Publication Date


Document Type

Working Paper


Professor John Hall

Journal of Economic Literature Classification Codes

A30, B10, B25

Key Words

Alexis de Tocqueville, American Exceptionalism, Democracy in America, Early American Life (1607-1835)


From early settlers to the sophisticated nuances and concerns facing Americans in his time, Alexis de Tocqueville authored a definitive piece on democracy as it emerged and was practiced in 19th century America. This inquiry seeks to establish that Tocqueville’s penetrating insights into the United States in its early decades assisted him in arriving at the notion of what is widely touted as American ‘Exceptionalism’. In the first half of the 19th century Tocqueville travelled widely, seeking to understand this republic and its constitutional emphases upon principles of democracy. Completing his tour, in 1835 Tocqueville published Democracy in America. It was during his visit and later reflections that Tocqueville came to his rich understanding, highlighting the warp and weft that proved so integral to the fabric of American democratic practices. What helps to differentiate Tocqueville and what renders his contribution so enduring is that he possessed an uncanny ability to grasp the larger picture and to focus in upon the key variables contributing to America’s success story with democracy. In his analyses, the full array of variables contributing to and constituting the formation of American democratic institutions are considered in earnest.


© Zachary Mckinster

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