FACT CHECK: Did Alexis de Tocqueville Say, ‘The American Republic Will Endure Until The Day Congress Discovers That It Can Bribe The Public With The Public’s Money’?
An image shared on Facebook claims that French author and political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville once said, “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.”
President Donald Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., shared the quote on Twitter as well.
The American republic will endure until the day Congress discovers it can bribe the public with the public’s money – Alexis De Tocqueville
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) October 3, 2012
It does not appear in any of de Tocqueville’s writings or speeches. Variations of the quote have appeared in print since at least 1951.
Tocqueville, a 19th century French author and political scientist, is best known for his two-volume work “Democracy in America,” in which he recounts the nine months he spent traveling and observing the U.S.
“Nothing like this appears in ‘Democracy in America,'” Robert Tracy McKenzie, a history professor at Wheaton College, told the Caller in an email.
“The sentiment contained in the quote you refer to sounds like nothing Tocqueville would have argued,” added McKenzie. “The entire thrust of volume I is concerned not with how the government might corrupt the people, but the ways in which popular pressure may corrupt democratic government and render it simply an instrument for the ‘tyranny of the majority.'”
An internet search revealed that it may actually be a variation of a statement frequently misattributed to Scottish academic and author Alexander Fraser Tytler. He is credited with saying, “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury.”
This expression also seems to be spurious, according to “Yale Book of Quotations” editor Fred Shapiro.
“In The Yale Book of Quotations, for which I tried to trace all famous quotations to their accurate origins, the earliest version I found for this passage was in the New York Times Book Review, May 3, 1959,” wrote Shapiro in a 2009 blog post. “And the earliest attribution to Alexander Fraser Tytler I found was in Martin Dies, The Martin Dies Story (1963).”
Shapiro later found an earlier instance of the longer quote, which is also often attributed to Tocqueville, in a 1951 edition of the Daily Oklahoman newspaper.