So wrote Alexis de Tocqueville.
Yet, judged by the standards of those old "pulpits aflame with righteousness," is America still a good country?
Consider the cases taken up this week by the Supreme Court.
In one, the court is asked to rule on California's Proposition 8, where voters declared marriage to be solely between a man and a woman. In the second, the court is asked to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, which forbids federal support for same-sex marriages.
Whatever their beliefs, the justices, one trusts, will leave this to the states and people. For Roe v. Wade, where seven justices found the right to an abortion lurking in the penumbras of the Ninth Amendment, poisons our politics to this day. We don't need a re-enactment of that civil war.
Still, what America decides about same-sex marriage will reveal much about what this generation believes to be a moral society.
Traditionalist America has always held homosexuality to be unnatural and immoral, ruinous to body and soul alike, and where prevalent -- as in Weimar Germany -- the mark of a sick society.
This belief outrages millions. Yet it is as old as mankind and was held universally in the Christian West until this century. Moreover, it is grounded in biblical truth, tradition, natural law and Catholic doctrine.
Before 1973, the American Psychiatric Association regarded homosexuality as a mental disorder. Most states treated it as a crime.
The new morality argues thus:
For a significant slice of the population, homosexuality is natural and normal. They were born this way. And to deny homosexuals the freedom to engage in consensual sexual relations, or the right to marry, is bigotry as odious as was discrimination against black Americans.
Yet, though gospel to many, this belief has only the most shallow of religious, moral and philosophical roots. It seems grounded in a post-1960s ideology that holds that all freely chosen life-styles are equal, and to discriminate against any is the true social sin.
Needless to say, the traditional morality and the new morality are irreconcilable.
But if the new morality -- that homosexuality is normal and same-sex marriage morally equal to traditional marriage -- is true and valid, Frank Kameny was a prophet and Christianity is indictable for 2,000 years of ostracism, persecution and suffering imposed on homosexuals.