The question of religion’s place in American political thought and practice continues to be a divisive issue. Critics of religion’s importance (Pangle 1988; Zuckert 1996) point to the centrality of natural rights liberal thought in The Declaration of Independence while proponents of religion’s importance frequently employ Alexis de Tocqueville’s account of religion in America in support of their arguments (see Allen 1998; Kessler 1992; and Tessitore 2002). In Democracy in America, Tocqueville (2000, 35) identifies the date of America’s founding as 1620 and, in doing so, argues that “there is not one opinion, one habit, one law, I could say one event, that the point of departure does not explain without difficulty. Those who read this book will therefore find in this present chapter the seed of what is to follow and the key to almost the whole work” (Tocqueville 2000, 29). In other words, key to understanding America’s successful democratic experiment are the political principles of Puritan New England. Central to this account is religion and America’s ability to combine the spirit of religion with the spirit of freedom (Tocqueville 2000, 43-44). For Tocqueville, New England’s ability to reconcile these traditionally adversarial spirits serves as the key aspect of “New England’s principles” which “spread at first to the neighboring states; later, they gradually won out in most of the distant, and in the end, if I can express myself so, they penetrated the entire confederation. They now exert their influence beyond its limits, over the whole American world” (Tocqueville 2000, 31-32). It is ultimately Tocqueville’s contention that these principles spread first through New England before finding their way to the rest of America.
Dr. Jordon Barkalow, Thesis Advisor
Dr. Melinda Tarsi, Committee Member
Dr. Inkyoung Kim, Committee Member
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Original document was submitted as an Honors Program requirement. Copyright is held by the author.
Sherman, Vanessa. (2019). Testing Tocqueville: The Political Theory of the “Mayflower Compact” and Its Legacy. In BSU Honors Program Theses and Projects. Item 399. Available at: https://vc.bridgew.edu/honors_proj/399
Copyright © 2019 Vanessa Sherman