Democracy In America, Alexis de Tocqueville, 1831
It is unnecessary to say that in the chapter which has just been read I have not pretended to give a history of America. My only . object has been to enable the reader to appreciate the influence that the opinions and manners of the first immigrants have exercised upon the fate of the different colonies and of the Union in general. I have therefore cited only a few detached fragments.
I do not know whether I am deceived, but it appears to me that by pursuing the path which I have merely pointed out, it would be easy to present such pictures of the American republics as would not be unworthy the attention of the public and could not fail to suggest to the statesman matter for reflection. Not being able to devote myself to this labor, I am anxious at least to render it easy to others; and for this purpose I append a short catalogue and analysis of the works which seem to me the most important to consult.
At the head of the general documents which it would be advantageous to examine, I place the work entitled: Historical Collection of State Papers and Other Authentic Documents, intended as materials for an hystory of the United States of America, by Ebenezer Hazard. The first volume of this compilation, which was printed at Philadelphia in 1792, contains a literal copy of all the charters granted by the Crown of England to the emigrants, as well as the principal acts of the colonial governments, during the first period of their existence. One can find there, among other things, a great number of authentic documents on the affairs of New England and Virginia during this period. The second volume is almost entirely devoted to the acts of the Confederation of 1643 This federal compact, which was entered into by the colonies of New England with the view of resisting the Indians, was the first instance of union afforded by the Anglo-Americans. There were several other such compacts, up to the one of 1776, which led to the independence of the colonies.
The Philadelphia historical collection is in the Library of Congress.
Each colony has, besides, its own historic monuments, some of which are extremely curious, beginning with Virginia, the state that was first peopled. The earliest historian of Virginia was its founder, Captain John Smith. Captain Smith has left us a quarto volume, entitled The general Historie of Virginia and New-England, by Captain John Smith, some time Governor in those Countries, and Admiral of New England; printed at London in 1627. (This volume is to be found in the BibliothŠque royale.) . Smith’s work is illustrated with very curious maps and engravings which date from the period when it was printed. The historian’s account extends from 1584 to 1626. Smith’s book is well thought of and merits being so. The author is one of the most celebrated adventurers who has appeared in a century full of adventurers; he lived at its end. The book itself breathes that ardor of discovery, that spirit of enterprise, which characterizes such men; there one finds those chivalric manners which are often mingled with trade and made to serve the acquisition of riches. But what is remarkable about Captain Smith is that he combined the virtues of his contemporaries with qualities which were alien to most of them; his style is simple and clear, his accounts have the mark of truth, his descriptions are not elaborated. This author throws valuable light on the state of the Indians at the time of the discovery of North America.
The second historian to consult is Beverley. Beverley’s work, a volume in duodecimo, was translated into French, and published at Amsterdam, in 1707. The author begins his narrative in 1585 and ends it in 1700. The first part of his book contains historical documents, properly so called, relative to the infancy of the colony. The second affords a most curious picture of the state of the Indians at this remote period. The third conveys very clear ideas concerning the manners, social condition, laws, and political customs of the Virginians in the author’s lifetime. Beverley was a Virginian, which leads him to say, in opening, that he begs the reader “not to examine my work in too critical a spirit for, since I was born in the Indies, I cannot aspire to purity of language.” Despite this colonist’s modesty, the author shows throughout his book that he vigorously supports the supremacy of the mother country. Numerous instances of that spirit of civil liberty that has since then inspired the English colonies in America are also found in Beverley’s work. Evidence of the divisions which so long existed among them and delayed their independence is likewise to be found. Beverley detests his Catholic neighbors in Maryland more than the English government. This author’s style is simple, his descriptions are often full of interest and inspire confidence. The French translation of Beverley’s history may be found in the BibilothŠque royale.
I saw in America, but was unable to find in France, another work which ought to be consulted entitled The History of Virginia, . by William Stith. This book affords some curious details but I thought it long and diffuse.
The oldest as well as the best document to be consulted on the history of Carolina is a work in small quarto, entitled The History of Carolina, by John Lawson, printed at London in 1718. This work contains, in the first part, a journey of discovery in the west of Carolina, the account of which, given in the form of a journal, is in general confused and superficial; but it contains a very striking description of the mortality caused among the savages of that time by both smallpox and the immoderate use of brandy; with a curious picture of the corruption of manners prevalent among them, which was increased by the presence of Europeans. The second part of Lawson’s book is devoted to a description of the physical condition of Carolina and its products.
In the third part the author gives an interesting description of the customs, habits, and government of the Indians at that time. Wit and originality are often to be found in this part of the book Lawson’s history concludes with the Charter granted Carolina in the reign of Charles II. This work is light in tone, often licentious, and presents a complete contrast to the very serious style of works published at the same time in New England. Lawson’s history is an extremely rare volume in America, and cannot be acquired in Europe. Nevertheless, there is a copy in the BibliothŠque royale.
From the southern I pass at once to the northern extremity of the United States, as the intermediate space was not peopled till a later period.
I would first mention a very curious compilation, entitled Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, printed for the first time at Boston in 1792, and reprinted in 1806. This work is not in the BibliothŠque royale, nor, I believe, in any other library. This collection, which is continued to the present day, contains a great number of very valuable documents relating to the history of the different states of New England. Among them are letters which have never been published, and authentic pieces which had been buried in provincial archives. The whole work of Gookin concerning the Indians, is inserted there.
I have mentioned several times, in the chapter to which this note relates, the work of Nathaniel Morton, entitled New England’s Memorial; sufficiently, perhaps, to prove that it deserves the attention of those who would be conversant with the history of New . England. Nathaniel Morton’s book is an octavo volume, reprinted at Boston in 1826. It is not in the BibliothŠque royale.
The most valuable and important authority that exists on the history of New England is the work of the Rev. Cotton Mather, entitled Magnalia Christi Americana, or the Ecclesiastical History of New England, 16201698, 2 vols., 8 vo, reprinted at Hartford, in 1820. I do not believe it is in the BibliothŠque royale. The author divided his work into seven books. The first presents the history of the events which prepared and brought about the establishment of New England. The second contains the lives of the first governors and chief magistrates who presided over the country. The third is devoted to the lives and labors of the evangelical ministers who during the same period had the care of souls. In the fourth the author relates the institution and progress of the university at Cambridge (Massachusetts). In the fifth he describes the principles and the discipline of the Church of New England. The sixth is taken up in retracing certain facts which, in the opinion of Mather, prove the merciful interposition of Providence in behalf of the inhabitants of New England. Lastly, in the seventh, the author gives an account of the heresies and the troubles to which the Church of New England was exposed. Cotton Mather was an evangelical minister, who was born at Boston and passed his life there. His narratives are distinguished by the same ardor and religious zeal which led to the foundation of the colonies of New England. Traces of bad taste often occur in his manner of writing; but he interests because he is full of enthusiasm. He is often intolerant, still oftener credulous, but he never betrays an intention to deceive.
Sometimes there are even brilliant passages, and even true and profound reflections, such as these: “Before the arrival of the Puritans,” he says (Vol. I, chap. iv, p. 61 ), “there were more than a few attempts of the English, to people and improve the parts of New-England, which were to the northward of New-Plymouth; hut the designs of those attempts being aimed no higher than the advancement of some worldly interests, a constant series of disasters has confounded them, until there was a plantation erected upon the nobler designs of christianity [sic]; and that plantation, though it has had more adversaries than perhaps any one upon earth; yet, having obtained help from God, it continues to this day.” .
Mather sometimes softens the severity of his story with touches of warmth and tenderness: after talking of an English woman who, with her husband, was brought to America by religious zeal and shortly after died from the fatigue and suffering of exile, he adds: “As to her virtuous spouse, Isaac Johnson, he tried to live without her, and being unable to, he died” ( Vol. I, p. 71 ) [sic] . Mather’s book admirably portrays the times and country he wishes to describe. Desiring to show us what motives led the Puritans to seek a refuge beyond the seas, he says:
“Briefly, the God of Heaven served as it were, a summons upon the spirits of his people in the English nation; stirring up the spirits of thousands which never saw the faces of each other, with a most unanimous inclination to leave all the pleasant accommodations of their native country, and go over a terrible ocean, into a more terrible desart, for the pure enjoyment of all his ordinances. It is now reasonable that before we pass any further, the reasons of this undertaking should be more exactly made known unto posterity, especially unto the posterity of those that were the undertakers, lest they come at length to forget and neglect the true interest of New-England. Wherefore I shall now transcribe some of them from a manuscript, wherein they were then tendred unto consideration. “‘First, It will be a service unto the Church of great consequence, to carry the Gospel into those parts of the world, and raise a bulwark against the kingdom of antichrist, which the Jesuites labour to rear up in all parts of the world. “‘Secondly, All other Churches of Europe have been brought under desolations; and it may be feared that the like judgments are coming upon us; and who knows but God hath provided this place to be a refuge for many, whom he means to save out of the General Destruction. “‘Thirdly, The land grows weary of her inhabitants, insomuch that man, which is the most precious of all creatures, is here more vile and base than the earth he treads upon: children, neighbours and friends, especially the poor, are counted the greatest burdens, which if things were right would be the chiefest earthly blessings. “‘Fourthly, We are grown to that intemperance in all excess of riot, as no mean estate almost will suffice a man to keep sail with his equals, and he that fails in it, must live in scorn and contempt: hence it comes to pass, that all arts and trades are carried in that . deceitful manner, and unrighteous course, as it is almost impossible for a good upright man to maintain his constant charge, and live comfortably in them. “‘Fifthly, The schools of learning and religion are so corrupted, as (besides the unsupportable charge of education) most children, even the best, wittiest, and of the fairest hopes, are per- verted, corrupted, and utterly overthrown, by the multitude of evil examples and licentious behaviours in these seminaries. “‘Sixthly, The whole earth is the Lord’s garden, and he hath given it to the sons of Adam, to be tilled and improved by them: why then should we stand starving here for places of habitation, and in the mean time suffer whole countries, as profitable for the use of man, to lye waste without any improvement? “‘Seventhly, What can be a better or nobler work, and more worthy of a christian, than to erect and support a reformed particular Church in its infancy, and unite our forces with such a company of faithful people, as by a timely assistance may grow stronger and prosper; but for want of it, may be put to great hazards, if not be wholly ruined. “‘Eighthly, If any such as are known to be godly, and live in wealth and prosperity here, shall forsake all this to join with this reformed church, and with it run the hazard of an hard and mean condition, it will be an example of great use, both for the removing of scandal, and to give more life unto the faith of God’s people in their prayers for the plantation, and also to encourage others to join the more willingly in it.'”
Later, in stating the principles of the Church of New England with respect to morals, Mather inveighs with violence against the custom of drinking healths at table, which he denounces as a pagan and abominable practice. He proscribes with the same rigor all ornaments for the hair used by the female sex, as well as their custom of having the arms and neck uncovered. In another part of his work he relates several instances of witchcraft which had alarmed New England. It is plain that the visible action of the Devil in the affairs of this world appeared to him an incontestable and evident fact.
At many points this book reveals the spirit of civil liberty and political independence that characterized the author’s contemporaries. Their principles in matters of government are in evidence throughout. Thus, for example, we find that in the year 1630 [sic], . ten years after the settlement of Plymouth, the inhabitants of Massachusetts contributed 400 pounds sterling toward the establishment of the university at Cambridge.
In passing from the general documents relative to the history of New England to those which describe the several states comprised within its limits, I ought first to mention The History of the Colony of Massachusetts, by Thomas Hutchinson, Lieutenant-Governor of the Massachusetts Province, 2 vols., 8vo. There is a copy of this work at the BibliothŠque royale, a second edition printed at London in 1765. The history by Hutchinson, which I have several times quoted in the chapter to which this note relates, commences in the year 1628 and ends in 1750. Throughout the work there is a striking air of truth and the greatest simplicity of style; it is full of minute details. The best history to consult concerning Connecticut is that of Benjamin Trumbull, entitled A Complete History of Connecticut, Civil and Ecclesiastical, 16301764, 2 vols., 8vo, printed in 1818, at New Haven. I do not believe that Trumbull’s work is in the BibliothŠque royale. This history contains a clear and calm account of all the events which happened in Connecticut during the period given in the title. The author drew from the best sources, and his narrative bears the stamp of truth. His remarks on the early days of Connecticut are extremely interesting. See, especially, in his work, “The Constitution of 1639,” Vol. I, chap. vi, p. 100, and also “The Penal Laws of Connecticut,” Vol. I, chap. vii, p. 125.
The History of New Hampshire, by Jeremy Belknap, is a work held in merited esteem. It was printed at Boston in 1792, in 2 vols., 8vo. The third chapter of the first volume is particularly worthy of attention for the valuable details it affords on the political and religious principles of the Puritans, on the causes of their emigration, and on their laws. Here we may find a curious quota- tion from a sermon delivered in 1663: “New England must always remember that she was founded with a religious and not a commercial aim. Her visage shows that purity in doctrine and discipline is her vocation. Let tradesmen and all those who are engaged in heaping penny upon penny remember that religion and not profit was the aim in founding these colonies. If there is anyone among us who, in his valuation of the world and of religion, regards the former as thirteen and the latter as only twelve, he is not inspired by the feelings of a true son of New England.” The . reader of Belknap will find in his work more general ideas and more strength of thought than are to be met with in other American historians even to the present day. I do not know whether this book is in the BibliothŠque royale.
Among the central states which deserve our attention for their early origin, New York and Pennsylvania are the foremost. The best history we have of the former is entitled: A History of New York, by William Smith, printed at London in 1757. There is a French translation, also printed at London, in 1767, one vol., duodecimo. Smith gives us important details of the wars between the French and English in America. His is the best account of the famous confederation of the Iroquois.
With respect to Pennsylvania, I cannot do better than point out the work of Proud, entitled the History of Pennsylvania, from the original Institution and Settlement of that Province, under the first Proprietor and Governor, William Penn, in 1681, till after the Year 1742, by Robert Proud, 2 vols., 8 vo, printed at Philadelphia in 1797. This work is deserving of the especial attention of the reader; it contains a mass of curious documents concerning Penn, the doctrine of the Quakers, and the character, manners, and customs of the first inhabitants of Pennsylvania. As far as I know, there is no copy at the BibliothŠque.
I need not add that among the most important documents relating to this state are the works of Penn himself and those of Franklin. These works are familiar to a great many readers. I consulted most of the works just cited during my stay in America. Some were made available to me by the BibliothŠque royale, and others were lent me by M. Warden, author of an excellent book on America, former Consul General of the United States at Paris. I cannot close this note without expressing my gratitude to M. Warden.
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