Tocqueville the nationalist : reassessing federalism in Democracy in America

Noriega, Christina Rose
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Some read Alexis de Tocqueville as a great proponent of federalism. However, Tocqueville’s account of federalism in Democracy in America is complicated and multifaceted. He discusses the advantages of administrative decentralization, as well as the advantages of governmental centralization. Moreover, his characterization of the United States Constitution seems to vacillate between a confederation of sovereign states and a unified nation with a strong central government. Finally, Tocqueville describes the great power he perceives in the state governments, and the natural influence they seem to enjoy over the people relative to the national government. To conclude from these discussions that Tocqueville is an advocate of federalism, I argue, oversimplifies his view. Indeed, Tocqueville offers a gradual reassessment of American federalism over the course of Democracy in America, beginning with such accounts as the conciliatory description of federalism in The Federalist Papers and the theories of the southern nullifiers, but eventually coming to very different conclusions about the constitutional logic. Ultimately, Tocqueville is not the champion of federalism that some think he is.