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Democracy in America

The "Second Democracy" (1840):
« You see, I must finish this book, regardless of the cost. It is a duel to the death between me and it. Either I kill it, or it kills me. I cannot go on living the way I have been living since I began it. »
(Letter to Gustave de Beaumont,
July 8, 1838)

At the end of the introduction to the "first Democracy" of 1835, Tocqueville planted the seed of another volume to come by informing the reader that his "goal was to describe in a second part the influence that equality of conditions exerted in America on the government of civil society and on habits, ideas, and mores." The resounding success of his first volume persuaded him to follow up on this plan, which he hoped to be able to complete rapidly after setting to work in August 1835. Yet contrary to his hopes, the second volume did not flow as smoothly as the first, and during the long years that Tocqueville spent writing it, the plan of the work changed considerably. Its gestation was difficult, too, because the writing was frequently interrupted by events in Tocqueville's life, including the death of his mother, problems with his health, and the debut of his political career, made possible by the success of the first volume. His campaigns of 1837 and 1839, his election to the Chamber of Deputies in 1839, and his assignment in the first weeks of his legislative term to write a long report on the abolition of slavery qall required him to postpone work on his book. The writing was also slowed by the publication of three other texts that claimed his attention in the late 1830s, namely, the Memoir on Pauperism, "The Social and Political State of France before and after 1789" (a series of articles written for John Stuart Mill London and Westminster Review), and Two Letters on Algeria, published in June and August 1837. Although the subjects of these works all reflect longstanding interests of Tocqueville's, they show how much his intellectual focus had shifted from America to France, a shift that would heavily influence his work on the second volume of Democracy in America. The United States, the study of whose political institutions dominated volume one, was relegated to a merely illustrative role in volume two. To be sure, this change in focus was due in part to the fact that Tocqueville's American travels by now lay several years in the past, but one should also bear in mind that the beginning of his political career had also altered his view of democracy or at any rate allowed him to see some of its more debilitating features. "What I have seen of the world of politics from the inside over the past few months has made me aware of the need to revise certain aspects of my book, which I had thought was finished," he wrote to his friend Royer-Collard on August 8, 1839. This was an allusion to the rather depressing spectacle of the July Monarchy in the late 1830s: the corruption of the government and electors, the rise of a security-oriented ideology, and the bourgeois and business-oriented drift of a regime that benefited handsomely from the resignation of the populace. Tocqueville judged these ills to be inherent in democracy, and he was determined to warn the readers of his next volume against them. To that end, he was obliged to expand his study to treat democracy and its dangers in general and not just in the United States. When he completed the manuscript in the middle of November 1839, he conceded "that there is much more discussion of the general effects of equality on mores than of the particular effects that it produces in America," as if the center of his interest had quietly shifted during the long years of labor the book had cost him.


Title page of 'Democracy in America', volume two

Title page of volume two of Democracy in America, original edition, private collection
© AD Manche/A. Poirier

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