Lieber's Observations of American Democracy

In 1834, a few years after his emigration to the United States Francis Lieber published a book titled "Letters to a Gentleman in Germany". This book, written in the style of a travel narration, he expressed his impressions of political culture, in particular of political institutions in America.

Lieber regarded some aspects of the American democracy as exemplary for other nations, because here one could detect first pulsations of "those principles which underly any political society" (Letters to a Gentleman in Germany, 1834, 14). The advantage the United States had compared to most European nations was the reality of a society without privileged classes as found in the aristocratic societies in Europe. America presented to Lieber a functioning democratic system. Hence, he concluded that America would be the place where new political ideas could develop which would have significant influence on Europe and other societies. He pointed out the fast pace that could be observed in the States, and the progressive mentality, which he contrasted to that of different European societies.

Exemplary Character
of America

The friendship between Lieber and Tocqueville was the basis for a vivid exchange of ideas. Lieber's publication Americana became a resource for Tocqueville's Democracy in America.

De Tocqueville's appreciation of Lieber shows in the Frenchman's diary entries of the days when they met at the home of Mrs. Harrison Gray Otis in Boston. Both men shared for example profound interest in the democratic structure of American society and the American prison system. While de Tocqueville was concerned with the latter in course of his study, Lieber's interest stemmed from harsh experiences in Prussian captivity as a political prisoner.

Inspiration for
de Tocqueville
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This document was last updated on 01/24/98.