main menu - summary - content - site map - accessibility

Politics & Views

His convictions

« I have no party, I have no cause other than that of liberty and human dignity. Of that I am sure. »
(Letter to Louis de Kergorlay, December 15, 1850)

In a brief fragment entitled "My instincts, my opinions", Tocqueville turned his gaze on himself, in an attempt to determine what "serious principles" governed his thought and political actions. He came to the conclusion that "freedom is the first of [his] passions".   play sound extractlire l'extrait sonore  

It is true that a unifying thread of his opus - whether one considers On Democracy in America, a book largely devoted to reconciling the principles of equality and freedom, or The Old Regime and the Revolution, which in particular examines the implacable hopes for freedom of the French in the 18th century - is the essential place that it makes for the idea of freedom. We should not forget to add that Tocqueville also placed his political career at the service of this cause, which he defended tooth and nail, always seeking to guarantee public and private freedoms within society, whether it was democratic or not.

During his career as a deputy, he showed himself to be an adent partisan of the freedom of education, which was not to be guided by religious faith, but rather as the guarantee of the diversity of modern culture, which could only benefit from the constant renewal of educational innovation. It was these same principles that led him to defend the freedom of religion. The idea that one could practice other religions in France than Catholicism did not seem to him like a threat to society, provided that one freely belonged to a morally unifying belief system, which he considered crucial for the organization of society and. as a source of inspiration for freedom. Thus Tocqueville developed the concept of a sort of "virtuous circle of freedom", in which individual freedoms, such as the freedom of education, religion, and the press, would engender in people the spirit and habits of freedom, which would in turn result in the development of trade between peoples, which itself would ensure peace between nations.

« Anyone who seeks from liberty anything other than itself is destined to serve. What do such people lack for remaining free?
What? The sublime taste of being so »
(The Old Regime and the Revolution, book 3, chap. 3)

It was thus to defend his ideas that he decided to benefit the freedom of the press - largely guaranteed under the July Monarchy- and to take advantage of the opportunity that was offered to him in 1844 to take over the running of the newspaper Le Commerce, which was in serious financial difficulty. The paper's new team gathered around Tocqueville some of his friends, such as Corcelle and Lanjuinaisand decided to entrust the job of editor-in-chief to Arnold Scheffer, the brother of the celebrated painter
Ary SchefferAry Scheffer (1795 - 1858)
Scheffer received his early training in Holland before arriving in Paris in 1811, where he enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. In the 1820s he was regarded as one of the leaders of the Romantic movement and found employment as a drawing teacher for the children of the future king Louis-Philippe, whose official painter he became in 1830. Tied to the Orleans dynasty, Scheffer never supported Napoleon III.
. On July 24, 1844, the first edition of the new Commerce appeared, which proclaimed itself to be the paper of this "great national party that has never ceased to labor, throughout all the vicissitudes of a half-century of revolutions, for the creation of political freedom and equality before the law." Unfortunately, this initiative was a failure, and Tocqueville ceased to play any role whatsoever as of June 1845, although he regretted the disappearance of "the only real representation of liberal ideas in the press".

Political Figures

The spirit of liberty, study for the Marseillaise by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux

The spirit of liberty, study for the Marseillaise, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux
© RMN / Jean Schormans

School for orphans

School for orphans, François Bonvin
© RMN / Jean Popovitch

Newspaper vendors

Newspaper vendors, anonymous
© PMVP / Andreani

Descent into the workshops of freedom of the press, Honoré Daumier

Descent into the workshops of freedom of the press, Honoré Daumier © BNF

Top of page