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Alexis de Tocqueville was a citizen of France, sent to
observe American prisons, by the French
government in the 1830’s. While in America, he
began a journal, commenting on the
“exceptionalism” of America and its citizens.
He focused on five characteristics: Liberty, Equality,
Individualism, Popular Sovereignty, and Laissez
Faire.
Our class assignment was to select an era of
American history, after the Civil War, and look at it
through de Tocqueville's eyes.
View of America

“Roaring 20’s”
1920-1929
I selected this era due to the enormous amount of life
and growing popularity of music, jazz, and dance.
Era Selected

According to de Tocqueville, liberty meant that there
was protection against any sort of tyrannical
government. American was founded on the bases of
a religion and this base helped strengthen the
individual beliefs of the people.
During the Roaring 20’s, the American people were
not so worried about a tyrannical government; they
were more worried about monopolies and captions
of industry. These people were so focused on the
parties and the “feel good” vibes of the after-war,
they were not so focused government.
Liberty


According to de Tocqueville, equality meant that
there were no separation of classes. Europe was
structured by the cast-system; when one was born
into a certain class, that person could not move up in
class. In America, there was no set structure.
During this time, there were many opportunities in
cities to find jobs and create a life for themselves. It
was very possible for a person to come to a big city
and become apart of a big cooperation and build a
nice life for themselves.
Equality


 According to de Tocqueville, individualism meant that
Americans were free to flourish without having to worry
about discrimination of their heritage. American’s were
also living the “American Dream” meaning any person
could become anything they wanted to be.
 In the Roaring 20’s, “flappers” made their statement in
American society. Women began wearing shorter dresses
and participating in same social activities as men, such as
smoking and drinking. Flappers changed the way
American society viewed women and is still effective
today.
Individualism


De Tocqueville viewed populism as including
common people in political life, such as voting.
Leading up to the 1920’s, the political idea of popular
sovereignty grew which allowed for more peoples’
participation in American politics.

Popular Sovereignty


De Tocqueville’s view of laissez faire was that the
government was “hands-off” of the economy,
allowing money and small businesses to flourish.
During the 1920’s, American’s experienced a great
deal of liberation from government being apart of
everything. Laissez faire was a big part of the 20’s
and could have possibly been the reason for the
stock market crash due to the banks not being
regulated.
Laissez Faire


“In America the majority raises
formidable barriers around the
liberty of opinion; within these
barriers an authors may write what
he pleases, but woe to him if he goes
beyond them.”
–Alexis de Tocqueville
My interpretation:
The American people created the
“freedom of speech” that they
desired. This allowed authors,
poets, and musicians to voice their
opinions about their beliefs. With
this, these writers also realize that if
they step outside of their barriers, it
could result in consequences by the
government. As a society, these
people that go past the barriers that
have been placed are praised for
taking that extra step and risk to
voice their beliefs.
De Tocqueville Quote

If Alexis de Tocqueville was alive today, his views on America would
not have changed as much as his views when he was alive. America
still has the five views-liberty, equality, individualism, popular
sovereignty, and laissez-faire- but each views have changed slightly.
Laissez faire has been diminished and government has had a slightly
bigger hand on everything in this society. He would have been
amazed how equality has flourished greatly among our society;
women’s right, civil rights movements, and same-sex marriages.
Popular Sovereignty has increased by allowing ALL men to put their
vote towards political decisions. America has done a pretty good job
and sustaining these views that America was founded on, although if
de Tocqueville was alive in the modern world, he would be very
surprised at the way American’s have interpreted these views and
made them their own.
My thoughts on de
Tocqueville’s views