Alexis de Tocqueville on America


Alexis de Tocqueville

American Minute with Bill Federer

Alexis de Tocqueville was born JULY 29, 1805.

A French social scientist, he traveled the United States in 1831, and wrote a two-part work, Democracy in America (1835, 1840), which has been described as:

“the most comprehensive and penetrating analysis of the relationship between character and society in America that has ever been written.”

In it, de Tocqueville wrote:

“Upon my arrival in the United States the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there, the more I perceived the great political consequences resulting from this new state of things, to which I was unaccustomed.

In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom marching in opposite directions. But in America I found they were intimately united and that they reigned in common over the same country…”

De Tocqueville continued:

“They brought with them…a form of Christianity, which I cannot better describe, than by styling it a democratic and republican religion…

From the earliest settlement of the emigrants, politics and religion contracted an alliance which has never been dissolved.”

De Tocqueville wrote:

“Religion in America…must be regarded as the foremost of the political institutions of that country; for if it does not impart a taste for freedom, it facilitates the use of it…This opinion is not peculiar to a class of citizens or a party, but it belongs to the whole nation.”

De Tocqueville observed:

“The sects that exist in the United States are innumerable. They all differ in respect to the worship which is due to the Creator; but they all agree in respect to the duties which are due from man to man. Each sect adores the Deity in its own peculiar manner, but all sects preach the same moral law in the name of God…

Moreover, all the sects of the United States are comprised within the great unity of Christianity, and Christian morality is everywhere the same.”

De Tocqueville added:

“In the United States the sovereign authority is religious…There is no country in the whole world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence than in America…

America is still the place where the Christian religion has kept the greatest real power over men’s souls; and nothing better demonstrates how useful and natural it is to man, since the country where it now has the widest sway is both the most enlightened and the freest.”

De Tocqueville continued:

“In the United States the influence of religion is not confined to the manners, but it extends to the intelligence of the people…Christianity, therefore reigns without obstacle, by universal consent…”

De Tocqueville continued:

“The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other; and with them this conviction does not spring from that barren traditionary faith which seems to vegetate in the soul rather than to live.”

In Book Two of Democracy in America, de Tocqueville wrote:

“Christianity has therefore retained a strong hold on the public mind in America…In the United States…Christianity itself is a fact so irresistibly established, that no one undertakes either to attack or to defend it.”

In August of 1831, while traveling through Chester County, New York, Alexis de Tocqueville observed a court case:

“While I was in America, a witness, who happened to be called at the assizes of the county of Chester, declared that he did not believe in the existence of God or in the immortality of the soul. The judge refused to admit his evidence, on the ground that the witness had destroyed beforehand all confidence of the court in what he was about to say. The newspapers related the fact without any further comment.

The New York Spectator of August 23d, 1831, relates the fact in the following terms:

‘The court of common pleas of Chester county (New York), a few days since rejected a witness who declared his disbelief in the existence of God.

The presiding judge remarked, that he had not before been aware that there was a man living who did not believe in the existence of God; that this belief constituted the sanction of all testimony in a court of justice: and that he knew of no case in a Christian country, where a witness had been permitted to testify without such belief.’”

In Democracy in American, Vol. II, (1840), Book 1, Chapter V), Alexis de Tocqueville wrote:

“Mohammed brought down from heaven and put into the Koran not religious doctrines only, but political maxims, criminal and civil laws, and scientific theories.

The Gospels, on the other hand, deal only with the general relations between man and God and between man and man. Beyond that, they teach nothing and do not oblidge people to believe anything.

That alone, among a thousand reasons, is enough to show that Islam will not be able to hold its power long in an age of enlightenment and democracy, while Christianity is destined to reign in such age, as in all others.”

Alexis de Tocqueville wrote to Arthur de Gobineau, October 22, 1843 (Tocqueville Reader, p. 229):

“I studied the Koran a great deal. I came away from that study with the conviction there have been few religions in the world as deadly to men as that of Mohammed.

So far as I can see, it is the principle cause of the decadence so visible today in the Muslim world and, though less absurd than the polytheism of old, its social and political tendencies are in my opinion to be feared, and I therefore regard it as a form of decadence rather than a form of progress in relation to paganism itself.”


Bill FedererThe Moral Liberal contributing editor, William J. Federer, is the bestselling author of “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance no Longer Tolerates Religion,” and numerous other books. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet. Check out all of Bill’s bookshere.

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