It is no longer possible to mistake the reaction against democracy. The nineteenth century was above all others a century of democracy; and yet the world is no more convinced of the benefits of democracy as a form of government at its end than it was at its beginning. The history of closeted Switzerland has not been accepted as proving the stability of democratic institutions; the history of the United States has not been accepted as establishing their tendency to make governments just and liberal and pure. Their eccentric influence in France, their disastrous and revolutionary operation in South America, their power to intoxicate and their powerlessness to reform, — except where the states which use them have had in their training and environment what Switzerland or the colonies and commonwealths sprung from England have had, to strengthen and steady them, — have generally been deemed to offset every triumph or success they can boast. When we praise democracy, we are still put to our proofs; when we excuse its errors, we are understood to have admitted its failure.
There need be in this, however, no serious discouragement for us, whose democratic institutions have in all large things succeeded. It means nothing more than that the world is at last ready to accept the moral long ago drawn for it by de Tocqueville. He predicted the stability of the government of the United States, not because of its intrinsic excellence, but because of its suitability to the particular social, economic, and political conditions of the people and the country for whose use and administration it had been framed; because of the deliberation and sober sagacity with which it had been devised and set up; because it could reckon upon a sufficient variety of information and excellence of discretion on the part of the people who were to live under it to insure its intelligent operation; because he observed a certain uniformity of civilization to obtain throughout the country, and saw its affairs steadied by their fortunate separation from European politics; because he found a sober, religious habit of thought among our people, and a clear sense of right. Democracy was with us, he perceived, already a thing of principle and custom and nature, and our institutions admirably expressed our training and experience. No other people could expect to succeed by the same means, unless those means equally suited their character and stage of development. Democracy, like every other form of government, depended for its success upon qualities and conditions which it did not itself create, but only obeyed.