|Alexis Charles Henri Clerel de Tocqueville, 1805-1859|
Editor’s note: When “De la democratie en l’Amerique” was published in January 1835, democracy was a work in progress. Its author Alexis Charles Henri Clerel de Tocqueville concluded that if there was to be future fairness in how nations should be governed Democracy was its best choice. Many feared Democracy, including deTocqueville, but he came to the realization that it was inevitable and that it should be studied. His masterpiece was written and published to show the world how Democracy worked in America and perhaps could be emulated/adapted worldwide, especially in Europe.
The following excerpt is published in this blog on primary election day June 7 to remind voters in California that the people are in charge.
DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA
“The People strictly may be said to govern
in the United States...despite the incessant agitation of parties, which attempt to gain their co-operation and to avail themselves of their support.”
“O, wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!
I have examined the institutions of the United States; I have passed their legislation in review, and I have depicted the present characteristics of political society in that country. But a sovereign power exists above these institutions and beyond these characteristic features which may destroy or modify them at itspleasure—I mean that of the people.
It remains to be shown in what manner this power, which regulates the laws, acts: its propensities and its passions remain to be pointed out, as well as the secret springs which retard, accelerate, or direct its irresistible course; and the effects of its unbounded authority, with the destiny which is probably reserved for it.
In America, the people appoints the legislative and the executive power, and furnishes the jurors who punish all offences against the laws. The American institutions are democratic, not only in their principle but in all their consequences; and the people elects its representatives directly, and for the most part annually, in order to insure their dependence.
The people is therefore the real directing power; and although the form of government is representative, it is evident that the opinions, the prejudices, the interests, and even the passions of the community are hindered by no durable obstacles from exercising a perpetual influence on society.
In the United States the majority governs in the name of the people, as is the case in all the countries in which the people is supreme. This majority is principally composed of peaceable citizens, who, either by inclination or by interest, are sincerely desirous of the welfare of their country. But they are surrounded by the incessant agitation of parties, which attempt to gain their co-operation and to avail themselves of their support.
Source: For the complete work in the public domain:
Note: This work was translated from the French by Henry Reeve, who at one time in his career was the editor of the distinguished journal, “The Edinburgh Review.”