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

I HAVE already spoken of the natural defects of democratic institutions: each one of them increases in the same ratio as the power of the majority. To begin with the most evident of them all, the mutability of the laws is an evil inherent in a democratic government, because it is natural to democracies to raise new men to power. But this evil is more or less sensible in proportion to the authority and the means of action which the legislature possesses.  1
  In America, the authority exercised by the legislatures is supreme; nothing prevents them from accomplishing their wishes with celerity and with irresistible power, and they are supplied with new representatives every year. That is to say, the circumstances which contribute most powerfully to democratic instability, and which admit of the free application of caprice to the most important objects, are here in full operation. Hence America is, at the present day, the country of all where laws last the shortest time. Almost all the American constitutions have been amended within thirty years: there is therefore not one American State which has not modified the principles of its legislation in that time. As for the laws themselves, a single glance at the archives of the different States of the Union suffices to convince one that in America the activity of the legislator never slackens. Not that the American democracy is naturally less stable than any other; but it is allowed to follow, in the formation of the laws, the natural instability of its desires.  2
  The omnipotence of the majority, and the rapid as well as absolute manner in which its decisions are executed in the United States, not only render the law unstable, but exercise the same influence upon the execution of the law and the conduct of the administration. As the majority is the only power which it is important to court, all its projects are taken up with the greatest ardor; but no sooner is its attention distracted than all its ardor ceases: whilst in the free States of Europe, where the administration is at once independent and secure, the projects of the legislature continue to be executed, even when its attention is directed to other objects.  3
 
 
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