The Home Front: 1861 to 1865

Children in Wartime

How did de Tocqueville know so much?

This remains one of the truly great questions, both in history and sociology. De Tocqueville and his friend Gustave de Beaumont spent only eight months in the United States, from 1831 to 1832, yet de Tocqueville’s writings make it seem that he came to know every part of the young republic.

Some people have greater powers of observation than others and are able to extrapolate from masses of data to arrive at certain concepts which may reveal truths. That these philosophers and sociologists sometimes fail is beyond dispute; in their reach for great truths, they sometimes stumble. With the benefit of hindsight, we can point to several parts of de Tocqueville’s writing—his chapter on race relations, for example—and declare that he was mistaken. But when we do so, we usually end up shaking our heads at the far greater number of things he got right!


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