Democracy in America | Study Guide

Alexis de Tocqueville

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Democracy in America | Key Figures

Key Figure Description
Alexis de Tocqueville Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–59) is the author and narrator of Democracy in America, published in two volumes in 1835 and 1840. The work is the outcome of a nine-month journey that Tocqueville made to the United States in 1831–32. The publication of Volume 1 made Tocqueville a celebrity in France. Read More
Gustave de Beaumont Gustave de Beaumont (1802–66) was Tocqueville's close friend and traveling companion during their visit to the United States. Like Tocqueville, Beaumont served as a junior magistrate in France. Read More
Thomas Jefferson Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) was the author of the Declaration of Independence (1776), the third president of the United States (1801–09), and the founder of the University of Virginia. Jefferson's contacts with and knowledge of France were deep and long-lasting: he served as American ambassador to Paris from 1784 to 1789. Read More
James Madison James Madison (1751–1836) was the fourth president of the United States (1809–17) and one of the principal architects of the U.S. Constitution. In the mid-1780s, Madison became convinced that America needed a much stronger national government, and he played a major role at the Constitutional Convention in persuading delegates that a new Constitution should confer stronger powers on the Union government. Read More
Andrew Jackson Andrew Jackson (1767–1845) won fame as a general during the War of 1812 and served as the seventh president of the United States (1829–37). Hailing from the Carolinas and Tennessee, Jackson was the first non-Easterner to be elected president. Read More
Napoléon Bonaparte Napoléon Bonaparte (1769–1821) ruled France with the title of Emperor Napoléon I from 1804 to 1814, and then briefly again in 1815. His military victories inspired widespread admiration and fear across Europe, and he is still regarded as one of the greatest military leaders in world history.
John C. Calhoun John C. Calhoun (1782–1850) served as vice president of the United States and as a U.S. senator from his native South Carolina. Calhoun played a major role in the "nullification crisis" of 1831–32, maintaining that states had the right to ignore any federal legislation that they regarded as unconstitutional.
René Descartes René Descartes (1596–1650) was a French philosopher and mathematician who is considered an important forerunner of the Enlightenment. Tocqueville asserts that Americans display a methodically individualistic outlook on life, even though they may never have read the works of Descartes.
Benjamin Franklin Benjamin Franklin (1706–90) was one of the most prominent of the American Founding Fathers. Born in Boston, he moved to Philadelphia while still in his teens and established a highly successful business as a printer; he became celebrated for his achievements as a statesman, an inventor, a writer, and a scientist. Benjamin Franklin invested enormous energy and effort into forming what Tocqueville calls "associations": voluntary groups of people devoted to a certain cause or project. Among the causes Franklin encouraged were free lending libraries and fire protection services.
Alexander Hamilton Alexander Hamilton (1755 or 1757–1804) was a statesman and political philosopher who served in George Washington's cabinet as the first secretary of the treasury. Hamilton was one of the three authors of The Federalist (1788), which vigorously argued for a strong national government, and thus had a major influence on the ratification of the Constitution.
James Kent James Kent (1763–1847) was an American jurist and legal scholar who served as the first professor of law at Columbia College in New York City. His Commentaries on American Law (published in four volumes 1826–30) were an important source for Tocqueville.
Louis XIV King Louis XIV (1638–1715) ruled France from 1643 (then only 4 years and 7 months old) to his death in 1715. Centralizing all power in the monarchy, he is said to have summed up his role in the phrase "L'État, c'est moi" ("I am the state"). Louis XIV made Versailles, a small town west of Paris, the glittering center of his power. His elaborate court was also a center of patronage for the arts, supporting gifted writers such as the comic playwright Molière and talented musicians like Jean-Baptiste Lully.
Louis XV Louis XV (1710–74), the great-grandson of Louis XIV, was king of France from 1715 until his death in 1774. Known as "Louis the Well-Beloved," he is remembered as an indolent and ineffectual king.
Louis XVI The grandson of Louis XV, King Louis XVI (1754–93) ruled France from 1774 until the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789. He was executed by guillotine in 1793.
Michel de Montaigne Michel de Montaigne (1533–92) was a French philosopher and essayist whose writings significantly shaped the Renaissance in France. Tocqueville credits Montaigne with the doctrine of "self-interest well understood."
Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu The French writer and political philosopher Montesquieu (1689–1755) was especially celebrated for his book The Spirit of the Laws (1748), in which he discussed the principle of the separation of powers. Montesquieu was widely read by leaders in the American colonies and had a significant influence on the framers of the U.S. Constitution. Montesquieu was also one of the three most important influences on Alexis de Tocqueville.
Nathaniel Morton Nathaniel Morton (died 1685) was a member of the first Plymouth Colony, founded in 1620 in Massachusetts. The nephew of colonial leader William Bradford, Morton served as secretary of Plymouth Colony, and he wrote and published the first historical account of the settlement.
Blaise Pascal Blaise Pascal (1623–62) was a French writer, mathematician, physicist, and theologian famous for his advances in probabilities and pressure as well as his intuitionist philosophy. His work exerted an important influence on Alexis de Tocqueville.
Madame de Sévigné Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, marquise de Sévigné (1626–96) was a French writer celebrated for her vivacious and witty letters to her daughter.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–78) was a French-speaking philosopher, writer, and musical composer from Geneva, Switzerland. Along with Pascal and Montesquieu, Rousseau had a profound influence on Tocqueville.
Joseph Story Joseph Story (1779–1845) served for over 30 years as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. His Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (1833) were an important source for Tocqueville.
George Washington George Washington (1732–99) commanded the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War. After the American victory in the Revolution, George Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and he then served two terms as the first president of the United States (1789–97).
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