Tocqueville in Jacksonian Context: American Expansionism and Discourses of American Indian Nomadism in Democracy in America
by Alison McQueen, Stanford University and Burke A. Hendrix, University of Oregon
Tocqueville’s discussion of American Indians in Democracy in America is often read as the paradigmatic expression of a conventional story about American political expansion. This narrative holds that westward expansion was easy, in part because American Indians did not offer much resistance. Historians of political thought and scholars of American Political Development tend to affirm this narrative when they read Tocqueville’s text as suggesting merely that Indians are “doomed” to an inevitable extinction. Our interpretation here proceeds along different lines, with a greater focus on the ways in which contending Jacksonian-era discourses of Indian nomadism are represented in Tocqueville’s text. We argue that Democracy reflects complex and often competing descriptions of inherent Indian nomadism, retreat, and removal, with varying attributions of causal responsibility for disappearing Indian populations. This reading of Tocqueville highlights contentions about Indian removal that are often ignored or neglected in current scholarship, and can therefore help us to better appreciate both his text and his time.