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  Alexis deTocqueville  
 

 

Alexis de Tocqueville, researcher and historian who analyzed and wrote about America in the 1830's

 

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859), was a famous French statesman, historian and social philosopher. Beginning in 1831, he and Gustave de Beaumont toured the country of America for the purpose of observing the American people and their institutions. His two-part work, which was published in 1835 and 1840, was entitled Democracy in America. It has been described as "the most comprehensive and penetrating analysis of the relationship between character and society in America that has ever been written."  In it he related:

 

Upon my arrival in the United States the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there, the more I perceived the great political consequences resulting from this new state of things. In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom marching in opposite directions. But in America I found they were intimately united and that they reigned in common over the same country.

 

Religion in America.. .must be regarded as the foremost of the political institutions of that country; for if it does not impart a taste for freedom, it facilitates the use of it. Indeed, it is in this same point of view that the inhabitants of the United States themselves look upon religious belief. I do not know whether all Americans have a sincere faith in their religion-for who can search the human heart?-But I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions. This opinion is not peculiar to a class of citizens or a party, but it belongs to the whole nation and to every rank of society.

 

The sects that exist in the United States are innumerable. They all differ in respect to the worship which is due to the Creator; but they all agree in respect to the duties which are due from man to man. Each sect adores the Deity in its own peculiar manner, but all sects preach the same moral law in the name of God.... Moreover, all the sects of the United States are comprised within the great unity of Christianity, and Christian morality is everywhere the same.

 

In the United States the sovereign authority is religious,... there is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America, and there can be no greater proof of its utility and of its conformity to human nature than that its influence is powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation of the earth.

 

In the United States, if a political character attacks a sect [denomination], this may not prevent even the partisans of that very sect, from supporting him; but if he attacks all the sects together [Christianity], every one abandons him and he remains alone.

 

I do not question that the great austerity of manners that is observable in the United States arises, in the first instance, from religious faith... .its influence over the mind of woman is supreme, and women are the protectors of morals. There is certainly no country in the world where the tie of marriage is more respected than in America or where conjugal happiness is more highly or worthily appreciated... ~

 

In the United States the influence of religion is not confined to the manners, but it extends to the intelligence of the people.... Christianity, therefore reigns without obstacle, by universal consent; the consequence is, as I have before observed, that every principle of the moral world is fixed and determinate.. 

 

I sought for the key to the greatness and genius of America in her harbors...; in her fertile fields and boundless forests; in her rich mines and vast world commerce; in her public school system and institutions of learning. I sought for it in her democratic Congress and in her matchless Constitution. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.

 

The safeguard of morality is religion, and morality is the best security of law as well as the surest pledge of freedom.

 

The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other.

 

Christianity is the companion of liberty in all its conflicts-the cradle of its infancy, and the divine source of its claims.

 

They brought with them...a form of Christianity, which I cannot better describe, than by styling it a democratic and republican religion... .From the earliest settlement of the emigrants, politics and religion contracted an alliance which has never been dissolved.

 

The Christian nations of our age seem to me to present a most alarming spectacle; the impulse which is bearing them along is so strong that it cannot be stopped, but it is not yet so rapid that it cannot be guided: their fate is in their hands; yet a little while and it may be no longer. 

Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that he found in America: 

An ostensible respect for Christian morality and virtue. [and that] almost all education is entrusted to the clergy. 

In August of 1831, while traveling through Chester County in New York, Alexis de Tocqueville had the opportunity to observe a court case. He wrote: 

While I was in America, a witness, who happened to be called at the assizes of the county of Chester (state of New York), declared that he did not believe in the existence of God or in the immortality of the soul. The judge refused to admit his evidence, on the ground that the witness had destroyed beforehand all confidence of the court in what he was about to say. The newspapers related the fact without any further comment. The New York Spectator of August 23d, 1831, relates the fact in the following terms:

 

"The court of common pleas of Chester county (New York), a few days since rejected a witness who declared his disbelief in the existence of God. The presiding judge remarked, that he had not before been aware that there was a man living who did not believe in the existence of God; that this belief constituted the sanction of all testimony in a court of justice: and that he knew of no case in a Christian country, where a witness had been permitted to testify without such belief."

 

quotes from:

America's God and Country by William J. Federer

 


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