The project investigates the Democratic Republican Societies of the 1790s and their impact on the process of ‘democratization’ in the United States at the beginning of the nineteenth century, focusing on the influence of European (especially French) immigrants.

This process, that took place on an extra-governmental basis, can be described as building on a new definition of democracy that emerged, following the French Revolutionary experience, in the first half of the nineteenth century and was described, amongst others, in Alexis de Tocqueville’s La Democratie en Amérique (1835).

Tocqueville characterized democracy not as a fixed system of government based on majority rule in the classical sense, but as a cultural practice, a method applied by citizen minorities, who came together in civil and political associations, on a ‘grassroots’ basis, in order to achieve a collective purpose, and thereby as a constant ongoing process of changing and reconstructing old social norms, adapting them to new conditions of social life that Tocqueville described as ‘egalitarian’.

The very term ‘democracy’ was not associated with a positive connotation until the last decade of the eighteenth century, neither did it emerge ‘fully formed’ during the revolutionary era. In the United States of the nineteenth-century it became furthermore associated with the slaving interest.

The core principle of ‘social equality’ that Tocqueville considered as inherent to a modem democracy, gravitated in the course of the nineteenth century toward a centralized state capable of enforcing equal protection before the law, while localism and self-government came to be associated with inequality and the defense of slavery.

The project aims to examine the way in which democratic methods of grassroots-based political motibilization were successfully transmitted and appropriated from the late eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century in the transatlantic world.

2021-2023 Research Cycle

Enlightenment legacy: the rights of man
in a global perspective.


Ariane Viktoria Fichtl: Short Biography
& Academic Curriculum Vitae