tv [untitled] June 17, 2012 12:00am-12:30am EDT
else are we going to get something that will produce something such as this? and i think we need to give another round applause to our panelists. each week, american history tv sits in on a lecture with one of the nation's college professors. you can watch the classes here every saturday at 8:00 p.m. and midnight eastern and sundays at 1:00 p.m. this week, author and political commentator michael barone examines the writings and observations of the aristocrat alexis de toqueville focuses on liberty, equality and community. toqueville is best known for his two volume work, democracy in america, based on his traveled around america in the 1830s. mr. barone was a guest lecturer at the citadel military college in charleston, south carolina, in a course called the
conservative intellectual tradition in america. this is just under two hours. >> well, thank you very much. it's an honor to be here and a special honor to be asked to speak on the fragility of ordered liberty and to speak on alexis de toqueville and re, re-reading de toqueville in preparation for this lecture, i kind of think he was something like mozart nap i was in the presence of the mind so far along almost anyone else in history that it almost book nos comparison with anybody else. you can listen to the music of mozart and it sounds pleasant and melodic and so forth, but if you really think about it, if you really analyze it, you realize that he's doing thing
nos one else had ever done or was capable of doing, that it's so far above the level of ordinary even impressive achievement. that you're in the pressen of something rare. and i think you see the same thing with toqueville. it's easy to read toqueville fairly fast. you're in front of a television set. there's a conversation in the next room. you're starting to think about what you have to do an hour from now and what you have to pick up at the store and you lose track of the fact that tocqueville really requires close attention and when you pay him that close attention, you realize that you're in the presence of somebody extraordinary. and what is interesting about this parallel is that both of these men did their great work as young men. it's a little daunting perhaps eve ton a college audience that mozart died at age 35.
de toqueville devised two volume bice the time he was 35. that -- he did other great work later. if he had died at age 35, the publication of "democracy in america" at the same age as mozart i think we would still know he was a great man and way above the ordinary level achievement and has much to teach us today. so let me begin by recalling that on the 11th day of may, 1831, two young french aristocrats alexis de toqueville and his friend gustav beaumont arrived in newport rhode island on their way to new york after sailing 38 days from france. they were lawyers with the commission for the french government to study american prisons, which they did, but they did much more. for during the course of his 288 days of travels in the young republic, tocqueville who was only 25 years old when he landed, not much older than
today's undergraduates, made the observations and accumulated the material which he fashioned in two volumes of "democracy in america," which the political scientist and toqueville translator harvey mansfield has called the best book ever written on democracy and the best book ever written on america. he conversed with president andrew jackson at a reception at the white house, sat next to former president john quincy adams at dinner in boston, he was escorted around washington by joel pointset, the charleston born botanist and future secretary of war and by edward everett the boston born lawyer and future secretary of state. he met 95-year-old charles carroll, the last surviving signer of the declaration of independence and the only catholic to sign that document. sam houston, the first president of the republic of texas. he attended town meetings in new england, observed slave markets in the south, he visited indian villages in the michigan territory voyaged on steamboats
shortly amp he disembarked, blew up, a highly hazardous form of transportation. he travelled by stagecoach, he went to columbia, south carolina. he did not unfortunately for himself make it to charleston. tocqueville was aristocrat whose family suffered during the french revolution. they could trace their heritage back to norman times the invasion of william the conqueror. his great grandfather malazar, a distinguished philosophy and lawyer who was defense counsel in the trial of king loopy the xvi was guillotined once amp his father. tocqueville's father escaped the gee teen only because of the fall of robespierre three days before he was scheduled as well and when he left the prison at age 22, his hair had turned completely white. this was a family that was traumatized by this great event in history, the french revolution. as a child tocqueville was born
in 1805, met the restored king louis the xviii after the down fall of napoleon, and the specter of bloodshed and the tea malt of-of-tumult of the revolution and threat of another revolution was always in their thoughts. and he came from a background which considered the french revolution a great disaster. in the first lecture in this course, alfred recounted how the ideas of american conservatism had roots notice four cities, jerusalem, athens, rome and london, conspicuously absent from this list is paris. still ruled by a monarch in a centralized bureaucracy with limited power to a legislature whose members were chosen by a very small electorate. tocqueville knew before his arrival that america was different. something that he wanted to see that, it was a democracy. the word he used in his title.
and democracy was something that the people in many whose circles he lived and the family in which he had grown up regarded with dread. the young republican evolved in important ways from the days of the founders revolutionary america was still a somewhat differential society not an aristocratic society like europe, and at the time of the constitution, most states allowed only those with a certain amount of property to vote. that's why the framers of the constitution provided that the house of the representatives should be chosen by the same electorate that chose the most numerous house in the state legislature that would be as wide a franchise but not a complete franchise of all adult male citizens. it was considered dangerous in the british tradition and the american tradition to allow those without property, without a stake in society to be in a position to determine the course of government, and this is indeed a tradition that comes to
us as well from athens and rome. where they also felt that the property, people with a stake in society, should have a monopoly on political power and on the vote. but in the first decades of the republic as historian gordon wood has written, american society became less differential and more democratic in character. tocqueville was struck when former president adams was treated as just another guest at dinner, and he notes in his letters home that he is surprised that he wasn't treated like a monarch. people didn't bow down before him but simply said hello. by the 1830s, almost all the states, south carolina was an exception, had extended the vote to all white adult males. some still resisted as john randolph of roanoke did at virginia's constitutional convention decrying "the all prevailing principle that will numbers and numbers alone are to regulate all things in political society and the prospect that government was to divorce
property from power." in should be connected and not divorced, but by the time toqueville arrived, this was a mine orority view and virginia elsewhere. to most legislators, universal suffrage, limited to adult white males. we obviously do not limit it to whites and to males anymore. we still limit it to adults. the full universal suffrage did not seem so dangerous in a nation where the large majority of people were farmers who owned their own land and who therefore were property holders. for the french aristocrats in tocqueville's time however with their still vibrant dread of the french revolution, democracy still seemed very dangerous indeed. tocqueville disagreed seeing dangers in democracy but also seeing opportunities and reasons for hope. and he also saw democracy as irresistible as the wave of the future as something that was sure to come in some form good
or bad to europe where it would be in conflict with the aristocratic heritage as it had come into america which did not have much in the way of an aristocratic heritage to conflict with it. one danger that tocqueville perceived in democracy was what he called individualism. the tendency of citizens to isolate themselves and withdraw from a larger society when they're not bound together which the relations between aristocrats and their interiors. the model he had in mind was the normandy of his where his family had resided and held property and been a noble for centuries, where they had obligations to people that lived on their land and people in the vicinity and institutions there. and where the people in turn had obligations to people like the tocquevilles. they were connected, he thought. they were not equal. but those connections at least existed. and he was afraid that in a democratic society and a society
where all were considered equal, that those relationships would not appear and that they would be replaced by individual, by the isolation of the individual. and not having the connections, the social connections with others. democracy he wrote threatens to confine the citizens so wholly in the solitude of his own heart. but the america he observed avoided this danger, he came to believe, because of two important factors. the americans, he wrote, have combated the individualism to which equality gives birth with freedom and they have defeated it. he saw this as a very hopeful development. and you can read much of tocqueville as an instruction to his french relatives and contemporaries about how this system that they were very suspicious of in fact was working pretty well. and that the dangers they thought it contained had been avoided.
and one of those dangers that had been avoided was individualism. one of the things that helped them avoid that danger was the importance of government and of local governments. at the time of his visit, americans seldom came into contact with the federal government with the single exception of the post office and even that was not always federally ruled. in the decades after tocqueville came to the united states, postmasters of south carolina would not transit abolitionist letters of literature. they simply burned it or destroyed it and would not deliver it to the recipients. but the post office was the main source of federal power. but americans were of necessity in constant contact with local governments. with the towns of new england, the townships that were spread across the old northwest territory, the counties in the south and being affected by their decisions took advantage
of the opportunity to participate in it. democracy meant that those decisions by local governments were not made simply by those above them but made by them and people that they chose. thus by charging citizens with the administration of small affairs, much more than by leaving the government of great ones to them, writes toqueville, one interests them in the public good and makes them see the need they constantly have for one another in order to produce it. local freedoms bring men closer to one another. local freedoms and democracies bring people into contact and establish ties and bonds between them on the basis of equality that were equivalent to or better than the ties that were created between them in the unequal system of aristocracy. and what we see here is appreciation of the conservative principle which catholic philosophers refer to as subsidiary. instead of a central government
superintending local affairs as was the case in france and beginning in that -- than began as tocqueville wrote in his later volume on the french revolution, well before the french revolution with the centralizing impulse of louis xiv, getting rid of local governments and local autonomy, centralizing authority in the king as louis xiv once said, l'etat c'est moi. the state, it's me. i am the government. that much france was centralized before the revolution becomes further centralized by the revolution which abolishes the age of provinces and creates the superintendents are appointed by the central government in paris usually from a list of people as time went and who are educated in certain central universities in paris and in fact, government in france still resembles that model in very many ways. that kind of centralization did
not, in toqueville's view -- it was something for which he had a considerable dread, and he notes that instead of america, instead of having that kind of central government, democracy in america tended to let local governments chosen by people who would remain close to their representatives and be aect affected by their decisions have control of all matters that could be handled at that level. the constitution limited the powers of the federal government tocqueville studies intensely the different features of the constitution. and reserved other matters to the state governments and the people and the state governments in turn delegated to local matters which could be addressed locally. now, not every issue could be so delegate, toqueville realized. one of the major events during his visit was the nullification crisis in which the south carolina legislature encouraged by vice president john c. calhoun, south carolinian,
declared that it had the right to nullify a tariff law passed by congress. president andrew jackson reacted furiously. moving it -- he was not fond of his vice president at all. and he moved troops in place to enforce the law. outside south carolina while at the same time moving it congress toward a compromise position on the tariff which addressed some of south carolina's grievances. toqueville described some of this process in "democracy in america." toqueville also cone coincided with another national policy that had a significant regional effect and that was andrew jackson's indian removal policy, something he considered very important. the forced movement of what we now call the five civilized tribes over what has come to be called the trail of tears to what is now oklahoma and tocqueville on his western travels actually witnessed some of the indians moving west in this movement and he wrote a chapter at the end of the first volume of "democracy in america" on the position of indians and blacks in america and what the problems that posed for the country.
these issues foreshadowed crises that came later and illustrated problems which tocqueville addressed in the last chapters of the first volume of democracy in america. on the fact that blacks and indians were not considered citizens in this democratic republic. he foresaw the possibility of the rupture of the civil war. it's one of his many uncanny predictions. he looks ahead this young man writing in his 20s and 30s looks ahead and sees much of the future history that has happened. he sees the possibility of the rupture of civil war and the tragic fate of many native americans even as he saluted the way democracy bound citizens together through local government. and perhaps he may even be seen as having pointed to the successes of the civil rights movement when he writes to combat the evils that equality can produce there is only one efficacious remedy, it is political freedom. but the habits of the heart another tocqueville phrase
fostered by involvement in local government also did something else, and here we encounter the second reason americans avoid the isolationism of the individual or what tocqueville calls individualism. and incidentally, i gather that that was his use of term individualism is one of the first times that word enters the french and english languages. he coins words as well as ideas that had occurred to no one before. to the contrary, americans were busy starting thousands of voluntary associations of creating civil society, mediating institutions between individuals and government, institutions through which individuals could affect government or could change society without involving government at all. and tocqueville paints this one passage, he paints this picture of a busy people, constantly involved in political activity and voluntary associations. scarcely have you descended on the soil of america, he writes, when you find yourself in the midst of a sort of turmoil, a
confused clamor is raised on all sides, a thousand voices come to your ears at the same time. each of them expressing some social needs. and i think some of his french aristocratic readers are here kind of saying whoop, doesn't sound good here. this is a problem all these people agitated. around you everything moves. here the people of one neighborhood have gathered to learn if a church ought to be built. there they're working on the choice of a representative. farther on the deputies of a district are going to town in all haste in order to decide about some local improvements. in another place the farmers of a village abandoned go to discuss the plans of a road or school. citizens assemble with the sole goal of was stating that they disapprove of government. others gather where the men in place are the fathers of their country. here are others who regarding drunkenness as the principal source of evils of the state come soundly to pledge themselves to give an example of temperance.
there is a note of astonishment here particularly in the last sentence where the wine drinking french aristocrat contemplates the possibilities of the prohibition of alcohol. tocqueville arrived in america at a time when voluntary associations were championing causes that ultimate little transformed the nation. and often involving government but often not involving government. often changing people's habits of the heart. they were particularly common these associations in new england and upstate new york which had been settled by new england yankees where tocqueville spent a large part of his visit nearly half of his visit was in that northern tier of states. the yankee has bronson noted tends to be "restless in body and mind, always scheming always in motion, never satisfied with what he has and always seeking to make the world like himself or as uneasy as himself. david hackett fisher author of
albion cede made their way from the british isles to the american colonies notes that the new englanders who were isolated in their own colonies for 200 years and spread across the northern part of the country were moralistic and intolerant. they believed in following moral principles and in making other people do it, too. persuading them if possible but using powers of government if indeed. and tocqueville clearly admired on balance the reformist yankee impulses as an example of democratic americans working together in voluntary associations to improve their society. and one of these efforts as he notes was the temperance movement which ultimately persuaded the nation to embark on a dozen years of the noble experiment of prohibiting alcohol. that experiment failed but in tocqueville's time, the temperance movement did vastly reduce alcohol consumption by
something like two-thirds average alcohol consumption in this country. in what one historian speaking of the period before which tocqueville arrived entitled a book "the alcoholic republic." the consumption of whiskey was very high and there is not a total lack of correlation with the average consumption of whiskey and the number of duals that people were participating in. this was a pretty lusty and go get 'em society and the temperance movement had a big effect on the behavior of americans. another movement that was soon to begin was the woman's rights movement which resulted in another amendment to the constitution granting women the vote. tocqueville, the frenchman whose wife by the way was english, and but was -- had french attitudes, toqueville was astonished to
note that the women themselves often go to political assemblies and by listening to political discourse take a rest from household tedium." you know, we are now in a period in our history where to take one example, hillary clinton is doing something other than taking a rest from household tedium. she's serving as two women recently before her has served as secretary of state, but tocqueville sees this movement. i'm not sure that he entirely approves but he observes it. he sees something. this is not something in france an aristocratic france women could exercise a behind the scenes influence in the boudoir, they were not seen in the course of formal public debate. america was something different. another movement that was beginning to gain adherence was abolitionism. the move to abolish slavery and the increasing defense of slavery by white southerners. just a few years before tocqueville's journey a state constitutional convention in virginia, i've referenced john
randolph roanoke's remarks at that convention had rejected a provision to gradually abolish slavery as all of the states to the north had done. it's tantalizing to contemplate how history would have unfolded if that decision had gone the other way. in the north, most americans it considered abolitionists fanatics who would disrupt the union. the 1830s. they were considered extreme s, extreme s, but the abolitionists cause had great moral power in a nation whose declaration of independence had begun with the words we hold it to be self-evident that all men are endowed by the creator with certain unalienable rights and among them are life, liberty and the pursuit of slavery and moral christianity professed by almost all americans. christianity is unlike the pagan religions which it replaced which says that is each individual has an immortal soul and is made in the image of god.
this would have been an absolutely astonishing proposition to aristotle, to the roman philosophers but it was part of the christian heritage of america, and it was always in some tension with slavery, and one of the interesting things about britain and america is that the impulse to end firns the slave trade and then slavery itself was an impulse that was strongest in -- more strongly advocated by evangelical christians of the day, and quakers. it came out of religious belief. those who see religious conservatives or religious people of any ideological disposition as a threat to democracy need to reflect on the fact that the movement to abolish slavery was a movement that began as indeed much of the civil rights movement began as a movement spurred by people with strong christian impulses and that were at peace with some of
the tenets at the heart of christianity. and religion clearly impressed tocqueville. he was from a country, france, in which everybody was technically catholic but had gone through a revolution that was secular and anti-religious where in the wake of that revolution, the catholic church had become an ally of the royal family instead of a kind of adversary to it as it had been in the revolutionary period and in which the catholic church in the form of the papacy was nationally or internationally, was explicitly hostile to democracy and said that it was not a good system. and so religion from tocqueville in tocqueville's from the perspective of the people among whom he had grown up, religion was the enemy of democracy. tocqueville writes on my arrival in the country, it was the religious aspect of the country
that first struck my eye. in contrast to the countries with established churches and with monopolies of religious belief established by law or enforced by the state, tocqueville notes the spirit -- in those situations he said the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom almost always move in contrary directions. but americans had a different heritage. britain's north american colony started off with different religious traditions. some of them were havens of people who were subject to religious persecution, including the huguenots who settled in south carolina after king louis xiv revoked the edict of nantes and said that the protestants would not be tolerated in his country. the -- so the founders who understood their multivarious religious heritage provided in the constitution there be no religious test for office for the federal government and in the bill of rights they provided that congress shall make no law
regarding an establishment of religion nor one prohibiting the free exercise thereof. this didn't mean an entire separation of church and state although tocqueville uses that phrase during his visit to massachusetts still had an established church which it supported by the taxing power, tax revenues of the commonwealth of massachusetts. that was abolished years later. but the -- but tocqueville noted the paradox that again i think was something that he thought would astonish his french aristocratic readers. diminishing the apparent force of a religion came to increase its real power. if people were not forced to attend and financially support a church, they would have more adherence to the church which they voluntarily supported and its teachings would mean more to them. tocqueville believed that religious belief was more prevalent and stronger in america than in france and that
americans believe it necessary to the maintenance of republican institutions. so in his view, religion was not hostile to democracy and the republic. it was the friend and the support of democracy and the republic. religion, he writes, which among americans never mixes directly in the government should therefore be considered as the first of their political institutions. for if it does not give them the taste for freedom, it singularly facilitates their use of it. religious belief, he could observe, washes the impulse behind the movements for temperance and women's rights and abolition of slavery. it was an impulse which gave strength to the observation of limits on the powers of the state and indeed we're just debating in our politics of today an issue involving what power should the state have over the free exercise of religious beliefs by individuals and by organizations they establish to work together, which have a religious basis.