Author: Alexis de Tocqueville


Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–59), a French aristocrat and political theorist, traveled to the United States in the early 1830s to study American prisons and penitentiaries. However, he instead became fascinated by the social condition of equality and its effects on all aspects of American life. Tocqueville presented his findings and reflections in his magisterial Democracy in America (1835), still regarded by many as the most penetrating account of the democratic ethos in general and of American democracy in particular. Tocqueville was also active in French politics, first under the July Monarchy (1830–48) and then during the Second Republic (1849–51), which succeeded the February 1848 Revolution. He retired from political life after Louis Napoléon Bonaparte’s 1851 coup, and thereafter began work on The Old Regime and the Revolution (1856).

from Democracy in America

Alexis de Tocqueville

Although written long after the voyages of Columbus and the subsequent early encounters between the Europeans and the Native Americans, this selection is very useful for thinking about why those encounters turned out as they did. It also sheds light on the question dealt with by Schlesinger in the previous selection.