Report Made... on the Abolition of Slavery

Alexis de TOCQUEVILLE

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"MAN HAS NEVER HAD THE RIGHT OF POSSESSING MAN, AND THE POSSESSION ITSELF HAS ALWAYS BEEN AND STILL IS UNLAWFUL": RARE FIRST EDITION IN ENGLISH OF ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE'S CONTROVERSIAL REPORT… ON THE ABOLITION OF SLAVERY IN THE FRENCH COLONIES, 1840

TOCQUEVILLE, Alexis de. Report Made to the Chamber of Deputies on the Abolition of Slavery in the French Colonies… July 23, 1839. Translated from the French. Boston: James Munroe, 1840. Slim octavo, original blue paper wrappers; pp. (1-3), 4-54. Housed in a custom clamshell box.

First edition in English of Tocqueville's embattled work on the rights of enslaved men and women in French colonies, initially authorized by and presented to a French parliamentary commission that set it aside without debate, prompting Tocqueville to send his Report to America for publication, highly elusive in original wrappers.

"Tocqueville opposed slavery throughout his public life. His carefully reasoned style and his deliberate avoidance of appeals to emotion foster the impression that his opposition to slavery was based only on its economic failure…[but] beneath the pragmatic arguments lies a consistent philosophical position which is confirmed by his private correspondence. Briefly put, Tocqueville thought that the owning of one human being by another contradicted both Christian belief and tradition and the political philosophy of the rights of man" (Gershman, in French Historical Studies V.9, No. 3:467). A member of the French Societé pour l'Abolition de l'Esclavage (Society for the Abolition of Slavery), Tocqueville "was elected to the French Chamber of Deputies in March 1839, and he soon joined other abolitionists on a parliamentary commission charged with developing a report on the gradual emancipation proposals of Passy and Destrutt de Tracy. Tocqueville wrote the commission's final report, which was presented in July 1839" (Jetté in Encyclopedia of Emancipation and Abolition in the Transatlantic World, 525-26).

On learning that the "Chamber of Deputies never discussed the report, Tocqueville sent it to friends in the U.S. who published and circulated it… Concerned about the inaction of the French government, in 1843 he published anonymously a series of articles for the opposition newspaper, La Siècle [The Century], arguing for the necessity of emancipation… his final public discussion of slavery occurred in 1845 during a series of debates in the Chamber of Deputies where he argued for establishing laws to improve the conditions of slavery in the French colonies. He maintained that they would establish France's, rather than the colonies', authority over slavery and thus lay the foundation for the French government to abolish slavery in the near future" (Kotzin, in Encyclopedia of Antislavery and Abolition, V.1:680-81).

The final volume of Tocqueville's Democracy in America appeared the same year this first edition in English of his Report was issued in Boston. In Democracy, he affirmed his belief that "slavery had a damaging effect on the U.S.… equally troubling, within his view, were the deleterious effects of the racial prejudice born of slavery, which he believed led whites to practice forms of racial despotism." Here Tocqueville boldly and eloquently asserts: "France will not forget, that this is a question of liberty, happiness, life to 300,000 of our fellow creatures… Man has never had the right of possessing man, and the possession itself has always been and still is unlawful." In 1856, the same year "Harriet Beecher Stowe sent him a signed copy of Uncle Tom's Cabin," Tocqueville's open letter to Americans was printed in an abolitionist newspaper (Damrosch, Tocqueville's Discovery of America, 219). There he called himself "the persevering enemy of despotism everywhere," and said he was "pained and astonished" that slavery persisted in America—where it would inevitably "compromise the future career of the Union which is the guarantor of her safety and greatness." Tocqueville died in France in 1859, two years before the outbreak of the Civil War. Sabin 96072.

Interior fresh with only tiny abrasion at lower edge of title page, expert restoration to fragile original wrappers. Rare and desirable.

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