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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: June 2012

General Introduction

Summary

The documents in Part II are drawn from a variety of sources – electoral and parliamentary speeches, academic discourses, private letters, diplomatic exchanges, and newspaper articles – that shed fresh light on the evolution of Tocqueville's views on America after 1840. As with his letters, they provide ample evidence that America never ceased to be an object of inquiry and interest for Tocqueville after the publication of Volume Two of Democracy in America. Indeed, their content complements the correspondence published in Part I of our book and in them we see clearly the influence of Tocqueville's exchanges with his American friends and acquaintances after 1840.

Two themes stand out in this regard. The first is Tocqueville's view that France and America made natural allies, especially when faced with the imperial ambitions of Great Britain. The second is Tocqueville's eagerness in the 1840s to cite America as an example of successful, constitutional government from which lessons could be drawn. These lessons included the benefits of federalism, bicameralism, judicial review, and respect for private property.

Nonetheless, America was largely absent from Tocqueville's last book, The Old Regime and the Revolution (1856). To understand the nature of feudal rights he turned his attention to Germany. To assess the mentality of the pre-revolutionary French peasantry he delved into the departmental archives at Tours and in Normandy.