Portrait of Alexis de Tocqueville wearing a black suit and standing in front of a chair.

Alexis de Tocqueville

(1805 - 1859)

At the age of twenty-five in 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville boarded a schooner with his friend Gustave de Beaumont for a government-sanctioned trip to examine the American penal system. The nine-month journey, taking him as far north as Quebec and as far south as Louisiana, inspired his four-volume magnum opus, Democracy in America, which appeared in four parts between 1835 and 1840. Tocqueville published the first part of a study of the French Revolution, The Ancien Régime and the Revolution, three years before he died in 1859.

All Writing

An American will build a house in which to pass his old age and sell it before the roof is on.

—Alexis de Tocqueville, 1840

Voices In Time

1840 | Paris

Managing the Future

Alexis de Tocqueville explains the role of religion in a democracy.More

Voices In Time

1840 | Paris

Family Politics

“Democracy loosens social ties, but it draws the ties of nature more tight.”More

The only authors whom I acknowledge as American are the journalists. They indeed are not great writers, but they speak the language of their countrymen, and make themselves heard by them. 

—Alexis de Tocqueville, 1840

The legislator is like the navigator of a ship on the high seas. He can steer the vessel on which he sails, but he cannot alter its construction, raise the wind, or stop the waves from swelling beneath his feet.

—Alexis de Tocqueville, 1835

Miscellany

Lamoignon de Malesherbes chose to defend Louis XVI during his trial of 1792 and 1793; years earlier, as secretary of state, Malesherbes had reported on the corruption in the king’s administration and condemned the imprisonment of French citizens without trial. Both the king and the lawyer were eventually guillotined. “No one is ignorant of the fact that M. de M, after defending the people before King Louis XVI, defended King Louis XVI before the people. I have not forgotten and will never forget these two exemplary actions,” wrote Alexis de Tocqueville, who was Malesherbes’ great-grandson.

Issues Contributed