But then another part of human nature kicks in, says Tocqueville. Absent any real personal affection, compassion for the weak quickly turns into contempt for their (growing) weakness, exacerbated by their increasing dependence upon the government.
The American people were slow to start down this road. As Tocqueville himself suggested, their long experience of freedom and local self-government would counter this tendency well into the 19th century. But the rise of national populism, the influence of industrial capitalism, and the experience of centralized federal authority during the Civil War opened up room for a reconceptualization of the American regime.
Individual and corporate wealth on a previously-unimaginable scale (one list includes six late-19th/early-20th century Americans among the top ten wealthiest people of all time) led to the first American mass political movement (the People’s Party) to advocate big government for the little guy: “We believe that the powers of government–in other words, of the people–should be expanded…as rapidly and as far as the good sense of an intelligent people and the teachings of experience shall justify, to the end that oppression, injustice, and poverty shall eventually cease in the land.”