The New Divide in American Politics

Document Type


Publication Title

First Things - Web Exclusives

Publication Date




In the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville noticed something about American politics that astonished him: A divide between religious and non-religious parties did not exist. In France, he wrote, everyone understood that religion and republicanism were political adversaries, and that one had to choose sides between them: “Among us … the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom almost always move in contrary directions.” In America, by contrast, the need for choice did not arise. “Americans so completely confuse Christianity and freedom in their minds,” Tocqueville explained, “that it is almost impossible to have them conceive of the one without the other.” For Americans, religion and republicanism were entirely compatible; in fact, they were mutually supportive. Religion, as such, did not have partisan implications.