I know of no other country where love of money has such a grip on men's hearts or where stronger scorn is expressed for the theory of permanent equality of property.
-- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Democracy in America was a book published in two volumes by French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville in 1835 and 1840. The book is a summarization of de Tocqueville's touring of America in the early 1830s (mostly 1831), in which he observed the process of democracy in America from a third party perspective. It is avaliable as a mass market paperback (ISBN number 0553214640).

This book provides a snapshot of the United States at a time where Cincinnati was a frontier town and Tennessee was a wild and uncontrolled country. For nothing else, this book is interesting in that it provides a window into an America of almost two hundred years ago.

If there ever are great revolutions there, they will be caused by the presence of the blacks upon American soil. That is to say, it will not be the equality of social conditions but rather their inequality which may give rise thereto.
-- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Where this book really shines, though, is from a philosophical perspective. While de Tocqueville is continually writing about and describing his experiences in America, he uses these experiences to provide the foundation of a conservative political philosophy. He believed that culture was the underlying power behind government, and all institutions were shaped by culture. In that, he promoted the concept that to truly understand democracy in a given country, one should understand the culture.

In essence, he believes that the form of democracy that exists in the United States is a result of the culture that has developed here. A natural extension of this is that the people are the modifying force on the government, not the other way around; in other words, the underlying point of conservative politics.

The electors see their representative not only as a legislator for the state but also as the natural protector of local interests in the legislature; indeed, they almost seem to think that he has a power of attorney to represent each constituent, and they trust him to be as eager in their private interests as in those of the country.
-- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

The early portions of the book make for some challenging reading. The opening chapters merely describe the geography of the United States and surrounding areas and provide a brief history of the country that doesn't differ much from what we all learned in American history. For the casual reader, no new material is really presented in the first couple of chapters.

The rest of the book, however, alternates between a fascinating description of the United States circa 1830 and a building of a political philosophy and perspective on democracy as a result of these observations. In other words, aside from the first two chapters or so, the book is largely a solid read for those interested in political philosophy.

Be forewarned; Alexis de Tocqueville is guilty of much of the same literary problems that such early writings are riddled with. Although he directly addresses the problems, he is guilty of a casual belief in the inequity of genders and races. If this presents a difficulty for you, this book will likely infuriate you and cause you to be distracted from the points he is trying to make.

If you can get past the language and attitudes of the times, though, there is a lot to chew on, both in terms of absorbing his observations and making up your own mind about his resulting philosophy. As a moderate, I found myself alternately agreeing and disagreeing with him, but I felt that the book was more than worth my time in terms of developing a greater understanding of democracy in general and a conservative perspective on it.

I am far from denying that newspapers in democratic countries lead citizens to do very ill-considered things in common; but without newspapers there would be hardly any common action at all. So they mend many more ills than they cause.
-- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

The entire book is available online for your perusal; if someone wished to bother to cut and paste the entire work here with suitable linkage, it would serve the political content of this database quite well. It is available at http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/DETOC/toc_indx.html .

If you found this work to be interesting, I strongly recommend a perusal of The Federalist Papers, a nearly contemporary work that addresses democracy as it exists in the United States from a much different perspective. Another book worth perusing is The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams, which provides a later perspective on the democratic process in the United States.

In towns it is impossible to prevent men from assembling, getting excited together and forming sudden passionate resolves. Towns are like great meeting houses with all the inhabitants as members. In them the people wield immense influence over their magistrates and often carry their desires into execution without intermediaries.
-- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America