I have always found it odd that the man who has displayed the greatest insight into the American character is a foreigner, and a Frenchman at that! In his great Democracy In America he provides all Americans a map of the American national soul.
Some quotes from Tocqueville that demonstrate how well he understood us:
The surface of American society is covered with a layer of democratic paint, but from time to time one can see the old aristocratic colours breaking through.
I know of no country, indeed, where the love of money has taken stronger hold on the affections of men, and where the profounder contempt is expressed for the theory of the permanent equality of property.
With much care and skill power has been broken into fragments in the American township, so that the maximum possible number of people have some concern with public affairs.
Useful undertakings which require sustained attention and vigorous precision in order to succeed often end up by being abandoned, for, in America, as elsewhere, the people move forward by sudden impulses and short-lived efforts.
In order to enjoy the inestimable benefits that the liberty of the press ensures, it is necessary to submit to the inevitable evils it creates.
In countries where associations are free, secret societies are unknown. In America there are factions, but no conspiracies.
A democratic government is the only one in which those who vote for a tax can escape the obligation to pay it.
The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.
In the United States, except for slaves, servants and the destitute fed by townships, everyone has the vote and this is an indirect contributor to law-making. Anyone wishing to attack the law is thus reduced to adopting one of two obvious courses: they must either change the nation’s opinion or trample its wishes under foot.
In America the majority raises formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion; within these barriers an author may write what he pleases, but woe to him if he goes beyond them. (more…)