Alexis de Tocqueville

portrait by Theodore Chasserian

The European is to other races of men what man in general is to animate nature. When he cannot bend them to his use or make them serve his self-interests, he destroys them and makes them vanish little by little before him.

(1805 - 1859)

Observer, social historian

       Born in Paris on July 29, 1805,  Alexis de Tocqueville was an aristocrat by birth, and many of his relatives were killed during the bloody tyranny of the Reign of Terror.

       He travelled through America - ostensibly to study the penitentiary system - with a friend, Gustave de Beaumont in 1831-32.  His extraordinary observations of life in the new republic, Democracy in Ameria, were published four volumes, the first appearing in 1835.

      Like the second president, John Adams, whom he very much admired, deTocqueville loved liberty but he detested the crimes that had been committed in its name.  Belonging neither to the class which regarded the social revolution as an innovation to be resisted, nor to that which considered political equality the universal panacea for the evils of humanity, he resolved by personal observation of the results of democracy in the New World to ascertain its natural consequences, and to let his countrymen know what they had to hope, or fear, from this new republic.

    A decade before John O'Sullivan coined the term Manifest Destiny,  de Tocqueville peered into the American future - and across the frontier - with clear vision.  "This gradual and continuous progress of the European toward the Rocky Mountains has the solemnity of a providential event; it is like a deluge of men rising unabatedly, and daily driven onward by the hand of God!"

His mission, he said, was motivated by a burning desire to understand the "agitations that compelled France to attempt to grasp suddenly the liberties and happiness when had gained in our revolution," and, thanks to his devotion to his home country,  the young de Tocqueville was determined to "search out and subject to the test of reason" the basic principles of free government that had been embodied in the U.S. Constitutuion.  It has often been said that no mission was ever more honorably or justly conducted, or concluded with greater success or better results for the welfare of mankind.  His researches were logical and exhaustive.