Noble Savages and Barbarized Slaves: Tocqueville on Native Americans and African-Americans in Democracy in America


By Andrew Lawrence Crown


July, 2021


Copyright © Andrew Lawrence Crown, 2021. All rights reserved.




It is with a fair amount of hesitation, and even a bit of trepidation, that I embark upon the writing of this current essay regarding Alexis De Tocqueville’s depiction of the unhappy state of both African-American slaves and Native American “Indians” in the Frenchman’s seminal work, Democracy in America. This day and age is one of intense and divisive disagreement surrounding the issues of race and identity in the United States, as even a quick perusal of a few of the multitude of articles and editorials on the these topics in the popular press will attest to. Americans of opposing ideologies and opinions influencing their views of these issues are engaged in an intense, bitter, and often vitriolic debate, sometimes referred to as the “woke wars”. This re-emergence of the political and ideological battles concerning race is in reality not new debate, but is instead just the latest permutation of the disagreements surrounding this contentious issue which have long characterized American political discourse.


The terminology used today to describe this perennial conflict over race is variously designated by the now commonly know terms such as wokeness, identity politics, Black Lives Matter, critical race theory, White fragility, and political correctness, just to name a few. The disagreement over these matters currently rages on in the media and in political institutions at local, state, and national levels. Originating in academia, many of the key concepts and at the center of the conflict have now sifted down to the venue of local public school board meetings, where concerned parents, fearful of the potential indoctrination of students by doctrinaire teachers and administrators, are currently taking a stand against the intolerance for dissent displayed by many of the adults in charge of their children, adults who have bought in to these progressive ideologies hook, line, and sinker.


My purpose in this present essay is not primarily to weigh in on the controversy at hand. I do, however, feel obligated to reveal my fundamental distrust of and discomfort with any and all theories and ideologies forced upon even the youngest of students, and also on the rest of us, in the doctrinaire manner characterizing both the substance and methods of instruction favored by many of the advocates for these concepts now at the heart of our ongoing national debate. My real intention instead is to attempt to present a synopsis and analysis of Tocqueville’s treatment of the issues of race and identity nearly two hundred years ago, without being unduly hampered or constrained by the current discourse concerning these matters and the accompanying tendency by advocates on all sides of the issue to favor the silencing and delegitimization of all dissent and disagreement. In other words, I plan to confront the issues of race and identity through an analysis of Tocqueville’s views on these topics, and to do so in a manner uninhibited by the prevailing vitriolic controversy surrounding contemporary discourse which has the regrettable tendency to discourage and obviate much honest and truthful discussion of these matters. The hesitation and trepidation I mentioned previously is perhaps unavoidable given the current political climate in which the United States appears to be, once again, tearing itself apart over the issue of race. Nonetheless, I will plunge into the heart of the matter as it existed in the early nineteenth century, hopefully not unduly encumbered and inhibited by the silencing influence of the self-righteous rage of the most intolerant disputants on all sides of the issue.


I honestly believe there is no better way to read and learn from Democracy in America, than by making an attempt to present and reveal Tocqueville’s insights following a method that avoids all ahistorical approaches which can only the lead to an unfair and unjust treatment of the topic. A method of historiography that is fundamentally ahistorical and does not place Tocqueville’s work in its proper historical context can only be devoid of the potential to discover the profound theoretical, political, and historical insights abounding in Tocqueville’s magnum opus. I have long agreed with political theorists such as Leo Strauss and other critics of value relativism who argued that the primary purpose of political philosophy is the search for, quest for, and discovery of the timeless, universal, and objectively verifiable truths, or at least the timeless, universal, and objectively verifiable questions. However, this position on the relationship between history and truth does not enable me to proceed with an analysis of Democracy in America in an ahistorical fashion. It is both grossly unfair and fundamentally dishonest to presume that a book written almost two hundred years ago can possibly stand up, without blemish, to an evaluation of its content based on the contemporary and comparatively more advanced notions of racial equality and tolerance predominating in the here and now of the year 2021. Of course, Tocqueville did not view and write about African-Americans and Native-American “Indians” in a way entirely conforming to our currently more enlightened understanding of these peoples and their long history of suffering and victimhood in the American context.


This does not mean, however, that Tocqueville has nothing of value to teach us today about these peoples and the Whites who victimized them. Consequently, I will do my best to elucidate Tocqueville’s most poignant lessons, and I believe our examination of these lessons will enable us to at least approach a timeless, universal, and objectively verifiable understanding of the nature of slavery and persecution, and the manner in which both of these experiences barbarize, dehumanize, and otherwise diminish the moral characters of both the victims and perpetrators of inhumanity through a long historical process. What my writing on these topics lacks in political correctness and wokeness, it will perhaps gain in honesty and historical and philosophical integrity.


Tocqueville devoted a considerable amount of writing to the consideration of the then present state and probable future of the three races inhabiting the territory of the United States in the early nineteenth century, the period during which Tocqueville visited and wrote about America. While in Europe at that time in history, most countries were composed of people derived from the same stock, the people scattered over the vast American territory were not derived from the same national or racial origins. In the United States, there were three naturally distinct races whose relations with one another were characterized by a deep sense of hostility (316).


Tocqueville referred to these three races using the terminology common in the era in which he wrote. While most likely viewed as insensitive or even insulting today, in this essay I utilize much of the same terminology employed by Tocqueville, in order to preserve as much of the spirit and character of his analysis as possible, while I write about it almost two hundred years after the fact. Today it is polite and proper to use the terms, Blacks or African-Americans, Native Americans, and Caucasians, but in the analysis which follows, I will use the antiquated terms employed by Tocqueville, those being mainly Negroes, Indians, and Whites.


According to Tocqueville, education, law, origin, and external features raised almost insurmountable barriers between these races. While chance, history, and the intentional policies of governments and men brought them together on the same soil, the three races in America had mixed without combining, leaving each to follow a distinct destiny (317). For the Whites, the European people par excellence, there was enlightenment, power, and happiness, but for the Negroes and Indians, only an unhappy status and reality far below that of the White race. Negroes and Indians were two unlucky peoples which had neither birth, physique, language, nor mores in common, but their misfortunes made them alike in suffering and unhappiness. Both Negroes and Indians occupied an equally inferior position in the land where they dwelled, both suffered from the pernicious effects of White tyranny, and though the nature and character of their afflictions were different, they both had the same people to blame for them (317).


The relationship between the Europeans and the Negroes and Indians, which was forced upon these unfortunate peoples by violence, was analogous to the relationship between men and animals. The Whites forced the Negroes and Indians to serve their convenience, and when they could not bend them to their will, the Whites destroyed them. (317)


Prevented from forming lasting nuptial and parental bonds, the Negroes were not permitted to maintain long standing family ties. For the Negro man, the woman was no more than the passing companion of his pleasures, and from birth his sons were his equals. Any attempt by slaves to establish lasting familial ties were subject to disruption at will by their masters, who could sell off or otherwise disturb the integrity of Negro relations any time they pleased.


Plunged into an abyss of wretchedness, the Negro hardly noticed his ill fortune to which he adapted himself out of sheer necessity and in order to simply survive. The Negro was reduced to slavery by violence, and the habits of servitude gave him the thoughts and ambitions of a slave. Slaves admired their tyrants even more than they hated them, and they found their joy and pride in servile imitation of their oppressors (317). The intelligence of the slave, due in no small part to the policy of the Whites to prevent the teaching of reading or any other form of education for slaves, was degraded to the level of his persecuted soul. The very use of thought seemed to the slave to be an unprofitable gift of Providence. In order to cope and survive, many slaves peacefully enjoyed all the privileges of their humiliation (318). Due to this prohibition of intellectual development and training, the slave was unable to control his desires and passions when set free. The slave reached the climax of his affliction in which slavery brutalized him, and freedom led him to self-destruction (318). Slavery taught him to submit to everything but the dictates of reason.


Oppression weighed as heavily upon the Indian tribes, but with different effects (318). Before the arrival of Whites in the New World, most Indians lived tranquilly in the forests. Facing the normal vicissitudes of savage life, they displayed both the vices and virtues of uncivilized peoples (318). The arrival of the Europeans scattered the Indians far into the wilderness, condemning them to a wandering, vagabond life full of inexpressible afflictions.


Because savage nations were governed by opinions and mores alone, the Europeans’ impact on the Indians contributed to the following maladies disrupting and eventually destroying their culture. Feeling for their lands of origin were weakened as they were forced and driven ever towards the western frontier. Families were dispersed, leading to obscured traditions and a break in the chain of memories which previously held tribes together. Customs changed and contact with European civilization increased Indian desires beyond reason. Life for the Indians became more disorderly and less civilized after contact with the Whites. Their moral and physical condition deteriorated, and by becoming more wretched and oppressed, they also became more barbarous (318).


Nevertheless, the Europeans in America were unable to change the character of the Indians entirely. They could destroy them at will, but they failed to establish order among them or to subdue them (318). While the Negro reached the ultimate limits of slavery, the Indian lived on at the extreme edge of freedom. The effects of slavery on the Negro were not more disastrous and fatal than those of freedom on the Indian. The savage delighted in his barbarous independence, and he preferred to die than to sacrifice any part of it. The civilization of the White European world had little hold on such a person (319).


From birth the Negro was told by his oppressors that his race was naturally inferior to the White race. Almost believing that, the Negro held himself in contempt. A trace of slavery influenced his every feature, and if possible, the Negro would have gradually repudiated himself entirely (319). In contrast, the belief in the nobility of his origin filled the entire imagination of the Indian. He lived and died amid these proud dreams. The Indian regarded barbarism as the distinctive emblem of his race. This led him to reject White civilization less due to a hatred of the Europeans than to a fear of resembling them (319). The Negro wanted to mingle with the Europeans, but could not because the Europeans abhorred the thought of it. The Indian might have succeeded to so to some extent, but he scorned to attempt it. The servility of the Negro delivered him over into slavery. The pride of the Indian led him to his death (320).


Due to the continual push towards the West and settlement of the vast American continent by the Whites, during the time that Tocqueville wrote, one was required to travel more than one hundred leagues inland in order to meet an Indian. The Indians did not just draw back from the outer fringes of White settlement, they were destroyed by it. As the Indians withdrew and died, an immense nation took their place and was constantly growing. Never was such a prodigious development seen among all the nations of the world, and neither had the world ever witnessed a destruction so rapid (321).


While the needs of the Indians increased with respect to the goods of civilization, their resources constantly diminished because due to European settlement, the wild game upon which the Indians depended for their sustenance also diminished and fled. The Indians attempted to escape from the ills imposed upon them by the intrusion of the Whites into their territory by ever fleeing to the West, but this was an imperfect and only temporary and fleeting solution to the decimation they experienced due to the march of White civilization through the wilderness.


Hardy White adventurers would soon penetrate into Indian country. They traveled fifteen or twenty leagues beyond the extreme frontier of the other Whites, and there built dwellings for civilized people in the midst of the wild lands of the natives. It was easy for them to do so because a hunting peoples’ boundaries were always ill-defined. Moreover, the land was considered by the Indians to be the common property of the tribe, and did not exactly belong to anybody in particular. Consequently, no one among the Indians had an individual interest in defending any particular part of it (323).


Even though the European settlers chased away the game upon which the Indians depended for their very lives, an instinctive love of country held them to the soil where they were born, even when there was nothing but affliction and death there (323). “We will not sell the spot which contains the bones of our fathers” (323). In reality, it was not only the European hostility and violence toward the natives of America which chased them away. Famine played a larger role in their decimation.


There was famine behind them, war in front, and misery everywhere. In the hope to escape from a multitude of enemies, the Indians divided up. Each one of them in isolation tried furtively to find a means of subsistence, living in the immensity of the forest like some outlaw from civilized society. There in their isolation, the long weakened social bonds finally broke (324). Families hardly remained together. The common name was lost, the language was forgotten, and traces of their origin vanished. The nations of the natives ceased to exist. They barely survived in the memories of American antiquarians and were known only to a few learned scholars in Europe (324).


The dispossession of the Indians was accomplished in a regular, and according to the White authorities, quite legal manner. Half convinced and half constrained, the Indians fled from the Whites in order to dwell in a new area of wilderness, where the Whites would not let them remain in peace for even ten years. In this manner the Americans cheaply acquired whole provinces which the richest sovereigns in Europe could never afford to buy (325).


There were only two roads to safety open to the North American Indians: war or civilization. In other words, they had to either destroy the Europeans or to become their equals. The Indians were unable to act in unison to fight the Europeans. The tribes that lived in the midst of the areas inhabited by Whites were already too weakened to offer effective resistance. The others, more distant from the neighborhood of the Whites were ineffective combatants because they, with the childish carelessness of the nature of men living in the wilds, waited for the danger to reach them before bothering to do anything about it. The former could not and the latter would not act to preserve themselves.


The Indians never wanted to adopt the civilization of the Whites, or when they finally desired to do so, it was too late. A fundamental requirement for civilization was that a people took root, and that could only be done by cultivating the soil. Therefore, the first problem was to turn the Indians into cultivators and farmers. Not only did the Indians not possess this indispensable preliminary for civilization, it was very difficult for them to acquire it (327). This was primarily due to the fact that the natives of North America considered labor not only to be an evil, but also a disgrace, and their pride fought against civilization as obstinately as did their refusal to work the land (327). Even though the Indians conceded that the Whites were more powerful than them, they continued to consider themselves to be superior to the Whites, believing that hunting and war were the only cares worthy of a man (328).


The Cherokees went further with the adoption of the civilization of the Whites than any other tribe of Native Americans. They engaged in agriculture, created a written language, and established a stable form of government. Because everything in America moved forward at an impetuous rate, they had a newspaper before they all had European style clothing. Mixed-race individuals formed the natural link between civilization and barbarism Everywhere that, as Tocqueville refers to them, half-castes had multiplied, the Indians gradually changed their social condition and their mores (329).


But the Indians’ misfortune was to come into contact with the most civilized nation in the world, which was also the greediest, at a time when the Americans themselves were half-barbarians in their endless quest for land and wealth. The Indians found their masters to be their instructors who brought them both enlightenment and oppression. Thus, with agriculture, the Indians escaped the affliction to which tribal nations were exposed, only to suffer worse miseries among civilized people, and the Indians found it almost as difficult to live amid the abundance of the Whites as in the midst of the forests. Consequently, the Indians commonly quit the plow, took up their weapons again, and went back forever into the wilderness (333). 


Washington said in one of his messages to the Congress as President, “We are more enlightened and more powerful than the Indian nations; it behooves our honor to treat them with kindness and generosity.” This noble and virtuous policy, unfortunately for the Indians was not followed by the Whites and their government (334). For both the Cherokees and the Creeks, misery and misfortune drove these unfortunate Indians toward civilization and agriculture, but soon after oppression in the White world repulsed them back toward their origins. Many of them left their half-cleared fields and went back to the ways of savage life (335). The tyranny of the state governments forced the Indians to flee, and the Union’s promises of territory to the west made flight easy. Both were the means to the same end, which was the removal of the Indians from the eastern lands desired by the Whites.


The Spaniards, by unparalleled atrocities which branded them with indelible shame, did not succeed in exterminating the Indian race, and could not prevent them from sharing their rights. In the United States the Americans attained both of these results easily, quietly, legally, philanthropically, without spilling excessive blood, and without violating the great principles of morality in the eyes of the world. Tocqueville emphasized the hypocrisy of the American treatment of the Indians when he claimed that it was impossible to destroy men with more respect to the laws of humanity (339).


The Indians died as they lived, in isolation from the Whites, but the fate of the Negroes was in a sense linked to that of the Europeans. The two races were bound one to the other without mingling. It was just as difficult for them to separate completely as it was for them to unite. According to Tocqueville, the most formidable evil threatening the future of the United States was the presence of vast numbers of Blacks on their soil.


In antiquity, the slave was of the same race as the master, and was often his superior in education and enlightenment. Only freedom kept them apart. Once granted, freedom enabled them to mingle easily (341). In the modern world of Tocqueville’s time, in contrast, the insubstantial and ephemeral fact of servitude was fatally combined with the physical and permanent fact of difference in race. Memories of slavery disgraced the race, and the race perpetuated the memories of slavery. But that was not all. The slave born in degradation, a stranger brought by slavery into the midst of the Whites, was hardly recognized as sharing the common features of humanity. Tocqueville’s unsettling observation of the following attitude of the Whites concerning the slaves would of course be considered offensive today. The slave’s face appeared to the Whites as hideous, his intelligence limited, and his tastes low. The Whites almost took him for some being intermediate between beast and man (342). Therefore, those who hoped that the Europeans would one day mingle with the Negroes seemed to Tocqueville to be harboring a delusion which the facts revealed no evidence for.


In some places of the United States, legal barriers between the races were eliminated, but the barriers of mores were not. Slavery was in retreat, but the prejudice from which it arose was immovable (342-343). Race prejudice was actually stronger in those states that had abolished slavery than in those where it continued to exist. Nowhere were the Whites more intolerant than in those states where slavery was never known (343). For example, marriages between Negroes and Whites were legal in much of the North, but public opinion regarded a White man married to a Negro woman as a disgrace, and it was difficult to find an example of such an event (343). In the North, the Negro was free, but he could not share the rights, pleasures, labors, griefs, or even the tomb of the Whites whose equal he was declared to be. There was no place in the North where the Blacks and Whites could meet as true, rather than simply legal equals, neither in life nor in death (343).


In the South, where slavery still existed, less trouble was taken to keep the Negroes in a world apart from the Whites. The two races sometimes shared the same labors and pleasures. White people in the South were prepared to mix with slaves to some extent. While the laws were more harsh against the Blacks in the South, customs and mores were more tolerant and gentle than they were in the North (343).


In the South, the master of the slave had no fear of lifting the slave up to his level. Whites in the South knew that when they wanted to, they could always throw the slaves down into the dust. In the North, in contrast, the White no longer clearly saw the barrier that separated them from the degraded race, so northern Whites took great pains to keep the Negroes at a distance all the more carefully. The greatest fear of the Whites in the North was that they one day they would be confounded together with the Negroes. The prejudice rejecting the Negroes seemed to increase in proportion to their level of emancipation. Inequality cut deep into mores at the same time it was effaced from the laws (344).


During the early history of the American colonies, the colonies that had no slaves were more populous and prosperous than the ones where slavery was deeply entrenched (345). The farther one traveled toward the South, the clearer it became that slavery, so cruel to the slave, was also fatal to the master. As evidence for this contention, Tocqueville’s comparison of the character of life and industriousness in Ohio and Kentucky is one of the most classic and oft quoted passages in Democracy in America


On the left bank of the Ohio River was the slave state of Kentucky. There the population was sparse. From time to time, one saw a troop of slaves loitering through half-deserted fields. The primeval forest was constantly reappearing, and one might have concluded that all of society had gone to sleep. While nature seemed active and alive, man was idle (345). But on the right bank of the Ohio River, in the free state of Ohio, a confused hum proclaimed from afar that people were busily at work and industrious. The fields were full of abundant and well looked after crops. Elegant dwellings were evidenced of the taste and industry of the free workers. Everywhere there was evidence of comfort and people appeared rich and contented as they worked (345-346). In Kentucky, where the slave cost more than the free laborer, and the slave was less productive, the entire society seemed to be less dynamic and productive than that found in the free state of Ohio (347).


The Americans on the left bank scorned not only work itself, but also any enterprise in which work was required for success. The masters, living a life of idle ease while the slaves worked, had the tastes of idle men. Money lost some of its value in their eyes, and they were less interested in wealth than in excitement and pleasure. The southerner in Kentucky expended in the quest of these diversions the energy which his neighbor to the north in Ohio put towards more productive uses. The White southerner was passionately fond of hunting and war, and enjoyed all the most strenuous forms of bodily exercise. Accustomed to the use of weapons from childhood, he was ready to risk his life in a single combat (347). All of these characteristics of the southerner diverted him from wishing to make his fortune, which was the true passion and objective of the comparatively more industrious northerner.


The North alone had abundant ships, manufacturers, railways and canals (348). Almost all of the considerable differences in character between northerners and southerners had their origins in slavery. While in the past, Christianity destroyed slavery by insisting on the slave’s rights, during Tocqueville’s time slavery could be attacked from the master’s point of view, bringing both interest and morality into harmony. 


The law of inheritance, throughout history, has been one of the causes of significant changes in human institutions. In the South of the United States, the entire White race formed an aristocratic body, led by a certain number of privileged people whose wealth was permanent and leisure hereditary (349). For this class at the head of southern society, idleness was honorable for them. When primogeniture was abolished, fortunes began to diminish as they were divided up among multiple heirs, and all the families in this part of the country were simultaneously reduced to a state in which work came to be necessary to existence (349). Many previously wealthy families completely disappeared, and everyone became half aware that a moment was approaching when everyone would have to provide for his own needs (349). As slavery retreated due to this loss of family fortunes, the Black race also retreated, returning to the tropics from which it originally came (350).


But in the North, by abolishing the principle of servitude, the Americans in this region of the country did not make the slaves free. In New York, for example, the same laws that prevented slaves from coming there from the South also drove those in the North back to the South (350). Because the free worker in the North was more productive than the slave, the abolition of slavery did not make the slave free, but just changed his master to a southerner instead of a northerner. Free Negroes in the North did poorly there. The laws against them left them in much the same position as the Native Americans. They remained half civilized and deprived of rights amid a population that was infinitely superior to them in wealth and education. In the North, the Negroes were exposed to both the tyranny of laws and the intolerance of mores (350).


Due to these unhappy circumstances, Tocqueville made some ominous predictions (and also somewhat inaccurate) for the future of Blacks in America. The White population grew by natural increase and by the influx of huge numbers of immigrants, but the Black population was in decline and received no immigration. Tocqueville predicted that the then present proportion between the races would be reversed. When that process was complete, the Negroes would be no more than unlucky remnants of a previously vast race, a poor little wandering tribe lost amid a huge nation that was master of the land. Only the injustices and hardships which they were subject to would call attention to their presence. 


The climate of the South also exerted a strong influence on the attitudes of the Whites toward both work and slavey. The White Americans claimed the excessive heat made it fatal for them to work, whereas the Negroes could work there without danger. Tocqueville questioned whether this view was based on experience rather than mere prejudice (352). The type of crops suitable for cultivation in the South also influenced the status of slavery there. All European plants grew in the North, but the South had its own varieties of crops. In addition to its general disadvantages, slavery was by nature less well suited to lands where cereals were grown than to those where other crops were cultivated. Tobacco, cotton, and especially sugar cane required constant attention. Women and children, who were of no use for corn, could be used in the South to grow the southern staples, so slavery was by nature better suited to lands growing these crops (353).


The most powerful motive for preserving slavery, however, was the following. If the South suddenly abolished slavery, how could it have disposed of the Black population? The North ridded itself of both slavery and slaves in one move. In the South, there was no hope of attaining this double result at the same time. It was clear that the most southern states of the Union could not abolish slavery, as had been done in the northern states, without running very great risks which did not face the latter (354). Whites in the South feared to free their slaves. If the first dawn of freedom shone on two million people at the same moment, the oppressors would have reason to fear (354). That which gave the Whites their strength in times of slavery would have exposed them to a thousand dangers if slavery had been abolished (355). Also, as long as the Negro was kept as a slave, the Whites could hold him in a condition not far removed from that of a beast. Once free, he could not be prevented from learning enough to understand the extent of his degradation, and also to catch a glimpse of the remedy (355). Once one admitted that Whites and emancipated slaves would face each other like two foreign peoples on the same soil, it was easily understood that there were only two possibilities for the future. The Negroes and the Whites would either mingle completely or forever part (355).


Prejudice would remain. People could rise above the prejudices of religion, country, and race. A king with the necessary intent could transform society. But, Tocqueville believed, it was not possible for a whole people to rise above itself when thrust suddenly into a new and unfamiliar state of freedom (356). The freer the Whites in America became, the more they would seek to isolate themselves from freed slaves.


The mulatto formed the natural bridge between the Blacks and Whites. Where there were great numbers of mulattoes, the fusion of the races was not impossible. Of all the Europeans, however, the English had least mingled their blood with the Negroes. Consequently, there were few mulattoes in the United States, and they had no strength by themselves. In racial disputes they generally made common cause with the Whites. One found much the same phenomenon in Europe when the lackeys of the great lords themselves behaved haughtily to the common people (356-357).


The Whites in the United States were proud of their race and proud of themselves. The southern American had two active passions which always led him to isolate himself from the Negroes. He was afraid of resembling his former slave, and he was afraid of falling below the level of his White neighbors (351).


Tocqueville concluded that sooner or later in the southern States, Whites and Blacks might come to blows (357). Some racial war or struggle was a distinct possibility in the future. In the South there was silence concerning this possibility. One did not speak of the future before strangers, and one avoided discussing it with one’s friends. Each person hid the truth from himself. There was something more frightening about the silence of the South than about the North’s noisy fears (358).


In 1820, a settlement of freed American slaves was founded in Liberia in Africa. Transported back to the continent of their origin, these free Blacks introduced American institutions there. Barbarized in servitude, they acquired the enlightenment of civilization, and they learned through slavery the art of being free. (359). But the vast number of American Negroes would never leave the American continent to which the passions and vices of Europe brought them. They would not disappear from the New World except by ceasing to exist. The inhabitants of the United States might postpone the misfortunes they dreaded, but they could not remove their cause (360). Slavery’s end would not delay the struggle between the races in the South. As soon as the slaves joined the ranks of free peoples, they would be indignant of being deprived of almost all the rights of citizens. Being prevented from becoming equals of the Whites, they would not be slow to show themselves their enemies (360).


For the masters in the North, slavery was a commercial and industrial question. In the South, slavery was a question of life and death. Therefore, one should not confuse slavery in the North with slavery in the South. Not wishing to mingle with the Negroes, the southerners did not want to set them free. Many in the South agreed with those in the North who contended that slavery was an evil and also bad for the economy and the master’s wealth. Nonetheless, they thought they needed to preserve that evil in order to survive (361).


Legislation concerning slaves in the South was of unprecedented atrocity, which by itself indicated a profound disturbance of the laws of humanity. To judge the desperate position of the races living there, it was enough to read the laws of the southern states (361). There was also spiritualized despotism and violence. In antiquity men sought to prevent the slave from breaking his bonds. In the American South, the attempt was made to stop him from wishing to do so. The ancients bound the slave’s body, but left his spirit free and allowed him to educate himself. The American of the South, for fear of mingling with free Blacks, forbade the teaching of reading and writing to slaves, under severe penalties of law. Afraid of raising them to their own level, they kept them as close to the beasts as possible (361). Since the presence of freed slaves disturbed those still in slavery by inspiring hopes within them for their own freedom, the laws of the South deprived the masters of the right to emancipate their slaves. In everything concerning the Negroes, either interest or pride or pity and fear dictated the behavior of the Whites.


Whatever effort the Americans of the South made to maintain slavery, they could not succeed forever. Slavery was limited to one point on the globe and attacked by Christianity as unjust, and by political economy as unprofitable. Slavery, amid the democratic and enlightenment of the age was an institution that could not last. Either the slave or the master would put an end to it. In either case great misfortunes might be anticipated (363).


I hope the forgoing presentation of Tocqueville’s views concerning both Native Americans and African-Americans has convinced the reader that there exists within the pages of Democracy in America a poignant analysis of the status of the sad histories of these peoples which continues to ring true today. By refusing the demand by some to excise from the canon any and all works having the potential to be viewed as insensitive and intolerant by the fastidiousness progressives of our present day and age, we gain the preservation of the immense treasure of a deeply profound and eloquent analysis of one of the most important and consequential, and also ever-present themes in American history which remains acutely relevant today and has stood the test of time. By setting aside for a moment their exacting standards concerning what nowadays passes as acceptable, appropriate, and correct conceptions for the serious investigation of the American past, even the most irretrievably woke among us might discover just how timeless and universal are the lasting and penetrating insights into our collective past gifted to posterity by the French visitor to America, Alexis De Tocqueville.       




Works Cited


Tocqueville, Alexis De. George Lawrence, Translator. J.P. Mayer, Editor. Democracy in America. New York: Harper & Row, 1969.