Alexis de Tocqueville's De la démocratie en Amérique

Tocqueville first traveled to America in 1831 to escape the tumultuous political situation in France following the deposition of the Bourbon King Charles X in favor of King Louis Philippe I in 1830. The given reason for the trip to the United States was to study the new style of penitentiaries that were being used to try and reform prisoners. Tocqueville traveled with his friend Gustave de Beaumont, who helped write a report on American prisons on their return to France. This report, along with another work by Beaumont on the practice of slavery in America, is also on display in this exhibit.

From 1831 to 1832, Beaumont and Tocqueville visited seventeen of the then twenty-four states, including many of the major cities as well as some of the more remote areas of wilderness. As they traveled, Tocqueville and Beaumont interacted with a broad swath of American society, including former president John Quincy Adams and then current President Andrew Jackson. It is from these travels and social interactions that Tocqueville based his study of American democracy. In this work, Tocqueville espouses his belief that the democratic form of government would continue to expand and eventually replace the system of aristocracy that was still prevalent in Europe. Tocqueville’s outside perspective on American society became immensely popular both in the United States and abroad, becoming a seminal work of political theory.

Bequest of Duncan Payne, class of 1963.

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859).
De la démocratie en Amérique.
Paris: Librairie de C. Gosselin, 1835-1840.

Lehigh University Catalog Record:

A version of this text has been digitized and is available through Hathitrust.

Digitized Version