Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"although they had borrowed the letter of the law, they could not carry over the spirit that gives it life."

     "The Constitution of the United States resembles those fine creations of human industry which ensure wealth and renown to their inventors, but which are profitless in other hands.  This truth is exemplified by the condition of Mexico at the present time.  The Mexicans were desirous of establishing a federal system, and they took the Federal Constitution of their neighbors, the Anglo-Americans, as their model and copied it almost entirely.  But although they had borrowed the letter of the law, they could not carry over the spirit that gives it life.  They were involved in ceaseless embarrassments by the mechanism of their dual government; the sovereignty of the states and that of the Union perpetually exceeded their respective privileges and came into collision; and to the present day Mexico is alternately the victim of anarchy and the slave of military despotism."

     Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America I (1835).I.VIII.22 ("Why the federal system is not practicable for all nations, and how the Anglo-Americans were enabled to adopt it"), trans. Henry Reeve, with revisions by Francis Bowen and Phillips Bradley ((New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997), vol. 1, p. 167; Œuvres, ed. André Jardin (Bibliothèque de la Pléiade), II (De la démocratie en Amérique), ed. Jean-Claude Lamberti and James T. Schleifer (Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 1992), 186-187.  This, however, would not be true today, or at least certainly not of me:

"I have never been more struck by the good sense and the practical judgment of the Americans than in the manner in which they elude the numberless difficulties resulting from their Federal Constitution.  I scarcely ever met with a plain American citizen who could not distinguish with surprising facility the obligations created by the laws of Congress from those created by the laws of his own state, and who, after having discriminated between the matters that come under the cognizance of the Union and those which the local legislature is competent to regulate, could not point out the exact limit of the separate jurisdictions of the Federal courts and the tribunals of the state" (167).

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