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the rare fortune of M. de Tocqueville’s book to have achieved an easy triumph, both over the indifference of our at once busy and indolent public to profound speculation, and over the particular obstacles which oppose the reception of speculations from a foreign, and above all from a French source. There is some ground for the remark often made upon us by foreigners, that the character of our national intellect is insular. The general movement of the European mind sweeps past us without our being drawn into it, or even looking sufficiently at it to discover in what direction it is tending; and if we had not a tolerably rapid original movement of our own, we should long since have been left in the distance. The French language is almost universally cultivated on this side of the Channel; a flood of human beings perpetually ebbs and flows between London and Paris; national prejudices and animosities are becoming numbered among the things that were; yet the revolution which has taken place in the tendencies of French thought, which has changed the character of the higher literature of France, and almost that of the French language, seems hitherto, as far as the English public are concerned, to have taken place in vain. At a time when the prevailing tone of French speculation is one of exaggerated reaction against the doctrines of the eighteenth century, French philosophy, with us, is still synonymous with Encyclopedism. The Englishmen may almost be numbered who are aware that France has produced any great names in prose literature since Voltaire and Rousseau; and while modern history has been receiving a new aspect from the labours of men who are not only among the profoundest thinkers, but the clearest and most popular writers of their age, even those of their works which are expressly dedicated to the history of our own country remain mostly untranslated, and in almost all cases unread.

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Scarcely any one has looked at the United States with any other apparent purpose than to find arguments for and against popular government. America has been discussed, as if she were nothing but a democracy: a society, differing from other human societies in no essential point, except the popular character of her institutions. The friends or enemies of parliamentary reform have been more or less in the habit of ascribing to democracy whatever of good or evil they have found or dreamed of in the United States. One class of writers, indeed, the political economists, have taken notice of a second circumstance, namely, that population in America does not press upon the means of subsistence—and have traced the consequences of this as far as high wages, but seldom further; while the rest of the world, if their partialities happened to lie that way, have gone on ascribing even high wages to the government; which we are informed is the prevalent opinion among the Americans themselves, of all ranks and parties. But the Government is only one of a dozen causes which have made America what she is. The Americans are a democratic people: granted; but they are also a people without poor; without rich; with a “far west” behind them; so situated as to be in no danger of aggressions from without; sprung mostly from the Puritans; speaking the language of a foreign country; with no established church; with no endowments for the support of a learned class; with boundless facilities to all classes for “raising themselves in the world;” and where a large family is a fortune.

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In the proudest nations of the old world, books have been published destined to depict faithfully the vices and the of the age. La Bruyère lived in the palace of Louis XIV when he composed his chapter and Molière satirized the court in pieces written to be represented before the courtiers. But the power which is predominant in the United States will not be thus trifled with. The slightest reproach offends it; the smallest trait of truth excites its anger; everything must be lauded, from the turn of its phraseology to its most solid virtues. No writer, whatever his renown, is exempted from this obligation of offering incense to his countrymen. The majority, therefore, lives in a perpetual adoration of itself. Foreigners only, or experience, can make certain truths reach the ears of the Americans.

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The evil here pointed out is not one which exists only in theory; and it may perhaps be expected that I should specify the instances in which the public of this age and country improperly invests its own preferences with the character of moral laws. I am not writing an essay on the aberrations of existing moral feeling. That is too weighty a subject to be discussed parenthetically, and by way of illustration. Yet examples are necessary, to show that the principle I maintain is of serious and practical moment, and that I am not endeavouring to erect a barrier against imaginary evils. And it is not difficult to show, by abundant instances, that to extend the bounds of what may be called moral police, until it encroaches on the most unquestionably legitimate liberty of the individual, is one of the most universal of all human propensities.

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In the seven years before appeared, Mill produced some papers that foreshadowed the arguments in his major essay. First in time was the submission, requested by Sir Charles Trevelyan, then Assistant Secretary to the Treasury, which strongly commended the Northcote-Trevelyan Report for advocating the recruitment of civil servants, not by the casual methods of political patronage, but by open competitive examinations. For Mill this genuine reform harmonized with his long-held conviction that representative government could be efficient only if conducted by the country’s best-educated and orderly minds. On reading the report he quickly dispatched a characteristic comment to Harriet: “it is as direct, uncompromising, & to the point, without reservation, as if we had written it.” Apart from placing administration under the control of competent and professional officials, he hoped that the new mode of recruitment would strengthen existing political institutions by opening public positions to the competition of all classes and persons, thus diminishing the traditional sway of the aristocracy and privileged classes. This in turn, he thought, would extend intellectual cultivation and encourage talented individuals.