"THE NATIONS OF OUR TIME CANNOT PREVENT THE CONDITIONS OF MAN FROM BECOMING EQUAL": FIRST AMERICAN EDITION OF THE FIRST PART OF DE TOCQUEVILLE'S CLASSIC DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA, 1838
TOCQUEVILLE, Alexis de. Democracy in America. Translated by Henry Reeve, Esq. With an Original Preface and Notes by John C. Spencer. New York: Adlard and Saunders / George Dearborn, 1838. Octavo, contemporary three-quarter brown calf, raised bands, red morocco spine label, marbled boards, endpapers and edges. Housed in a custom clamshell box. $6500.
Important first American edition of the first part of Tocqueville's profoundly influential work on American democracy, one of the outstanding intellectual achievements of the 19th century, handsomely bound in contemporary calf and marbled boards.
"One of the most important texts in political literature" (PMM 358). Commissioned by the French government, Democracy in America is the result of Tocqueville's 1831-32 tour of the United States to examine the American penal system. "In 1835, the first volume appeared (in French), and throughout the intellectual circles of western Europe both democracy and America took on a new aspect and a new significance in political speculation" (NYU, 955). Tocqueville's brilliant work is "the first systematic and empirical study of the effects of political power on modern society" (Nisbet). In his nine-month stay in the United States, he absorbed a remarkable sense of the spirit and maintenance of democracy, and affirmed his faith in mankind's ability to pursue the democratic society. "The nations of our time cannot prevent the conditions of men from becoming equal," he writes, "but it depends upon themselves whether the principle of equality is to lead them to servitude and freedom, to knowledge or barbarism, to prosperity or wretchedness." Part I of Democracy in America focuses on the "political institutions of the U.S…. the emphasis on the U.S…. is much less in the second volume" (Epstein, Alexis de Tocqueville, 105). The Reeve translation of Part I was first published in London in 1835; this is the true first American edition of the first part, with Craighead and Allen imprint on the verso of the title page. With preface by New York attorney and state assemblyman John C. Spencer, "who had discussed America with Tocqueville during his visit" (Kloppenberg, Virtues of Liberalism, 72). Copies found with blank leaf between the Appendix and Notes, and without (this copy), no priority determined. A second New York edition the same year was printed by Scatcherd and Adams. Part II would not be published in English translation until 1840; complete editions in English began to appear in 1841. Sabin 96064. Howes T278. Contemporary armorial bookplate of William Thomson of the County of Clackmannan in Scotland.
Text fresh with only trace of scattered foxing, lightest rubbing, mild edge-wear to boards. A desirable near-fine copy.