Skip to Main Content

Democracy in America

HeinOnline's interactive digital edition of the classic Tocqueville work, edited by Alan Keely, retired Associate Director for Collection Services at Wake Forest Law Library.

A Brief Publication History of De la Démocratie en Amérique

Tocqueville took more than five years to write De la démocratie en Amérique. The first volume, consisting of parts one and two, was published in a two-volume edition in 1835 (Paris: Charles Gosselin). In the intervening five years before the publication of the second volume, six further editions of the first volume were published by Gosselin (i.e., 2nd edition through the 7th editions). For the sixth edition, published in 1838, Tocqueville made a number of corrections. The 7th edition, published in 1839, was a reprint of the 6th edition.

While Tocqueville started work on the second volume shortly after the publication of the first, he would not complete it until 1840 due to an extended trip to England in 1836 and his entry into the French political arena in 1838. The second volume was finally published in a two-volume edition in 1840 (Paris: Charles Gosselin) and is commonly referred to as the 8th edition. Gosselin published the 9th, 10th, and 11th editions in 1842, where both volumes appeared together.

For the 12th edition (Paris: Pagnerre, 1848), Tocqueville added a new preface, written after the 1848 revolution in France, as well as an appendix containing a report he delivered on January 15, 1848 to the Académie des sciences morales et politiques. For this 12th edition, volumes III and IV were also designated as the 5th edition.

The new preface and appendix from the 12th edition, along with a second appendix containing a speech Tocqueville delivered to the Chamber of Deputies, were published as the 13th edition (Paris: Pagnerre, 1850). This was the last edition Tocqueville would see through to press before his death in 1859. 

After Tocqueville’s death, several other French-language editions of De la démocratie en Amérique were published,  notably the 14th edition (Paris: Michel Levy Frères, 1864), which was published as the first three volumes of Oeuvres completes d’Alexis de Tocqueville, issued by Madame de Tocqueville. French editions were also published in Belgium between 1835 and 1840 and in the United States in 1843.

The first English-language translation of the first of Tocqueville’s two volumes was prepared by Henry Reeve and was published in 1835 (London: Saunders and Otley) with the title Democracy in America. Two subsequent editions, the 2nd and 3rd, were published between 1836 and 1838. The Reeve translation of Tocqueville’s second volume was published in 1840 (London: Saunders and Otley). A complete four-volume edition was also published that year.  

In a letter to Henry Reeve dated October 15, 1839, Tocqueville reproaches his friend about the first English translation: “Without wishing to do so and by following the instinct of your opinions, you have quite vividly colored what was contrary to Democracy and almost erased what could do harm to Aristocracy.” Reeve subsequently prepared a new edition of his translation, which was published as a two volume edition in 1862 (London: Longman, Green, Longman and Roberts). 

In the United States, the Reeve translation of Tocqueville’s first volume, with original preface and notes by John Spencer, was published in 1838 (New York: Dearborn) with the title Democracy in America and called the ‘First American Edition.’ That same edition was also published by Adlard and Saunders. The ‘Second American Edition’ was published in 1838 and the third in 1839. The Reeve translation of Tocqueville’s second volume, also with preface and notes by John Spencer, was published in 1840 (New York: Langley). The entire work, including Spencer’s preface and notes, was published in 1841 as the “Fourth Edition revised and corrected from the 8th Paris edition.” This edition was reissued by several different publishers throughout the 1840s. 

With the publication of Reeve’s revised translation in 1862 (London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts), a new “American” edition was prepared based on the Reeve translation but “edited with notes, and the translations revised and in great part rewritten, and the additions made to the recent Paris editions now first translated by Francis Bowen.” This new Bowen edition was published in 1862 (Cambridge, Mass.: Sever and Francis) and would go through three additional editions (2nd, 3rd, and 4th) between 1862 and 1864. Three further editions, the 5th, 6th, and 7th, were published between 1873 and 1882 (Boston: Allyn). Over the next thirty years, the Bowen edition would be republished by numerous publishers.

It would be more than sixty years before the text of Bowen's edition would be revised. The Alfred A. Knopf company issued a new edition in 1945 that was “now further corrected and edited with introduction, editorial notes, and bibliographies by Phillips Bradley” (New York: Alfred A. Knopf).  But it would still be another twenty years before the publication of a completely new translation.

This new translation came in 1966 (New York: Harper & Row) from George Lawrence and was based on a French text prepared by J.P. Mayer, a noted Tocqueville scholar. This edition also continues to be reprinted more than forty years after its initial publication. 

Eduardo Nolla prepared a historical-critical edition that was published in 1990 (Paris: Vrin). What separates Nolla’s edition from all the others is, as Nolla writes in the foreword:

I have therefore chosen to present to the reader at the same time a new edition of the Democracy and a different edition. This new Democracy is not only one that Tocqueville presented to the reader of 1835 and then to the reader of 1840. It is enlarged, amplified by a body of texts that has never existed in the form that I give it today.  If the added pages that follow are indeed from Tocqueville’s pen, most of them existed only as support, as necessary scaffolding for the construction of the work. As such, they were naturally meant to disappear from the final version.

The body of texts to which Nolla refers in the foreword includes:

The notes consist of marginalia, variants and version predating the final version, which belong to the drafts, travel notes, fragments of correspondence, and criticisms put forth by friends and family.

The Nolla edition was later translated by James T. Schleiffer and republished in 2010 in a parallel French-English translation (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund). The four-volume set is also freely available online through the Liberty Fund website (

Mansfield and Winthrop, in their translation published in 2000 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), state in the ‘Note on the translation’:

Our intent has been to make our translation of Tocqueville’s text as literal and consistent as we can, while still readable.… By refraining as much as possible from interpretation, we try to make it possible for readers to do their own thinking and figure out for themselves what Tocqueville means.

The basis for their translation is the French text printed in the Pléade edition, which is essentially the same as in the Gallimard edition of Tocqueville’s Oeuvres published in 1991.

A translation by Gerald Bevan was published in 2003 (New York: Penguin Books) that, like earlier translations, relied on the 13th edition of the Tocqueville French text (Paris: Pagnerre, 1850).  Bevan writes in the translator’s note:

Any translator will recall Tocqueville’s rebuke to his first English translator, Henry Reeve, whose overly weighty version carried an interpretation which the author never intended. Certainly, the translator must be without bias and has to serve the meaning. Tocqueville’s mastery and enthusiasm for democracy and his balanced view of the political and social issues of early nineteenth-century America are such that the translation needs to convey these dimensions to the reader.   Reeve’s rendering is intellectually dense and elegantly inflated: the style of the original is neither….

Bevan continues: “this translation has aimed both to achieve an English version which respects the original style and language and a vehicle to convey Tocqueville’s ideas.”

The following year, another new translation was published as part of the Library of America series (New York: Library of America), this time by Harvard University Professor Arthur Goldhammer.  Goldhammer wrote in his translator’s note to the volume: "these lines of Tocqueville’s have been my guide. Fidelity to his ideas is perhaps easier to achieve than fidelity to his style—a style of classical sobriety, almost anachronistic for the Romantic era….”   

He goes on to say about his work: “I hope that it has qualities that will give the reader without French an idea of the stately grace of Tocqueville’s style as well as a rigorous and faithful rendering of his ideas.”

Goldhammer based his translation for the first volume on the French text of the 13th edition (Paris: Pagnerre, 1850); for the second volume, Goldhammer used the French text of the 12th edition (Paris: Pagnerre, 1848).

In addition to the English translations mentioned above, parts of Democracy in America have been translated by others and published separately.  We have elected not to include these volumes in the library at this time.