Wendell Phillips and the “Ever-Restless Ocean” of Democracy

Next week I’m going to be speaking at the Wendell Phillips Bicentennial Commemoration at the Harvard Law School in Cambridge, and this post is a more extended version of the remarks I’m planning to make at the symposium on Friday. It’s also a post that discusses the Wendell Phillips quote that has provided me with a new title for my book manuscript: The Ever-Restless Ocean. Comments and feedback are welcome, and if you’re in Cambridge or Boston next week, you may want to take advantage of the events that are planned for the commemoration by registering now.


American democracy means, at the very least, majority rule. And Wendell Phillips was, above all, a democrat. “I plant myself always on democratic principles," Phillips said in 1865. "I am a democrat, ingrained, from top to toe.”1

Of course, Phillips could not always be so explicit in calling himself a democrat, because during his lifetime, the Democratic Party was committed officially to silencing abolitionists like him. But in retrospect, few things about Phillips are clearer than that he was a democrat. In an era when even the Democratic Party committed itself, at most, to universal white manhood suffrage, Phillips advocated the right to vote without respect to sex or complexion, and he also publicly supported the efforts of democratic reformers abroad like the British Chartists at a time when even male suffrage was still rare and controversial outside the United States. The abolitionist and Chartist exile to the United States John C. Cluer, for example, vouched for Phillips as "a genuine Democrat," and claimed to know that Phillips, while in England in 1840, had "perilled his popularity by finding his way into a loft among the Chartists," and speaking and sympathizing with them, "instead of seeking introductions to the aristocracy."2

A far-sighted advocate for the right to vote, Phillips also planted himself on the broader democratic principle that the people and "public opinion" should rule. In an important 1852 speech entitled "Public Opinion," Phillips even declared that "the people never err." He did not mean, of course, that every "single verdict which the people of to-day may record" was right, as he immediately clarified. But he did believe that "the great democratic tendencies of the masses" moved in the direction of right, especially over the long run. If, as James Brewer Stewart notes in his biography, Phillips was born "an offspring of aristocrats," as a man he became a democrat of democrats.3

Yet Wendell Phillips was also a sharp and sophisticated critic of democracy. He was a man as far-sighted in his perceptions of democracy’s failings as he was in his appreciation of its strengths. His own experience as an unpopular abolitionist taught him that while public opinion could be a force for right, it could also be a bulwark of wrong. Indeed, in the same speech on "Public Opinion," Phillips noted that public opinion was "a dangerous thing under which to live," given its fickleness and the fact that "there is nothing stronger than human prejudice" when backed by thousands of newspapers, millions of voters, and tens of thousands of pulpits. The power that democracy gave to the people meant that when the people were right, government and society could not prevail against them. But it also meant that when the people were wrong, their power was just as hard to resist.4

Experience as an abolitionist showed Phillips just how easily majority rule could license despotic behavior–against black men and women, first and foremost, but also against the embattled white abolitionist minority who allied with them. Anti-abolitionist mobs, racial prejudice, and the willingness of the masses to compromise over slavery to preserve the Union showed that the people could err at particular moments, and grievously so. When they did, minorities were left to fend for themselves against what Phillips’s friend, the British abolitionist George Thompson, once called "the terrors of public opinion."5

The problem of slavery in America also made Wendell Phillips acutely aware of the problem of democracy in America, and in thinking about this problem, Phillips was part of a larger transatlantic community of mid-nineteenth-century thinkers who were trying to develop a theory of democratic government that could answer its enemies while accounting for its flaws–a community that included English liberal John Stuart Mill, the Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini, and many other contemporaries. A close reading of Phillips’s speeches and writings reveals similarities and points of contacts between Phillips and these thinkers.6

But Phillips drew particular inspiration from the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville, whose two-volume magnum opus Democracy in America, was a source of frequent quotations from Phillips. In a memorial biography of Phillips, abolitionist Theodore Wentworth Higginson noted that Phillips “drew habitually from but few books, Tocqueville’s ‘Democracy in America’ being among the chief of these,” and many of Phillips’s speeches bear out that recollection. In the end, however, Phillips also developed a vision of democracy that was all his own. This top-to-toe democrat drew his own answers to the problem of democracy from the fact that he, unlike Tocqueville, was also a top-to-toe agitator. Phillips developed a theory of modern democratic society that accorded a vital, continuing role to dissenters and agitators like himself. In these brief remarks, I want to briefly examine some of the central components of this theory, and I want to at least establish that Phillips should be remembered today not only as a great abolitionist or agitator, but as a theorist of American democracy whose insights are worth remembering today.7

Phillips and "The Ocean of Unchained Democracy"

The fact that Wendell Phillips embraced democracy is a remarkable fact about him–remarkable whether you consider his personal past, or the global present in which he lived. First, he was born into the privileged Brahmin class of Boston elites and Federalist politicians and was educated at Boston’s most elitist institutions. By the time he graduated from Harvard College, his political instincts still reflected his background and tended not towards the Jacksonian Democracy but towards the Whig Party of Daniel Webster. Yet by his senior year of college, Phillips was already showing signs that he did not fully subscribe to the elitism on which he was weaned. In his senior compositions, for example, he recognized that "the most distinguishing characteristic of the present age is that everything is done for the people … the many, not the few." His own past might well have taught Phillips to fear this brave new world; instead, his writings showed that he embraced what he saw as a new age of democratized knowledge and popular power.8

Born into a world of personal privilege, Phillips was also born into a world in which most nations’ electorates remained extremely small. Even by 1848, for example, the number of Englishmen who could vote in parliamentary elections hovered consistently at just under twenty percent of all adult males in England. While Phillips was still in college, in 1830, a revolution in Napoleonic France elevated a more liberal monarch to the throne, yet even then the electorate grew only to around 200,000 men–a number representing less than one percent of the whole population. These tiny numbers were not accidental–in most of the world that Phillips knew, "the people" were considered a force to be feared. The dictum "vox populi vox dei"–the voice of the people, the voice of God–was kept alive mainly by a small, international community of radical democrats and republican exiles.9

Nonetheless, Phillips endorsed that very dictum–"vox populi vox dei"–in his aforementioned speech on "Public Opinion." In a world in which democracy was almost as rare as slavery was pervasive, Phillips consistently declared that he stood on the side of the people, even at the risk of alienating the elite society into which he had been born. There was no greater proof of this than the fact that Phillips chose, in 1837, to align himself with the small, interracial New England abolitionist movement identified with William Lloyd Garrison, editor of the Liberator. As historian Richard Newman has shown, New England Garrisonians had recently transformed American abolitionism by pioneering new methods of agitation that appealed directly to the people. New England Garrisonians sought to mobilize antislavery groups at the grassroots, a method that challenged the authority of local elites who usually wished to keep a lid on discussion about slavery. Indeed, to the Brahmin crowd into which Phillips was born, the tactics of abolitionists like Garrison were considered democratic in the vulgar sense; when Phillips joined the Massachusetts Garrisonians, and married into their circle, his mother had a difficult time forgiving him.10

Nonetheless, Phillips did not retreat from his defense of democracy as he became a nationally famous orator for the Garrisonians, a group considered beyond the pale of respectability even by most abolitionists. In many of his speeches, he emphasized his continued commitment to the principle of majority rule as well as of abolition. Ultimately Phillips came to see the power of slavery as only one of many proofs that "power is ever stealing from the many to the few"–a tendency towards anti-democratic rule that had to be constantly checked by the vigilance of the people.11

This is not to say that Phillips believed "the many" were infallible, of course; as a leader of an outnumbered, unpopular movement, he necessarily believed that "the few" were sometimes in the right. Often he declared that the progress of the nation depended on the "reading men," the "thinking men," on "intelligent democracy"–the informed and morally upright few–to instruct ignorant mobs and elevate the "public opinion" of the nation. Yet unlike some other contemporary critics of democracy, Phillips never suggested a return to a form of government in which the few ruled and the many obeyed. Even at the height of the American Civil War, when Phillips was arguably most dismayed about the caliber of the nation’s elected officials and the state of public sentiment about race and slavery, Phillips made clear that he believed the power to legislate and to rule rightly rested with the numerical majority. In an 1863 speech, Phillips pointed to a temperance law in New England as an example of a case in which a law had rightly obtained “the decided, unmistakable sanction of a majority” after a long period of open discussion and debate. After the law was put on the books, a "reluctant minority” went to the Legislature and tried “to repeal or amend it, alleging that this was not a good law,” but they were “voted down," and Phillips believed that the time had therefore come "when the minority sits down and obeys.”12

In the case of the temperance law, Phillips actually agreed with the majority, which made it easy for him to tell the minority to sit down and obey. But his commitment to the principle that the many should rule was not situational, and he believed that even in cases when the many clearly in the wrong, it was futile to suggest that this amounted to an argument against majority rule. Phillips made the point in 1859, just after John Brown’s Harper’s Ferry Raid, with a vivid marine metaphor:

You may sigh for a strong government, anchored in the convictions of past centuries, and able to protect the minority against the majority,–able to defy the ignorance, the mistake, or the passion, as well as the high purpose, of the present hour; you may prefer the unchanging terra firma of despotism; but still the fact remains, that we are launched on the ocean of an unchained democracy.

Brown was, for Phillips, the clearest example of how out of step the majority could be with a righteous minority–in Brown’s case, a minority of one. But there was no going back to the terra firma of despotism, for Phillips, no suggestion that democracy should be chained. "The Old World," Phillips argued in that same speech, "has always distrusted … the common sense of the millions" and thus sought to hem the people in with safeguards and controls. Phillips affirmed, however, that "not only the inevitable, but the best power this side of the ocean, is the unfettered average common sense of the masses."13

Phillips and the Dangers of Democratic Despotism

Statements like these, and others like them, showed that Phillips, the offspring of aristocrats in a world of aristocracy, did not long for a way to dam up and turn back the tide of mass democracy. But Phillips’s unyielding commitment to "unchained democracy" did not make him insensible to democracy’s weaknesses and flaws; on the contrary, because he believed there was no going back to the terra firma of despotism, he believed it was essential to confront and resolve democracy’s own peculiar tendencies towards new forms of despotism.

That despotism could occur in a democracy was self-evident to an abolitionist like Phillips, who confronted every day the evidence of what a wicked and illiberal prejudice could do when it received the backing of a numerical majority. On the one hand, he celebrated the seeming omnipotence of public opinion in a democracy, and his whole hope for the success of abolitionist agitation rested on the premise that if reformers could only convince "the masses" of the wrong of slavery, no human institution could prevent that new "average conscience" from gaining the force of law. But on the other hand, becoming an abolitionist meant realizing that "public opinion" in America at present was horribly corrupt, with disastrous consequences for slaves and abolitionists alike.

In the first place, American institutions and customs were pervaded by racial prejudice–a force at odds with the egalitarian principles of democracy yet buttressed by the assumption that majority opinion about race should rule. Racial prejudice had the force of law in Phillips’s America precisely because the democratic machinery of government and society had institutionalized the opinions of the enfranchised, white majority.

The power of majority opinions about race was not abstract or putative, either; it was actively punitive, even in Phillips’s Boston. Throughout the antebellum period, violent mobs menaced the personal safety of white Northern abolitionists–and of Phillips in particular–not to mention the safety of free black activists and fugitive slaves. When battered by mob violence, abolitionists tried to persuade themselves that it was actually a few "gentlemen of property and standing" who were stirring up the rabble, but the deeper reality was that both gentlemen and rabble were, on the subject of race and slavery, part of the same not-so-silent majority, while abolitionists were part of an embattled minority. As Phillips said in 1855 on the twentieth anniversary of the Boston mob that led Garrison through the streets with a rope tied around his neck, "antislavery [was] a sad history to read, sad to look back upon. What a miserable refuse public opinion has been for the past twenty years!–what a wretched wreck of all that republican education ought to have secured!"14

As these anguished exclamations reveal, doing battle with anti-abolitionists in the North raised troubling questions for Phillips about the failure of republican education to make public opinion what it should be. On an ocean of unchained democracy, what safeguard was there to prevent a vile and irrational prejudice from eroding the rights of a despised minority? Statesmen in a democracy could provide no such safeguard; after all, the same majorities that sought to silence abolitionists, either forcibly or tacitly, also selected the officers of government. It was no wonder, given this fact, that even Northern politicians like Daniel Webster did not work to correct the wreck of public opinion on matters of race and slavery, but instead wallowed in the refuse themselves, pandering to national majorities in order to ensure their election, even in defiance of local opposition at home.

Indeed, cases like Webster showed, Phillips quipped in one melancholy moment, how easy it was for a "democrat" to harden "into a despot" once he acquired or sought to acquire office, how quickly "Despotism, like a shrouding mist, steals over the mirror of Freedom," even in a democracy. While American government should have been providing an example to the Old World about the superiority of unchained democracy, Phillips worried that anti-abolitionist mobs were providing aristocratic Europeans like Sir Robert Peel in England with "proof that republicanism could never succeed." Committed as he was to a government ruled by the people and public opinion, Phillips realized that Americans needed more convincing answers to such criticism, as well as ways to prevent the shrouding mist of despotism swallowing up American democracy for good.15

Phillips, Tocqueville, and the "Ever-Restless Ocean" of Agitation

There was no clearer proof that Phillips was deeply concerned about the dangers of despotism in a democracy than the fact that he admired the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville, the famous French aristocrat who traveled the United States in 1831 and then published a wide-ranging account of what "democracy" looked like in action. Tocqueville was convinced, like Phillips, that the ocean of unchained democracy was the wave of the future, in Europe as well as the New World. But as the offspring of aristocrats who had lost everything in the French Revolution, Tocqueville viewed this future with more ambivalence and trepidation than Boston Brahmins like Phillips.

To his delight and surprise, however, Tocqueville found, in the United States, what he perceived to be a very stable and happy democratic society in which property and law, instead of being in continual jeopardy, were largely secure–a result Tocqueville attributed to various factors, including both the strength of voluntary associations and the operations of individual, enlightened "self-interest." In his magisterial two volume work, Democracy in America, published in 1835 and 1840, Tocqueville explained to his primarily European audience that the United States was far from being on the verge of anarchy. On the contrary, if there was a danger to individual property and freedom in the United States, it was posed not by an absence of law and order, but by the all-pervading power of majority opinion. Tocqueville feared that deference to majority opinion had been so deeply ingrained in every aspect of American society that "when a man or a party suffers from an injustice" at the hands of the numerical majority, obtaining redress was exceedingly difficult.16

To illustrate his concern about the possibility of majoritarian tyranny in the United States, Tocqueville included a revealing footnote in Democracy reporting on a conversation he had with a white man in Pennsylvania. There, Tocqueville learned, “freed Negroes” had rights to vote but sometimes abstained from being present at elections because “the majority is imbued with the greatest prejudices against Negroes” and “the magistrates do not feel they have the force to guarantee to them the rights that the legislator has conferred on them.” To Tocqueville this situation boggled the mind: “What! The majority that has the privilege of making the law still wants to have that of disobeying the law?” While most European conservatives feared that democracy would license constant disruption and disorderly change, such incidents brought Tocqueville to a different conclusion: that stasis and stagnation were greater dangers in a mass democracy than uncontrolled experimentation and change. At every turn, he concluded, the minority or abused individual in the United States was confronted by the seamless power of "what forms the majority." Whether he appealed to "public opinion," the executive, the police, the legislature, or the judicial system, any one American was always subject to the absolute will of the majority.17

These conclusions about American democracy resonated deeply with Phillips when he read them, given his own experience as a member of a despised abolitionist minority and his close study of the treatment of oppressed minorities in the United States. Indeed, in 1860, following a recent anti-abolitionist mob at the Tremont Temple, Phillips delivered a speech on "Mobs and Education" that confirmed Tocqueville’s concern and cited the Frenchman explicitly. Phillips began by stating that the founders of the American republic had “framed a government which, after two hundred years, is still the wonder and the study of statesman,” thanks to its "cardinal" ideas of “universal suffrage and the eligibility of every man to office,” as well as the "sound rule" that “the majority rules, and law rests on numbers, not on intellect or virtue.” But Phillips added that these principles also enabled majorities to act unjustly, either by using the power of “public opinion” to block minorities from public life, by turning a blind eye to mobs that actively suppressed minority views, or by allowing the election of men who were not “competent” and cared more about money and votes than justice. The result was “the fact which Tocqueville has noticed, that practically our institutions protect, not the interests of the whole community, but the interests of the majority.” This was cause for deep concern, Phillips believed, because "governments exist to protect the rights of minorities,” particularly those minorities poor in material resources and poorer in friends. “The loved and the rich need no protection," Phillips said; "they have many friends and few enemies."18

As these comments showed, Phillips shared Tocqueville’s concern about the potential for majority rule to turn into majoritarian tyranny, and by taking up Tocqueville’s arguments Phillips joined a transatlantic conversation about the virtues and vices of democracy that Tocqueville’s book amplified. In at least three ways, however, Phillips’s own ideas about democracy and majority rule differed from those of Tocqueville.

First, Phillips had a much deeper awareness of the overweening power of white racism in the United States. Though Tocqueville was also an abolitionist, it is telling that his story about the treatment of free black voters in Pennsylvania was found in a footnote, for the problems of slavery and race stood at the margins instead of the center of his analysis of American democracy. It was partly for this reason that Tocqueville could be so trusting in the wholesome effects of religious mores, "enlightened self-interest," and voluntary associations on American society. For Phillips, on the other hand, the incubus of race in America stalked every institution and association from plantation to pulpit to polling booth, which made him far less confident that individual, self-interested voluntarism alone could assure the health of democracy. In an 1852 speech, Phillips mused that the “the slave question halts and lingers, because it cannot get the selfishness of men on its side,” and to succeed, either in the North or the South, abolitionists would have to make white men “interested, indignant, enthusiastic for others, not for themselves” and stir them to "a level of disinterestedness which the masses seldom reach." Abolitionists would have to educate Americans in the higher laws of "humanity."19

Secondly, however, Phillips may have ultimately been more confident than Tocqueville that abolitionists would succeed in this endeavor. Phillips believed, remember, that over the long run "the people never err" and the democratic tendencies of the masses tended towards right. Tocqueville was not so sure. In 1841, Tocqueville revealed in a telling private note that “I have an intellectual preference for democratic institutions, but I am aristocratic by instinct, that is I despise and fear the crowd.” Phillips, by contrast, never suggested a preference, intellectual, instinctive, or otherwise, for anything other than democratic institutions and majority rule.20

For the American, as a result, the problem of stopping the drift of democracy towards majoritarian despotism was in many ways more urgent than it was for Tocqueville. Tocqueville’s primary audience, as many recent scholars have stressed, was in France and continental Europe, and his primary concern was to show that democracy was not doomed always to dissolve into bloody anarchy, the destruction of private property, and the death of tradition. While Tocqueville astutely noted the dangers that America’s stable majoritarian society posed to individual freedoms, it was demonstrating stability that most concerned the Frenchman. As a result, while Tocqueville noticed the dangerous tendencies in American democracy, particularly in his second volume, he remained vague about what could be done to fix them.

As a self-described "democrat, ingrained, top to toe," Phillips could afford no such ambivalence. He needed an answer for how to mitigate the dangers majority rule posed to the health of democracy and the rights of minorities. And the prescription Phillips usually settled on was informed by the fact that he could not, like Tocqueville, adopt the stance of a dispassionate outside observer of the United States. He was, instead, an active spokesman for an embattled American minority and a controversial agitator.

That fact made the problems of American democracy more urgent for Phillips, but they also suggested to him the solution. In several speeches over the course of his abolitionist career, Phillips argued that the best way to check the untrammeled power of majorities, without reverting to the terra firma of despotism, was to ensure that the United States remained in a constant state of agitation. Constant agitation was precisely what Tocqueville wished to show his European readers that Americans had avoided; but for Phillips, agitation, constant deliberation, untrammeled free speech and discussion, and free rein to the voicing of dissent, were essential to the maintenance of freedom in a democracy. This is why, Phillips explained in his speech on "Public Opinion," he believed that “the antislavery agitation is an important, nay, an essential part of the machinery of the state.” Agitation was not a “disease,” as anti-abolitionists argued, but nor was it simply a “medicine” that could be abandoned once disease was cured. “No; it is the normal state,–the normal state of the nation.” If republican institutions founded only on majority trusted only “to constitutions and machinery, to politicians and statesmen, for the safety of its liberties,” they would never have such safety. That was why “the antislavery agitation is a necessity of each age,” a movement that was “not the cure, but the diet of a free people,–not the homeopathic or the allopathic dose to which a sick land has recourse, but the daily cold water and the simple bread, the daily diet and absolute necessity.”21

These lines are worth remembering as we remember Phillips on his bicentennial anniversary, for Phillips never made it more clear than here that he did not view the agitation of "public opinion" simply as a method for obtaining a single goal or set of goals–after which the job of the agitator could be abandoned and the ocean of unchained democracy could return to a state of rest. On the contrary, as a top-to-toe democrat who was yet fully aware of the dangers of democracy and the potential terrors of public opinion, Phillips was convinced that agitation was as essential to the survival and health of democracy as universal suffrage or individual liberty. His answer for the ills of democracy was not less democracy, but more–not, as the Democratic Party desired, less agitation on issues like slavery where the majority consensus was already clear, but more agitation about unpopular views. Phillips, as usual, put the point best: “never look, therefore, for an age when the people can be quiet and safe. … If the Alps, piled in cold and still sublimity, be the emblem of Despotism," said this abolitionist democrat, then "the ever-restless ocean is ours, which, girt within the eternal laws of gravitation, is pure only because never still.”22


  1. "Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society Annual Meeting," Liberator, 17 February 1865. Phillips made the statement while arguing for voting rights for freedmen in the South.

  2. "Twenty-Ninth Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society," Liberator, 31 January 1862. Phillips’s longstanding commitments to the expansion of suffrage are sometimes overlooked because in the 1840s and 1850s Phillips himself, like many Garrisonians, refused to vote under a proslavery Constitution. Yet Phillips’s position was much like Garrison, who explained his support for women’s right to vote in 1850 by saying that "I want the women to have the right to vote, and I call upon them to demand it perseveringly until they possess it. When they have obtained it, it will be for them to say whether they will exercise it or not." Garrison quoted in John L. Thomas, The Liberator: William Lloyd Garrison, A Biography (Boston: Little, Brown, 1963), 372-373; see also Kraditor, Means and Ends in American Abolitionism, 59.

  3. Wendell Phillips, "Public Opinion," in Speeches, Lectures and Letters (Boston: James Redpath, 1863), 45-46; James Brewer Stewart, Wendell Phillips: Liberty’s Hero (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1986, 3).

  4. Phillips, "Public Opinion," 51-52.

  5. "Mr. Thompson’s Remarks, at the New England A. S. Convention," Letters and Addresses by George Thompson, during his Mission in the United States (Boston: Isaac Knapp, 1837), 75.

  6. A fuller exploration of Phillips’s engagement with these thinkers and ideas about the problem of democracy will be provided in my book, tentatively titled, "The Ever-Restless Ocean: Garrisonian Abolitionism, Transatlantic Reform, and the Problem of Democracy, 1820-1870."

  7. Theodore Wentworth Higginson, Wendell Phillips (Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1884), xiii. For more examples of Phillips’s use of Tocqueville beyond the ones discussed here, see "The Ever-Restless Ocean."

  8. Quoted in Stewart, Wendell Phillips, 32.

  9. K. Theodore Hoppen, The Mid-Victorian Generation, 1846-1886 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 237-239; Mike Rapport, 1848: Year of Revolution (New York: Basic Books, 2008), 1-41. According to Rapport, after the French Revolution of 1830 “the electorate swelled to include only 170,000 of France’s richest men: this was a mere 0.5 per cent of the French population, a sixth of those who enjoyed the vote in Britain after 1832” (p. 3). Timothy Roberts puts the size of the French electorate under Louis Philippe at “the wealthiest 250,000 men out of a population of some 35 million, about twice as large as the U.S. population in 1840.” See Timothy Mason Roberts, Distant Revolutions: 1848 and the Challenge to American Exceptionalism (Charlottesville, Va.: University of Virginia Press, 2009), 12.

  10. Phillips, "Public Opinion," 45; Richard S. Newman, The Transformation of American Abolitionism: Fighting Slavery in the Early Republic (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002).

  11. Phillips, "Public Opinion," 52.

  12. Phillips, Speeches, Lectures, and Letters, 39, 50, 266, 501-502.

  13. Wendell Phillips, "Harper’s Ferry," in Speeches, Lectures, and Letters, 264-65.

  14. Phillips, "The Boston Mob," in Speeches, Lectures and Letters, 225.

  15. Phillips, "Public Opinion," 52; "The Boston Mob," 225.

  16. See Alan S. Kahan, Alexis de Tocqueville (New York: Continuum, 2010), 35-57. See also Kahan, Aristocratic Liberalism: The Social and Political Thought of Jacob Burckhardt, John Stuart Mill, and Alexis de Tocqueville (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).

  17. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. Harvey C. Mansfield and Delba Winthrop (Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2000), 239-242. In the one review of his book that Tocqueville believed had understood him right, John Stuart Mill credited the Frenchman for realizing that “the real danger in democracy … is not anarchy or love of change,” but instead “stagnation and immobility.” Quoted in Kahan, Aristocratic Liberalism, 47. These were sentiments with which Phillips could also agree.

  18. Phillips, "Mobs and Education," in Speeches, Lectures, and Letters, 321, 341.

  19. Phillips, "Sims Anniversary," in Speeches, Lectures and Letters, 82. Toqueville’s traveling partner Gustave de Beaumont spent more time writing about race and slavery, perhaps partly by prior arrangement with Tocqueville about the division of labor between them.

  20. Quoted in Leo Damrosch, Tocqueville’s Discovery of America (New York: Farrar, Starus and Giroux, 2010), 204.

  21. Phillips, "Public Opinion," 54.

  22. Phillips, "Public Opinion," 52, 54.


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