Democracy in America was written out of Alexis De Tocqueville’s curiosity to see how a democracy was run effectively - Slick introduction. In his native country, France, a democratic form of government was failed many times, so in turn he wanted to study a stable and prosperous democracy to gain insight on how it functioned. Although democracy still seemed somewhat inevitable to Tocqueville, he wanted to analyze the form of government to pinpoint its strengths and counteract its weaknesses. Tocqueville believed that aristocracies within governments were on a slow decline, because of the many benefits equality.
Alexis De Tocqueville, 26, and his partner Gustave de Beaumont, 29 set out on a journey to America on April 2, 1831. These two Frenchman planned on staying in America to study different institutions such as prisons, churches, cities, schools, and all of its inhabitants. Since this form of government was not very well known in France, they want to survey it, and have record of American history and character (Tocqueville 7).
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Tocqueville’s key themes of work are religion, democracy and liberty. All of his observations while in America where based off these three central themes. “The relationship among religion, democracy, and liberty is especially critical to our understanding of what Tocqueville noticed, valued, and ultimately concluded about America (Tocqueville 16)”.
After several months of observation in America, Tocqueville begins to look at the make-up of society and the people inhabiting America. He believed that every nation had “national character and identity”, such as his native country France, England, Italy, and Scotland. With America, he noticed that there were many backgrounds that made up America culture. For that he often referred to “people that lived in the United States as “Anglo-Americans” (Tocqueville 20-21).
He also compared and studied United States government, with French government. French government was very centralized, and seemed to intrude on daily life of the people, while United States government was quite the opposite. United States government did not seem intrusive to everyday life for a citizen of the US. This observation led Tocqueville to believe that Americans were somewhat unconcerned with governmental affairs, but they still expressed a need to have stable government. He felt Americans needed/ wanted a strong central government because they wanted to pursue their own personal dreams (Tocqueville 21).
Tocqueville also observed that American had a uniformed public opinion which worried him. He felt as though because Americans views were so very uniformed, that they would be unable to accept different views on different issues. This worried Tocqueville, he felt as if Americans held equality to a higher degree rather than liberty. He says, “When citizens are almost all equal, it becomes difficult for them to defend their independence from the aggressions of authority (Tocqueville 21).
As far as the attitudes, and the practice of American people Tocqueville felt as if modest Americans, especially women were very modest. He felt that the way American women behaved were almost unfeasible. Tocqueville was certainly not used to this in his native home, France. He also noticed that Americans did value practice over theory. He felt like American’s were often very busy acquiring the “American dream”, that they did not take much time out to be social (Tocqueville 21).
Although Tocqueville was quite shocked by these observations, he admired a lot of things about America. He felt that Americans were by the most educated people in the world, there were hardly few Americans that were ignorant, or illiterate. Tocqueville also felt that the American political system functioned very well (Tocqueville 21).
As I mentioned before, Tocqueville thought that American held being in equal in society to a higher stander than having their own freedom and liberty. Tocqueville felt like Americans felt being equal made way for a better opportunity for them to achieve their goals in America. Tocqueville observed that in America no one person had any basis or right to claim the right to rule over another. This observation led to Tocqueville’s concern of a Tyrannical government. He said since all peoples opinion are held as equal, the majority will automatically take precedence over the minority, leaving the minority with little or no say so in any issues. In Chapter 7 of Democracy of America, Tocqueville says; “Formerly tyranny used the clumsy weapons of chains and hangmen; nowadays even despotism, though it seemed to have nothing to learn, has been perfected by civilization. . . . Under the absolute government of a single man, despotism, to reach the soul, clumsily struck at the body, and the soul, escaping from such glows, rose gloriously above it; but in democratic republics that is not at all how tyranny behaves; it leaves the body alone and goes straight for the soul (Tocqueville 74-75).”
Tocqueville felt as if Americans did not value liberty the same way he did. He felt liberty was essential to have while functioning in society, but on the contrary he felt Americans did not feel that way. He thought that Americans valued being looked at as an equal in society rather than having control over their own actions which was one of his big worries.
American people appreciated the written work “Democracy of America. The appreciated Tocqueville his clarity throughout the book, and also his ability to balance out his opinions with proof throughout the story. Within the year the book was released Tocqueville received great praise for his work, “Democracy of America: was soon to become one of the most greatest works of social theory as well as political science (Tocqueville 29).