This essay takes Georg Simmel’s conceptualization of space as a form of sociation (Vergesellschaftung) in his 1908 masterpiece, Sociology, as a framework for critically re-reading two 19th century classics in the sociology of empire. Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (1835/1940) is shown to illustrate Simmel’s understanding of social-spatial boundaries by portraying the cultural and historical geography of America as an ‘optic space’ of racial (in)equality. Similarly, Harriett Martineau’s study of morals and manners in Society in America (1837) exemplifies Simmel’s ideas on social-spatial sensibilities with its attention to how everyday settings serve as a kind of ‘acoustic space’ of gendered (un)freedom. Drawing on related arguments by recent thinkers and critics, and rectifying the relative neglect of how socio-spatial dynamics are addressed in the texts of classical sociology, the essay examines a description in each work of a particular personal encounter with strangers which exemplifies how the spatial sense of empire disrupts assumptions that new-world democracy has superseded old-world colonialism. Considered as illustrations of Simmel’s thesis concerning the spatial orders of society, the ‘traveling and anecdotal theories’ of Martineau and Tocqueville provide ‘sociological allegories’ designed to instruct reading publics on how law, empire, and social mores constitute bounded fields of struggle within the contact zones of modern empire.