The Civil War, “Puritan influence” and Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America”

Posted on December 30, 2013 by


First, I sincerely hope everyone had a pleasant Christmas and holiday season. I meant to post prior to Christmas, but time got away from me.

So, back at it, then…

This is a different sort of post, but… I’m in a discussion elsewhere, and this is the result.

I’ve heard, on more than one occasion, where some folks point to Puritan influence as an architect of the differences that existed, between the North and the South, in the final years leading to the American Civil War.

Let me point out, this is not something to which I subscribe. Puritanism, for one (as I understand it), had evolved over time. Any influence it may have had requires an understanding that it evolved, through the early colonial years, and in the end, was a multi-layered variant of its original form. Furthermore, this philosophy, pointing toward Puritans, reminds me of that statement made, a few years ago, by a SCV commander… regarding “sour-faced Pilgrims” (see my take on the context, here).

I do know that we also have Alexis de Tocqueville, who (right or wrong… as it seems this has been debated), in Democracy in America (1835 and 1840), traces the lineage of American democracy to the Puritans.

I’ll admit, I’m a bit more green in this area than I should be (and, I’ve only read portions of Democracy in America), but, let’s give this some additional thought.

You’ll please forgive me for using a Wikipedia entry as a point of discussion, but consider this portion of the entry for Democracy in America

Tocqueville believed that the Puritans established the principle of sovereignty of the people in the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut. The American Revolution then popularized this principle, followed by the Constitutional Convention of 1787, which developed institutions to manage popular will. While Tocqueville speaks highly of the America’s Constitution, he believes that the mores, or “habits of mind” of the American people play a more prominent role in the protection of freedom.

Township democracy
Mores, Laws, and Circumstances
Tyranny of the Majority
Religion and beliefs
The Family [how American were in that century and their interactions]
Individualism [later this influenced writers in the Renaissance Era]
Self-Interest Rightly Understood

Funny thing about this is… I see some of these same points existing among Southerners in the Appalachian region… not to mention a reasonable distrust of the aristocratic lives (thank you again, Tocqueville) and influence of the slavocracy folks (in the case of many people in the Shenandoah Valley, for example, a less than “warm fuzzy” feeling for the the people in the Tidewater of Virginia).

So, since I am relatively green in this, please, enlighten me if I’m missing something. Surely someone has taken this on, in an expanded study.