Reading tocqueville behind the veil: African American receptions of Democracy in America, 1835–1900

Alvin B. Tillery*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Tocqueville’s views on race and race relations as espoused in Democracy in America have received considerable scholarly attention over the past several decades. This article examines the reception of these ideas within the black counterpublic. The analysis focuses on commentary about Democracy in America in black-controlled periodicals between 1835 and 1900. The main finding is that African American intellectuals developed their own distinct interpretations of the text. This finding is significant because extant reception histories have ignored African American voices. The article also shows that African American commentators were far more critical of Tocqueville’s ideas about race and race relations before the Civil War. By the close of the nineteenth century, African American intellectuals began to elevate Democracy in America to the status of a canonical text on race relations and republicanism. Both of these findings cut against the dominant historiography of the reception of Democracy in America.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-25
Number of pages25
JournalAmerican Political Thought
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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