Alexis De Tocqueville

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Alexis de Tocqueville


The story of Alexis de Tocqueville and his extended love affair with the new American nation is familiar enough in broad outline. Born in 1805, Tocqueville was part of a long Norman line that traced itself back to the time of William the Conqueror and that had managed, more recently, to escape some of the worst terrors of the French Revolution: only one of his grandfathers was guillotined. Unabashedly liberal in contemporary politics, Tocqueville devoted himself to reform causes, serving as an elected legislator and, briefly, as minister of foreign affairs in the Second Republic. Before that, however, he had undertaken the trip to America that secured his historical reputation.

Landing at Newport, Rhode Island, in the spring of 1831, he and Gustave de Beaumont, a sometime novelist, had been assigned by their government to study the prison system in the United States, with a view toward recommending reforms at home. For nine months they toured the country by horse, stagecoach, and steamboat (one of which sank under them). After a quick stop at New York City, they headed immediately for the frontier through Buffalo and across the Great Lakes to Wisconsin, which was then the edge of settlement.

Turning east again through Ontario and Quebec, they stopped in the major cities of the East Coast, including Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. Then it was inland again to Pittsburgh, and after that they rode the interconnecting rivers down to Cincinnati, Memphis, and New Orleans. A long arc through the South brought them finally to Washington, after which they returned to New York and thence home by March of 1832. The literary output of this arduous trek was impressive. The promised report on prisons was quickly prepared and almost as quickly forgotten, and Beaumont published his perceptive novel,

Marie; or Slavery in the United States, in 1835. The first volume of Tocqueville's De la Democratie en Amerique also appeared that year and was an immediate sensation, winning a wide readership. The second volume of five years later was less successful with the public, though it was deeper and more sophisticated in its analyses. By the time of his death from tuberculosis in 1859, Tocqueville was famous on both sides of the Atlantic for this enduring masterpiece.

Officially, municipalities are governed by their elected councils, with the valuable assistance of the staff employed by the municipality. This section examines these key players and some of the more common municipal structures in which they operate. It is important to be aware, however, that there are many other important players who are also influential in the governing of the municipality and the decisions that are made. This will become evident from the discussions in the next section.

First, turn the page for an introduction to the study of democracy and "municipal governing structures" through a class project and activity that looks at democracy and your school's student "local governing structure" (the student council). Throughout Section V you may see some parallels between your "local governing structure" and a municipality's ...
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