from
the expression of their opinions. It must be confessed, however, that
the author is obnoxious to the charge which has been made, of the want
of perspicuity and distinctness in this part of his work. He does not
mean that the press was silent, for he has himself not only noticed, but
furnished proof of the great freedom, not to say licentiousness, with
which it assailed the character of the president, and the measures of
his administration.

He does not mean to represent the opponents of the dominant party as
having thrown down their weapons of warfare, for his book shows
throughout his knowledge of the existence of an active and able party,
constantly opposing and harassing the administration.

But, after a careful perusal of the chapters on this subject, the editor
is inclined to the opinion, that M. De Tocqueville intends to speak of
the _tyranny of the party_ in excluding from public employment all those
who do not adopt the _Shibboleth_ of the majority. The language at pp.
266, 267, which he puts in the mouth of a majority, and his observations
immediately preceding this note, seem to furnish the key to his meaning;
although it must be admitted that there are other passages to which a
wider construction may be given. Perhaps they may be reconciled by the
idea that the author considers the acts and opinions of the dominant
party as the just and true expression of public opinion. And hence, when
he speaks of the intolerance of public opinion, he means the
exclusiveness of the party, which, for the time being, may be
predominant. He had seen men of acknowledged competency removed from
office, or excluded from it, wholly on the ground of their entertaining
opinions hostile to those of the dominant party, or majority. And he had
seen this system extended to the very lowest officers of the government,
and applied by the electors in their choice of all officers of all
descriptions; and this he deemed persecution--tyranny--despotism. But he
surely is mistaken in representing the effect of this system of terror
as stifling all complaint, silencing all opposition, and inducing
"enemies and friends to yoke themselves alike to the triumphant car of
the majority." He mistook a temporary state of parties for a permanent
and ordinary result, and he was carried away by the immense majority
that then supported the administration, to the belief of a universal
acquiescence. Without intending here to speak of the merits or demerits
of those who represented that majority, it is proper to remark, that the
great change which has taken place since the period when the author
wrote, in the political condition of the very persons who he supposed
then wielded the terrors of disfranchisement against their opponents, in
itself furnishes a full and complete demonstration of the error of his
opinions respecting the "true independence of mind and freedom of
discussion" in America. For without such discussion to enlighten the
minds of the people, and without a stern independence of the rewards and
threats of those in power, the change alluded to could not have

There is reason to complain not only of the ambiguity, but of the style
of exaggeration which pervades all the remarks of the author on this
subject--so different from the well considered and nicely adjusted
language employed by him on all other topics. Thus, p. 262, he implies
that there is no means of redress afforded even by the judiciary, for a
wrong committed by the majority. His error is, _first_, in supposing the
jury to constitute the judicial power; _second_, overlooking what he has
himself elsewhere so well described, the independence of the judiciary,
and its means of controlling the action of a majority in a state or in
the federal government; and _thirdly_, in omitting the proper
consideration of the frequent changes of popular sentiment by which the
majority of yesterday becomes the minority of to-day, and its acts of
injustice are reversed.

Certain it is that the instances which he cites at this page, do not
establish his position respecting the disposition of the majority. The
riot at Baltimore was, like other riots in England and in France, the
result of popular phrensy excited to madness by conduct of the most
provoking character. The majority in the state of Maryland and
throughout the United States, highly disapproved the acts of violence
committed on the occasion. The acquittal by a jury of those arraigned
for the murder of General Lingan, proves only that there was not
sufficient evidence to identify the accused, or that the jury was
governed by passion. It is not perceived how the majority of the people
are answerable for the verdicts rendered. The guilty have often been
erroneously acquitted in all countries, and in France particularly,
recent instances are not wanting of acquittals especially in
prosecutions for political offences, against clear and indisputable
testimony. And it was entirely fortuitous that the jury was composed of
men whose sympathies were with the rioters and murderers, if the fact
was so. It not unfrequently happens that a jury taken from lists
furnished years perhaps, and always a long time, before the trial, are
decidedly hostile to the temporary prevailing sentiments of their city,
county, or state.

As in the other instance, if the inhabitant of Pennsylvania intended to
intimate to our author, that a colored voter would be in personal
jeopardy for venturing to appear at the polls to exercise his right, it
must be said in truth, that the incident was local and peculiar, and
contrary to what is annually seen throughout the states where colored
persons are permitted to vote, who exercise that privilege with as full
immunity from injury or oppression, as any white citizen. And, after
all, it is believed that the state of feeling intimated by the informant
of our author, is but an indication of dislike to a _caste_ degraded by
servitude and ignorance; and it is not perceived how it proves the
despotism of a majority over the freedom and independence of opinion. If
it be true, it proves a detestable tyranny over _acts_, over the
exercise of an acknowledged right. The apprehensions of a mob committing
violence deterred the colored voters from approaching the polls. Are
instances unknown in England or even in France, of peaceable subjects
being prevented by mobs or the fear of them, from the exercise of a
right, from the discharge of a duty? And are they evidences of the
despotism of a majority in those countries?--_American Editor._]

I have heard of patriotism in the United States, and it is a virtue
which may be found among the people, but never among the leaders of the
people. This may be explained by analogy; despotism debases the
oppressed, much more than the oppressor; in absolute monarchies the king
has often great virtues, but the courtiers are invariably servile. It is
true that the American courtiers do not say, "sire," or "your
majesty"--a distinction without a difference. They are for ever talking
of the natural intelligence of the populace they serve; they do not
debate the question as to which of the virtues of their master are
pre-eminently worthy of admiration; for they assure him that he
possesses all the virtues under heaven without having acquired them, or
without caring to acquire them: they do not give him their daughters and
their wives to be raised at his pleasure to the rank of his concubines,
but, by sacrificing their opinions, they prostitute themselves.
Moralists and philosophers in America are not obliged to conceal their
opinions under the veil of allegory; but, before they venture upon a
harsh truth, they say: "We are aware that the people which we are
addressing is too superior to all the weaknesses of human nature to lose
the command of its temper for an instant; and we should not hold this
language if we were not speaking to men, whom their virtues and their
intelligence render more worthy of freedom than all the rest of the

It would have been impossible for the sycophants of Louis XIV. to
flatter more dexterously. For my part, I am persuaded that in all
governments, whatever their nature may be, servility will cower to
force, and adulation will cling to power. The only means of preventing
men from degrading themselves, is to invest no one with that unlimited
authority which is the surest method of debasing them.

* * * * *


Democratic Republics liable to perish from a misuse of their Power, and
not by Impotence.--The Governments of the American Republics are more
Centralized and more Energetic than those of the Monarchies of
Europe.--Dangers resulting from this.--Opinions of Hamilton and
Jefferson upon this Point.

Governments usually fall a sacrifice to impotence or to tyranny. In the
former case their power escapes from them: it is wrested from their
grasp in the latter. Many observers who have noticed the anarchy of
domestic states, have imagined that the government of those states was
naturally weak and impotent. The truth is, that when once hostilities
are begun between parties, the government loses its control over
society. But I do not think that a democratic power is naturally without
resources: say rather, that it is almost always by the abuse of its
force, and the misemployment of its resources, that a democratic
government fails. Anarchy is almost always produced by its tyranny or
its mistakes, but not by its want of strength.

It is important not to confound stability with force, or the greatness
of a thing with its duration. In democratic republics, the power which
directs[186] society is not stable; for it often changes hands and
assumes a new direction. But whichever way it turns, its force is almost
irresistible. The governments of the American republics appear to me to
be as much centralized as those of the absolute monarchies of Europe,
and more energetic than they are. I do not, therefore, imagine that they
will perish from weakness.[187]

If ever the free institutions of America are destroyed, that event may
be attributed to the unlimited authority of the majority, which may at
some future time urge the minorities to desperation, and oblige them to
have recourse to physical force. Anarchy will then be the result, but it
will have been brought about by despotism.

Mr. Hamilton expresses the same opinion in the Federalist, No. 51. "It
is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society
against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the
society against the injustice of the other part. Justice is the end of
government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been, and ever
will be pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the
pursuit. In a society, under the forms of which the stronger faction can
readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to
reign as in a state of nature, where the weaker individual is not
secured against the violence of the stronger: and as in the latter state
even the stronger individuals are prompted by the uncertainty of their
condition to submit to a government which may protect the weak as well
as themselves, so in the former state will the more powerful factions be
gradually induced by a like motive to wish for a government which will
protect all parties, the weaker as well as the more powerful. It can be
little doubted, that if the state of Rhode Island was separated from the
confederacy and left to itself, the insecurity of rights under the
popular form of government within such narrow limits, would be displayed
by such reiterated oppression of the factious majorities, that some
power altogether independent of the people would soon be called for by
the voice of the very factions whose misrule had proved the necessity of

Jefferson has also expressed himself in a letter to Madison:[188] "The
executive power in our government is not the only, perhaps not even the
principal object of my solicitude. The tyranny of the legislature is
really the danger most to be feared, and will continue to be so for many
years to come. The tyranny of the executive power will come in its turn,
but at a more distant period."

I am glad to cite the opinion of Jefferson upon this subject rather than
that of another, because I consider him to be the most powerful advocate
democracy has ever sent forth.

* * * * *


[182] We observed in examining the federal constitution that the efforts
of the legislators of the Union had been diametrically opposed to the
present tendency. The consequence has been that the federal government
is more independent in its sphere than that of the states. But the
federal government scarcely ever interferes in any but external affairs;
and the governments of the states are in reality the authorities which
direct society in America.

[183] The legislative acts promulgated by the state of Massachusetts
alone, from the year 1780 to the present time, already fill three stout
volumes: and it must not be forgotten that the collection to which I
allude was published in 1823, when many old laws which had fallen into
disuse were omitted. The state of Massachusetts, which is not more
populous than a department of France, may be considered as the most
stable, the most consistent, and the most sagacious in its undertakings
of the whole Union.

[184] No one will assert that a people cannot forcibly wrong another
people: but parties may be looked upon as lesser nations within a
greater one, and they are aliens to each other: if therefore it be
admitted that a nation can act tyrannically toward another nation, it
cannot be denied that a party may do the same toward another party.

[185] A striking instance of the excesses which may be occasioned by the
despotism of the majority occurred at Baltimore in the year 1812. At
that time the war was very popular in Baltimore. A journal which had
taken the other side of the question excited the indignation of the
inhabitants by its opposition. The populace assembled, broke the
printing-presses, and attacked the houses of the newspaper editors. The
militia was called out, but no one obeyed the call; and the only means
of saving the poor wretches who were threatened by the phrensy of the
mob, was to throw them into prison as common malefactors. But even this
precaution was ineffectual; the mob collected again during the night;
the magistrates again made a vain attempt to call out the militia; the
prison was forced, one of the newspaper editors was killed upon the
spot, and the others were left for dead: the guilty parties were
acquitted by the jury when they were brought to trial.

I said one day to an inhabitant of Pennsylvania: "Be so good as to
explain to me how it happens, that in a state founded by quakers, and
celebrated for its toleration, freed blacks are not allowed to exercise
civil rights. They pay the taxes: is it not fair that they should have a

"You insult us," replied my informant, "if you imagine that our
legislators could have committed so gross an act of injustice and

"What, then, the blacks possess the right of voting in this country?"

"Without the smallest doubt."

"How comes it then, that at the polling-booth this morning I did not
perceive a single negro in the whole meeting?"

"This is not the fault of the law; the negroes have the undisputed right
of voting; but they voluntarily abstain from making their appearance."

"A very pretty piece of modesty on their parts," rejoined I.

"Why, the truth is, that they are not disinclined to vote, but they are
afraid of being maltreated; in this country the law is sometimes unable
to maintain its authority without the support of the majority. But in
this case the majority entertains very strong prejudices against the
blacks, and the magistrates are unable to protect them in the exercise
of their legal privileges."

"What, then, the majority claims the right not only of making the laws,
but of breaking the laws it has made?"

[186] This power may be centred in an assembly, in which case it will be
strong without being stable; or it may be centred in an individual, in
which case it will be less strong, but more stable.

[187] I presume that it is scarcely necessary to remind the reader here,
as well as throughout the remainder of this chapter, that I am speaking
not of the federal government, but of the several governments of each
state which the majority controls at its pleasure.

[188] 15th March, 1789.



* * * * *


The national Majority does not pretend to conduct all Business.--Is
obliged to employ the town and county Magistrates to execute its supreme

I have already pointed out the distinction which is to be made between a
centralized government and a centralized administration. The former
exists in America, but the latter is nearly unknown there. If the
directing power of the American communities had both these instruments
of government at its disposal, and united the habit of executing its own
commands to the right of commanding; if, after having established the
general principles of government, it descended to the details of public
business; and if, having regulated the great interests of the country,
it would penetrate into the privacy of individual interest, freedom
would soon be banished from the New World.

But in the United States the majority, which so frequently displays the
tastes and the propensities of a despot, is still destitute of the more
perfect instruments of tyranny.

In the American republics the activity of the central government has
never as yet been extended beyond a limited number of objects
sufficiently prominent to call forth its attention. The secondary
affairs of society have never been regulated by its authority; and
nothing has hitherto betrayed its desire of interfering in them. The
majority is become more and more absolute, but it has not increased the
prerogatives of the central government; those great prerogatives have
been confined to a certain sphere; and although the despotism of the
majority may be galling upon one point, it cannot be said to extend to
all. However the predominant party of the nation may be carried away by
its passions; however ardent it may be in the pursuit of its projects,
it cannot oblige all the citizens to comply with its desire in the same
manner, and at the same time, throughout the country. When the central
government which represents that majority has issued a decree, it must
intrust the execution of its will to agents, over whom it frequently has
no control, and whom it cannot perpetually direct. The townships,
municipal bodies, and counties, may therefore be looked upon as
concealed breakwaters, which check or part the tide of popular
excitement. If an oppressive law were passed, the liberties of the
people would still be protected by the means by which that law would be
put in execution: the majority cannot descend to the details, and (as I
will venture to style them) the puerilities of administrative tyranny.
Nor does the people entertain that full consciousness of its authority,
which would prompt it to interfere in these matters; it knows the extent
of its natural powers, but it is unacquainted with the increased
resources which the art of government might furnish.

This point deserves attention; for if a democratic republic, similar to
that of the United States, were ever founded in a country where the
power of a single individual had previously subsisted, and the effects
of a centralized administration had sunk deep into the habits and the
laws of the people, I do not hesitate to assert, that in that country a
more insufferable despotism would prevail than any which now exists in
the absolute monarchies of Europe; or indeed than any which could be
found on this side the confines of Asia.

* * * * *


Utility of discriminating the natural Propensities of the Members of the
legal Profession.--These Men called upon to act a prominent Part in
future Society.--In what Manner the peculiar Pursuits of Lawyers give an
aristocratic turn to their Ideas.--Accidental Causes which may check
this Tendency.--Ease with which the Aristocracy coalesces with legal
Men.--Use of Lawyers to a Despot.--The Profession of the Law constitutes
the only aristocratic Element with which the natural Elements of
Democracy will combine.--Peculiar Causes which tend to give an
aristocratic turn of Mind to the English and American Lawyer.--The
Aristocracy of America is on the Bench and at the Bar.--Influence of
Lawyers upon American Society.--Their peculiar magisterial Habits affect
the Legislature, the Administration, and even the People.

In visiting the Americans and in studying their laws, we perceive that
the authority they have intrusted to members of the legal profession,
and the influence which these individuals exercise in the government, is
the most powerful existing security against the excesses of democracy.

This effect seems to me to result from a general cause which it is
useful to investigate, since it may produce analogous consequences

The members of the legal profession have taken an important part in all
the vicissitudes of political society in Europe during the last five
hundred years. At one time they have been the instruments of those who
are invested with political authority, and at another they have
succeeded in converting political authorities into their instrument. In
the middle ages they afforded a powerful support to the crown; and since
that period they have exerted themselves to the utmost to limit the
royal prerogative. In England they have contracted a close alliance with
the aristocracy; in France they have proved to be the most dangerous
enemies of that class. It is my object to inquire whether, under all
these circumstances, the members of the legal profession have been
swayed by sudden and momentary impulses; or whether they have been
impelled by principles which are inherent in their pursuits, and which
will always recur in history. I am incited to this investigation by
reflecting that this particular class of men will most likely play a
prominent part in that order of things to which the events of our time
are giving birth.

Men who have more especially devoted themselves to legal pursuits,
derive from those occupations certain habits of order, a taste for
formalities, and a kind of instinctive regard for the regular connexion
of ideas, which naturally render them very hostile to the revolutionary
spirit and the unreflecting passions of the multitude.

The special information which lawyers derive from their studies, ensures
them a separate station in society: and they constitute a sort of
privileged body in the scale of intelligence. This notion of their
superiority perpetually recurs to them in the practice of their
profession: they are the masters of a science which is necessary, but
which is not very generally known: they serve as arbiters between the
citizens; and the habit of directing the blind passions of parties in
litigation to their purpose, inspires them with a certain contempt for
the judgment of the multitude. To this it may be added, that they
naturally constitute _a body_; not by any previous understanding, or by
any agreement which directs them to a common end; but the analogy of
their studies and the uniformity of their proceedings connect their
minds together, as much as a common interest would combine their

A portion of the tastes and of the habits of the aristocracy may
consequently be discovered in the characters of men in the profession of
the law. They participate in the same instinctive love of order and of
formalities; and they entertain the same repugnance to the actions of
the multitude, and the same secret contempt of the government of the
people. I do not mean to say that the natural propensities of lawyers
are sufficiently strong to sway them irresistibly; for they, like most
other men, are governed by their private interests and the advantages of
the moment.

In a state of society in which the members of the legal profession are
prevented from holding that rank in the political world which they enjoy
in private life, we may rest assured that they will be the foremost
agents of revolution. But it must then be inquired whether the cause
which induces them to innovate and to destroy is accidental, or whether
it belongs to some lasting purpose which they entertain. It is true that
lawyers mainly contributed to the overthrow of the French monarchy in
1789; but it remains to be seen whether they acted thus because they had
studied the laws, or because they were prohibited from co-operating in
the work of legislation.

Five hundred years ago the English nobles headed the people, and spoke
in its name; at the present time, the aristocracy supports the throne,
and defends the royal prerogative. But aristocracy has, notwithstanding
this, its peculiar instincts and propensities. We must be careful not to
confound isolated members of a body with the body itself. In all free
governments, of whatsoever form they may be, members of the legal
profession may be found at the head of all parties. The same remark is
also applicable to the aristocracy; for almost all the democratic
convulsions which have agitated the world have been directed by nobles.

A privileged body can never satisfy the ambition of all its members; it
has always more talents and more passions than it can find places to
content and to employ; so that a considerable number of individuals are
usually to be met with, who are inclined to attack those very
privileges, which they find it impossible to turn to their own account.

I do not, then, assert that _all_ the members of the legal profession
are at _all_ times the friends of order and the opponents of innovation,
but merely that most of them usually are so. In a community in which
lawyers are allowed to occupy, without opposition, that high station
which naturally belongs to them, their general spirit will be eminently
conservative and anti-democratic. When an aristocracy excludes the
leaders of that profession from its ranks, it excites enemies which are
the more formidable to its security as they are independent of the
nobility by their industrious pursuits; and they feel themselves to be
its equal in point of intelligence, although they enjoy less opulence
and less power. But whenever an aristocracy consents to impart some of
its privileges to these same individuals, the two classes coalesce very
readily, and assume, as it were, the consistency of a single order of
family interests.

I am, in like manner, inclined to believe that a monarch will always be
able to convert legal practitioners into the most serviceable
instruments of his authority. There is a far greater affinity between
this class of individuals and the executive power, than there is between
them and the people; just as there is a greater natural affinity between
the nobles and monarch, than between the nobles and the people, although
the higher orders of society have occasionally resisted the prerogative
of the crown in concert with the lower classes.

Lawyers are attached to public order beyond every other consideration,
and the best security of public order is authority. It must not be
forgotten, that if they prize the free institutions of their country
much, they nevertheless value the legality of those institutions far
more; they are less afraid of tyranny than of arbitrary power: and
provided that the legislature takes upon itself to deprive men of their
independence, they are not dissatisfied.[189]

I am therefore convinced that the prince who, in presence of an
encroaching democracy, should endeavor to impair the judicial authority
in his dominions, and to diminish the political influence of lawyers,
would commit a great mistake. He would let slip the substance of
authority to grasp at the shadow. He would act more wisely in
introducing men connected with the law into the government; and if he
intrusted them with the conduct of a despotic power, bearing some marks
of violence, that power would most likely assume the external features
of justice and of legality in their hands.

The government of democracy is favorable to the political power of
lawyers; for when the wealthy, the noble, and the prince, are excluded
from the government, they are sure to occupy the highest stations in
their own right, as it were, since they are the only men of information
and sagacity, beyond the sphere of the people, who can be the object of
the popular choice. If, then, they are led by their tastes to combine
with the aristocracy, and to support the crown, they are naturally
brought into contact with the people by their interests. They like the
government of democracy, without participating in its propensities, and
without imitating its weaknesses; whence they derive a twofold authority
from it and over it. The people in democratic states does not mistrust
the members of the legal profession, because it is well known that they
are interested in serving the popular cause; and it listens to them
without irritation, because it does not attribute to them any sinister
designs. The object of lawyers is not, indeed, to overthrow the
institutions of democracy, but they constantly endeavor to give it an
impulse which diverts it from its real tendency, by means which are
foreign to its nature. Lawyers belong to the people by birth and
interest, to the aristocracy by habit and by taste, and they may be
looked upon as the natural bond and connecting link of the two great
classes of society.

The profession of the law is the only aristocratic element which can be
amalgamated without violence with the natural elements of democracy, and
which can be advantageously and permanently combined with them. I am not
unacquainted with the defects which are inherent in the character of
that body of men; but without this admixture of lawyer-like sobriety
with the democratic principle, I question whether democratic
institutions could long be maintained; and I cannot believe that a
republic could subsist at the present time, if the influence of lawyers
in public business did not increase in proportion to the power of the

This aristocratic character, which I hold to be common to the legal
profession, is much more distinctly marked in the United States and in
England than in any other country. This proceeds not only from the legal
studies of the English and American lawyers, but from the nature of the
legislation, and the position which those persons occupy, in the two
countries. The English and the Americans have retained the law of
precedents; that is to say, they continue to found their legal opinions
and the decisions of their courts upon the opinions and decisions of
their forefathers. In the mind of an English or an American lawyer, a
taste and a reverence for what is old are almost always united to a love
of regular and lawful proceedings.

This predisposition has another effect upon the character of the legal
profession and upon the general course of society. The English and
American lawyers investigate what has been done; the French advocate
inquires what should have been done: the former produces precedents; the
latter reasons. A French observer is surprised to hear how often an
English or American lawyer quotes the opinions of others, and how little
he alludes to his own; while the reverse occurs in France. There, the
most trifling litigation is never conducted without the introduction of
an entire system of ideas peculiar to the counsel employed; and the
fundamental principles of law are discussed in order to obtain a perch
of land by the decision of the court. This abnegation of his own
opinion, and this implicit deference to the opinion of his forefathers,
which are common to the English and American lawyer, this subjection of
thought which he is obliged to profess, necessarily give him more timid
habits and more sluggish inclinations in England and America than in

The French codes are often difficult of comprehension, but they can be
read by every one; nothing, on the other hand, can be more impenetrable
to the uninitiated than a legislation founded upon precedents. The
indispensable want of legal assistance which is felt in England and in
the United States, and the high opinion which is generally entertained
of the ability of the legal profession, tend to separate it more and
more from the people, and to place it in a distinct class. The French
lawyer is simply a man extensively acquainted with the statutes of his
country; but the English or American lawyer resembles the hierophants of
Egypt, for, like them, he is the sole interpreter of an occult science.

[The remark that English and American lawyers found their opinions and
their decisions upon those of their forefathers, is calculated to excite
surprise in an American reader, who supposes that law, as a prescribed
rule of action, can only be ascertained in cases where the statutes are
silent, by reference to the decisions of courts. On the continent, and
particularly in France, as the writer of this note learned from the
conversation of M. De Tocqueville, the judicial tribunals do not deem
themselves bound by any precedents, or by any decisions of their
predecessors or of the appellate tribunals. They respect such decisions
as the opinions of distinguished men, and they pay no higher regard to
their own previous adjudications of any case. It is not easy to perceive
how the law can acquire any stability under such a system, or how any
individual can ascertain his rights, without a lawsuit. This note should
not be concluded without a single remark upon what the author calls an
implicit deference to the opinions of our forefathers, and abnegation of
our own opinions. The common law consists of principles founded on the
common sense of mankind, and adapted to the circumstances of man in
civilized society. When these principles are once settled by competent
authority, or rather _declared_ by such authority, they are supposed to
express the common sense and the common justice of the community; and it
requires but a moderate share of modesty for any one entertaining a
different view of them, to consider that the disinterested and
intelligent judges who have declared them, are more likely to be right
than he is. Perfection, even in the law, he does not consider attainable
by human beings, and the greatest approximation to it is all he expects
or desires. Besides, there are very few cases of positive and abstract
rule, where it is of any consequence which, of any two or more
modifications of it, should be adopted. The great point is, that there
should be _a rule_ by which conduct may be regulated. Thus, whether in
mercantile transactions notice of a default by a principal shall be
given to an endorser, or a guarantor, and when and how such notice shall
be given, are not so important in themselves, as it is that there should
be some rule to which merchants may adapt themselves and their
transactions. Statutes cannot or at least do not, prescribe the rules in
a large majority of cases. If then they are not drawn from the decision
of courts, they will not exist, and men will be wholly at a loss for a
guide in the most important transactions of business. Hence the
deference paid to legal decisions. But this is not implicit, as the
author supposes. The course of reasoning by which the courts have come
to their conclusions, is often assailed by the advocate and shown to be
fallacious, and the instances are not unfrequent of courts disregarding
prior decisions and overruling them when not fairly deducible from sound

Again, the principles of the common law are flexible, and adapt
themselves to changes in society, and a well-known maxim in our system,
that when the reason of the law ceases, the law itself ceases, has
overthrown many an antiquated rule. Within these limits, it is conceived
that there is range enough for the exercise of all the reason of the
advocate and the judge, without unsettling everything and depriving the
conduct of human affairs of all guidance from human authority;--and the
talent of our lawyers and courts finds sufficient exercise in applying
the principles of one case to facts of another.--_American Editor_.]

The station which lawyers occupy in England and America exercises no
less an influence upon their habits and their opinions. The English
aristocracy, which has taken care to attract to its sphere whatever is
at all analogous to itself, has conferred a high degree of importance
and of authority upon the members of the legal profession. In English
society lawyers do not occupy the first rank, but they are contented
with the station assigned to them; they constitute, as it were, the
younger branch of the English aristocracy, and they are attached to
their elder brothers, although they do not enjoy all their privileges.
The English lawyers consequently mingle the tastes and the ideas of the
aristocratic circles in which they move, with the aristocratic interest
of their profession.

And indeed the lawyer-like character which I am endeavoring to depict,
is most distinctly to be met with in England: there laws are esteemed
not so much because they are good, as because they are old; and if it be
necessary to modify them in any respect, or to adapt them to the changes
which time operates in society, recourse is had to the most
inconceivable contrivances in order to uphold the traditionary fabric,
and to maintain that nothing has been done which does not square with
the intentions, and complete the labors, of former generations. The very
individuals who conduct these changes disclaim all intention of
innovation, and they had rather resort to absurd expedients than plead
guilty of so great a crime. This spirit more especially appertains to
the English lawyers; they seem indifferent to the real meaning of what
they treat, and they direct all their attention to the letter, seeming
inclined to infringe the rules of common sense and of humanity, rather
than to swerve one tittle from the law. The English legislation may be
compared to the stock of an old tree, upon which lawyers have engrafted
the most various shoots, with the hope, that, although their fruits may
differ, their foliage at least will be confounded with the venerable
trunk which supports them all.

In America there are no nobles or literary men, and the people is apt to
mistrust the wealthy; lawyers consequently form the highest political
class, and the most cultivated circle of society. They have therefore
nothing to gain by innovation, which adds a conservative interest to
their natural taste for public order. If I were asked where I place the
American aristocracy, I should reply without hesitation, that it is not
composed of the rich, who are united together by no common tie, but that
it occupies the judicial bench and the bar.

The more we reflect upon all that occurs in the United States, the more
shall we be persuaded that the lawyers, as a body, form the most
powerful, if not the only counterpoise to the democratic element. In
that country we perceive how eminently the legal profession is qualified
by its powers, and even by its defects, to neutralize the vices which
are inherent in popular government. When the American people is
intoxicated by passion, or carried away by the impetuosity of its ideas,
it is checked and stopped by the almost invisible influence of its legal
counsellors, who secretly oppose their aristocratic propensities to its
democratic instincts, their superstitious attachment to what is antique
to its love of novelty, their narrow views to its immense designs, and
their habitual procrastination to its ardent impatience.

The courts of justice are the most visible organs by which the legal
profession is enabled to control the democracy. The judge is a lawyer,
who, independently of the taste for regularity and order which he has
contracted in the study of legislation, derives an additional love of
stability from his own inalienable functions. His legal attainments have
already raised him to a distinguished rank among his fellow-citizens;
his political power completes the distinction of his station, and gives
him the inclinations natural to privileged classes.

Armed with the power of declaring the laws to be unconstitutional,[190]
the American magistrate perpetually interferes in political affairs. He
cannot force the people to make laws, but at least he can oblige it not
to disobey its own enactments, or to act inconsistently with its own
principles. I am aware that a secret tendency to diminish the judicial
power exists in the United States; and by most of the constitutions of
the several states, the government can, upon the demand of the two
houses of the legislature, remove the judges from their station. By some
other constitutions the members of the tribunals are elected, and they
are even subjected to frequent re-elections. I venture to predict that
these innovations will sooner or later be attended with fatal
consequences; and that it will be found out at some future period, that
the attack which is made upon the judicial power has affected the
democratic republic itself.

It must not, however, be supposed that the legal spirit of which I have
been speaking has been confined in the United States to the courts of
justice; it extends far beyond them. As the lawyers constitute the only
enlightened class which the people does not mistrust, they are naturally
called upon to occupy most of the public stations. They fill the
legislative assemblies, and they conduct the administration; they
consequently exercise a powerful influence upon the formation of the
law, and upon its execution. The lawyers are, however, obliged to yield
to the current of public opinion, which is too strong for them to resist
it; but it is easy to find indications of what their conduct would be,
if they were free to act as they chose. The Americans who have made such
copious innovations in their political legislation, have introduced very
sparing alterations in their civil laws, and that with great difficulty,
although those laws are frequently repugnant to their social condition.
The reason of this is, that in matters of civil law the majority is
obliged to defer to the authority of the legal profession, and that the
American lawyers are disinclined to innovate when they are left to their
own choice.

It is curious for a Frenchman, accustomed to a very different state of
things, to hear the perpetual complaints which are made in the United
States, against the stationary propensities of legal men, and their
prejudices in favor of existing institutions.

The influence of the legal habits which are common in America extends
beyond the limits I have just pointed out. Scarcely any question arises
in the United States which does not become, sooner or later, a subject
of judicial debate; hence all parties are obliged to borrow the ideas,
and even the language, usual in judicial proceedings, in their daily
controversies. As most public men are, or have been, legal
practitioners, they introduce the customs and technicalities of their
profession into the affairs of the country. The jury extends this
habitude to all classes. The language of the law thus becomes, in some
measure, a vulgar tongue; the spirit of the law, which is produced in
the schools and courts of justice, gradually penetrates beyond their
walls into the bosom of society, where it descends to the lowest
classes, so that the whole people contracts the habits and the tastes of
the magistrate. The lawyers of the United States form a party which is
but little feared and scarcely perceived, which has no badge peculiar to
itself, which adapts itself with great flexibility to the exigencies of
the time, and accommodates itself to all the movements of the social
body: but this party extends over the whole community, and it penetrates
into all classes of society; it acts upon the country imperceptibly, but
it finally fashions it to suit its purposes.

* * * * *


Trial by Jury, which is one of the Instruments of the Sovereignty of the
People, deserves to be compared with the other Laws which establish that
sovereignty.--Composition of the Jury in the United States.--Effect of
Trial by Jury upon the national Character.--It educates the People.--It
tends to establish the Authority of the Magistrates, and to extend a
knowledge of Law among the People.

Since I have been led by my subject to recur to the administration of
justice in the United States, I will not pass over this point without
adverting to the institution of the jury. Trial by jury may be
considered in two separate points of view: as a judicial, and as a
political institution. If it entered into my present purpose to inquire
how far trial by jury (more especially in civil cases) contributes to
ensure the best administration of justice, I admit that its utility
might be contested. As the jury was first introduced at a time when
society was in an uncivilized state, and when courts of justice were
merely called upon to decide on the evidence of facts, it is not an easy
task to adapt it to the wants of a highly civilized community, when the
mutual relations of men are multiplied to a surprising extent, and have
assumed the enlightened and intellectual character of the age.[191]

My present object is to consider the jury as a political institution;
and any other course would divert me from my subject. Of trial by jury,
considered as a judicial institution, I shall here say but very few
words. When the English adopted trial by jury they were a semi-barbarous
people; they are become, in course of time, one of the most enlightened
nations of the earth; and their attachment to this institution seems to
have increased with their increasing cultivation. They soon spread
beyond their insular boundaries to every corner of the habitable globe;
some have formed colonies, others independent states; the mother-country
has maintained its monarchical constitution; many of its offspring have
founded powerful republics; but wherever the English have been, they
have boasted of the privilege of trial by jury.[192] They have
established it, or hastened to re-establish it, in all their
settlements. A judicial institution which obtains the suffrages of a
great people for so long a series of ages, which is zealously renewed at
every epoch of civilisation, in all the climates of the earth, and under
every form of human government, cannot be contrary to the spirit of

I turn, however, from this part of the subject. To look upon the jury as
a mere judicial institution, is to confine our attention to a very
narrow view of it; for, however great its influence may be upon the
decisions of the law-courts, that influence is very subordinate to the
powerful effects which it produces on the destinies of the community at
large. The jury is above all a political institution, and it must be
regarded in this light in order to be duly appreciated.

By the jury, I mean a certain number of citizens chosen
indiscriminately, and invested with a temporary right of judging. Trial
by jury, as applied to the repression of crime, appears to me to
introduce an eminently republican element into the government, upon the
following grounds:--

The institution of the jury may be aristocratic or democratic, according
to the class of society from which the jurors are selected; but it
always preserves its republican character, inasmuch as it places the
real direction of society in the hands of the governed, or of a portion
of the governed, instead of leaving it under the authority of the
government. Force is never more than a transient element of success; and
after force comes the notion of right. A government which should only be
able to crush its enemies upon a field of battle, would very soon be
destroyed. The true sanction of political laws is to be found in penal
legislation, and if that sanction be wanting, the law will sooner or
later lose its cogency. He who punishes infractions of the law is
therefore the real master of society. Now, the institution of the jury
raises the people itself, or at least a class of citizens, to the bench
of judicial authority. The institution of the jury consequently invests
the people, or that class of citizens, with the direction of

In England the jury is returned from the aristocratic portion of the
nation,[195] the aristocracy makes the laws, applies the laws, and
punishes all infractions of the laws; everything is established upon a
consistent footing, and England may with truth be said to constitute an
aristocratic republic. In the United States the same system is applied
to the whole people. Every American citizen is qualified to be an
elector, a juror, and is eligible to office.[196] The system of the
jury, as it is understood in America, appears to me to be as direct and
as extreme a consequence of the sovereignty of the people, as universal
suffrage. These institutions are two instruments of equal power, which
contribute to the supremacy of the majority. All the sovereigns who have
chosen to govern by their own authority, and to direct society instead
of obeying its direction, have destroyed or enfeebled the institution of
the jury. The monarchs of the house of Tudor sent to prison jurors who
refused to convict, and Napoleon caused them to be returned by his

However clear most of these truths may seem to be, they do not command
universal assent, and in France, at least, the institution of trial by
jury is still very imperfectly understood. If the question arise as to
the proper qualification of jurors, it is confined to a discussion of
the intelligence and knowledge of the citizens who may be returned, as
if the jury was merely a judicial institution. This appears to me to be
the least part of the subject. The jury is pre-eminently a political
institution; it must be regarded as one form of the sovereignty of the
people; when that sovereignty is repudiated, it must be rejected; or it
must be adapted to the laws by which that sovereignty is established.
The jury is that portion of the nation to which the execution of the
laws is intrusted, as the houses of parliament constitute that part of
the nation which makes the laws; and in order that society may be
governed with consistency and uniformity, the list of citizens qualified
to serve on juries must increase and diminish with the list of electors.
This I hold to be the point of view must worthy of the attention of the
legislator; and all that remains is merely accessary.

I am so entirely convinced that the jury is pre-eminently a political
institution, that I still consider it in this light when it is applied
in civil causes. Laws are always unstable unless they are founded upon
the manners of a nation: manners are the only durable and resisting
power in a people. When the jury is reserved for criminal offences, the
people only sees its occasional action in certain particular cases; the
ordinary course of life goes on without its interference, and it is
considered as an instrument, but not as the only instrument, of
obtaining justice. This is true _a fortiori_ when the jury is only
applied to certain criminal causes.

When, on the contrary, the influence of the jury is extended to civil
causes, its application is constantly palpable; it affects all the
interests of the community; every one co-operates in its work: it thus
penetrates into all the usages of life, it fashions the human mind to
its peculiar forms, and is gradually associated with the idea of justice

The institution of the jury, if confined to criminal causes, is always
in danger; but when once it is introduced into civil proceedings, it
defies the aggressions of time and of man. If it had been as easy to
remove the jury from the manners as from the laws of England, it would
have perished under Henry VIII. and Elizabeth: and the civil jury did in
reality, at that period, save the liberties of the country. In whatever
manner the jury be applied, it cannot fail to exercise a powerful
influence upon the national character; but this influence is
prodigiously increased when it is introduced into civil causes. The
jury, and more especially the civil jury, serves to communicate the
spirit of the judges to the minds of all the citizens; and this spirit,
with the habits which attend it, is the soundest preparation for free
institutions. It imbues all classes with a respect for the thing judged,
and with the notion of right. If these two elements be removed, the love
of independence is reduced to a more destructive passion. It teaches men
to practise equity; every man learns to judge his neighbor as he would
himself be judged: and this is especially true of the jury in civil
causes; for, while the number of persons who have reason to apprehend a
criminal prosecution is small, every one is liable to have a civil
action brought against him. The jury teaches every man not to recoil
before the responsibility of his own actions, and impresses him with
that manly confidence without which political virtue cannot exist. It
invests each citizen with a kind of magistracy; it makes them all feel
the duties which they are bound to discharge toward society; and the
part which they take in the government. By obliging men to turn their
attention to affairs which are not exclusively their own, it rubs off
that individual egotism which is the rust of society.

The jury contributes most powerfully to form the judgment, and to
increase the natural intelligence of a people; and this is, in my
opinion, its greatest advantage. It may be regarded as a gratuitous
public school ever open, in which every juror learns to exercise his
rights, enters into daily communication with the most learned and
enlightened members of the upper classes, and becomes practically
acquainted with the laws of his country, which are brought within the
reach of his capacity by the efforts of the bar, the advice of the
judge, and even by the passions of the parties. I think that the
practical intelligence and political good sense of the Americans are
mainly attributable to the long use which they have made of the jury in
civil causes.

I do not know whether the jury is useful to those who are in litigation;
but I am certain it is highly beneficial to those who decide the
litigation: and I look upon it as one of the most efficacious means for
the education of the people, which society can employ.

What I have hitherto said, applies to all nations; but the remark I am
now about to make, is peculiar to the Americans and to democratic
peoples. I have already observed that in democracies the members of the
legal profession, and the magistrates, constitute the only aristocratic
body which can check the irregularities of the people. This aristocracy
is invested with no physical power; but it exercises its conservative
influence upon the minds of men: and the most abundant source of its
authority is the institution of the civil jury. In criminal causes, when
society is armed against a single individual, the jury is apt to look
upon the judge as the passive instrument of social power, and to
mistrust his advice. Moreover, criminal causes are entirely founded upon
the evidence of facts which common sense can readily appreciate; upon
this ground the judge and the jury are equal. Such, however, is not the
case in civil causes; then the judge appears as a disinterested arbiter
between the conflicting passions of the parties. The jurors look up to
him with confidence, and listen to him with respect, for in this
instance their intelligence is completely under the control of his
learning. It is the judge who sums up the various arguments with which
their memory has been wearied out, and who guides them through the
devious course of the proceedings; he points their attention to the
exact question of fact, which they are called upon to solve, and he puts
the answer to the question of law into their mouths. His influence upon
their verdict is almost unlimited.

If I am called upon to explain why I am but little moved by the
arguments derived from the ignorance of jurors in civil causes, I reply,
that in these proceedings, whenever the question to be solved is not a
mere question of fact, the jury has only the semblance of a judicial
body. The jury sanctions the decisions of the judge; they, by the
authority of society which they represent, and he, by that of reason and
of law.[197]

In England and in America the judges exercise an influence upon criminal
trials which the French judges have never possessed. The reason of this
difference may easily be discovered; the English and American
magistrates establish their authority in civil causes, and only transfer
it afterward to tribunals of another kind, where that authority was not
acquired. In some cases (and they are frequently the most important
ones), the American judges have the right of deciding causes alone.[198]
Upon these occasions they are, accidentally, placed in the position
which the French judges habitually occupy: but they are still surrounded
by the reminiscence of the jury, and their judgment has almost as much
authority as the voice of the community at large, represented by that
institution. Their influence extends beyond the limits of the courts; in
the recreations of private life, as well as in the turmoil of public
business, abroad and in the legislative assemblies, the American judge
is constantly surrounded by men who are accustomed to regard his
intelligence as superior to their own; and after having exercised his
power in the decision of causes, he continues to influence the habits of
thought, and the character of the individuals who took a part in his

[The remark in the text, that "in some cases, and they are frequently
the most important ones, the American judges have the right of deciding
causes alone," and the author's note, that "the federal judges decide,
upon their own authority, almost all the questions most important to the
country," seem to require explanation in consequence of their connexion
with the context in which the author is speaking of the trial by jury.
They seem to imply that there are some cases which ought to be tried by
jury, that are decided by the judges. It is believed that the learned
author, although a distinguished advocate in France, never thoroughly
comprehended the grand divisions of our complicated system of law, in
civil cases. _First_, is the distinction between cases in equity and
those in which the rules of the common law govern.--Those in equity are
always decided by the judge or judges, who _may_, however, send
questions of fact to be tried in the common law courts by a jury. But as
a general rule this is entirely in the discretion of the equity judge.
_Second_, in cases at common law, there are questions of fact and
questions of law:--the former are invariably tried by a jury, the
latter, whether presented in the course of a jury trial, or by pleading,
in which the facts are admitted, are always decided by the judges.

_Third_, cases of admiralty jurisdiction, and proceedings _in rem_ of an
analogous nature, are decided by the judges without the intervention of
a jury. The cases in this last class fall within the peculiar
jurisdiction of the federal courts, and, with this exception, the
federal judges do not decide upon their own authority any questions,
which, if presented in the state courts, would not also be decided by
the judges of those courts. The supreme court of the United States, from
the nature of its institution as almost wholly an appellant court, is
called on to decide merely questions of law, and in no case can that
court decide a question of fact, unless it arises in suits peculiar to
equity or admiralty jurisdiction. Indeed the author's original note is
more correct than the translation. It is as follows: "Les juges federaux
tranchent presque toujours seuls les questions qui touchent de plus pres
au _gouvernement_ du pays." And it is very true that the supreme court
of the United States, in particular, decides those questions which most
nearly affect the _government_ of the country, because those are the
very questions which arise upon the constitutionality of the laws of
congress and of the several states, the final and conclusive
determination of which is vested in that tribunal.--_American Editor_.]

The jury, then, which seems to restrict the rights of magistracy, does
in reality consolidate its power; and in no country are the judges so
powerful as there where the people partakes their privileges. It is more
especially by means of the jury in civil causes that the American
magistrates imbue all classes of society with the spirit of their
profession. Thus the jury, which is the most energetic means of making
the people rule, is also the most efficacious means of teaching it to
rule well.

* * * * *


[189] This translation does not accurately convey the meaning of M. de
Tocqueville's expression. He says: "Ils craignent moins la tyrannie que
l'arbitraire, et pourvu que le legislateur se charge lui-meme d'enlever
aux hommes leur independance, ils sont a peu pres content."

The more correct rendering would be: 'They fear tyranny less than
arbitrary sway, and provided it is the legislator himself who undertakes
to deprive men of their independence, they are almost content.'--

[190] See chapter vi., p. 94, on the judicial power in the United

[191] The investigation of trial by jury as a judicial institution, and
the appreciation of its effects in the United States, together with the
advantages the Americans have derived from it, would suffice to form a
book, and a book upon a very useful and curious subject. The state of
Louisiana would in particular afford the curious phenomenon of a French
and English legislation, as well as a French and English population,
which are generally combining with each other. See the "Digeste des Lois
de la Louisiane," in two volumes; and the "Traite sur les Regles des
Actions civiles," printed in French and English at New Orleans in 1830.

[192] All the English and American jurists are unanimous upon this head.
Mr. Story, judge of the supreme court of the United States, speaks, in
his treatise on the federal constitution, of the advantages of trial by
jury in civil cases: "The inestimable privilege of a trial by jury in
civil cases--a privilege scarcely inferior to that in criminal cases,
which is counted by all persons to be essential to political and civil
liberty" ... (Story, book iii, ch. xxxviii.).

[193] If it were our province to point out the utility of the jury as a
judicial institution in this place, much might be said, and the
following arguments might be brought forward among others:--

By introducing the jury into the business of the courts, you are enabled
to diminish the number of judges; which is a very great advantage. When
judges are very numerous, death is perpetually thinning the ranks of the
judicial functionaries, and laying places vacant for new comers. The
ambition of the magistrates is therefore continually excited, and they
are naturally made dependant upon the will of the majority, or the
individual who fills up vacant appointments: the officers of the courts
then rise like the officers of an army. This state of things is entirely
contrary to the sound administration of justice, and to the intentions
of the legislator. The office of a judge is made inalienable in order
that he may remain independent; but of what advantage is it that his
independence is protected, if he be tempted to sacrifice it of his own
accord? When judges are very numerous, many of them must necessarily be
incapable of performing their important duties; for a great magistrate
is a man of no common powers; and I am inclined to believe that a half
enlightened tribunal is the worst of all instruments for obtaining those
objects which it is the purpose of courts of justice to accomplish. For
my own part, I had rather submit the decision of a case to ignorant
jurors directed by a skilfull judge, than to judges, a majority of whom
are imperfectly acquainted with jurisprudence and with the laws.

[I venture to remind the reader, lest this note should appear somewhat
redundant to an English eye, that the jury is an institution which has
only been naturalized in France within the present century; that it is
even now exclusively applied to those criminal causes which come before
the courts of assize, or to the prosecutions of the public press; and
that the judges and counsellors of the numerous local tribunals of
France--forming a body of many thousand judicial functionaries--try all
civil causes, appeals from criminal causes, and minor offences, without
the jury.--_Translator's Note_.]

[194] An important remark must however be made. Trial by jury does
unquestionably invest the people with a general control over the actions
of citizens, but it does not furnish means of exercising this control in
all cases, or with an absolute authority. When an absolute monarch has
the right of trying offences by his representatives, the fate of the
prisoner is, as it were, decided beforehand. But even if the people were
predisposed to convict, the composition and the non-responsibility of
the jury would still afford some chances favorable to the protection of

[195] In France, the qualification of the jurors is the same as the
electoral qualification, namely, the payment of 200 francs per annum in
direct taxes: they are chosen by lot. In England they are returned by
the sheriff; the qualifications of jurors were raised to 10_l_ per annum
in England, and 6_l_ in Wales, of freehold land or copyhold, by the
statute W. and M., c. 24: leaseholders for a time determinable upon life
or lives, of the clear yearly value of 20_l_ per annum over and above
the rent reserved, are qualified to serve on juries; and jurors in the
courts of Westminster and city of London must be householders, and
possessed of real and personal estates of the value of 100_l_. The
qualifications, however, prescribed in different statutes, vary
according to the object for which the jury is impannelled. See
Blackstone's Commentaries, b. iii., c. 23.--_Translator's Note_.

[196] See Appendix Q.

[197] See Appendix R.

[198] The federal judges decide upon their own authority almost all the
questions most important to the country.



A democratic republic subsists in the United States; and the principal
object of this book has been to account for the fact of its existence.
Several of the causes which contribute to maintain the institutions of
America have been voluntarily passed by, or only hinted at, as I was
borne along by my subject. Others I have been unable to discuss and
those on which I have dwelt most, are, as it were, buried in the details
of the former part of this work.

I think, therefore, that before I proceed to speak of the future, I
cannot do better than collect within a small compass the reasons which
best explain the present. In this retrospective chapter I shall be
succinct; for I shall take care to remind the reader very summarily of
what he already knows; and I shall only select the most prominent of
those facts which I have not yet pointed out.

All the causes which contribute to the maintenance of the democratic
republic in the United States are reducible to three heads:

I. The peculiar and accidental situation in which Providence has placed
the Americans.

II. The laws.

III. The manners and customs of the people.

* * * * *


The Union has no Neighbors.--No Metropolis.--The Americans have had the
Chances of Birth in their favor.--America an empty country.--How this
circumstance contributes powerfully to the Maintenance of the democratic
Republic in America.--How the American Wilds are Peopled.--Avidity of
the Anglo-Americans in taking Possession of the Solitudes of the New
World.--Influence of physical Prosperity upon the political Opinions of
the Americans.

A thousand circumstances, independent of the will of man, concur to
facilitate the maintenance of a democratic republic in the United
States. Some of these peculiarities are known, the others may easily be
pointed out; but I shall confine myself to the most prominent among

The Americans have no neighbors, and consequently they have no great
wars, or financial crises, or inroads, or conquests to dread; they
require neither great taxes, nor great armies, nor great generals; and
they have nothing to fear from a scourge which is more formidable to
republics than all these evils combined, namely, military glory. It is
impossible to deny the inconceivable influence which military glory
exercises upon the spirit of a nation. General Jackson, whom the
Americans have twice elected to be the head of their government, is a
man of violent temper and mediocre talents; no one circumstance in the
whole course of his career ever proved that he is qualified to govern a
free people; and indeed the majority of the enlightened classes of the
Union has always been opposed to him. But he was raised to the
presidency, and has been maintained in that lofty station, solely by the
recollection of a victory which he gained, twenty years ago, under the
walls of New Orleans; a victory which was, however, a very ordinary
achievement, and which could only be remembered in a country where
battles are rare. Now the people who are thus carried away by the
illusions of glory, are unquestionably the most cold and calculating,
the most unmilitary (if I may use the expression), and the most prosaic
of all the peoples of the earth.

America has no great capital city,[199] whose influence is directly or
indirectly felt over the whole extent of the country, which I hold to be
one of the first causes of the maintenance of republican institutions in
the United States. In cities, men cannot be prevented from concerting
together, and from awakening a mutual excitement which prompts sudden
and passionate resolutions. Cities may be looked upon as large
assemblies, of which all the inhabitants are members; their populace
exercises a prodigious influence upon the magistrates, and frequently
executes its own wishes without their intervention.

To subject the provinces to the metropolis, is therefore not only to
place the destiny of the empire in the hands of a portion of the
community, which may be reprobated as unjust, but to place it in the
hands of a populace acting under its own impulses, which must be avoided
as dangerous. The preponderance of capital cities is therefore a serious
blow upon the representative system; and it exposes modern republics to
the same defect as the republics of antiquity, which all perished from
not being acquainted with that system.

It would be easy for me to adduce a great number of secondary causes
which have contributed to establish, and which concur to maintain, the
democratic republic of the United States. But I discern two principal
circumstances among these favorable elements, which I hasten to point
out. I have already observed that the origin of the American settlements
may be looked upon as the first and most efficacious cause to which the
present prosperity of the United States may be attributed. The Americans
had the chances of birth in their favor; and their forefathers imported
that equality of conditions into the country, whence the democratic
republic has very naturally taken its rise. Nor was this all they did;
for besides this republican condition of society, the early settlers
bequeathed to their descendants those customs, manners, and opinions,
which contribute most to the success of a republican form of government.
When I reflect upon the consequences of this primary circumstance,
methinks I see the destiny of America embodied in the first puritan who
landed on those shores, just as the human race was represented by the
first man.

The chief circumstance which has favored the establishment and the
maintenance of a democratic republic in the United States, is the
nature of the territory which the Americans inhabit. Their ancestors
gave them the love of equality and of freedom: but God himself gave them
the means of remaining equal and free, by placing them upon a boundless
continent, which is open to their exertions. General prosperity is
favorable to the stability of all governments, but more particularly of
a democratic constitution, which depends upon the disposition of the
majority, and more particularly of that portion of the community which
is most exposed to feel the pressure of want. When the people rules, it
must be rendered happy, or it will overturn the state: and misery is apt
to stimulate it to those excesses to which ambition rouses kings. The
physical causes, independent of the laws, which contribute to promote
general prosperity, are more numerous in America than they have ever
been in any other country in the world, at any other period of history.
In the United States, not only is legislation democratic, but nature
herself favors the cause of the people.

In what part of human tradition can be found anything at all similar to
that which is occurring under our eyes in North America? The celebrated
communities of antiquity were all founded in the midst of hostile
nations, which they were obliged to subjugate before they could flourish
in their place. Even the moderns have found, in some parts of South
America, vast regions inhabited by a people of inferior civilisation,
but which occupied and cultivated the soil. To found their new states,
it was necessary to extirpate or to subdue a numerous population, until
civilisation has been made to blush for their success. But North America
was only inhabited by wandering tribes, who took no thought of the
natural riches of the soil: and that vast country was still, properly
speaking, an empty continent, a desert land awaiting its inhabitants.

Everything is extraordinary in America, the social condition of the
inhabitants, as well as the laws; but the soil upon which these
institutions are founded is more extraordinary than all the rest. When
man was first placed upon the earth by the Creator, that earth was
inexhaustible in its youth; but man was weak and ignorant: and when he
had learned to explore the treasures which it contained, hosts of his
fellow-creatures covered its surface, and he was obliged to earn an
asylum for repose and for freedom by the sword. At that same period
North America was discovered, as if it had been kept in reserve by the
Deity, and had just risen from beneath the waters of the deluge.

That continent still presents, as it did in the primeval time, rivers
which rise from never-failing sources, green and moist solitudes, and
fields which the ploughshare of the husbandman has never turned. In this
state it is offered to man, not in the barbarous and isolated condition
of the early ages, but to a being who is already in possession of the
most potent secrets of the natural world, who is united to his
fellow-men, and instructed by the experience of fifty centuries. At this
very time thirteen millions of civilized Europeans are peaceably
spreading over those fertile plains, with whose resources and whose
extent they are not yet accurately acquainted. Three or four thousand
soldiers drive the wandering races of the aborigines before them; these
are followed by the pioneers, who pierce the woods, scare off the beasts
of prey, explore the courses of the inland streams, and make ready the
triumphal procession of civilisation across the waste.

The favorable influence of the temporal prosperity of America upon the
institutions of that country has been so often described by others, and
adverted to by myself, that I shall not enlarge upon it beyond the
addition of a few facts. An erroneous notion is generally entertained,
that the deserts of America are peopled by European emigrants, who
annually disembark upon the coasts of the New World, while the American
population increases and multiplies upon the soil which its forefathers
tilled. The European settler, however, usually arrives in the United
States without friends, and sometimes without resources; in order to
subsist he is obliged to work for hire, and he rarely proceeds beyond
that belt of industrious population which adjoins the ocean. The desert
cannot be explored without capital or credit, and the body must be
accustomed to the rigors of a new climate before it can be exposed to
the chances of forest life. It is the Americans themselves who daily
quit the spots which gave them birth, to acquire extensive domains in a
remote country. Thus the European leaves his country for the
transatlantic shores; and the American, who is born on that very coast,
plunges into the wilds of central America. This double emigration is
incessant: it begins in the remotest parts of Europe, it crosses the
Atlantic ocean, and it advances over the solitudes of the New World.
Millions of men are marching at once toward the same horizon; their
language, their religion, their manners differ, their object is the
same. The gifts of fortune are promised in the west, and to the west
they bend their course.

No event can be compared with this continuous removal of the human race,
except perhaps those irruptions which preceded the fall of the Roman
Empire. Then, as well as now, generations of men were impelled forward
in the same direction to meet and struggle on the same spot; but the
designs of Providence were not the same; then, every new comer was the
harbinger of destruction and of death; now, every adventurer brings with
him the elements of prosperity and of life. The future still conceals
from us the ulterior consequences of this emigration of the American
toward the west; but we can hardly apprehend its more immediate results.
As a portion of the inhabitants annually leave the states in which they
were born, the population of these states increases very slowly,
although they have long been established: thus in Connecticut, which
only contains 59 inhabitants to the square mile, the population has not
been increased by more than one quarter in forty years, while that of
England has been augmented by one third in the lapse of the same period.
The European emigrant always lands, therefore, in a country which is but
half full, and where hands are in request: he becomes a workman in easy
circumstances; his son goes to seek his fortune in unpeopled regions,
and he becomes a rich landowner. The former amasses the capital which
the latter invests, and the stranger as well as the native is
unacquainted with want.

The laws of the United States are extremely favorable to the division of
property; but a cause which is more powerful than the laws prevents
property from being divided to excess.[200] This is very perceptible in
the states which are beginning to be thickly peopled; Massachusetts is
the most populous part of the Union, but it contains only 80 inhabitants
to the square mile, which is much less than in France, where 162 are
reckoned to the same extent of country. But in Massachusetts estates are
very rarely divided; the eldest son takes the land, and the others go to
seek their fortune in the desert. The law has abolished the right of
primogeniture, but circumstances have concurred to re-establish it under
a form of which none can complain, and by which no just rights are

A single fact will suffice to show the prodigious number of individuals
who leave New England, in this manner, to settle themselves in the
wilds. We were assured in 1830, that thirty-six of the members of
congress were born in the little state of Connecticut. The population of
Connecticut, which constitutes only one forty-third part of that of the
United States, thus furnished one-eighth of the whole body of
representatives. The state of Connecticut, however, only sends five
delegates to congress; and the thirty-one others sit for the new western
states. If these thirty-one individuals had remained in Connecticut, it
is probable that instead of becoming rich landowners they would have
remained humble laborers, that they would have lived in obscurity
without being able to rise into public life, and that, far from becoming
useful members of the legislature, they might have been unruly citizens.

These reflections do not escape the observation of the Americans any
more than of ourselves. "It cannot be doubted," says Chancellor Kent in
his Treatise on American Law, "that the division of landed estates must
produce great evils when it is carried to such excess that each parcel
of land is insufficient to support a family; but these disadvantages
have never been felt in the United States, and many generations must
elapse before they can be felt. The extent of our inhabited territory,
the abundance of adjacent land, and the continual stream of emigration
flowing from the shores of the Atlantic toward the interior of the
country, suffice as yet, and will long suffice, to prevent the
parcelling out of estates."

It is difficult to describe the rapacity with which the American rushes
forward to secure the immense booty which fortune proffers to him. In
the pursuit he fearlessly braves the arrow of the Indian and the
distempers of the forest; he is unimpressed by the silence of the woods;
the approach of beasts of prey does not disturb him; for he is goaded
onward by a passion more intense than the love of life. Before him lies
a boundless continent, and he urges onward as if time pressed, and he
was afraid of finding no room for his exertions. I have spoken of the
emigration from the older states, but how shall I describe that which
takes place from the more recent ones? Fifty years have scarcely elapsed
since that of Ohio was founded; the greater part of its inhabitants were
not born within its confines; its capital has only been built thirty
years, and its territory is still covered by an immense extent of
uncultivated fields; nevertheless, the population of Ohio is already
proceeding westward, and most of the settlers who descend to the fertile
savannahs of Illinois are citizens of Ohio. These men left their first
country to improve their condition; they quit their resting-place to
meliorate it still more; fortune awaits them everywhere, but happiness
they cannot attain. The desire of prosperity has become an ardent and
restless passion in their minds, which grows by what it gains. They
early broke the ties which bound them to their natal earth, and they
have contracted no fresh ones on their way. Emigration was at first
necessary to them as a means of subsistence; and it soon becomes a sort
of game of chance, which they pursue for the emotions it excites, as
much as for the gain it procures.

Sometimes the progress of man is so rapid that the desert reappears
behind him. The woods stoop to give him a passage, and spring up again
when he has passed. It is not uncommon in crossing the new states of the
west to meet with deserted dwellings in the midst of the wilds; the
traveller frequently discovers the vestiges of a log-house in the most
solitary retreats, which bear witness to the power, and no less to the
inconstancy of man. In these abandoned fields, and over those ruins of a
day, the primeval forest soon scatters a fresh vegetation; the beasts
resume the haunts which were once their own; and nature covers the
traces of man's path with branches and with flowers, which obliterate
his evanescent track.

I remember that in crossing one of the woodland districts which still
cover the state of New York, I reached the shore of a lake, which was
embosomed with forests coeval with the world. A small island, covered
with woods, whose thick foliage concealed its banks, rose from the
centre of the waters. Upon the shores of the lake no object attested the
presence of man, except a column of smoke which might be seen on the
horizon rising from the tops of the trees to the clouds, and seeming to
hang from heaven rather than to be mounting to the sky. An Indian
shallop was hauled up on the sand, which tempted me to visit the islet
that had at first attracted my attention, and in a few minutes I set
foot upon its banks. The whole island formed one of those delicious
solitudes of the New World, which almost lead civilized man to regret
the haunts of the savage. A luxuriant vegetation bore witness to the
incomparable fruitfulness of the soil. The deep silence, which is common
to the wilds of North America, was only broken by the hoarse cooing of
the wood-pigeon and the tapping of the woodpecker upon the bark of
trees. I was far from supposing that this spot had ever been inhabited,
so completely did nature seem to be left to her own caprices; but when I
reached the centre of the isle I thought that I discovered some traces
of man. I then proceeded to examine the surrounding objects with care,
and I soon perceived that an European had undoubtedly been led to seek a
refuge in this retreat. Yet what changes had taken place in the scene of
his labors! The logs which he had hastily hewn to build himself a shed
had sprouted afresh; the very props were intertwined with living
verdure, and his cabin was transformed into a bower. In the midst of
these shrubs a few stones were to be seen, blackened with fire and
sprinkled with thin ashes; here the hearth had no doubt been, and the
chimney in falling had covered it with rubbish. I stood for some time in
silent admiration of the exuberance of nature and the littleness of man;
and when I was obliged to leave that enchanting solitude, I exclaimed
with melancholy, "Are ruins, then, already here?"

In Europe we are wont to look upon a restless disposition, an unbounded
desire of riches, and an excessive love of independence, as propensities
very formidable to society. Yet these are the very elements which ensure
a long and peaceful duration to the republics of America. Without these
unquiet passions the population would collect in certain spots, and
would soon be subject to wants like those of the Old World, which it is
difficult to satisfy; for such is the present good fortune of the New
World, that the vices of its inhabitants are scarcely less favorable to
society than their virtues. These circumstances exercise a great
influence on the estimation in which human actions are held in the two
hemispheres. The Americans frequently term what we should call cupidity
a laudable industry; and they blame as faint-heartedness what we
consider to be the virtue of moderate desires.

In France simple tastes, orderly manners, domestic affections, and the
attachment which men feel to the place of their birth, are looked upon
as great guarantees of the tranquillity and happiness of the state. But
in America nothing seems to be more prejudicial to society than these
virtues. The French Canadians, who have faithfully preserved the
traditions of their pristine manners, are already embarrassed for room
upon their small territory; and this little community, which has so
recently begun to exist, will shortly be a prey to the calamities
incident to old nations. In Canada the most enlightened, patriotic, and
humane inhabitants, make extraordinary efforts to render the people
dissatisfied with those simple enjoyments which still content it. There
the seductions of wealth are vaunted with as much zeal, as the charms of
an honest but limited income in the Old World: and more exertions are
made to excite the passions of the citizens there than to calm them
elsewhere. If we listen to the eulogies, we shall hear that nothing is
more praiseworthy than to exchange the pure and homely pleasures which
even the poor man tastes in his own country, for the dull delights of
prosperity under a foreign sky; to leave the patrimonial hearth, and the
turf beneath which his forefathers sleep; in short, to abandon the
living and the dead in quest of fortune.

At the present time America presents a field for human effort, far more
extensive than any sum of labor which can be applied to work it. In
America, too much knowledge cannot be diffused; for all knowledge, while
it may serve him who possesses it, turns also to the advantage of those
who are without it. New wants are not to be feared, since they can be
satisfied without difficulty; the growth of human passions need not be
dreaded, since all passions may find an easy and a legitimate object:
nor can men be put in possession of too much freedom, since they are
scarcely ever tempted to misuse their liberties.

The American republics of the present day are like companies of
adventurers, formed to explore in common the waste lands of the New
World, and busied in a flourishing trade. The passions which agitate the
Americans most deeply, are not their political, but their commercial
passions; or, to speak more correctly, they introduce the habits they
contract in business into their political life. They love order, without
which affairs do not prosper; and they set an especial value upon a
regular conduct, which is the foundation of a solid business; they
prefer the good sense which amasses large fortunes, to that enterprising
spirit which frequently dissipates them; general ideas alarm their
minds, which are accustomed to positive calculations; and they hold
practice in more honor than theory.

It is in America that one learns to understand the influence which
physical prosperity exercises over political actions, and even over
opinions which ought to acknowledge no sway but that of reason; and it
is more especially among strangers that this truth is perceptible. Most
of the European emigrants to the New World carry with them that wild
love of independence and of change, which our calamities are apt to
engender. I sometimes met with Europeans, in the United States, who had
been obliged to leave their own country on account of their political
opinions. They all astonished me by the language they held; but one of
them surprised me more than all the rest. As I was crossing one of the
most remote districts of Pennsylvania, I was benighted, and obliged to
beg for hospitality at the gate of a wealthy planter, who was a
Frenchman by birth. He bade me sit down beside his fire, and we began to
talk with that freedom which befits persons who meet in the backwoods,
two thousand leagues from their native country. I was aware that my host
had been a great leveller and an ardent demagogue, forty years ago, and
that his name was not unknown to fame. I was therefore not a little
surprised to hear him discuss the rights of property as an economist or
a landowner might have done: he spoke of the necessary gradations which
fortune established among men, of obedience to established laws, of the
influence of good morals in commonwealths, and of the support which
religious opinions give to order and to freedom; he even went so far as
to quote an evangelical authority in corroboration of one of his
political tenets.

I listened, and marvelled at the feebleness of human reason. A
proposition is true or false, but no art can prove it to be one or the
other, in the midst of the uncertainties of science and the conflicting
lessons of experience, until a new incident disperses the clouds of
doubt; I was poor, I become rich; and I am not to expect that prosperity
will act upon my conduct, and leave my judgment free: my opinions change
with my fortune, and the happy circumstances which I turn to my
advantage, furnish me with that decisive argument which was before

[The sentence beginning "I was poor, I become rich," &c, struck the
editor, on perusal, as obscure, if not contradictory. The original seems
more explicit, and justice to the author seems to require that it should
be presented to the reader. "J'etais pauvre, me voici riche; du moins,
si le bien-etre, en agissant sur ma conduite, laissait mon jugement en
liberte! Mais non, mes opinions sont en effet changees avec ma fortune,
et, dans l'evenement heureux dont je profite, j'ai reellement decouvert
la raison determinante qui jusque-la m'avait manque."--_American

The influence of prosperity acts still more freely upon the American
than upon strangers. The American has always seen the connexion of
public order and public prosperity, intimately united as they are, go on
before his eyes; he does not conceive that one can subsist without the
other; he has therefore nothing to forget: nor has he, like so many
Europeans, to unlearn the lessons of his early education.

* * * * *


Three principal Causes of the Maintenance of the democratic Republic.--
Federal Constitutions.--Municipal Institutions.--Judicial Power.

The principal aim of this book has been to make known the laws of the
United States; if this purpose has been accomplished, the reader is
already enabled to judge for himself which are the laws that really tend
to maintain the democratic republic, and which endanger its existence.
If I have not succeeded in explaining this in the whole course of my
work, I cannot hope to do so within the limits of a single chapter. It
is not my intention to retrace the path I have already pursued; and a
very few lines will suffice to recapitulate what I have previously

Three circumstances seem to me to contribute most powerfully to the
maintenance of the democratic republic in the United States.

The first is that federal form of government which the Americans have
adopted, and which enables the Union to combine the power of a great
empire with the security of a small state;--

The second consists in those municipal institutions which limit the
despotism of the majority, and at the same time impart a taste for
freedom, and a knowledge of the art of being free, to the people;--

The third is to be met with in the constitution of the judicial power. I
have shown in what manner the courts of justice serve to repress the
excesses of democracy; and how they check and direct the impulses of the
majority, without stopping its activity.

* * * * *


I have previously remarked that the manners of the people may be
considered as one of the general causes to which the maintenance of a
democratic republic in the United States is attributable. I here use the
word _manners_, with the meaning which the ancients attached to the word
_mores_; for I apply it not only to manners, in their proper sense of
what constitutes the character of social intercourse, but I extend it to
the various notions and opinions current among men, and to the mass of
those ideas which constitute their character of mind. I comprise,
therefore, under this term the whole moral and intellectual condition of
a people. My intention is not to draw a picture of American manners, but
simply to point out such features of them as are favorable to the
maintenance of political institutions.

* * * * *


North America peopled by Men who professed a democratic and republican
Christianity.--Arrival of the Catholics.--For what Reason the Catholics
form the most democratic and the most republican Class at the present

Every religion is to be found in juxtaposition to a political opinion,
which is connected with it by affinity. If the human mind be left to
follow its own bent, it will regulate the temporal and spiritual
institutions of society upon one uniform principle; and man will
endeavor, if I may use the expression, to harmonize the state in which
he lives upon earth, with the state he believes to await him in heaven.

The greatest part of British America was peopled by men who, after
having shaken off the authority of the pope, acknowledged no other
religious supremacy: they brought with them into the New World a form of
Christianity, which I cannot better describe, than by styling it a
democratic and republican religion. This sect contributed powerfully to
the establishment of a democracy and a republic; and from the earliest
settlement of the emigrants, politics and religion contracted an
alliance which has never been dissolved.

About fifty years ago Ireland began to pour a catholic population into
the United States; on the other hand, the catholics of America made
proselytes, and at the present moment more than a million of Christians,
professing the truths of the church of Rome, are to be met with in the
Union. These catholics are faithful to the observances of their
religion; they are fervent and zealous in the support and belief of
their doctrines. Nevertheless they constitute the most republican and
the most democratic class of citizens which exists in the United States;
and although this fact may surprise the observer at first, the cause by
which it is occasioned may easily be discovered upon reflection.

I think that the catholic religion has erroneously been looked upon as
the natural enemy of democracy. Among the various sects of Christians,
catholicism seems to me, on the contrary, to be one of those which are
most favorable to the equality of conditions. In the catholic church,
the religious community is composed of only two elements; the priest and
the people. The priest alone rises above the rank of his flock, and all
below him are equal.

On doctrinal points the catholic faith places all human capacities upon
the same level; it subjects the wise and the ignorant, the man of genius
and the vulgar crowd, to the details of the same creed; it imposes the
same observances upon the rich and needy, it inflicts the same
austerities upon the strong and the weak, it listens to no compromises
with mortal man, but reducing all the human race to the same standard,
it confounds all the distinctions of society at the foot of the same
altar, even as they are confounded in the sight of God. If catholicism
predisposes the faithful to obedience, it certainly does not prepare
them for inequality; but the contrary may be said of protestantism,
which generally tends to make men independent, more than to render them

Catholicism is like an absolute monarchy; if the sovereign be removed,
all the other classes of society are more equal than they are in
republics. It has not unfrequently occurred that the catholic priest has
left the service of the altar to mix with the governing powers of
society, and to make his place among the civil gradations of men. This
religious influence has sometimes been used to secure the interests of
that political state of things to which he belonged. At other times
catholics have taken the side of aristocracy from a spirit of religion.

But no sooner is the priesthood entirely separated from the government,
as is the case in the United States, than it is found that no class of
men are more naturally disposed than the catholics to transfuse the
doctrine of the equality of conditions into the political world. If,
then, the catholic citizens of the United States are not forcibly led by
the nature of their tenets to adopt democratic and republican
principles, at least they are not necessarily opposed to them; and their
social position, as well as their limited number, obliges them to adopt
these opinions. Most of the catholics are poor, and they have no chance
of taking a part in the government unless it be open to all the
citizens. They constitute a minority, and all rights must be respected
in order to ensure to them the free exercise of their own privileges.
These two causes induce them, unconsciously, to adopt political
doctrines which they would perhaps support with less zeal if they were
rich and preponderant.

The catholic clergy of the United States has never attempted to oppose
this political tendency; but it seeks rather to justify its results. The
priests in America have divided the intellectual world into two parts:
in the one they place the doctrines of revealed religion, which command
their assent; in the other they leave those truths, which they believe
to have been freely left open to the researches of political inquiry.
Thus the catholics of the United States are at the same time the most
faithful believers and the most zealous citizens.

It may be asserted that in the United States no religious doctrine
displays the slightest hostility to democratic and republican
institutions. The clergy of all the different sects holds the same
language; their opinions are consonant to the laws, and the human
intellect flows onward in one sole current.

I happened to be staying in one of the largest towns in the Union, when
I was invited to attend a public meeting which had been called for the
purpose of assisting the Poles, and of sending them supplies of arms and
money. I found two or three thousand persons collected in a vast hall
which had been prepared to receive them. In a short time a priest in his
ecclesiastical robes advanced to the front of the hustings: the
spectators rose, and stood uncovered, while he spoke in the following

"Almighty God! the God of armies! Thou who didst strengthen the hearts
and guide the arms of our fathers when they were fighting for the sacred
rights of national independence; thou who didst make them triumph over a
hateful oppression, and hast granted to our people the benefits of
liberty and peace; turn, O Lord, a favorable eye upon the other
hemisphere; pitifully look down upon that heroic nation which is even
now struggling as we did in the former time, and for the same rights
which we defended with our blood. Thou, who didst create man in the
likeness of the same image, let no tyranny mar thy work, and establish
inequality upon the earth. Almighty God! do thou watch over the destiny
of the Poles, and render them worthy to be free. May thy wisdom direct
their councils, and may thy strength sustain their arms! Shed forth thy
terror over their enemies; scatter the powers which take counsel against
them; and vouchsafe that the injustice which the world has beheld for
fifty years, be not consummated in our time. O Lord, who holdest alike
the hearts of nations and of men in thy powerful hand, raise up allies
to the sacred cause of right; arouse the French nation from the apathy
in which its rulers retain it, that it go forth again to fight for the
liberties of the world.

"Lord, turn not thou thy face from us, and grant that we may always be
the most religious as well as the freest people of the earth. Almighty
God, hear our supplications this day. Save the Poles, we beseech thee,
in the name of thy well beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who died
upon the cross for the salvation of men. Amen."

The whole meeting responded "Amen!" with devotion.

* * * * *


Christian Morality common to all Sects.--Influence of Religion upon the
Manners of the Americans.--Respect for the marriage Tie.--In what manner
Religion confines the Imagination of the Americans within certain
Limits, and checks the Passion of Innovation.--Opinion of the Americans
on the political Utility of Religion.--Their Exertions to extend and
secure its Predominance.

I have just shown what the direct influence of religion upon politics is
in the United States; but its indirect influence appears to me to be
still more considerable, and it never instructs the Americans more fully
in the art of being free than when it says nothing of freedom.

The sects which exist in the United States are innumerable. They all
differ in respect to the worship which is due from man to his Creator;
but they all agree in respect to the duties which are due from man to
man. Each sect adores the Deity in its own peculiar manner; but all the
sects preach the same moral law in the name of God. If it be of the
slightest importance to man, as an individual, that his religion should
be true, the case of society is not the same. Society has no future life
to hope for or to fear; and provided the citizens profess a religion,
the peculiar tenets of that religion are of very little importance to


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