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
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
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
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
An ostensible respect for Christian morality and
virtue. [and that] almost all education is entrusted to
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
America's God and Country by William J.