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De Tocqueville's "democracy in America"

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Alexis De Tocqueville's Democracy in America

delves deep into how the American States and the federal government would grow

politically and socially under the umbrella of democracy. He sees the United

States as a unique entity because of how and why it started as well as its

geographical location.

De Tocqueville explains that the foundations of the

democratic process in America are completely different from anywhere else on

the globe. The land was virginal and the colonies had almost complete sovereignty

from England from the very beginning because they were separated by an ocean

and financial troubles. The people who came to America were the oppressed

and unhappy in England and all were trying to find a place where they could

start anew and create a political structure that would facilitate an individual

freedom unlike anything that they had previously experienced in Europe. De

Tocqueville believed that the nature of democracy in the New World rested within

the fact that all of the emigrants were basically from the same social strata,

resulting in the first new country where there was no preliminary basis for

an aristocracy. "Land is the basis of an aristocracy...and... [in America] when

the ground was prepared, its produce was found to be insufficient to enrich

a proprietor and a farmer at the same t

ime(41)." He saw that even the soil

of America was opposed to the structure of an aristocracy.


were also outside influences lending unvoiced support for the creation of this

new democracy. Being an ocean apart from its mother country, who at this time

did not have the financial reserves to oversee its colonies, let the Americans

govern themselves. If they had not had this sovereignty at the beginning America

might have become something completely different than it is today, but that

was not the case, so these emigrants now had a fertile place to plant their

ideas of a country founded upon the many ideas of the Enlightenment. Another

large influence was the lack of neighbors. America had no worries of guarding

and protecting its borders because there was not anyone there who could pose

a threat. They could put all of their energies toward the creation of their


This democratic nation was to have no aristocracy and only one

major division between its people: the North and the South. De Tocqueville

saw two very different attitudes in these regions. The North and the South

had conflicting views as to how they were going to advance themselves in the

economic and political arenas. But the introduction of slavery into labor

was the major conflict between the two. "Slavery...dishonors labor; it introduces

idleness into a society, and with idleness, ignorance and pride, luxury and

distress...The influence of slavery, united to the English character, explains

the manners and the social condition of the Southern States(42)." With the

advent of slavery, the South was creating a class system amongst themselves

that would not exist in the other regions of the States. The few Southern

founders were granted huge amounts of land with which to work, and instead

of diving into the land themselves like the northerners did with their smaller

pieces of land. They instead bought slaves and would eventually divide the

country in a nasty dispute over their handling of affairs.

He realized that

the majority of the influences over public policy were the men in the North.

They created the first public school system that was to be readily accessible

to the majority of the people. The enlightened idea that every man should

have access to knowledge was given exercise in this new nation, creating a

highly learned society, but one that is not very intellectual. Schools teach

specialized skills so that American can enter the work force as soon as possible,

but gloss over any areas that have no value in work. Whereas in England, the

few who do go on towards a higher education are actually being challenged and

forced to expand their minds, higher education in America is available to many,

but it is more specialized and very basic. This unlimited quantity, limited

quality relationship is seem by de Tocqueville as an inherent part of a democratic

society. This is because, "...there is no which the taste for intellectual

pleasures is transmitted with hereditary fortune and leisure

and [wherein]

...intellect [is] held in honor(53)."

Democracy is a facilitator



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