Democracy in America: Top Ten Quotes

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  1. “To attempt to check democracy would be in that case to resist the will of God” (Introduction, p. 7)

    Tocqueville sees the march of democracy in the world, not as lawless rebellion, but as Providential and inevitable.
  2. “Land is the basis of an aristocracy, which clings to the soil that supports it; for it is not by privileges alone, nor by birth, but by landed property handed down from generation to generation that an aristocracy is constituted” (Chpt. II, p. 29).

    The great estates of France were the basis of a landed aristocracy, but in America, land is broken into smaller parcels so many can farm and have homes. The land is not passed on through the law of primogeniture but changes hands, so wealth circulates, and this contributes to equality.
  3. “ . . . the further electoral rights are extended, the greater is the need of extending them; for after each concession the strength of the democracy increases” (Chpt. IV, p. 57).

    Tocqueville shows the drive in a democracy for equality of rights, and of social equality. Once one group gets the vote, for instance, the more other groups feel entitled to an equal participation and voice in the government.
  4. “In America the people form a master who must be obeyed to the utmost limits of possibility” (Chpt. V, p. 62).

    He describes the principle of the sovereignty of the people in a democracy who are like a king in a monarchy.
  5. “It was never assumed in the United States that the citizen of a free country has a right to do whatever he pleases; on the contrary, more social obligations were there imposed upon him than anywhere else” (V, p. 71)

    Tocqueville speaks specifically to the fear Europeans had of democracy being a lawless state where anyone could do whatever they liked.
  6. “Do what you may, there is no true power among men except in the free union of their will; and patriotism and religion are the only two motives in the world that can long urge all the people towards the same end” (V, p. 93)

    Tocqueville speaks of what it takes to unify people into a true government. They must come together by free will and can remain that way only if there is a moral basis in mutual respect and loyalty to country.
  7. “When once the Americans have taken up an idea, whether it be well or ill founded, nothing is more difficult than to eradicate it from their minds”  (Chpt. XI, p. 188). 

    He finds that despite freedom of the press, Americans have strong and proud convictions, often not amenable to reasoning and open discussion.
  8. “In America there are factions, but no conspiracies”  (XII, p. 195).

    Tocqueville thinks that the right of free association, the right to form groups and meet on various issues, is a safeguard of free speech and assembly that assures disgruntled groups do not have to form secret societies and conspiracies against the government as they did in France.
  9. “In America society seems to live from hand to mouth, like an army in the field” (Chpt. XIII, p. 212).

    Here he speaks of the haphazard administration of a democracy that lurches along from election to election, constantly changing hands, never completing long term projects, as opposed to the more effective and permanent aristocratic administrations of European countries.
  10. “There is an amazing strength in the expression of the will of a whole people; and when it declares itself, even the imagination of those who wish to contest it is overawed” (Chpt. XIV, p. 247).

    Despite whatever blundering may take place in its ever-changing administration, a democracy like America creates awe in the onlooker when the people unite and express their will as one body.

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