Democracy in America



HeinOnline is proud to partner with Alan Keely, Associate Director for Collection Services at Wake Forest Law Library, to showcase a new and exciting version of Alexis de Tocqueville’s classic work, Democracy in America, complete with more than 1,000 annotations and references. Meticulously researched by Keely, this interactive digital edition takes students and researchers back to Tocqueville’s 1831, providing full-text links to the works Tocqueville read while he traveled, researched, and wrote Democracy in America. Keely’s annotations provide insight into Tocqueville’s thinking, grounding the work within the context in which it was written. Jump from the pages of Democracy in America into the works referenced by Tocqueville with HeinOnline’s unparalleled access to historical content. Pull up full-text images right to the referenced portion and then dive in deeper, easily navigating between both the reference work and Tocqueville’s. Move on to secondary references for more analysis and discussion of the continuing relevance of Democracy in America today.


In 1831, two Frenchmen, Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont, arrived in New York City with a commission from the French Government to study American prisons and penitentiaries. Under this pretext of official business, the life-long friends spent the next nine months traveling throughout the young United States studying the effects of democracy on American society. When they returned to France, they submitted a report on American penitentiaries as duly charged. Then, in 1835, Tocqueville published the real fruits of their travels, the first volume of his masterwork: De La Démocratie en Amérique or, as it is more commonly known in the English-speaking world, Democracy in America.

Tocqueville, a life-long politician, was interested in comparing democracy in America to what he saw as democracy’s failing in France. The America that Tocqueville and Beaumont visited in 1831 was one that was rapidly and radically transforming under the philosophy of Jacksonian democracy. Manifest destiny was physically expanding the country from sea to shining sea. Suffrage had been granted to most white men over the age of 21. Industrialization was moving America from an agrarian to a capitalist society, an irreversible change that sometimes improved but forever altered living standards for the average American while also aggravating sectional tensions between North and South.


Critical and prescient, Democracy in America is both an observation of America and a warning to it, a study of democracy and of the dangers within it, containing the author’s first articulation of what we know today as the Tocqueville effect: that as social conditions improve, societal frustrations increase.

An instant success on its publication, Democracy in America is today considered required reading for students of political and social sciences, and all or parts of it have been translated into Chinese, Danish, German, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, and Swedish.


Alan Keely, Associate Director for Collection Services at Wake Forest Law Library, is a librarian by profession with a strong background in history and literature. After reading Democracy in America during the summer of 2017, Keely imagined that linking all of the source material which Tocqueville had used or cited when writing his book could add another dimension to the experience of reading the classic. Keely painstakingly researched the book, identified sources, provided analysis and annotations, built the links, and entered all of the data for the digital edition to ultimately create an interactive version featuring citations, links, and extensive editorial notes.


Because the majority of HeinOnline users are likely to be English speakers, an English translation serves as the basis for the digital edition. There was no question that the specific edition selected would need to be based on the last editions Tocqueville saw through to press, therefore containing his final thoughts on the work. The consensus of modern scholarship is that the most accurate editions of the French text published during Tocqueville’s lifetime are, for the first volume, the 13th edition (Paris: Pagnerre, 1850) and, for the second volume, the 12th edition (Paris: Pagnerre, 1848).

As for English translations, the original intent of the Bowen edition was to prepare an exact reprint of the Henry Reeve translation published in London in 1862. However, in comparing Reeve’s translation with the original text, Bowen considered the translation to be “utterly inadequate and untrustworthy.” Bowen felt that his edition of the first volume should be considered a completely new translation. Of the second volume, Bowen felt that Reeve’s translation was much better than that of the first.

While newer English translations published in the latter half of the 20th century and into the 21st century are more attuned to the nuances and subtleties of the French and English languages, copyright restrictions prohibit the use of these editions for this project. Further, of the numerous editions published since 1945, most are of the problematic Reeve translation. Hence, given the bibliographic linkage between the various editions from Tocqueville and Reeve to Bowen, the Bowen text published in its first edition (Cambridge, Mass.: Sever and Francis, 1862) was chosen as the basis for our digital edition.


Browse Tocqueville’s Democracy in America in HeinOnline via the tabs at the top of the main landing page. The digital edition is broken into two tabs, one tab for each volume. Standard HeinOnline page navigation, search, export, and other functionality remain at the top of the page in each volume.


The unique Sources feature included in this database directs the user to Keely’s annotations on Tocqueville’s text, with links (when available) to the full text of the material discussed.

As users page through the volume, sources for the current page will automatically expand in a separate window. Click the Sources tab at the top of the table of contents to control the appearance of this automatic function.

Included in the Sources Tab:

  • The volume, page, and line numbers where the source text is discussed
  • The text of the line itself within links (when available) to the full text of the edition cited
  • Full title and publication information of the source being cited
  • Keely’s annotation, with hyperlinks to additional material where applicable

Referenced sources are also highlighted in blue throughout the text. Click on the highlighted text to jump from the digital edition to the full text of the source. This will work for both source and any material referenced in Keely’s annotations.


For a list of the HeinOnline sources linked in the digital edition, select the Works Cited tab at the top of the screen. To view different versions of this classic, discover HeinOnline’s growing collection of digitized editions via the Editions/Translations tab. Finally, the Related Works tab showcases a curated list of Tocqueville scholarship and works related to this topic.


In the digital edition, the chapters of Volume I are numbered continuously (Chapter I through Chapter XVIII). But because Democracy in America has been published as two two-volume sets, one two-volume set, and in single volumes over the course of its long history, attempting to find the same chapter in different edition configurations can be challenging. Chapter numbering for the first volume typically follows one of two patterns:

  • Pattern One: Part I (chapters I through VIII) and Part II (chapters I through X)
  • Pattern Two: Chapter I through Chapter XVIII

To convert between Pattern Two and Pattern One, simply take the actual chapter number and subtract 8; from Pattern One to Pattern Two, simply take the actual chapter number and add 8.


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