In the first third of the 19th century, the United States was visited by a young gentleman from the nation of France.
Originally, this young man came to American in order to observe the reformation of character as it was wrought into the lives of reformed prisoners by Christians (namely The Quakers). However, in a short period of time he grew weary of this enterprise and decided to study other pursuits.
The young observer from France turned his energies into observing this fledgling republic – this new United States of American – to see what made this “experiment in ordered liberty” operate.
The name of this distinguished gentleman was none other than Alexis de Tocqueville and we remember him for the seminal work that he produced known as “Democracy in America.”
Alexis’ work was first published around 1838 and it became standard reading for students of American government; it is recognized as a tour de force on the early social-political history of the United States (this writer remembers writing an extensive research paper on Alexis’ work when he was an undergraduate student. Please do not ask how many years ago that was…).
When Alexis de Tocqueville visited America, he was fascinated over what he saw.
Alexis observed a virgin country that was being transformed into an oasis of business enterprise and abundant prosperity. He witnessed a people who were captivated by the belief that there was no limit to what they could accomplish if they pursued their goals with “gusto and vigor.”
As Mr. de Tocqueville studied this land and its unique geographical setting, he witnessed the educational pursuits of New England and the Northeast (and the nascent Ivy League series of schools); he absorbed the wonders of the Mid-Western Ohio Valley and the attending prodigious hills and valleys; and he gasped over the incredible agricultural wonder of the Shenandoah valley and the deep South; furthermore, he marveled over the cohesiveness of the American people and the single-mindedness of purpose that they brought with themselves to their individual pursuits.
Alexis asked himself this question: What is the secret to this great nation? What makes America great?
Here are some of the conclusions that he put forth that we glean from his writings:
“America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word: equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.”
If this writer had it his way, he would make each member of Congress, the Supreme Court, and the Executive branch take the time to go through and imbibe the wonderful observations left for us by the estimable Alexis de Tocqueville.
It seems that all three branches of our nation’s government engage in sporadic bouts of “collective amnesia” with regards to remembering the core beliefs that formed, built, shaped, and sustained our institutions and culture for more than two centuries.
Nevertheless, this writer’s favorite quote by Alexis de Tocqueville is this one:
“Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.”
Alexis understood something that has been lost in our consciousness in that he understood that men and women cannot live in freedom unless they abide by an inner code of conduct that governs and guides their actions in a harmonious way. Mr. de Tocqueville understood that at the very core of their being that Americans had formed certain “habits of the heart” that were created by their deeply held convictions and belief system.
Alexis observed that in America religious affections was at the foremost of the political institutions of the country.
This writer doubts that de Tocqueville would state that a person of no faith could not ascribe to high ethical ideals.
What Alexis observed is that for the first 150 to 160 years of this nation’s history is that the Judeo-Christian value system (adherence to the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament and the Sermon On The Mount in the New Testament) acted as a north star that guided the actions and affairs of men and women.
The most precious freedom that Americans possess is not material well-being or prosperity but the right or freedom to follow their religious or non-religious affections without prior governmental restraints. It is this freedom that is the hallmark of what is known as American Exceptionalism.
Tyrants despise “freedom of conscience.”
Many Americans from all stripes of life and from diverse backgrounds have died over the last 238 years to make sure that we remain the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”
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