As Tocqueville travelled around America, he encountered not only citizens and civic organizations, but also structures that he found unique to American culture and political life. Log cabins are, for him, an ideal example of Americans’ desire for constant movement, their embrace of change and adventure, and their individualist tendencies. Such homes are simple and able to be built relatively quickly based on available natural resources of timber—indeed, Tocqueville emphasizes the lush natural resources of which many Americans have been able to take advantage in order to promote their own material success. Log cabins can be built in the middle of the wilderness, without the requirement of neighbors or towns, and they can be abandoned once their inhabitants decide to move again and pursue other options. Encountering such abandoned cabins leads Tocqueville to marvel at just how far Americans will go in pursuit of their individual dreams, as well as at how this tendency means that for such a young country (here he is thinking of European, not Native American, occupation) America already has ruins. The connections Tocqueville makes between log cabins and the American personality would prove prescient, as the fact that future president Abraham Lincoln was born in a one-room log cabin would become an unforgettable and much-recounted aspect of American history.
The timeline below shows where the symbol Log Cabins appears in Democracy in America. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 14. Causes Which Tend to Maintain Democracy