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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > T > Alexis de Tocqueville

Alexis de Tocqueville

(CHARLES-ALEXIS-HENRI-MAURICE-CLEREL DE TOCQUEVILLE)

Writer and statesman, b. at Verneuil, Department of Seine-et-Oise, 29 July 1805; d. at Cannes, 16 April, 1859. He was the great grandson of Malesherbes, the defender of Louis XVI. As a judge at Versailles in 1830 he formed a friendship with Gustave de Beaumont, with whom he traveled to America in 1831. Tocqueville's letters show that he foresaw what strides the Church was destined to made in America and likewise the dogmatic nothingness which would result from Unitarianism and the absurdities of Illuminism. Two publications resulted from this journey; the collective work of two friends published under the title "Du système pénitentiaire aux Etats-Unis et de son Application en France"; the second, Tocqueville's personal work, is the celebrated book "La démocratie en Amérique", of which the first volume appeared in 1835 and the second in 1840. The work won for Tocqueville admission to the Académie des sciences morales et politiques (1838) and French Academy (1841)

The library of the seminary of St-Sulpice preserves a copy of "La Démocratie" annotated by Mgr Brute, first bishop of Vincennes, who registered in the margin a number of exceptions to Tocqueville's assertions. These notes have been transcribed by Mgr Baunard. Tocqueville held that democracy could exist only by seeking a moral support in religion, and that religion could only prosper by accommodating itself to democracy, but he is inclined to regard as too severe the doctrinal, disciplinary and liturgical exactions of Catholicism, and in Mgr Baunard's opinions his work leaves the impression he was only half Catholic.

The work has been charged with several serious defects as regards political observation; he dealt at too great length with the constitution and organism of the central government, paying too little attention to the provincial legislation of the various states of the Union. He relegates to the end of the first part the study of what he calls "the accidental or providential causes" of the maintenance of democracy, and his work would be clearer if he had treated in the beginning the geographical and economic conditions of America. As his work progresses he loses sight of American democracy and deals in a general way with democratic societies.

As a deputy for Valognes from 1889 Tocqueville sat with the opposition and voted for liberty of instruction. Under the Second Republic he was a member of the Constituent and Legislative Assemblies and vice president of the latter.

The Roman expedition had been for some weeks underway when Tocqueville assumed the portfolio for foreign affairs and in the Odilon Barrot cabinet (2 June-31 October, 1849) He caused it to be proceeded with, at the same time writing to the French ambassador Corcelle: "The Roman question is the mountain which threatens to bury us all", He recommended that Oudinot's army refrain from bombing the monuments of Rome which were, he wrote to Corcelle, "the property of the Christian world", and according to his instructions Pius IX's return should have been accompanied by an amnesty and the granting of a Constitution.

Under the Empire he returned to private life and undertook his work "L'ancien régime et la révolution", of which only the first part appeared (1856). In pages of beautiful religious psychology Mgr Baunard has shown how Tocqueville's mind and conscience, chiefly under Madame Swetchines's influence, climbed upwards toward a profoundly Christian death. These pages are an interesting document on the evolution of liberal ideas of the middle of the nineteenth century. After Tocqueville's death Gustave de Beaumont collected his works in nine volumes. Tocqueville's memoirs of the Republic of 1848 were published in 1893, his correspondence with Gorbineau in 1908

Sources

DE BEAUMONT Notice sur Alexis de Tocqueville (Paris 1897); D'EICHTHAL, Tocqueville et la démocratie libérale (Paris 1897); FAGUET, Politiques et moralistes du 19e siècle, 3rd series is 1900); MARCEL, Essai politique sur Alexis de Tocqueville (Paris 1910); FALLOUX, Correspondence d'Alexis de Tocqueville avec Mme Swetchine in Correspondant (25 Feb., 1866); BAUNARD, La foi et ses victoires, II (Paris 1884).

About this page

APA citation. Goyau, G. (1912). Alexis de Tocqueville. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14753a.htm

MLA citation. Goyau, Georges. "Alexis de Tocqueville." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14753a.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Catherine Montgomery.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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