Publication of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America during the early nineteenth century helped Americans of that era better appreciate the value of the work of the nation’s Founders. Tocqueville’s writings–which comment at length about the roles of immigrants–have been much quoted and remain as popular as when they were first published in 1835.
It has been said that the most important event in the life of Alexis de Tocqueville occurred before he was born. The
With his traveling companion
From these embryos, Tocqueville observed three principles at work in the United States. The first was equality of conditions. He noted there was no superiority of one class over others and that poverty and hardship were the best guarantees of equality. With the exception of New England, whose early inhabitants came primarily for religious reasons, the equality was enhanced by the common lack of education and resources among the immigrants. The second principle he observed was popular sovereignty. With European traditions of aristocracy and monarchy being broken, Tocqueville declared that Anglo-Americans were the first to establish and maintain the popular sovereignty being defined by European philosophers.
Combined with Tocqueville’s first two principles was public opinion, which he defined as the force that put democracy into action. He noted the complete freedom of public discussion that was carried into the legislative assemblies. Any conflicts that arose would be settled by a judiciary, which–unlike European judicial systems–was free from legislative or executive manipulation.
Tocqueville published De la démocratie en Amérique in two volumes in 1835 and 1840, and the English-language editions were published almost simultaneously as Democracy in America. His companion book, On the Penitentiary System in the United States and Its Application in France (1833), coauthored by Beaumont, addresses the stated purpose of his American visit. Both works give credit to the impact of the thirteen million European immigrants then spreading into the interior of America.
Brogan, Hugh. Alexis de Tocqueville: A Life. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2007. Heckerl, David K. “Democracy in America.” In American History Through Literature, 1820-1870, edited by Janet Gabler-Hover and Robert Sattelmeyer. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons/Thomson Gale, 2006. Tocqueville, Alexis de. Democracy in America. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer. New York: Library of America, 2004. Welch, Cheryl. De Tocqueville. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798
History of immigration, 1783-1891