19th Century

On the Democracy of the United States and the Bourgeoisie of France (1838) | G. W. M. Reynolds

The following review of two works published in French, one by the famous Alexis de Tocqueville and the other by M. Michel Chevalier, was written in 1838 by G.W.M. Reynolds.

La Democratie en Amerique. Par M. de Tocqueville.

Lettres sur l’Amerique du Nord, Par M. Michel Chevalier.

Part One.[1]

It has been confidently asserted during the last twenty years that the spirit of Democracy was rapidly increasing, and the French Revolution of 1830 has apparently given a manifest confirmation to that opinion. When Aristocracy is judged by its own merits, and we find that its total inefficiency is clearly demonstrated, it would almost appear that the friends to Democracy need scarcely attempt to obtain their ends by renewed violence, but may tranquilly await those results which the progressive and rapid development of ideas is destined to bring about. The ancient feudal organization now everywhere succumbs to new wants and new interests. Even in countries where those interests do not possess legal representation in the state, nor the inhabitants a right of expressing their opinions—even there is liberty begun to be understood, and the sabre would ere now have been drawn from its sheath, had nations more confidence in their own intrinsic powers.

When we thus observe the old military monarchies, as they may be called, succumb beneath the force of principles which are the very antipodes to the conditions of the existence of despotism, it seems reasonable to suppose that these revolutionary movements will continue to pursue their course in proportion as social interests and intelligence direct the march. The political accession of Democracy has therefore been represented as the approximating and fatal termination to that path which is pursued by liberal nations in the present day; and because few have comprehended the real meaning and fathomed the depth of the intermediate opinion now prevalent, it has been scarcely considered otherwise than as a momentary delay forerunning an era of important change.

Hence every eye has been lately turned to that continent where the theory of a government existing by numerical majority has been so successfully reduced to practice, that nothing remains unprovided for in the immense circle traced by its legislation. In the midst of the conflicting discussions, arguments, and opinions originated by the Revolution of July, France began to study America, which had hitherto been represented by one party as a model of excellence, and by others as the tomb of all useful and necessary institutions. In the eighteenth century, philosophers chiefly occupied themselves with China, because that country afforded a remarkable contrast in presenting a picture of extraordinary civilization founded on polytheism in opposition to another based upon Christianity. A deep solicitude—which, if not similar, is at least not less lively—now induces us to direct our attention towards the United States; and, as justice demanded, France has had the honour of that study of initiation. She has not contented herself with simply sketching isolated portions of a vast whole; she has not judged the Americans in reference to her own peculiar refinement, nor with regard to their generally unpolished manners, rude address, and ill-cut garments. Such criticism was beneath her notice, and only belongs to weak and frivolous women. Seriously considering those vast tracts where nature and man appear to maintain a tacit warfare, the former on the side of grandeur, the latter on that of power and capacity, she has penetrated into the very heart of American institutions to examine their worth, and she has studied with a most exemplary impartiality the causes and present support of a prosperity which rather seems to belong to those times when imagination carries us back to the glories of our early being, than to a century in which all is as yet imperfect. Two French works in particular have attracted public attention, and thrown into a strange controversy an important mass of speculations, opinions, and new facts—two works totally discrepant in style,—at variance in point of views, and yet so singularly linked together as to appear a commencement and a sequel, the one as it regards the other.

The author of La Democratie en Amerique has deeply studied the spirit of American laws, and has brought them back to the pureness of their originating principle: the author of the Lettres sur l’Amerique du Nord has closely observed the effects of an extensive and just distribution of labour on the condition of a people as yet in its infancy. M. de Tocqueville has systematized doctrines; M. Michel Chevalier has studied those facts that render them applicable. If they accord together in their speculations on political results, the tendency of their motives is totally different. The former, confidently believing in the excellence of the old monarchical governments of Europe, fancies that a similar system will shortly be introduced to the United States; the latter, an enthusiastic disciple in the cause of liberal democracy, is satisfied that Europe will in process of time imbibe and embrace the principles entertained by the Americans. M. de Tocqueville is didactic and rational in his conclusions, as if he imagined that logic alone rules the world: his book is the development of original ideas, and during the perusal it is easy to discover that a close imitation of the style of Montesquieu, combined with a fixed and inflexible determination to be perspicuous and rational, has totally put a stop to those happy flights of natural talent in which an unshackled mind would have indulged. M. Chevalier is elaborate and free: less stern—less severe in his principles, he is more daring in his conclusions: his thoughts wander ever and anon from America to Europe, from the present to the future, with the rapidity of those rail-roads which he depicts in a manner at once picturesque and scientific: in fine, his letters are a long series of impressions which, if they be not always correct, do not the less exemplify, in every instance, a vast insight and penetration.

The fact is, that America is better understood by Europeans than by its own citizens. While she is occupied in self-contemplation and self-admiration—a state of quiescent beatitude originated by amour-propre—we are in a situation which enables us to judge of her with impartiality and calmness; and we are at length enabled to decide one of the grandest and most difficult problems of the age. We purpose to consider in this article, first, whether in destroying the ancient aristocratic monarchies of Europe, the American democracy would replace those feudal systems; and, secondly, whether the unlimited application of the principle of the sovereignty of the people, as it exists in the United States, is with regard to France the corollary of the government of the middle classes.

It has been judiciously remarked that what constitutes in its essence the government of the United States, is simply the sovereignty of the majority which is perceptible in all its reality, which modifies manners and usuages as well as laws, and which has become an existing principle universally admitted, instead of having remained in a state of philosophical abstraction. The American government is the people directing their own affairs, administering for themselves independent of control or resistance, influencing their national representation by the frequency of their elections, and watching over their private and public interests with a jealous and suspicious solicitude. If the American government be representative in form, it is nevertheless directly popular in its spirit. The brief duration of the magistrature and the parliament or Congress in the United States necessarily imbues the various successive administrations with the inevitable bent of ideas, prejudices, and passions which must influence those into whose hands the government of the country is momentarily entrusted. Hence is frequently imposed upon individuals the necessity of veiling their true characters beneath the garb of hypocrisy; and if this censure be but little galling to the people of the United States, it is accounted for by the fact that none ever had the audacity nor the wish to fly from it. The inequality, which is remarkable in fortune, is not admitted to extend to intelligence; and even that very inequality itself—the only one tolerated—is concealed beneath an exterior that invariably protects it.

If opulence haye permitted the United States, as it long ago has allowed Europe, to indulge in the pleasures and luxuries of life,—that interior and secret luxury, which resembles the one in vogue amongst the Jews of the middle ages, does not modify and change the general habits that have stamped American life with a stern and monotonous aspect. The rich merchant, who was poor yesterday, and may become so again to-morrow, grasps without hesitation the hand of the common labourer or mechanic, whose suffrage decides, the same as his own, the greatest interests of the state, and which suffrage is not purchased by riches nor birth. In America, Democracy has changed the coffee-rooms of taverns into drawing-rooms, newspapers into exclusive organs, and religious meetings into a means of recreation and spectacle. Every thing is inspired or modified by the pervasive spirit of democracy.

In the United States public opinion is subjected to the influence of certain institutions, in order to react upon them in its turn, Seldom concentrated in original and studied compositions, it escapes in fugitive harangues, and echoes all impressions without aspiring to the honour of rectifying the false, and discriminating the just. Numbers overruling sense and understanding, intelligence never seeks to combat against a multitude; and thus America is the only country in the world where proselytism through the medium of public opinion is impossible.

That equality, which is not less established by the vicissitudes and chances of an adventurous life than by the laws, is expressed most intimately and completely by universal suffrage—the portion of the American constitution, which is at once the fundamental principle and the guarantee of its existence. And how shall we deny the dogma of numerical supremacy, such as we see applied each day and without danger to the people of the United States, to be that sovereignty which acknowledges no law save itself, which would rather do wrong than have its rights contested, and which is expressed in the axiom that declares, “The people need not be right to legitimatize their actions”—an axiom which exceeds all other repugnances, insults the ancient political creed of Europe, whose monarchies it would gladly overthrow, and at the same time—singular as may appear the coincidence—is so inoffensive in the United States, that it is not thought worth while to discuss its truth!

Arrived at this point, it is impossible not to be struck by the incompatibility existing between our ideas and those of the Americans. That doctrine which teaches the necessity of the preponderance of numbers over the wisdom of a few—a doctrine, which makes all men equal, and on which reposes the fabric of all laws and customs in the United States—must naturally appear to the narrow-minded European every thing that is most averse to his ideas, comprehension, and belief. In France this is quite different. There is no country in the universe where the idea of truth and justice is more completely separated from that of numerical superiority and force: amidst their most ardent thirst for innovation and change, the French were more or less logical and rational. The doctrine of the sovereignty of the people, represented by universal suffrage, is as repugnant to the mind of a Frenchman as a monarchical government founded on the fabled divine right of kings.

In the continent of Europe—a continent peopled by reasoners and profound politicians, the theory of numerical supremacy will never be firmly established. The doctrine of universal suffrage is not in general good odour with even men of very liberal opinions: and perhaps it were only sufficient to notice from what mouths the argument issues, to convince ourselves that centuries must elapse before such theories can be well received amongst us even as matters for calm and deliberate discussion.

But how has it happened that a doctrine, so flourishing and so prevalent in the United States, is merely looked upon as a baseless theory in its application to France —that France, whose sons are so prone to change, and where political vicissitude is of such frequent occurrence? Revolutions cause the development and not the transformation of people, and every society is identified with itself. Particularly in a comparison between America and Europe do these truths appear the more glaring, and are substantiated by more irrefutable evidence. Let us retrospect, through the mirror of history, to the foundation of the United States.

In those stormy times, when religious discord lacerated the bosom of the Old World, numberless individuals of upright character—according to the ideas of their contemporaries—and austere morals, traversed the ocean, to practise in a foreign and fruitful clime those virtues which their own countries could neither appreciate nor endure. To the sacred equality prevalent amongst those votaries of the reformation was immediately associated the “equality of the desert,” and the pioneer was formed from the puritan. The members of that little circle of society—the only one of the kind, perhaps, at that time existing in the world—asserted no superiority one over another: they all deemed themselves martyrs in a common cause, and were devoted to the same end. In leaving their ancient land—the territory of their forefathers—they forgot the distinctions they left behind them, and debarked on a shore where their wants, their necessities, and mutual interests consecrated the equality that prevailed amongst them. They were strangers to luxury; but they lived in comfort and tranquil ease. Every one partook of a common banquet; and the trees of the forest succumbed to him whose able arm could best wield the axe and use the saw. All were land-holders to the extent of their physical means or wishes: and all were equal on account of circumstances, and of that creed which raiseth the humble and abaseth the proud. Thus intellectual superiority was unknown amongst them, save in their rustic arguments or evening tales: the uniformity of that life, which alone consisted in daily labour and the exercise of religious duties, could not do otherwise than efface all reminiscences of former grade and distinction.

An imperious necessity moreover ordained that the colonies of New England should continually legislate for themselves. The tie, which connected them to their mother-country, did not dispense them from the obligation under which they laboured to adopt measures for their own defence, and to protect their incipient trade. Their education was partial and rude; and that, which was at first a condition created by necessity, soon became a combination of invincible habits. The community was originated on the shores of the Atlantic, was perpetuated in the same state of incessant activity and perfect harmony, and has increased beneath a propitious heaven like the tree in the Gospel. The manners of the primitive colonists have been stamped on their posterity; and that last-born people of civilization, into whose hands Providence consigned a hemisphere, appear to be the members of one vast family.

Such were the origin and foundation of the United States,—a singular and unique phenomenon in the midst of the numberless political communities of the world. The character of the American is that of a rigid and sincere Christian, an intrepid colonist, possessing manners neither agreeable nor social, but cold and saturnine, and endowed with a mind whose scope extends no farther than the figures and calculations which denote the magnitude of his gigantic speculations. The primitive states of the north gave life and existence, as it were, to the young republics of the west, to whose care is now entrusted a portion of that vast heritage which is the greatest that ever belonged to the human race; and the states of the south, where wealth, luxury, and toleration of slavery have become the elements of their rapid decay and approaching fall, are merely maintained in their present condition by the immense counterpoise afforded, in the very midst of the union, by the northern powers against the combined influence of those destructive causes.

That which has, therefore, founded American democracy, and which continues to preserve it against the opinions of the rest of the world, is the simplicity of manners which characterizes the people, and the vastness of their territory, over which all can disperse themselves without prejudice to each other, like the sons of Adam after the creation. Take away from America that mighty western domain, where a new city springs up every year, and where new states are periodically formed; circumscribe the range of those tracts where populous towns extend their suburbs with facility in proportion as the inhabitants increase, and from that day forth the government of the United States—that is to say, the practical application of the sovereignty of the people—would become a disastrous impossibility.

Were the United States suddenly transferred to the very interior of Europe, the interest of the land-holder and the wealthy merchant would speedily triumph over an universal equality now well pre- served. If the American mechanic, when he had amassed a small sum in his workshop at New York or Philadelphia, had not in perspective the grant of a tract of land on the banks of the Ohio; if the cow-herd or the gardener did not anticipate eventually to become a farmer when his resources should permit him to purchase agricultural implements, &c., a revolution would speedily place America upon a level with the old monarchical governments of Europe. Obliged to oppose increasing impediments to the elevation of a class whose existence would be subjected to all the vicissitudes that now menace it in Europe, democracy would essay at one and the same time armed and legal resistance; and that tendency is already, in the bosom of the United States, something more than a gratuitous hypothesis. If the agricultural chiefs and owners of the soil became disaffected with each other, they would soon pass those limits where the balance of interests, social and political, has even at different times caused the most despotic governments of Europe to stop; and arbitrary power—oligarchy—or tyranny would be the last and terrible scourge America would prepare for herself—a scourge beneath whose lash she can never submit; for the citizens of that free land could not yield up their rights on a sudden, as a man in a moment of despair surrenders his soul to Satan.

These observations have lately become so general, thanks to the admirable work of M. de Tocqueville, that it is only after considerable reluctance we have ventured to re-produce them here. Simple as those observations are, do we not nevertheless feel that they create doubts of a grave and serious nature relative to the future fate of democracy—that sovereignty of the people which is daily represented to us as infallible? Are we advancing towards a social organization, founded, not upon the admissibility, but upon the admission of all to an equal share of property? Do we incline to that American regime, of which universal suffrage is the basis? Was it for this that Victor Hugo declares “every thing, in the present age, whether ideal or fact, whether connected with society in general, or with a single individual, to be in a state of twilight? Mankind,” continues the same author, “is waiting the event of much that darkens the horizon around us. The world is made up of a thousand discrepancies—lustre and obscurity, which pervade all we see, and all we conceive in this predicament of twilight; which envelope our political theories, our religious opinions, our domestic life, and which are even discovered in the histories we write of others, as well as in those of ourselves.”[2]

The idea of a monarchical government appears to have been always the most prevalent one in Europe; and although the law of primogenitureship aad aristocracy of birth be abolished in France, still is society divided into classes, despite of the second article of the Charta of 1830, which distinctly says, “Tout le mond est égal aupres du roi.” In countries, where science and the arts are as much cultivated as commercial enterprises, a certain aristocracy of the soul and of the feelings must indubitably prevail. So long as the majority of human beings shall be obliged to rise with the sun and moisten the soil with the sweat of the brow, all intelligences—all understandings cannot become equalized; and hence is the idea of the sovereignty of the people merely chimerical when applied to European countries.

The opinion, which concludes that democracy in every sense of the word must be shortly introduced into France, appears to us—if we may so far venture to explain the ideas of our transmarine allies to depend merely upon an incorrect analogy. Because the Bourgeoisie of France, being superior in numerical proportion, has supplanted the aristocracy, it must not be inferred that that same class will pursue its advantage, and overturn every thing appertaining to a monarchical government. At the same time that the aristocracy was overthrown, the monarchy might have been consigned to the same fate; but the bourgeoisie had abolished the evil it complained of, and was satisfied. The French Revolution has caused important changes, but has not destroyed the basis of society: the triumph of democracy on the European continent would involve that basis in irretrievable ruin.

If around the French frontiers were spread vast tracts of uninhabited lands, it would then be easy to understand how the mass of territorial property might increase, and the numbers of land-holders be extended. But having at least one-sixth of its territory engaged as fallow-land,[3] without the possibility of establishing new colonies in herself, and without much chance of ever founding any very important ones in Africa or elsewhere;[4] France can only augment the riches of its land-holders by perfecting the science of agriculture, without extending their numbers. If public works of utility, to the adoption of which popular opinion is gradually urging the government, if new methods of cultivating the soil, and if more rapid means of communication, can increase the value of land, the land-holders and farmers will become richer; but the territory will not be increased in subdivisions.

Half a century has not yet elapsed since the greatest event, that ever occurred in the annals of the vicissitudes of nations, completely changed the political and social aspect of France. When the first French Revolution broke out, there was an immense number of estates in the hands of the two privileged orders, such as lands parcelled out by adjudication, redeemed by mort-main, or disengaged from feudal tenure, which had been acquired at an exceedingly low rate by the stewards who had superintended their cultivation, or by the farmers who had rented them, and which seemed destined, by the inscrutable decrees of Providence, to become for the benefit of the middling classes, a species of dotation inherent to that political power to which it was speedily associated. That vast revolution in freehold possessions—or rather that important increase of the numbers of land-holders—was, without doubt, the original cause of all the important changes and instances of popular ebullition which subsequently occurred. It enabled the bourgeoisie to maintain its eminence, in 1815, against the reaction in favour of aristocracy that threatened France, and, in 1830, against the attempted innovations of the democrats and the machinations of the republicans. So long as no analogous revolution shall take place, and so long as the majority of the bourgeoisie shall rank amongst the number of land-holders, democracy can never attain any sure footing in France, and that organization, whose combinations consist, of wealth and talent, will continue unshaken. France ought to be sufficiently confident of her own intrinsic powers, never again to dread one of those terrible popular eruptions that shake the country to the very deepest abyss. As for any future commotion for the purpose of regulating the rights and privileges of the people as land-holders, it appears to us that, with regard to territorial possessions, the French have arrived at the summum of equitable division. The father cannot now alienate his real property from one or more of his sons to benefit the eldest: an equal portion must descend to each. The monopoly of vast estates in one man’s hands is now impossible to be obtained in France; and the admirable articles of the civil code strike, as it were with a battering-ram, against the mighty walls and turreted parapets of the chateau of the old regime.

At the same time, while the provisions of that new code aim a deadly blow at the very root of the possibility of vast accumulation, a simultaneous and parallel effect is produced on the small possessions of the poor. The needy farmer, beginning the world on a few acres of land, finds it impossible to support the necessary expenditure for a first outlay, and is therefore obliged to dispose of his little capital in such a manner that it may produce him a more lucrative and certain interest: hence the subdivision of territory decreases, and the middling classes, or bourgeoisie, retain their possessions in their own hands, and thus acquire an immense increase of influence and wealth. Hence are the importance and power of the bourgeoisie sustained by a law that strikes at once against the fortunes of the rich aristocrat and the pittance of the needy farmer. These distributions, and these arrangements are so little known to the English in general, that we have thought it worth while to enter somewhat elaborately upon the subject. National prejudices have ever blinded the eyes of the sons of Albion against the excellence of foreign institutions; but the more extensively international relations are established between the two countries, the greater will be the benefit accruing to both. At a future period we may probably review the principles of that constitution which was established by a Charta arrested from the hands of tyranny during three days of insurrection, and at the same time make a few remarks on a code formed under the immediate inspection of Napoleon himself. In the meantime let us pursue the important subject under present discussion.

Amongst the lower classes, whose incompetence to become extensive land-holders we have already shown, the little produce of their manual labour, small personal property, or trading stock, can never compete with the fortunes acquired by the bourgeoisie. That counterpoise need not be dreaded nor anticipated. Their hopes can never be so sanguine as to lead them to imagine that the profits on the productions of their industry will create for them that importance which is enjoyed by the class immediately above them. No one hopes more than ourselves to witness the day when the lot of the mechanic, the artizan, and the labourer, by whom the most disastrous reverses of fortune are often experienced, shall be ameliorated by the progressive intellectual resources and civilized notions of mankind. At the same time, what theory can possibly be adduced, by the practice of which we may hope to benefit those suffering millions? To us, narrow-minded perhaps as we are, and dull of comprehension, no reasonable proposition occurs to us in the present position of affairs, because we have not a valley of Mississippi, nor lands of Ohio, whither we may despatch the surplus of an overgrown population. These remarks apply not only to England, but to France, and to every other nation, save one, in Europe: for so long as the inhabitants of a country shall be confined within the narrow limits of their own territory, beyond which boundaries the claims of other states prevent an emigration, the amount of the wages of labourers must be commensurate with the wants of the nation and the capability of so circumscribed a tract to satisfy those exigencies. The bourgeoisie possesses a two-fold source of influence in the Bank and in their intellectual resources; and no one will deny that these are the two essential principles of power and independence.

So important is a mature consideration of the subject under notice, and so persevering should we be in our investigation of all matters calculated to interest the two worlds, that we must not forget to allude to the severe checks daily experienced by those financial systems, which principally aim at conducting mankind to better destinies, through the medium of increasing their wealth, and which chiefly belong to a new people whose institutions are founded on democracy and universal equality. In the United States all popular antipathies are renewed and concreted in a financial warfare. The veteran soldier, whom democracy placed at the head of the legislative government, consecrated the eight years during which his vicarious mission lasted, to undermine that institution to which his country was partly indebted for its fabulous prosperity, and which alone afforded the Americans the necessary resources for carrying on their gigantic enterprises. The people applauded that political warfare with extraordinary transport; for they saw that the rude hand of Jackson had seized the very throat of their most dangerous enemy, and that a National Bank was the germ of an eventually powerful bourgeoisie, which would seek to extend itself, and would in the course of years acquire a dangerous influence and aristocratic power by reason of increasing wealth, and an union of intelligences. The people instinctively anticipated these results, and wisely applauded that which was done to protect their future liberties. Democracy trembles in America before the middling classes, as the bourgeoisie of France is the source of constant alarm to the aristocracy of Europe.

Part Two.[5]

Most remarkable have been the political changes that have taken place during the present century, whether they be denominated by the title of Reform in England, Royal Statute in Spain, or Commercial Progress in Germany and Hungary. The system of maintaining peace and tranquillity in Europe since the year 1830, is, for a well-constituted bourgeoisie, at once the guarantee of its puissance and the consecration of its destinies. As yet, however, it is in France alone that the bourgeoisie possesses a certain power in that plenitude and security which enable an admirably-established principle to develop its results to the satisfaction of those who investigate its merits. It is, therefore, in France that the bourgeoisie should be dissected and considered as if we were treading on classic ground; for it is only in France that we can, at one single glance, embrace and comprehend the instincts and the tendencies of the middle classes.

The present position of political affairs in France would almost lead us to imagine that the power of the bourgeoisie is too extensively acknowledged, and the necessity of its sway too generally understood, for it to dread opposition or attack. Having been long occupied in contesting and combatting to acquire or preserve its rights, the bourgeoisie, having gained its various objects, has only now to render itself worthy of filling that place and exercising those privileges which are no longer questioned. On one side lie the ruins of the party it has supplanted; and on the other springs up a faction which was only dangerous so long as it remained unmasked—a military and warlike school which dared proclaim itself American—a multitude of soldiers and proconsuls—a host that preferred spreading ruin and devastation over the world rather than organising systems of political liberty! The bourgeoisie, then, now enacts, in the persons of its members, the principal characters on the political theatre of France, in the same manner as the democracy of America occupies the public stage of the United States. In proportion as it becomes more manifest that France has escaped from the dominion of the military and the republican parties, and that it repulses those systems and schemes of agitation which so strangely interrupted the silence of despotism, do the study and consideration of that class to which Providence has entrusted the destinies of the political world, become duties too incumbent to be neglected. That subject—instead of prompting the lucubrations of silly females—ought to originate the publication of bulky volumes: in the meantime let us devote a few brief reflections to the important study we so seriously recommend.

What are the political sentiments of the Bourgeoisie of France? and in what constitutional form do they endeavour to frame themselves?

Those politicians who have studied the principles of government in that society where the parade of antiquity is still preserved, or in that sphere where the aristocracy of England is almost worshipped and adored,—for whom the dignity of ceremonious forms and the infallibility of a noble ancestry are the essential conditions of power and supremacy,—such reasoners will find it somewhat difficult to comprehend the line of argument adopted by an egotistical bourgeoisie in the management of its public affairs. That bourgeoisie is alone interested in the transactions of the present day: the future and the past occupy but a small portion of its thoughts; it neither wishes to descend with a glorious name to posterity, nor to render itself worthy of a magnificent ancestry; and, in another point of view, it remains perfectly inaccessible to that democratic tide of passions which neither resist the allurements of victory nor the seductiveness of a particular idea.

Casimir Perier, that Richelieu of the middle classes, who repressed the republican ardour of his countrymen and pacified the angry feelings of Europe, traced the programme of the political bourgeoisie when he uttered those solemn and never-to-be-forgotten words,—“THE BLOOD OF HER CHILDREN BELONGS ONLY UNTO FRANCE”— words that must be remembered so long as the French shall remain a nation, and that must ever elicit applause, even though they be invoked to palliate a fault!

The political system adopted by the bourgeoisie—although it may be safely called the system of to-day only—without fixity, and without the capacity of glancing far into futurity, is understood and maybe appreciated when we recollect that each member of that now supreme class is anxious to legislate for his own individual and private felicity, and that the affections are at present concentrated in the domestic circle. What French monarch could henceforth be so rash as to claim from the bourgeoisie that servile devotion which a military aristocracy was wont to tender as meet recompense for the advantages it derived from the lustre of the crown? or what politician would expect to remark in the public transactions of a class of citizens those inflexible and skilful political traditions which were the very force and spirit of the patricians of the old regime? At the same time let not our readers fall into an error, and induce from these observations those consequences that may not appear to accord with opinions previously advanced, and to which the progressive occurrence of events makes us cling more and more. We do not for a moment imagine that the French bourgeoisie is so firmly established that it has nothing to dread from opponent parties: alas! the great inadvertency of supreme power, and into which the middle class probably declines, is the singularly idiosyncratic idea that it is inaccessible to the whispers of sordid interest and deaf to the allurements of dishonest partiality. In order that the bourgeoisie shall be enabled to fix its dominion on a solid basis, and completely enter into those pacific paths which are the natural conditions of its permanency and aggrandizement, the position of its government ought to be well fixed in the face of Europe, and the name of France be pronounced with respect from St. Petersburg to Madrid. It is impossible to found material peace in the very midst of a moral war. Most necessary, therefore, does it appear, if it be only for the purpose of insuring a prosperous and calm future, for the bourgeoisie to supply the place of those sympathies which are at present refused her, by combinations as prudent as they are energetic and firm: at all events, if she value her own prosperity, France must not feel herself isolated, nor suffer her immense activity to remain without aliment, else would she tear her own entrails. The permanent colonization of Africa and the protection of Spain ought to be the two measures to which she should direct her attention, not only as springing from the capacities and wishes of the bourgeoisie, but with regard to her situation in the eyes of Europe.

Thank God, the spirit of revolutionary propagation is defunct in France; and the bourgeoisie has had the honour of striking the death-blow. For the future, the French will experience the happiness of that situation, when, emerging from an uncertain and dubious condition of politics, they shall exist only for themselves without reference to the predicament of their neighbours. Already is the train of new ideas in vigorous progress in the various states of Europe, and the French may speedily felicitate themselves on the efficacy of example instead of the more arbitrary and less certain method of enforcing principles by violence and arms.

To aggrandize the pomp and ornament the ceremonials of a few ridiculous triumphs, the Romans subdued the world. To lay the permanent foundation of her maritime superiority, England connected the hideous misery of Ireland with her own magnificence and grandeur. In France, the conquests of the republic became the heritage of a soldier, who carried his devastating arms from Lisbon to Moscow; and the discord has lately ceased on the hillocks of Montmartre. Attila effectually crushed the glory and splendour of the Romans— the aristocratic boast of England is falling into disrepute—and the treaty of 1815 was the consequence of the warfare persisted in by the French. If the citizen-government now existing in France equal not in splendour the dynasties of former times, it must be remembered that the bourgeoisie rules rather by the dictates of common sense than the ardent ebullitions of talent and poetic eloquence, and that hence its sway must effectually guarantee its integrity and its incapability of violating any one single fundamental principle of human civilization.

If ever the unity of Europe were to appear possible, it must be during that era when, national prejudices gradually yielding to the impulse of new ideas and new interests, the manners and habits of Europeans shall be subjected to the influence of those principles which at present form the basis of the government of the bourgeoisie in France. The Press and the Bank, those mighty engines which administer food to intelligence, and wealth to ambition, will speedily establish in every European nation so rapid a circulation of ideas and of capital, that the political results themselves will have escaped all foresight, and the wisdom of all prophecy. The entire community, which, on account of a variety of rights, is, to the democrat as well as to the patrician, one living and sacred unity, will, in the eyes of the government, be held but as a vast conglomeration of interests, The land itself will gradually lose that patriarchal aspect it has so long worn, and will become a simple instrument of production—a moveable possession, as it were, capable of being constantly transferred from one master to another.

The revolutions and changes to which modern habits and manners are gradually being submitted, are not fully understood nor generally noticed; nor is it the experience of a few years that can instruct us in the minutiae of so vast a study. But observation and comparison may teach us much. The possession of property alone will not long suffice to give the Frenchman a certain rank and position in his own country: he will be shortly obliged, not only on account of the scantiness of the territory with an increasing population, but also in accordance with the exigence of another system of habits and manners, to join to his situation as a land-holder, some liberal profession, or combine the possession of an estate with the active exercises of industry. Few generations will have passed away before the amateur land-holder will become the useful farmer, receiving from agricultural pursuits not only his amusement and his pleasure, but also his learned theories and his laborious practice, his daily toils and his uncertain changes. The French cannot long maintain that which we in England denominate and distinguish by the names of landed-property and moneyed-property. Within the last twenty years, all great possessors of forest-land in France have erected forges and similar useful establishments on their estates; and it may be fairly presumed that the distillation of sugar from beet-root will cement a necessary and close alliance between the manufacturing and agricultural classes.

The ambitious desires or the real wants of individuals are too rapidly increasing in France to allow her sons to remain in lazy obscurity in some sequestered town or on a small patrimonial estate, without some stimulus to induce them to extend their fortunes, even at the risk of compromising their domestic felicity. And, now that the influence of Parisian manners and customs, in a time of tranquillity and peace, penetrates even to the insignificant hamlet on the extreme verge of the kingdom, dreams of ambition and glory will be originated in every mind, and thought will associate, in the breasts of even the most humble, ideas of pleasure with others of intelligence and taste. An increase of intercourse between one town and another will consummate that revolution in manners which has already operated on the laws and government of the French—a revolution strangely compounded of good and evil, and full of contradictions, like every other revolution in human systems, where all is finite and all imperfect—a providential work whose progress shall not be impeded by the machinations nor the designs of ill-judging critics and commentators.

The fruits of vast conquests in Europe were accompanied by an idea that political power and importance was chiefly constituted by extensive possession of territory. The French revolution has originated a sentiment not less remarkable—viz. the rights of intellect, and the influence of wisdom. On this basis is at present erected the citizen-government of the French—fixed as to principles, but changeable as to persons—and built upon a foundation which the efforts of democracy cannot easily destroy. The institutions of that government are suitable to the genius and intelligences of the middle classes—uniformity of manners creates uniformity of administration—and the union of a multiplicity of interests is the best guarantee for a duration of a government which protects them, and the most reasonable defence, as well as the most legitimate argument, that can be opposed to the numerous attempts or to the specious sophistry of democratic innovators.

It is not here intended to establish, in an absolute manner, that the principle of centralization is the essence of the government of the bourgeoisie. Every people in the world may maintain the supremacy of its own habits, manners, and understanding. At the same time, it would be difficult for an impartial observer not to recognise something materially centralizing in the principles of the Reform Bill in England—in the great federal faction, which in reality was an incipient bourgeoisie, formed exactly one century too prematurely, in America—or in the political systems of the Low-Countries, that land of old franchises and local liberties. There, as in France, may be seen the juste-milieu party warring against liberalism in questions of principles, combatting against the aristocracy in matters of interior organization, and occupying itself in the attempt to possess attributes which it never before enjoyed, or which at different times may have escaped its grasp.

If a certain political idea have gradually expanded over France in a short time, and emanated from roots profoundly planted, to an extent calculated to astonish the superficial reasoner, the secret impulse must be looked for in the administrative division of territory and the constitution of the year VIII., which formed such important epochs in the history of an extraordinary revolution. To say to a great people—“Henceforth you will cease to hear those familiar nominal distinctions which hitherto have invariably met your ears: those provinces, whose traditions and legendary lore you are accustomed to love, and those local glories of which you have been wont to be proud—all are about to vanish—all disappear—all be consigned to oblivion in one day: your history will be torn and scattered to the winds—and not one page shall be left;—and instead of those glorious reminiscences, you shall have eighty-six departments, described and marked at hazard, according to the course of a river or obscure stream, or to the distribution of circumstances and chance;”—to hold such language to a great, a proud, and a powerful people, may appear strange; but that those tones of authority were obeyed without resistance, must seem far more singular still! The future, however, consecrated the attempt; and, to use the words of a celebrated French writer, “the constituent assembly gave new life and youth to France in casting her, disencumbered and divested of her past fourteen centuries of despotic grandeur, into an era then so sombre and gloomy—an era of doubt and dread—but an era that has produced such extraordinary results!”[6]

The English reasoner, who reflects on the nature of passing events in the quiet seclusion of his study, cannot, however, be otherwise than astonished, when he recollects that during a period of seven years, no serious and really dangerous attack has been made against the principles of the administrative institutions in France. The democratic school has invariably, since the revolution of 1830, maintained itself in a sphere of general, and not individual polities, and has chiefly occupied its mind with diplomatic questions which involve the existence of peace or war, and which prove that it still retains a morbid inclination towards a state of hostility in preference to a predicament of peace. If the future destinies of France were consigned to the management of the democratic class—if, in fine, the system of self-government were to be firmly established in that country, the first symptom of so great a movement would be the destruction of every existing political principle or institution which might appear to be in the slightest degree at variance with the true sentiments and opinions of democracy.

But the bourgeoisie of France is too prudent to be attacked unawares, too powerful to be overcome by the partisans of other factions, and too suspicious and jealous to be blind to the machinations of its enemies. Its principles are, moreover, so just, so moderate, and so reasonable, that new converts daily flock to its standard. The monarchy is, nevertheless, a source of alarm and dread to the bourgeoisie. Royalty may ally itself with the ruins of the past, before those still existing remnants of arbitrary grandeur and power shall have totally disappeared; and from day to day may the bourgeoisie accuse it of creating a political influence independent of the interests by which it exists. At the same time, the force of those interests, if properly weighed, properly understood, and properly relied on, will demonstrate its own power, maintain order and domestic tranquillity, and, so soon as those interests themselves shall have triumphed over the perils that threaten them without, or the designs that menace them within, establish the maxim on a firm and irrefragable basis—“The King reigns, but does not govern”—a maxim that will become, for the bourgeoisie, the scale and measure of its constitutional privileges, as the words which declare that “The blood of her children belongs only unto France,” are the dogma of its international rights.

Such is the long train of reasoning and of sentiments awakened by an attentive perusal of the two best works that have yet appeared upon America. Till Messieurs de Tocqueville and Chevalier published their illuminating volumes, we were labouring under the disagreeable necessity of forming our opinions concerning the Americans from a few trashy perpetrations, penned in a malignant and disgraceful spirit, by females whose circumscribed range of intellect, narrow views, and prejudiced minds “saw through a glass darkly.” The works under notice are of a superior order of merit—their style is temperate—and though their aims be different, there still reigns throughout the two a reciprocity of idea, which, as we before observed, would almost cause us to conclude that one was intended as a species of sequel to the other. The English have a strange fashion of concocting books. A few months’ residence in the metropolis of a great nation, or a rapid journey through the country itself, is calculated to afford sufficient instruction, initiation, and data tor the fabrication of a history, social, moral, and political. Hence may we account for the production of those abortions entitled “Domestic Manners of the Americans,” and “Paris and the Parisians,” by Mrs, Trollope; and of “France,” and the “Monarchy of the Middle Classes,” by H. L. Bulwer. In these volumes we look in vain for the faithful description, intimate acquaintance with the subject, and profound detail which so especially mark the works of de Tocqueville and Chevalier.

[1] Original citation: G.W.M. Reynolds, ‘On the Democracy of the United States and the Bourgeoisie of France’, The Monthly Magazine, January 1838, pp. 83–93.

[2] Les Chants du Crepuscule, page iii. of the Preface.

[3] According to M. L. de Carné.

[4] We do not here allude to the capability, but to the will, of the French in the establishment of permanent colonies.

[5] Original citation: G.W.M. Reynolds, ‘‘On the Democracy of the United States and the Bourgeoisie of France’, The Monthly Magazine, February 1838, pp. 189–94.

[6] M. de la Carné.

1 reply »