The Consideration of Democracy, Blacks, and Slavery
Tocqueville, in Democracy in America, dwells on the strengths and weaknesses of American democracy. When discussing race relations, he recognizes that the presence of the black race in America and the occupation of blacks in slavery could threaten the continuation of the United States as a Union and a republic. As a Union, the United States could be torn apart by the disparities between the North and the South and tensions between blacks and whites. As a republic, although the United States is more grounded, the aftermath of slavery could erode republican institutions if mores and laws are dangerously altered. Although Tocqueville leaves suggestions of action for the United States, he understands the mere reliance on slavery as having irrevocable and unavoidable consequences .
The use of slavery, especially in the American South, fed on the dehumanization and submission of the black race﹘﹘to the assertion of white supremacy ultimately corrupted democratic equality. Tocqueville initially remarks at the concept of American equality when he explains that “no novelty in the United States struck [him] more vividly during [his] stay there than the equality of conditions” (pp. 9). Tocqueville’s coined ‘equality of conditions’ reflects his observations of the equal ability and opportunity for all Americans to reach any economic and social rank; there exists general socioeconomic mobility as the cornerstone of democracy. At the foundation of the equality of conditions, especially in the civil society, Tocqueville notices that “one can have the right to enjoy the same pleasures, to engage in the same professions, and to meet in the same places﹘in a word, to live in the same manner and seek wealth by the same means” (pp. 503). That equal right places all American citizens in at least the pursuit of the same condition in civil and social life. However, when Tocqueville considers the condition of slavery, he describes a contradiction to equality. He states that “the first in enlightenment, power, and happiness, is the white man, the European, man par excellence; below him come the Negro...in one blow oppression has deprived the descendants of the Africans of almost all the privileges of humanity” (pp. 317). White Americans, then, appear to be the standard of humanity, superior to others due to their advances in democracy; blacks are lesser as a product of slavery and oppression. The picture of equal citizens with equal access to prosperity shifts to an image of one race dominating another and one race preventing the improved condition of another.
The United States can be characterized by its unity, but the presence of blacks in America, in slavery or with freedom, threatens to dissolve the Union based on tensions and disparities. Tocqueville suggests that a nation of homogeneity could maintain unity easier when he notes that “almost all the marked differences in character between the northerners and...