Primary Source Topic # 4: Alexis de Tocqueville

De Tocqueville was a liberal politician. These are his impressions of the revolution, written well after 1848. For de Tocqueville, a member of the government, the actions of the crowd sparked fear and conservative reaction.

Now that I have at last come to that insurrection in June which was the greatest and the strangest that had ever taken place in our history, or perhaps in that of any other nation: the greatest because for four days more than a hundred thousand men took part in it, and there were five generals killed; the strangest, because the insurgents were fighting without a battle cry, leaders, or flag, and yet they showed wonderful powers of coordination and a military expertise that astonished the most experienced officers. Another point that distinguished ti from all other events of the same type during the last sixty years was that its object was not to change the form of government,  but to alter the organization of society. In truth it was not a political struggle (in the sense in which we have used the word ‘political’ up to now), but a class struggle, a sort of ‘Servile War.’…One should not see it only as a brutal and a blind, but as a powerful effort of the workers to escape from the necessities of their condition, which had been depicted to them as an illegitimate depression, and by the sword to open up a road towards that imaginary well-being that had been shown to them in the distance as a right. It was this mixture of greedy desires and false theories that engendered the insurrection and made it so formidable. These poor people had been assured that the goods of the wealthy were in some way the result of a theft committed against themselves. They had been assured that inequalities of fortune were as much opposed to morality and the interests of society as to nature. This obscure and mistake conception of right, combined with brute force, imparted to it an energy, tenacity and strength it would never have had on its own.

Alexis de Tocqueville, Recollections: The French Revolution of 1848, ed. J.P. Mayer and A.P. Kerr, trans. George Lawrence (New Brunswick, N. J., 1987) 436-37.

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Post your response here to one of the ten questions one can ask of a primary source. Remember to ensure that the question hasn’t already been answered by one of your classmates. The only time you can re-answer a question is if you respectfully disagree with their answer. In that case, reply to their response, refer to them using their last name, and be polite.

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Length: Between 75 and 150 words.

Blog Response – Due November 5

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