restricted access Chapter 4. Of the Principle of the Sovereignty of the People in America
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91 s4s4s4s4s4 c h a p t e r 4 Of the Principle of the Sovereignty of the People in America It dominates all of American society.—Application that the Americans already made of this principle before their Revolution.—Development that the Revolution gave to it.— Gradual and irresistible lowering of the property qualification. When you want to talk about the political laws of the United States, you must always begin with the dogma of the sovereignty of the people.a The principle of the sovereignty of the people, which is more or less always found at the base of nearly all human institutions, ordinarily remains there as if buried. It is obeyed without being recognized, or if sometimes it happens, for a moment, to be brought into the full light of day, people soon rush to push it back into the shadows of the sanctuary. The national will is one of those terms abused most widely by schemers of all times and despots of all ages. Some have seen it expressed in votes bought from the brokers of power; others in the votes of an interested or fearful minority. There are even some who have discovered it fully formulated in the silence of the people and who have thought that from the fact of obedience came, for them, the right of command.b In America, the principle of the sovereignty of the people is not hidden or sterile as it is in certainnations [a vainshowandafalseprincipleasamong a. “Sovereignty of the people and democracy are two perfectly correlative words;theone represents the theoretical idea, the other its practical realization” (YTC, CVh, 1, p. 22). b. In the margin, with a bracket enclosing the entire paragraph: “⫽{This seems trite to me.}⫽” 92 of the sovereignty of the people certain others; it is a legal and omnipotent fact that rules the entire society; that spreads freely and reaches its fullest consequences without obstacles]; it is recognized by the mores, proclaimed by the laws; it spreads freely and reaches its fullest consequences without obstacles. If thereis a singlecountry intheworldwherethetruevalueof thedogma of the sovereignty of the people can hope to be appreciated, where its application to the affairs of society can be studied and where its advantages and dangers can be judged, that country is assuredly America. I said before that, from the beginning, the principle of the sovereignty of the people had been the generative principle of most of the English colonies of America. It then fell far short, however, of dominating the government of society as it does today. Two obstacles, one external, one internal, slowed its invasive march. It could not appear openly in the laws because the colonies were still forced to obey the home country; so it was reduced to hiding in the provincial assemblies and especially in the town. There it spread in secret. American society at that time was not yet ready to adopt it in all its consequences. For a long time, learning in New England and wealth south of the Hudson, exercised, as I showed in the preceding chapter, a sort of aristocratic influence that tended to confine the exercise of social powers to a few hands. It still fell far short of electing all public officials and of making all citizens, voters. Everywhere the right to vote was restricted to certain limits and subordinated to the existence of a property qualification which was very low in the North and more considerable in the South.c The American Revolution broke out. The dogma of the sovereignty of the people emerged from the town and took over the government;d all c. To the side, with a note: “{Know exactly the state of things on this point.}” d. The manuscript says: “{and occupied the throne}.” A note in pencil in the margin specifies: “⫽The word throne does not seem to me the right word since it concerns a republic.⫽” of the sovereignty of the people 93 classes took risks for its cause; they fought and triumphed in its name; it became the law of laws.e e. Of the sovereignty of the people./ I draw a great difference between the right of a people to choose its government, and the right that each individual among this people would have to take part in the government. The first proposition seems to me to contain an incontestable truth; the second, a manifest error. I cannot acknowledge the absolute right of each man to take an active part in the...