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tocqueville political power democracy

Alexis de Tocqueville, 1835

Alexis de Tocqueville, a French political scientist, historian, and politician, is best known for Democracy in America (1835). A believer in democracy, he was concerned about the concentration of power in the hands of a centralized government. During his visit to the United States in 1831 and 1832, Tocqueville observed the deep social and political divisions produced by slavery. He was impressed, however, by the power of a free press and the importance that citizens placed upon the legal system.

In his observations on lawyers and judges, Tocqueville noted that U.S. courts of law possessed enormous political power. Judges had the power of judicial review, which allowed them to strike down laws as unconstitutional. He also observed that lawyers were active in politics, bringing to government and the political arena the knowledge, skills, and temperament peculiar to their profession. Tocqueville pointed out that lawyers are wedded to the public order and are often conservative. He concluded that "lawyers belong to the people by birth and interest, and to the aristocracy by habit and taste; they may be looked upon as the connecting link between the two great classes of society."

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