Inspired by a “great democratic revolution” sweeping through Europe in the nineteenth century, the French aristocrat and liberal idealist, Alexis de Tocqueville, visited the youthful America in the 1830s in order to observe firsthand a system of government which, in his view, had given rise to “a condition of equality” that did not exist in classdivided Europe. In the event, he found and described two separate and distinctive systems of government in America, each fulfilling quite different functions. At one level, there was the federal government, charged with the responsibility of guaranteeing “ liberty, justice, and freedom for all.” Below this, and performing a different set of func­ tions to do with “the daily calls of the community,” was the system of local government comprising the states, the counties, and the town­ ships. The discovery of this “dual social structure” led Tocqueville to the conclusion that to understand American democracy one first had to understand how the country’s unique geographical and historical conditions had given rise to a political system founded on the principle of the sovereignty of the people. Accordingly, Tocquevilie’s influential treatise, Democracy in America, does not begin with an analysis of the federal government but rather with detailed discussions of the physical

geography of America, its settlement history, and most of all the “ small sovereign nations, whose agglomeration constitutes the body of the Union” (Tocqueville 1945/1963:59). For Tocqueville, then, the basis of American political exceptionalism was the “ rule” of local territorial government.