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Origins of the Tocqueville Society

Only 26 years old when he came to the United States and Canada in 1831, Alexis Charles-Henri de Tocqueville traveled extensively, recording his observations of life in the young nations.

Though he only spent nine months in North America, he gleaned many profound insights about American society. His observations, readings and discussions with eminent Americans formed the basis of Democracy in America, a detailed study of American society and politics published in two volumes, in 1835 and 1840.

Tocqueville recognized, applauded and immortalized North American voluntary action on behalf of the common good. He wrote: “I must say that I have seen Americans make a great deal of real sacrifices to the public welfare; and have noticed a hundred instances in which they hardly ever failed to lend a faithful support to one another,” eloquently capturing the essence of personal philanthropy that persists almost three centuries later.

The observations on philanthropy made by Alexis de Tocqueville in 1831 are true today; North Americans understand that advancing the common good means creating opportunities for a better life for all. The name Tocqueville Society was chosen because of Alexis de Tocqueville’s admiration for the spirit of voluntary association and effort toward its advancement.

The Founding Communities

On March 15, 1984, Tocqueville Society founder Dr. Thomas F. Frist Jr. drafted a letter to 10 pilot cities. In his letter, Frist wrote that the purpose of the Nashville “chapter”—the first Tocqueville Society in the nation—was to “recognize and honor those concerned individuals who accepted a leadership role in making major financial contributions to United Way.” Of those 10 invited, four cities accepted the invitation and joined Nashville as the founding communities: Atlanta, Boston, Cincinnati, and Des Moines.

The Tocqueville Family Today

The United Way Tocqueville Society is honored by the involvement of Alexis de Tocqueville’s descendants. The late Count and Countess Guy de Tocqueville d’Herouville and their three children, Patrick, Jean-Guillaume and Alexis, graciously granted permission in 1984 for United Way of America to use the Tocqueville name and coat of arms.

Jean-Guillaume de Tocqueville d’Herouville is a partner with Gide Lloyrette Nouel, a Paris-based global law firm. He studied political sciences and law both in Paris and the United States and is also a member of the New York Bar.

He and his wife Stephanie have been especially involved with the growth and development of the United Way Tocqueville Society, hosting Society members on philanthropic exchanges and traveling to attend various Tocqueville Society national events in the United States. They also helped to found a United Way and Tocqueville Society in Paris.  

Jean-Guillaume is currently active in projects promoting the heritage of Alexis de Tocqueville throughout the world. He and Stephanie live part time in Paris with their four children and part time in Normandy at the Historic Tocqueville Chateau.

The chateau is used by the family as a second home, but a section of it can be rented.  It houses the original papers of Alexis de Tocqueville in his handwriting and guests can visit his study. Ten percent of the rental fee paid by any Tocqueville Society member who rents the Chateau will be directed to the United Way in Paris to support their efforts to help vulnerable youth succeed in school.  To visit the Chateau website, click here.

The Tocqueville Society Today

Currently, 400 societies raise over $529 million dollars from nearly 25,000 individuals. These leaders share a global spirit of philanthropy and engage locally, nationally and globally to improve the lives of others.

Other United Way Major Donor Programs

Major Donors in other countries also give, advocate and volunteer through other programs.

For example, major donor programs starting at $10,000 and up for United Ways in Canada provide more than $65 million for local communities. The United Way of Greater Toronto's major donor program has 1,400 members, making it the largest major giving program in the United Way Network. In Korea, members of the Honor Society of the Community Chest of Korea make gifts of $10,000 USD or more. More than 160 members have given $16.5 million USD (18.3 Billion KRW).