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Alexis De Tocqueville

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Essay title: Alexis De Tocqueville

Alexis De Tocqueville's Democracy in America is a 19th century masterpiece full of thought and theories so remarkable that it is still regarded as a top reference on the development of the United States of America. Alexis De Tocqueville was a Frenchman that was sent on a mission along with another researcher in 1831 to study the American prison system to help develop their own; however, Tocqueville was so impressed with the country, he went on to study the social, economical and political factors that defined the United States. As a foreigner that had never been to America before, Tocqueville was able to notice many things that were taken for granted by Americans and therefore his book was not only interesting to Europeans who were curious on how the country became so prosperous and successful, but was also a great resource for Americans themselves on how everything on this side of the hemisphere functioned and what they can do to improve it. Following his nine-month visit to America, Tocqueville wrote volume I of his book, showing optimism and focusing on major issues like freedom, equality, and government formation. In the second volume, he emphasized individualism and how living in a democratic country affects people's mentality and therefore the society as a whole. In his complete analysis of the nation, Tocqueville pointed out many problems with the democratic system and the United States under Andrew Jackson. He also suggested solutions to those problems and came up with his own ideas on how to develop an ideal democracy. In comparing the two volumes of the book, Tocqueville seemed to ignore slavery as a contributor to American life in the 1830's, as his definitions of equality and freedom excluded those of slaves. Otherwise, Tocqueville covered all the merits of democracy and all the threats posed by it, at the same time suggesting what could be changed for the better of the nation.

The first volume of the book started out by giving a physical description of the nation and analyzing the North compared to the South. Tocqueville viewed the south as being the more inhabitable area because he believed that land ownership should be based on agricultural ability. That excluded Indians from the civilized sect of society, but did not change the fact that they enjoyed freedom and equality. Tocqueville viewed those two factors as the foundation of any democracy. He believed that a developing democratic country should be based on the growth of equality of all people. Tocqueville found that religion and local governments have a prime effect on liberty in American society. He stressed the importance of localized governments as they can represent the people and run the state without receiving too much power and turning the system into a tyranny. He made a point that what Europeans do not understand is how local governments provide an essential form of liberty that would not exist if the only power was a centralized government. Religion in the United States, gave Americans the freedom to believe in whatever they wanted, since the church was separated from the state.

Another key factor that American democracy was founded on is the lack of Aristocracy. Although he does acknowledge slavery, Tocqueville did not regard slave owners as aristocrats because they did not receive special benefits from the government, and they managed their land as any other contributor in the industry. The government system for the twenty four states was the reason why that was possible. It did not allow for richer people to assume authority, as there existed Township administrations, state government and a Federal government. People felt a sense of urgency when it came to their local governments. It enabled them to practice their sovereignty by being able to run for office in their own Townships so they would be in control of things that affected them directly. That enhanced a sense of loyalty and citizenship among Americans, because if there were no local governments, they would feel neglected and ruled by outsiders. That was a major strength of the political system in America and had a crucial effect on equality and liberty.

On the other hand, in his analysis of the American governmental system, Tocqueville believed that even though a centralized local administration is a great way to ensure equality, a decentralized government was essential to ensure people's rights to exercise their freedom. It was the government of checks and balances that provided the most accessible freedom and the most available equality to the people. While the local government strived to make the people happy in order for the officials to get reelected, people of different divisions of the society gained similar rights. At the same time, the federal government would make sure that the people can exercise specific rights that they were, or became entitled to as the nation developed.


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