Alexis de TocquevilleWhat distinguisches the Federal Constitution of the United States of America from an other Federal Constitution

2.24 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, edited by J.P Mayer, 1994; excerpt: What distinguishes the Federal Constitution of the United States of America from an other Federal Constitution, p. 155-158

a) Background

De  Tocqueville since 1842 had actively engaged in debates in the Chamber of Deputies on issues such as slave trade, Algerian coalition and reforms and the question of succession after Louis-Philippe’s death in which he favoured an elective regency. The text was written in a time in which de Tocqueville was acting in the limelight of the revolutionary developments. At the time de Tocqueville prophesized on the 27th January the coming revolution and attacked the too-narrow base of the official political systems. On the 24th April de Tocqueville was elected to the Constituent assembly and on 17th May to a committee in charge with drawing up a new constitution. The text was published after the 24th February, when Louis-Philippe no longer ruled and the Second Republic was declared dead.

Alexis de Tocqueville makes a direct and special reference to governmental organizations of Switzerland in the following two texts. They are grounded in de Tocqueville’s deep historical knowledge as evidenced in Democracy in America. The text distinguished the Federal Constitution of the United States of America from all other Federal Constitutions. It is a short comparative note including direct references to Switzerland. The text was written before the political developments that led to the Federal Constitution of the republic of Switzerland in 1848. The second excerpt consists of appendix II, which de Tocqueville deliberately added to Democracy in America. The text is a written report on a book On Democracy in Switzerland, which de Tocqueville had presented orally before the Academy of Moral and Political sciences on the 15th January  1948. The title of the book on which de Tocqueville reports is De la Democracie en Suisse (On democracy in Switzerland), 2 vol., Paris, 1843, the author M. Cherbuliez, was a professor of public law at the Academy of Geneva.

b) Summary

The short text addresses the fact that despite the United States influencing several governmental models in Europe including Switzerland, the German Empire and the Republic of Netherlands these countries have been or remained confederative. The text deals with the surprising observation that in spite of the fact that the powers granted to the Federal Governments were nearly the same as those accorded to the Government of the United States, the Federal Government in these various countries always remained weak and impotent, where as that of the American Union conducts its affairs with assertiveness and strength. This is embedded in principles, which do not strike one at first glance, in the American Constitution. Alexis de Tocqueville elaborates on the key elements of the transformation of the first American Union to the Federal Constitution of the United States of America of 1789. The text addresses the distinctive features of this new Federal Constitution compared to the examples such as Switzerland, the German Empire and the Republic of Netherlands. The frame of reference with regard to Switzerland is not the Federal Constitution of Switzerland in 1848, since Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America was written in 1835.
The text has to be read in conjunction with the appendix II report given before the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences on the 15th January  1848, on the subject of M. Cherbuliez’s book entitled on Democracy in Switzerland.

c) Text

You can find a scan (PDF) of the original text here:
A_2.24_de TOCQUEVILLE_Democracy in America What

© Prof. Jens Drolshammer, office@drolshammer.com,  www.drolshammer.net

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