Since its publication in 1835 and 1840, DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA has been noted for its insightful portrayal of the American character and democratic institutions. Initially, the French government commissioned de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont to study the penitentiary system in the United States, but in their travels from the cities to the frontier throughout the young country, the two men kept detailed journals as they attempted objective observation of all phases of American life.
De Tocqueville wrote DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA over a period of several years after his return to France and published the first pair of volumes in 1835. The work received immediate recognition as a significant study of social changes brought about by political freedom and equality. The scope of the work was much broader than originally projected and prophetic in many ways, one of which was prediction of the inevitable struggle to end slavery.
The first volumes focus on the evolution of the political order from aristocratic to democratic. De Tocqueville had to modify some of his original assumptions, one being that geographic isolation allowed the new country to thrive. He later attributed its prosperity to freedom of political institutions and equality of individuals.
Although complementary to the first part, the 1840 pair of volumes focuses more on the effects of democracy. De Tocqueville foresaw possible abuses of power, the greatest of which he considered to be tyranny...
(The entire section is 489 words.)