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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Political Association
By Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–1859)
 
From ‘Democracy in America’: Translation of Henry Reeve

IT must be acknowledged that the unrestrained liberty of political association has not hitherto produced, in the United States, the fatal results which might perhaps be expected from it elsewhere. The right of association was imported from England, and it has always existed in America; the exercise of this privilege is now incorporated with the manners and customs of the people. At the present time, the liberty of association has become a necessary guaranty against the tyranny of the majority. In the United States, as soon as a party has become dominant, all public authority passes into its hands; its private supporters occupy all the offices, and have all the force of the administration at their disposal. As the most distinguished members of the opposite party cannot surmount the barrier which excludes them from power, they must establish themselves outside of it; and oppose the whole moral authority of the minority to the physical power which domineers over it. Thus a dangerous expedient is used to obviate a still more formidable danger.  1
  The omnipotence of the majority appears to me to be so full of peril to the American republics, that the dangerous means used to bridle it seem to be more advantageous than prejudicial. And here I will express an opinion which may remind the reader of what I said when speaking of the freedom of townships. There are no countries in which associations are more needed to prevent the despotism of faction or the arbitrary power of a prince, than those which are democratically constituted. In aristocratic nations, the body of the nobles and the wealthy are in themselves natural associations, which check the abuses of power. In countries where such associations do not exist, if private individuals cannot create an artificial and temporary substitute for them, I can see no permanent protection against the most galling tyranny; and a great people may be oppressed with impunity by a small faction, or by a single individual.  2
  The meeting of a great political convention (for there are conventions of all kinds), which may frequently become a necessary measure, is always a serious occurrence, even in America, and one which judicious patriots cannot regard without alarm. This was very perceptible in the convention of 1831, at which all the most distinguished members strove to moderate its language, and to restrain its objects within certain limits. It is probable that this convention exercised a great influence on the minds of the malcontents, and prepared them for the open revolt against the commercial laws of the Union which took place in 1832.  3
  It cannot be denied that the unrestrained liberty of association for political purposes is the privilege which a people is longest in learning how to exercise. If it does not throw the nation into anarchy, it perpetually augments the chances of that calamity. On one point, however, this perilous liberty offers a security against dangers of another kind: in countries where associations are free, secret associations are unknown. In America there are factions, but no conspiracies.  4
 
 
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