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FOR JULY, 1840.
Art. I. Democracy in America, by ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE, Avo
cat à la cour Royale de Paris. Translated by HENRY Reeve, Esq. Third edition. Vols. I. and II. Part the Second, vols. III. and IV. London : Saunders and Otley. 1838–1840.
A CELEBRATED minister of state in Sweden once ex
claimed to his son, See with how little talent the world is governed ! Now however mortifying it may seem to admit the truth of such an assertion, it should also be at the same time remembered, that from the earliest ages of society downward, mankind through the consequences of the fall have been subjected to a mighty fraud, which has usurped the name and attributes of government. Patriarchism, despotism, monarchy, aristocracy, or democracy so called, have all and each with slight occasional exceptions, just deluded generation after generation. The art of ruling has been a craft rather than a science ;—for the most part an enormous imposture, rather than a substantial or genuine reality. Potentates have too often been monsters or fools in ermine and scarlet: their sceptre has been the wand of a juggler: their premiers or viziers have proved selfish satellites, glorying more or less in the sable livery of Satan : constitutional assemblies have been cunningly contrived machineries for fleecing and peeling an enlightened, gaping, public: so that through nearly the whole of this notable process, very little else has ever been necessary than felicity of fortune, dexterity of hand, some personal courage, and much matchless impudence. Yet it has all won and worn the venerable and dignified appellation of government in the page of history. We admit the exceptions, as
already intimated ; although, when the age of the world is recollected, together with its teeming population of immortal beings, their infrequency can scarcely fail to melt even Philosophy itself into tears. They form, indeed, the visible links of a chain, extending from the throne of God to the families of our species; which shines amidst a long night of darkness and corruption, as if to reassure us that His love is boundless and eternal,—and that better and brighter scenes are in store to be developed upon this very earth, and under these very heavens. Thus when the sparks of civilization were about to be trampled out by the foot of the proud Persian in Greece, a few republicans were providentially enabled to rescue the destinies of Europe on the field of Marathon. So also in the subsequent Sicilian and Roman annals, we perceive occasional operations of the popular principle emerging into light for the welfare of living myriads and succeeding millions. Even during the mediæval era, Arnold of Brescia, the consul Crescentius, and the tribune Rienzi, furnished similar examples. Switzerland followed in their train with better success : for heroism and patriotism breathed a purer atmosphere among the Alpine forests and lakes of the Oberland, than in the plains of Lombardy, or along the banks of the Tiber. Then ensued the contests of Holland with Spain; the commonwealth of Vane and Milton in England; the overthrow of feudalism in France; and, lastly, the Declaration of Independence in America. These, as well as several others, are allowed to have been exceptions to the wearisome and protracted farce, performed before the world by hereditary or tyrannical rulers, who in professing to labor for the benefit of their subjects, have in point of fact only lived for themselves. But marvellous changes are at hand. Where individuals, many years ago, exercised their natural rights and faculties either for action or speculation, enormous masses now do the same. Knowledge is everywhere breaking through the external surface of society, to make one universal protest against what Carlyle has designated as the Great Sham, in his History of the French Revolution. Democracy no longer looms in the distance, as an object important to the contemplations of the politician, yet unknown to the multitude. It stands out with gigantic proportions on the opposite shores of the Atlantic, whither the lapse of a fortnight is only now necessary to transport as many thousands as our Grand Westerns can carry, for personal examination of the phenomenon. The author of that remarkable work at the head of our article has not merely surveyed, -but investigated and analysed it. His translator has placed the book within the reach of those unaccustomed to a foreign language : and such has been the interest excited, that we feel happy to furnish our readers with the condensed essence of fourteen hundred pages ; to which it is our further intention to add some
remarks of our own, in order that the lucubrations of M. de Tocqueville may be brought more directly to bear upon the state of British society in the present day.
It would appear that during his residence in the United States he was struck with nothing so forcibly as with the general equality of conditions ; a fact extending far beyond the political character and laws of the country, and having no less an empire over civil society, than over the government itself. On looking back to Europe he seemed to discern a mighty movement tending towards some result analogous to that presented in the New World: in other words, he arrived at the conclusion that a revo. lution is going forward throughout the whole of Christendom. The various occurrences of national existence, he thinks, have everywhere turned to the advantage of democracy: the example of America having like the loadstone mountain, in the Arabian Nights' Entertainments, drawn all into the same track,-some unwillingly, and others unwittingly. He considers the gradual development of this equality in conditions as an evident providential fact,-as possessing all the characteristics of a divine decree,-as destined to become universal, durable, and eluding all human interference. The impulse, which is bearing us along, he imagines to be so strong that it cannot be stopped, whilst it is not yet so rapid but that it may possibly be guided. “The first duty imposed upon those who regulate our affairs, is to
educate the people,—to warm its faith,—to purify its morals, to direct its energies, – to substitute a knowledge of business for 'its inexperience, –and an acquaintance with its true interests for its blind propensities,– to adapt its government to time and ‘place,—and to modify it in compliance with the actors and occurrences of the age.' A new science of politics is thus indispensable. The spell of royalty has been broken. Subdivisions of property have diminished the distance which formerly separated the rich from the poor: though it nevertheless turns out, that the nearer our high and low classes in Europe draw to each other, the greater is their mutual hatred, and the more vehement has grown that envy and dread, with which each resists any claims of the other to power or authority. On this side the Atlantic, we are in a transitory state ; like a throng of countless persons passing out of one room into another through a very long, narrow, and intricate gallery: almost all are being pushed from our proper places, without having nearly arrived at the desired destination, where dishevelled hair and disconcerted garments may be suitably adjusted to the gravity of the occasion. But on the other side, there is a country, where this grand revolution may be imagined to have reached its natural limits. The democratic principle has there been allowed to spread and expatiate in perfect freedom, leaving out of sight for a moment the black spot of
negro-slavery. It has there put forth its consequences in the laws, by influencing manners. Not that it is to be concluded, , that though we shall experience some time or other analogous results, we shall be necessarily led to derive them from an exactly similar social organization. All that our author means is this : that the identity of the efficient cause of laws and manners 6 in the two countries is sufficient to account for the immense • interest we have in becoming acquainted with its effects in each • of them.'
He first touches on the geographical platform where these phenomena of equality in conditions are now being exhibited on their largest scale, and in their most complete development. We are introduced to North America, as divided into a couple of vast regions, one inclining towards the pole, and the other towards the equator. The valley of the Mississippi is unveiled in all its variety and vastness, as the most magnificent abode ever prepared by God for man, at present scarcely more than a mighty desert, in comparison of what it will one day be, when a hundred millions will live and prosper in it, from the Canadas to Mexico. America, as the single territory in which the starting-point of a great people has been clearly observable, the more excites our curiosity from that very circumstance. The earlier as well as the later emigrants differed amongst themselves in many respects, yet had certain features in common, and were placed in an analogous situation. Their language for the most part, was, or became one and the same. The parochial system was deeply rooted in the habits of the English as a fruitful germ of liberal institutions, carrying with itself in fact the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people. Such exiles, as these were, could have had in general no notion of superiority over one another. Their freedom was of that sort which is rocked in the cradle of the middle and lower classes : yet two distinct branches may be distinguished in the Anglo-American nation, which have hitherto grown up without altogether commingling. The Southerns, or Virginia settlers, were seekers of gold, with a plentiful admixture amongst them of aristocratic debauchees, fraudulent bankrupts, and discharged menials; they felt and recognized their equality of condition in having had to leave their native land; but an enervating climate prostrated any rising aspirations after true greatness; and we are not surprised to find slavery established amongst them even in the first quarter of the seventeenth century. Hence white labor in the presence of sable servitude became dishonorable. The Northerns, or New-Englanders, on the other hand, had set their foot on the rock at Plymouth, as pilgrims in the best sense of the word. Their eyes were fixed on heaven rather than earth. Their hearts had chosen the wilderness with a view not for time alone, but eternity. They possessed in proportion to their num