2 The Legacy of Race and Public Policy in Contemporary America
The Legacy of Race and Public Policy in Contemporary America
When French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville arrived in America in 1831, he came with the purpose of learning about American democracy in its infancy, something Europeans were hearing so much about. After traveling and observing the young nation’s people and institutions, Tocqueville noted three principles—individualism, social equality, and political democracy—which he concluded were at the core of the young republic’s being. He predicted that democracy would succeed in America, but not elsewhere. This was primarily due to America’s uniqueness from the standpoint of its geographic isolationism, and its emphasis on individual rights, without neglecting the virtues of social equality. However, Tocqueville noticed that people of African and Native American ancestry were not granted these same inalienable rights, and thus were denied equality under the law (Ladd, 1993; Bardes, et al. 2012; Tocqueville, 2004, 2011). Nevertheless, perhaps it is because of Tocqueville’s ability to clearly decipher and explain the institutional arrangements of American democracy that his book, “Democracy in America,” first published in 1835, is regarded even today as the most authoritative work written on American democracy (Ladd, 1993; Bardes, et al., 2012).
Perhaps even more so, Tocqueville was aware of what the framers called the “Three–Fifths Compromise,” a term crafted at the constitutional convention in 1787 to recognize slavery and appease representatives from slaveholding states. It pinpointed America’s constitutional lineage to racial inequality, allowing states to...
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