FACT CHECK: Did Alexis De Tocqueville Say, ‘A Decline Of Public Morals In The United States Will Probably Be Marked By The Abuse Of The Power Of Impeachment’?
An image shared on Facebook credits French author and political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville with saying, “A decline of public morals in the United States will probably be marked by the abuse of the power of impeachment as a means of crushing political adversaries or ejecting them from office.”
The quotation does not appear in any of Tocqueville’s writings. It actually comes from John Innes Clark Hare’s book “American Constitutional Law.”
The image, posted Nov. 22, features a screen grab of a tweet from White House adviser and first daughter Ivanka Trump. The tweet, in which she ascribes a quote about impeachment to Tocqueville, comes as her father, President Donald Trump, faces an impeachment inquiry over a July 25 phone call with the Ukrainian president.
“A decline of public morals in the United States will probably be marked by the abuse of the power of impeachment as a means of crushing political adversaries or ejecting them from office.”
Alexis de Tocqueville, 1835
— Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump) November 21, 2019
“A decline of public morals in the United States will probably be marked by the abuse of the power of impeachment as a means of crushing political adversaries or ejecting them from office,” she credits Tocqueville with saying.
However, the quote does not appear in his canonical work “Democracy in America,” or any of his other writings. The Daily Caller News Foundation searched his collected works for the expression but found no matches. (RELATED: 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’?)
Harvey Mansfield, author of “Tocqueville: A Very Short Introduction,” told the DCNF in an email that while there is no record of it in Tocqueville’s writings, the saying does express a similar sentiment to a line from Mansfield’s translation of “Democracy in America.”
In his translation, Tocqueville writes, “One should remark in the first place that in the United States the tribunal that pronounces these judgments is composed of the same elements and is subject to the same influences as the body charged with accusing, which gives an almost irresistible impetus to the vindictive passions of the parties.”
“He is contrasting the mildness of American impeachment, just ejecting from office, with the harshness of jailing or killing the accused executive as punishments in European governments,” Mansfield explained in an email to the DCNF.
“It was long since remarked by De Tocqueville that a decline of public morals in the United States would probably be marked by the abuse of power of impeachment as a means of crushing political adversaries or ejecting them from office,” wrote Hare.
In his book, Hare was not directly quoting Tocqueville but rather paraphrasing Tocqueville’s views on impeachment in his own words to make a point about former President Andrew Johnson’s 1868 impeachment. It’s possible that readers mistook his characterization of Tocqueville’s writing as a direct quote and subsequently attributed it to the 19th century French author and political scientist.
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