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United States Presidents' Inaugural Speeches

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terminated in the overthrow of the government and the ruin of the
state; in the other, in which the people governed in a body, and
whose dominions seldom exceeded the dimensions of a county in one
of our States, a tumultuous and disorderly movement permitted only
a transitory existence. In this great nation there is but one
order, that of the people, whose power, by a peculiarly happy
improvement of the representative principle, is transferred from
them, without impairing in the slightest degree their sovereignty,
to bodies of their own creation, and to persons elected by
themselves, in the full extent necessary for all the purposes of
free, enlightened and efficient government. The whole system is
elective, the complete sovereignty being in the people, and every
officer in every department deriving his authority from and being
responsible to them for his conduct.

Our career has corresponded with this great outline. Perfection in
our organization could not have been expected in the outset either
in the National or State Governments or in tracing the line
between their respective powers. But no serious conflict has
arisen, nor any contest but such as are managed by argument and by
a fair appeal to the good sense of the people, and many of the
defects which experience had clearly demonstrated in both
Governments have been remedied. By steadily pursuing this course
in this spirit there is every reason to believe that our system
will soon attain the highest degree of perfection of which human
institutions are capable, and that the movement in all its
branches will exhibit such a degree of order and harmony as to
command the admiration and respect of the civilized world.

Our physical attainments have not been less eminent. Twenty-five
years ago the river Mississippi was shut up and our Western
brethren had no outlet for their commerce. What has been the
progress since that time? The river has not only become the
property of the United States from its source to the ocean, with
all its tributary streams (with the exception of the upper part of
the Red River only), but Louisiana, with a fair and liberal
boundary on the western side and the Floridas on the eastern, have
been ceded to us. The United States now enjoy the complete and
uninterrupted sovereignty over the whole territory from St. Croix
to the Sabine. New States, settled from among ourselves in this
and in other parts, have been admitted into our Union in equal
participation in the national sovereignty with the original
States. Our population has augmented in an astonishing degree and
extended in every direction. We now, fellow-citizens, comprise
within our limits the dimensions and faculties of a great power
under a Government possessing all the energies of any government
ever known to the Old World, with an utter incapacity to oppress
the people.

Entering with these views the office which I have just solemnly
sworn to execute with fidelity and to the utmost of my ability, I
derive great satisfaction from a knowledge that I shall be
assisted in the several Departments by the very enlightened and
upright citizens from whom I have received so much aid in the
preceding term. With full confidence in the continuance of that
candor and generous indulgence from my fellow-citizens at large
which I have heretofore experienced, and with a firm reliance on
the protection of Almighty God, I shall forthwith commence the
duties of the high trust to which you have called me.


John Quincy Adams




The only son of a former President to be elected to the Nation's
highest office, John Quincy Adams was chosen by the House of
Representatives when the electoral college could not determine a
clear winner of the 1824 election. The outcome was assured when
Henry Clay, one of the front-runners, threw his support to Mr.
Adams so that Andrew Jackson's candidacy would fail. General
Jackson had polled more popular votes in the election, but he did
not gain enough electoral votes to win outright. The oath of
office was administered by Chief Justice John Marshall inside the
Hall of the House of Representatives.


In compliance with an usage coeval with the existence of our
Federal Constitution, and sanctioned by the example of my
predecessors in the career upon which I am about to enter, I
appear, my fellow-citizens, in your presence and in that of Heaven
to bind myself by the solemnities of religious obligation to the
faithful performance of the duties allotted to me in the station
to which I have been called.

In unfolding to my countrymen the principles by which I shall be
governed in the fulfillment of those duties my first resort will
be to that Constitution which I shall swear to the best of my
ability to preserve, protect, and defend. That revered instrument
enumerates the powers and prescribes the duties of the Executive
Magistrate, and in its first words declares the purposes to which
these and the whole action of the Government instituted by it
should be invariably and sacredly devoted--to form a more perfect
union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide
for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure
the blessings of liberty to the people of this Union in their
successive generations. Since the adoption of this social compact
one of these generations has passed away. It is the work of our
forefathers. Administered by some of the most eminent men who
contributed to its formation, through a most eventful period in
the annals of the world, and through all the vicissitudes of peace
and war incidental to the condition of associated man, it has not
disappointed the hopes and aspirations of those illustrious
benefactors of their age and nation. It has promoted the lasting
welfare of that country so dear to us all; it has to an extent far
beyond the ordinary lot of humanity secured the freedom and
happiness of this people. We now receive it as a precious
inheritance from those to whom we are indebted for its
establishment, doubly bound by the examples which they have left
us and by the blessings which we have enjoyed as the fruits of
their labors to transmit the same unimpaired to the succeeding

In the compass of thirty-six years since this great national
covenant was instituted a body of laws enacted under its authority
and in conformity with its provisions has unfolded its powers and
carried into practical operation its effective energies.
Subordinate departments have distributed the executive functions
in their various relations to foreign affairs, to the revenue and
expenditures, and to the military force of the Union by land and
sea. A coordinate department of the judiciary has expounded the
Constitution and the laws, settling in harmonious coincidence with
the legislative will numerous weighty questions of construction
which the imperfection of human language had rendered unavoidable.
The year of jubilee since the first formation of our Union has
just elapsed that of the declaration of our independence is at
hand. The consummation of both was effected by this Constitution.

Since that period a population of four millions has multiplied to
twelve. A territory bounded by the Mississippi has been extended
from sea to sea. New States have been admitted to the Union in
numbers nearly equal to those of the first Confederation. Treaties
of peace, amity, and commerce have been concluded with the
principal dominions of the earth. The people of other nations,
inhabitants of regions acquired not by conquest, but by compact,
have been united with us in the participation of our rights and
duties, of our burdens and blessings. The forest has fallen by the
ax of our woodsmen; the soil has been made to teem by the tillage
of our farmers; our commerce has whitened every ocean. The
dominion of man over physical nature has been extended by the
invention of our artists. Liberty and law have marched hand in
hand. All the purposes of human association have been accomplished
as effectively as under any other government on the globe, and at
a cost little exceeding in a whole generation the expenditure of
other nations in a single year.

Such is the unexaggerated picture of our condition under a
Constitution founded upon the republican principle of equal
rights. To admit that this picture has its shades is but to say
that it is still the condition of men upon earth. From evil--
physical, moral, and political--it is not our claim to be exempt.
We have suffered sometimes by the visitation of Heaven through
disease; often by the wrongs and injustice of other nations, even
to the extremities of war; and, lastly, by dissensions among
ourselves--dissensions perhaps inseparable from the enjoyment of
freedom, but which have more than once appeared to threaten the
dissolution of the Union, and with it the overthrow of all the
enjoyments of our present lot and all our earthly hopes of the
future. The causes of these dissensions have been various, founded
upon differences of speculation in the theory of republican
government; upon conflicting views of policy in our relations with
foreign nations; upon jealousies of partial and sectional
interests, aggravated by prejudices and prepossessions which
strangers to each other are ever apt to entertain.

It is a source of gratification and of encouragement to me to
observe that the great result of this experiment upon the theory
of human rights has at the close of that generation by which it
was formed been crowned with success equal to the most sanguine
expectations of its founders. Union, justice, tranquillity, the
common defense, the general welfare, and the blessings of
liberty--all have been promoted by the Government under which we
have lived. Standing at this point of time, looking back to that
generation which has gone by and forward to that which is
advancing, we may at once indulge in grateful exultation and in
cheering hope. From the experience of the past we derive
instructive lessons for the future. Of the two great political
parties which have divided the opinions and feelings of our
country, the candid and the just will now admit that both have
contributed splendid talents, spotless integrity, ardent
patriotism, and disinterested sacrifices to the formation and
administration of this Government, and that both have required a
liberal indulgence for a portion of human infirmity and error. The
revolutionary wars of Europe, commencing precisely at the moment
when the Government of the United States first went into operation
under this Constitution, excited a collision of sentiments and of
sympathies which kindled all the passions and imbittered the
conflict of parties till the nation was involved in war and the
Union was shaken to its center. This time of trial embraced a
period of five and twenty years, during which the policy of the
Union in its relations with Europe constituted the principal basis
of our political divisions and the most arduous part of the action
of our Federal Government. With the catastrophe in which the wars
of the French Revolution terminated, and our own subsequent peace
with Great Britain, this baneful weed of party strife was
uprooted. From that time no difference of principle, connected
either with the theory of government or with our intercourse with
foreign nations, has existed or been called forth in force
sufficient to sustain a continued combination of parties or to
give more than wholesome animation to public sentiment or
legislative debate. Our political creed is, without a dissenting
voice that can be heard, that the will of the people is the source
and the happiness of the people the end of all legitimate
government upon earth; that the best security for the beneficence
and the best guaranty against the abuse of power consists in the
freedom, the purity, and the frequency of popular elections; that
the General Government of the Union and the separate governments
of the States are all sovereignties of limited powers, fellow-
servants of the same masters, uncontrolled within their respective
spheres, uncontrollable by encroachments upon each other; that the
firmest security of peace is the preparation during peace of the
defenses of war; that a rigorous economy and accountability of
public expenditures should guard against the aggravation and
alleviate when possible the burden of taxation; that the military
should be kept in strict subordination to the civil power; that
the freedom of the press and of religious opinion should be
inviolate; that the policy of our country is peace and the ark of
our salvation union are articles of faith upon which we are all
now agreed. If there have been those who doubted whether a
confederated representative democracy were a government competent
to the wise and orderly management of the common concerns of a
mighty nation, those doubts have been dispelled; if there have
been projects of partial confederacies to be erected upon the
ruins of the Union, they have been scattered to the winds; if
there have been dangerous attachments to one foreign nation and
antipathies against another, they have been extinguished. Ten
years of peace, at home and abroad, have assuaged the animosities
of political contention and blended into harmony the most
discordant elements of public opinion There still remains one
effort of magnanimity, one sacrifice of prejudice and passion, to
be made by the individuals throughout the nation who have
heretofore followed the standards of political party. It is that
of discarding every remnant of rancor against each other, of
embracing as countrymen and friends, and of yielding to talents
and virtue alone that confidence which in times of contention for
principle was bestowed only upon those who bore the badge of party

The collisions of party spirit which originate in speculative
opinions or in different views of administrative policy are in
their nature transitory. Those which are founded on geographical
divisions, adverse interests of soil, climate, and modes of
domestic life are more permanent, and therefore, perhaps, more
dangerous. It is this which gives inestimable value to the
character of our Government, at once federal and national. It
holds out to us a perpetual admonition to preserve alike and with
equal anxiety the rights of each individual State in its own
government and the rights of the whole nation in that of the
Union. Whatsoever is of domestic concernment, unconnected with the
other members of the Union or with foreign lands, belongs
exclusively to the administration of the State governments.
Whatsoever directly involves the rights and interests of the
federative fraternity or of foreign powers is of the resort of
this General Government. The duties of both are obvious in the
general principle, though sometimes perplexed with difficulties in
the detail. To respect the rights of the State governments is the
inviolable duty of that of the Union; the government of every
State will feel its own obligation to respect and preserve the
rights of the whole. The prejudices everywhere too commonly
entertained against distant strangers are worn away, and the
jealousies of jarring interests are allayed by the composition and
functions of the great national councils annually assembled from
all quarters of the Union at this place. Here the distinguished
men from every section of our country, while meeting to deliberate
upon the great interests of those by whom they are deputed, learn
to estimate the talents and do justice to the virtues of each
other. The harmony of the nation is promoted and the whole Union
is knit together by the sentiments of mutual respect, the habits
of social intercourse, and the ties of personal friendship formed
between the representatives of its several parts in the
performance of their service at this metropolis.

Passing from this general review of the purposes and injunctions
of the Federal Constitution and their results as indicating the
first traces of the path of duty in the discharge of my public
trust, I turn to the Administration of my immediate predecessor as
the second. It has passed away in a period of profound peace, how
much to the satisfaction of our country and to the honor of our
country's name is known to you all. The great features of its
policy, in general concurrence with the will of the Legislature,
have been to cherish peace while preparing for defensive war; to
yield exact justice to other nations and maintain the rights of
our own; to cherish the principles of freedom and of equal rights
wherever they were proclaimed; to discharge with all possible
promptitude the national debt; to reduce within the narrowest
limits of efficiency the military force; to improve the
organization and discipline of the Army; to provide and sustain a
school of military science; to extend equal protection to all the
great interests of the nation; to promote the civilization of the
Indian tribes, and to proceed in the great system of internal
improvements within the limits of the constitutional power of the
Union. Under the pledge of these promises, made by that eminent
citizen at the time of his first induction to this office, in his
career of eight years the internal taxes have been repealed; sixty
millions of the public debt have been discharged; provision has
been made for the comfort and relief of the aged and indigent
among the surviving warriors of the Revolution; the regular armed
force has been reduced and its constitution revised and perfected;
the accountability for the expenditure of public moneys has been
made more effective; the Floridas have been peaceably acquired,
and our boundary has been extended to the Pacific Ocean; the
independence of the southern nations of this hemisphere has been
recognized, and recommended by example and by counsel to the
potentates of Europe; progress has been made in the defense of the
country by fortifications and the increase of the Navy, toward the
effectual suppression of the African traffic in slaves; in
alluring the aboriginal hunters of our land to the cultivation of
the soil and of the mind, in exploring the interior regions of the
Union, and in preparing by scientific researches and surveys for
the further application of our national resources to the internal
improvement of our country.
In this brief outline of the promise and performance of my
immediate predecessor the line of duty for his successor is
clearly delineated To pursue to their consummation those purposes
of improvement in our common condition instituted or recommended
by him will embrace the whole sphere of my obligations. To the
topic of internal improvement, emphatically urged by him at his
inauguration, I recur with peculiar satisfaction. It is that from
which I am convinced that the unborn millions of our posterity who
are in future ages to people this continent will derive their most
fervent gratitude to the founders of the Union; that in which the
beneficent action of its Government will be most deeply felt and
acknowledged. The magnificence and splendor of their public works
are among the imperishable glories of the ancient republics. The
roads and aqueducts of Rome have been the admiration of all after
ages, and have survived thousands of years after all her conquests
have been swallowed up in despotism or become the spoil of
barbarians. Some diversity of opinion has prevailed with regard to
the powers of Congress for legislation upon objects of this
nature. The most respectful deference is due to doubts originating
in pure patriotism and sustained by venerated authority. But
nearly twenty years have passed since the construction of the
first national road was commenced. The authority for its
construction was then unquestioned. To how many thousands of our
countrymen has it proved a benefit? To what single individual has
it ever proved an injury? Repeated, liberal, and candid
discussions in the Legislature have conciliated the sentiments and
approximated the opinions of enlightened minds upon the question
of constitutional power. I can not but hope that by the same
process of friendly, patient, and persevering deliberation all
constitutional objections will ultimately be removed. The extent
and limitation of the powers of the General Government in relation
to this transcendently important interest will be settled and
acknowledged to the common satisfaction of all, and every
speculative scruple will be solved by a practical public blessing.

Fellow-citizens, you are acquainted with the peculiar
circumstances of the recent election, which have resulted in
affording me the opportunity of addressing you at this time. You
have heard the exposition of the principles which will direct me
in the fulfillment of the high and solemn trust imposed upon me in
this station. Less possessed of your confidence in advance than
any of my predecessors, I am deeply conscious of the prospect that
I shall stand more and oftener in need of your indulgence.
Intentions upright and pure, a heart devoted to the welfare of our
country, and the unceasing application of all the faculties
allotted to me to her service are all the pledges that I can give
for the faithful performance of the arduous duties I am to
undertake. To the guidance of the legislative councils, to the
assistance of the executive and subordinate departments, to the
friendly cooperation of the respective State governments, to the
candid and liberal support of the people so far as it may be
deserved by honest industry and zeal, I shall look for whatever
success may attend my public service; and knowing that "except the
Lord keep the city the watchman waketh but in vain," with fervent
supplications for His favor, to His overruling providence I commit
with humble but fearless confidence my own fate and the future
destinies of my country.


Andrew Jackson




The election of Andrew Jackson was heralded as a new page in the
history of the Republic. The first military leader elected
President since George Washington, he was much admired by the
electorate, who came to Washington to celebrate "Old Hickory's"
inauguration. Outgoing President Adams did not join in the
ceremony, which was held for the first time on the East Portico of
the Capitol building. Chief Justice John Marshall administered the
oath of office. After the proceedings at the Capitol, a large
group of citizens walked with the new President along Pennsylvania
Avenue to the White House, and many of them visited the executive
mansion that day and evening. Such large numbers of people arrived
that many of the furnishings were ruined. President Jackson left
the building by a window to avoid the crush of people.



About to undertake the arduous duties that I have been appointed
to perform by the choice of a free people, I avail myself of this
customary and solemn occasion to express the gratitude which their
confidence inspires and to acknowledge the accountability which my
situation enjoins. While the magnitude of their interests
convinces me that no thanks can be adequate to the honor they have
conferred, it admonishes me that the best return I can make is the
zealous dedication of my humble abilities to their service and
their good.

As the instrument of the Federal Constitution it will devolve on
me for a stated period to execute the laws of the United States,
to superintend their foreign and their confederate relations, to
manage their revenue, to command their forces, and, by
communications to the Legislature, to watch over and to promote
their interests generally. And the principles of action by which I
shall endeavor to accomplish this circle of duties it is now
proper for me briefly to explain.

In administering the laws of Congress I shall keep steadily in
view the limitations as well as the extent of the Executive power
trusting thereby to discharge the functions of my office without
transcending its authority. With foreign nations it will be my
study to preserve peace and to cultivate friendship on fair and
honorable terms, and in the adjustment of any differences that may
exist or arise to exhibit the forbearance becoming a powerful
nation rather than the sensibility belonging to a gallant people.

In such measures as I may be called on to pursue in regard to the
rights of the separate States I hope to be animated by a proper
respect for those sovereign members of our Union, taking care not
to confound the powers they have reserved to themselves with those
they have granted to the Confederacy.

The management of the public revenue--that searching operation in
all governments--is among the most delicate and important trusts
in ours, and it will, of course, demand no inconsiderable share of
my official solicitude. Under every aspect in which it can be
considered it would appear that advantage must result from the
observance of a strict and faithful economy. This I shall aim at
the more anxiously both because it will facilitate the
extinguishment of the national debt, the unnecessary duration of
which is incompatible with real independence, and because it will
counteract that tendency to public and private profligacy which a
profuse expenditure of money by the Government is but too apt to
engender. Powerful auxiliaries to the attainment of this desirable
end are to be found in the regulations provided by the wisdom of
Congress for the specific appropriation of public money and the
prompt accountability of public officers.

With regard to a proper selection of the subjects of impost with a
view to revenue, it would seem to me that the spirit of equity,
caution and compromise in which the Constitution was formed
requires that the great interests of agriculture, commerce, and
manufactures should be equally favored, and that perhaps the only
exception to this rule should consist in the peculiar
encouragement of any products of either of them that may be found
essential to our national independence.

Internal improvement and the diffusion of knowledge, so far as
they can be promoted by the constitutional acts of the Federal
Government, are of high importance.

Considering standing armies as dangerous to free governments in
time of peace, I shall not seek to enlarge our present
establishment, nor disregard that salutary lesson of political
experience which teaches that the military should be held
subordinate to the civil power. The gradual increase of our Navy,
whose flag has displayed in distant climes our skill in navigation
and our fame in arms; the preservation of our forts, arsenals, and
dockyards, and the introduction of progressive improvements in the
discipline and science of both branches of our military service
are so plainly prescribed by prudence that I should be excused for
omitting their mention sooner than for enlarging on their
importance. But the bulwark of our defense is the national
militia, which in the present state of our intelligence and
population must render us invincible. As long as our Government is
administered for the good of the people, and is regulated by their
will; as long as it secures to us the rights of person and of
property, liberty of conscience and of the press, it will be worth
defending; and so long as it is worth defending a patriotic
militia will cover it with an impenetrable aegis. Partial injuries
and occasional mortifications we may be subjected to, but a
million of armed freemen, possessed of the means of war, can never
be conquered by a foreign foe. To any just system, therefore,
calculated to strengthen this natural safeguard of the country I
shall cheerfully lend all the aid in my power.

It will be my sincere and constant desire to observe toward the
Indian tribes within our limits a just and liberal policy, and to
give that humane and considerate attention to their rights and
their wants which is consistent with the habits of our Government
and the feelings of our people.

The recent demonstration of public sentiment inscribes on the list
of Executive duties, in characters too legible to be overlooked,
the task of reform, which will require particularly the correction
of those abuses that have brought the patronage of the Federal
Government into conflict with the freedom of elections, and the
counteraction of those causes which have disturbed the rightful
course of appointment and have placed or continued power in
unfaithful or incompetent hands.

In the performance of a task thus generally delineated I shall
endeavor to select men whose diligence and talents will insure in
their respective stations able and faithful cooperation, depending
for the advancement of the public service more on the integrity
and zeal of the public officers than on their numbers.

A diffidence, perhaps too just, in my own qualifications will
teach me to look with reverence to the examples of public virtue
left by my illustrious predecessors, and with veneration to the
lights that flow from the mind that founded and the mind that
reformed our system. The same diffidence induces me to hope for
instruction and aid from the coordinate branches of the
Government, and for the indulgence and support of my fellow-
citizens generally. And a firm reliance on the goodness of that
Power whose providence mercifully protected our national infancy,
and has since upheld our liberties in various vicissitudes,
encourages me to offer up my ardent supplications that He will
continue to make our beloved country the object of His divine care
and gracious benediction.


Andrew Jackson




Cold weather and the President's poor health caused the second
inauguration to be much quieter than the first. The President's
speech was delivered to a large assembly inside the Hall of the
House of Representatives. Chief Justice John Marshall administered
the oath of office for the ninth, and last, time.



The will of the American people, expressed through their
unsolicited suffrages, calls me before you to pass through the
solemnities preparatory to taking upon myself the duties of
President of the United States for another term. For their
approbation of my public conduct through a period which has not
been without its difficulties, and for this renewed expression of
their confidence in my good intentions, I am at a loss for terms
adequate to the expression of my gratitude. It shall be displayed
to the extent of my humble abilities in continued efforts so to
administer the Government as to preserve their liberty and promote
their happiness.

So many events have occurred within the last four years which have
necessarily called forth--sometimes under circumstances the most
delicate and painful--my views of the principles and policy which
ought to be pursued by the General Government that I need on this
occasion but allude to a few leading considerations connected with
some of them.

The foreign policy adopted by our Government soon after the
formation of our present Constitution, and very generally pursued
by successive Administrations, has been crowned with almost
complete success, and has elevated our character among the nations
of the earth. To do justice to all and to submit to wrong from
none has been during my Administration its governing maxim, and so
happy have been its results that we are not only at peace with all
the world, but have few causes of controversy, and those of minor
importance, remaining unadjusted.

In the domestic policy of this Government there are two objects
which especially deserve the attention of the people and their
representatives, and which have been and will continue to be the
subjects of my increasing solicitude. They are the preservation of
the rights of the several States and the integrity of the Union.

These great objects are necessarily connected, and can only be
attained by an enlightened exercise of the powers of each within
its appropriate sphere in conformity with the public will
constitutionally expressed. To this end it becomes the duty of all
to yield a ready and patriotic submission to the laws
constitutionally enacted and thereby promote and strengthen a
proper confidence in those institutions of the several States and
of the United States which the people themselves have ordained for
their own government.

My experience in public concerns and the observation of a life
somewhat advanced confirm the opinions long since imbibed by me,
that the destruction of our State governments or the annihilation
of their control over the local concerns of the people would lead
directly to revolution and anarchy, and finally to despotism and
military domination. In proportion, therefore, as the General
Government encroaches upon the rights of the States, in the same
proportion does it impair its own power and detract from its
ability to fulfill the purposes of its creation. Solemnly
impressed with these considerations, my countrymen will ever find
me ready to exercise my constitutional powers in arresting
measures which may directly or indirectly encroach upon the rights
of the States or tend to consolidate all political power in the
General Government. But of equal and, indeed, of incalculable,
importance is the union of these States, and the sacred duty of
all to contribute to its preservation by a liberal support of the
General Government in the exercise of its just powers. You have
been wisely admonished to "accustom yourselves to think and speak
of the Union as of the palladium of your political safety and
prosperity, watching for its preservation with Jealous anxiety,
discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can
in any event be abandoned, and indignantly frowning upon the first
dawning of any attempt to alienate any portion of our country from
the rest or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together
the various parts." Without union our independence and liberty
would never have been achieved; without union they never can be
maintained. Divided into twenty-four, or even a smaller number, of
separate communities, we shall see our internal trade burdened
with numberless restraints and exactions; communication between
distant points and sections obstructed or cut off; our sons made
soldiers to deluge with blood the fields they now till in peace;
the mass of our people borne down and impoverished by taxes to
support armies and navies, and military leaders at the head of
their victorious legions becoming our lawgivers and judges. The
loss of liberty, of all good government, of peace, plenty, and
happiness, must inevitably follow a dissolution of the Union. In
supporting it, therefore, we support all that is dear to the
freeman and the philanthropist

The time at which I stand before you is full of interest. The eyes
of all nations are fixed on our Republic. The event of the
existing crisis will be decisive in the opinion of mankind of the
practicability of our federal system of government. Great is the
stake placed in our hands; great is the responsibility which must
rest upon the people of the United States. Let us realize the
importance of the attitude in which we stand before the world. Let
us exercise forbearance and firmness. Let us extricate our country
from the dangers which surround it and learn wisdom from the
lessons they inculcate.

Deeply impressed with the truth of these observations, and under
the obligation of that solemn oath which I am about to take, I
shall continue to exert all my faculties to maintain the just
powers of the Constitution and to transmit unimpaired to posterity
the blessings of our Federal Union. At the same time, it will be
my aim to inculcate by my official acts the necessity of
exercising by the General Government those powers only that are
clearly delegated; to encourage simplicity and economy in the
expenditures of the Government; to raise no more money from the
people than may be requisite for these objects, and in a manner
that will best promote the interests of all classes of the
community and of all portions of the Union. Constantly bearing in
mind that in entering into society "individuals must give up a
share of liberty to preserve the rest," it will be my desire so to
discharge my duties as to foster with our brethren in all parts of
the country a spirit of liberal concession and compromise, and, by
reconciling our fellow-citizens to those partial sacrifices which
they must unavoidably make for the preservation of a greater good,
to recommend our invaluable Government and Union to the confidence
and affections of the American people.

Finally, it is my most fervent prayer to that Almighty Being
before whom I now stand, and who has kept us in His hands from the
infancy of our Republic to the present day, that He will so
overrule all my intentions and actions and inspire the hearts of
my fellow-citizens that we may be preserved from dangers of all
kinds and continue forever a united and happy people.


Martin Van Buren




The ailing President Jackson and his Vice President Van Buren rode
together to the Capitol from the White House in a carriage made of
timbers from the U.S.S. Constitution. Chief Justice Roger Taney
administered the oath of office on the East Portico of the
Capitol. For the first and only time, the election for Vice
President had been decided by the Senate, as provided by the
Constitution, when the electoral college could not select a
winner. The new Vice President, Richard M. Johnson, took his oath
in the Senate Chamber.


Fellow-Citizens: The practice of all my predecessors imposes on me
an obligation I cheerfully fulfill--to accompany the first and
solemn act of my public trust with an avowal of the principles
that will guide me in performing it and an expression of my
feelings on assuming a charge so responsible and vast. In
imitating their example I tread in the footsteps of illustrious
men, whose superiors it is our happiness to believe are not found
on the executive calendar of any country. Among them we recognize
the earliest and firmest pillars of the Republic--those by whom
our national independence was first declared, him who above all
others contributed to establish it on the field of battle, and
those whose expanded intellect and patriotism constructed,
improved, and perfected the inestimable institutions under which
we live. If such men in the position I now occupy felt themselves
overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude for this the highest of all
marks of their country's confidence, and by a consciousness of
their inability adequately to discharge the duties of an office so
difficult and exalted, how much more must these considerations
affect one who can rely on no such claims for favor or
forbearance! Unlike all who have preceded me, the Revolution that
gave us existence as one people was achieved at the period of my
birth; and whilst I contemplate with grateful reverence that
memorable event, I feel that I belong to a later age and that I
may not expect my countrymen to weigh my actions with the same
kind and partial hand.

So sensibly, fellow-citizens, do these circumstances press
themselves upon me that I should not dare to enter upon my path of
duty did I not look for the generous aid of those who will be
associated with me in the various and coordinate branches of the
Government; did I not repose with unwavering reliance on the
patriotism, the intelligence, and the kindness of a people who
never yet deserted a public servant honestly laboring their cause;
and, above all, did I not permit myself humbly to hope for the
sustaining support of an ever-watchful and beneficent Providence.

To the confidence and consolation derived from these sources it
would be ungrateful not to add those which spring from our present
fortunate condition. Though not altogether exempt from
embarrassments that disturb our tranquillity at home and threaten
it abroad, yet in all the attributes of a great, happy, and
flourishing people we stand without a parallel in the world.
Abroad we enjoy the respect and, with scarcely an exception, the
friendship of every nation; at home, while our Government quietly
but efficiently performs the sole legitimate end of political
institutions--in doing the greatest good to the greatest number--
we present an aggregate of human prosperity surely not elsewhere
to be found.

How imperious, then, is the obligation imposed upon every citizen,
in his own sphere of action, whether limited or extended, to exert
himself in perpetuating a condition of things so singularly happy!
All the lessons of history and experience must be lost upon us if
we are content to trust alone to the peculiar advantages we happen
to possess. Position and climate and the bounteous resources that
nature has scattered with so liberal a hand--even the diffused
intelligence and elevated character of our people--will avail us
nothing if we fail sacredly to uphold those political institutions
that were wisely and deliberately formed with reference to every
circumstance that could preserve or might endanger the blessings
we enjoy. The thoughtful framers of our Constitution legislated
for our country as they found it. Looking upon it with the eyes of
statesmen and patriots, they saw all the sources of rapid and
wonderful prosperity; but they saw also that various habits,
opinions and institutions peculiar to the various portions of so
vast a region were deeply fixed. Distinct sovereignties were in
actual existence, whose cordial union was essential to the welfare
and happiness of all. Between many of them there was, at least to
some extent, a real diversity of interests, liable to be
exaggerated through sinister designs; they differed in size, in
population, in wealth, and in actual and prospective resources and
power; they varied in the character of their industry and staple
productions, and [in some] existed domestic institutions which,
unwisely disturbed, might endanger the harmony of the whole. Most
carefully were all these circumstances weighed, and the
foundations of the new Government laid upon principles of
reciprocal concession and equitable compromise. The jealousies
which the smaller States might entertain of the power of the rest
were allayed by a rule of representation confessedly unequal at
the time, and designed forever to remain so. A natural fear that
the broad scope of general legislation might bear upon and
unwisely control particular interests was counteracted by limits
strictly drawn around the action of the Federal authority, and to
the people and the States was left unimpaired their sovereign
power over the innumerable subjects embraced in the internal
government of a just republic, excepting such only as necessarily
appertain to the concerns of the whole confederacy or its
intercourse as a united community with the other nations of the

This provident forecast has been verified by time. Half a century,
teeming with extraordinary events, and elsewhere producing
astonishing results, has passed along, but on our institutions it
has left no injurious mark. From a small community we have risen
to a people powerful in numbers and in strength; but with our
increase has gone hand in hand the progress of just principles.
The privileges, civil and religious, of the humblest individual
are still sacredly protected at home, and while the valor and
fortitude of our people have removed far from us the slightest
apprehension of foreign power, they have not yet induced us in a
single instance to forget what is right. Our commerce has been
extended to the remotest nations; the value and even nature of our
productions have been greatly changed; a wide difference has
arisen in the relative wealth and resources of every portion of
our country; yet the spirit of mutual regard and of faithful
adherence to existing compacts has continued to prevail in our
councils and never long been absent from our conduct. We have
learned by experience a fruitful lesson--that an implicit and
undeviating adherence to the principles on which we set out can
carry us prosperously onward through all the conflicts of
circumstances and vicissitudes inseparable from the lapse of

The success that has thus attended our great experiment is in
itself a sufficient cause for gratitude, on account of the
happiness it has actually conferred and the example it has
unanswerably given But to me, my fellow-citizens, looking forward
to the far-distant future with ardent prayers and confiding hopes,
this retrospect presents a ground for still deeper delight. It
impresses on my mind a firm belief that the perpetuity of our
institutions depends upon ourselves; that if we maintain the
principles on which they were established they are destined to
confer their benefits on countless generations yet to come, and
that America will present to every friend of mankind the cheering
proof that a popular government, wisely formed, is wanting in no
element of endurance or strength. Fifty years ago its rapid
failure was boldly predicted. Latent and uncontrollable causes of
dissolution were supposed to exist even by the wise and good, and
not only did unfriendly or speculative theorists anticipate for us
the fate of past republics, but the fears of many an honest
patriot overbalanced his sanguine hopes. Look back on these
forebodings, not hastily but reluctantly made, and see how in
every instance they have completely failed.

An imperfect experience during the struggles of the Revolution was
supposed to warrant the belief that the people would not bear the
taxation requisite to discharge an immense public debt already
incurred and to pay the necessary expenses of the Government The
cost of two wars has been paid, not only without a murmur; but
with unequaled alacrity. No one is now left to doubt that every
burden will be cheerfully borne that may be necessary to sustain
our civil institutions or guard our honor or welfare. Indeed, all
experience has shown that the willingness of the people to
contribute to these ends in cases of emergency has uniformly
outrun the confidence of their representatives.

In the early stages of the new Government, when all felt the
imposing influence as they recognized the unequaled services of
the first President, it was a common sentiment that the great
weight of his character could alone bind the discordant materials
of our Government together and save us from the violence of
contending factions. Since his death nearly forty years are gone.
Party exasperation has been often carried to its highest point;
the virtue and fortitude of the people have sometimes been greatly
tried; yet our system, purified and enhanced in value by all it
has encountered, still preserves its spirit of free and fearless
discussion, blended with unimpaired fraternal feeling.

The capacity of the people for self-government, and their
willingness, from a high sense of duty and without those
exhibitions of coercive power so generally employed in other
countries, to submit to all needful restraints and exactions of
municipal law, have also been favorably exemplified in the history
of the American States. Occasionally, it is true, the ardor of
public sentiment, outrunning the regular progress of the judicial
tribunals or seeking to reach cases not denounced as criminal by
the existing law, has displayed itself in a manner calculated to
give pain to the friends of free government and to encourage the
hopes of those who wish for its overthrow. These occurrences,
however, have been far less frequent in our country than in any
other of equal population on the globe, and with the diffusion of
intelligence it may well be hoped that they will constantly
diminish in frequency and violence. The generous patriotism and
sound common sense of the great mass of our fellow-citizens will
assuredly in time produce this result; for as every assumption of
illegal power not only wounds the majesty of the law, but
furnishes a pretext for abridging the liberties of the people, the
latter have the most direct and permanent interest in preserving
the landmarks of social order and maintaining on all occasions the
inviolability of those constitutional and legal provisions which
they themselves have made.

In a supposed unfitness of our institutions for those hostile
emergencies which no country can always avoid their friends found
a fruitful source of apprehension, their enemies of hope. While
they foresaw less promptness of action than in governments
differently formed, they overlooked the far more important
consideration that with us war could never be the result of
individual or irresponsible will, but must be a measure of redress
for injuries sustained voluntarily resorted to by those who were
to bear the necessary sacrifice, who would consequently feel an
individual interest in the contest, and whose energy would be
commensurate with the difficulties to be encountered. Actual
events have proved their error; the last war, far from impairing,
gave new confidence to our Government, and amid recent
apprehensions of a similar conflict we saw that the energies of
our country would not be wanting in ample season to vindicate its
rights. We may not possess, as we should not desire to possess,
the extended and ever-ready military organization of other
nations; we may occasionally suffer in the outset for the want of
it; but among ourselves all doubt upon this great point has
ceased, while a salutary experience will prevent a contrary
opinion from inviting aggression from abroad.

Certain danger was foretold from the extension of our territory,
the multiplication of States, and the increase of population. Our
system was supposed to be adapted only to boundaries comparatively
narrow. These have been widened beyond conjecture; the members of
our Confederacy are already doubled, and the numbers of our people
are incredibly augmented. The alleged causes of danger have long
surpassed anticipation, but none of the consequences have
followed. The power and influence of the Republic have arisen to a
height obvious to all mankind; respect for its authority was not
more apparent at its ancient than it is at its present limits; new
and inexhaustible sources of general prosperity have been opened;
the effects of distance have been averted by the inventive genius
of our people, developed and fostered by the spirit of our
institutions; and the enlarged variety and amount of interests,
productions, and pursuits have strengthened the chain of mutual
dependence and formed a circle of mutual benefits too apparent
ever to be overlooked.

In justly balancing the powers of the Federal and State
authorities difficulties nearly insurmountable arose at the outset
and subsequent collisions were deemed inevitable. Amid these it
was scarcely believed possible that a scheme of government so
complex in construction could remain uninjured. From time to time
embarrassments have certainly occurred; but how just is the
confidence of future safety imparted by the knowledge that each in
succession has been happily removed! Overlooking partial and
temporary evils as inseparable from the practical operation of all
human institutions, and looking only to the general result, every
patriot has reason to be satisfied. While the Federal Government
has successfully performed its appropriate functions in relation
to foreign affairs and concerns evidently national, that of every
State has remarkably improved in protecting and developing local
interests and individual welfare; and if the vibrations of
authority have occasionally tended too much toward one or the
other, it is unquestionably certain that the ultimate operation of
the entire system has been to strengthen all the existing
institutions and to elevate our whole country in prosperity and

The last, perhaps the greatest, of the prominent sources of
discord and disaster supposed to lurk in our political condition
was the institution of domestic slavery. Our forefathers were
deeply impressed with the delicacy of this subject, and they
treated it with a forbearance so evidently wise that in spite of
every sinister foreboding it never until the present period
disturbed the tranquillity of our common country. Such a result is
sufficient evidence of the justice and the patriotism of their
course; it is evidence not to be mistaken that an adherence to it
can prevent all embarrassment from this as well as from every
other anticipated cause of difficulty or danger. Have not recent
events made it obvious to the slightest reflection that the least
deviation from this spirit of forbearance is injurious to every
interest, that of humanity included? Amidst the violence of
excited passions this generous and fraternal feeling has been
sometimes disregarded; and standing as I now do before my
countrymen, in this high place of honor and of trust, I can not
refrain from anxiously invoking my fellow-citizens never to be
deaf to its dictates. Perceiving before my election the deep
interest this subject was beginning to excite, I believed it a
solemn duty fully to make known my sentiments in regard to it, and
now, when every motive for misrepresentation has passed away, I
trust that they will be candidly weighed and understood. At least
they will be my standard of conduct in the path before me. I then
declared that if the desire of those of my countrymen who were
favorable to my election was gratified "I must go into the
Presidential chair the inflexible and uncompromising opponent of
every attempt on the part of Congress to abolish slavery in the
District of Columbia against the wishes of the slaveholding
States, and also with a determination equally decided to resist
the slightest interference with it in the States where it exists."
I submitted also to my fellow-citizens, with fullness and
frankness, the reasons which led me to this determination. The
result authorizes me to believe that they have been approved and
are confided in by a majority of the people of the United States,
including those whom they most immediately affect It now only
remains to add that no bill conflicting with these views can ever
receive my constitutional sanction. These opinions have been
adopted in the firm belief that they are in accordance with the
spirit that actuated the venerated fathers of the Republic, and
that succeeding experience has proved them to be humane,
patriotic, expedient, honorable, and just. If the agitation of
this subject was intended to reach the stability of our
institutions, enough has occurred to show that it has signally
failed, and that in this as in every other instance the
apprehensions of the timid and the hopes of the wicked for the
destruction of our Government are again destined to be
disappointed. Here and there, indeed, scenes of dangerous
excitement have occurred, terrifying instances of local violence
have been witnessed, and a reckless disregard of the consequences
of their conduct has exposed individuals to popular indignation;
but neither masses of the people nor sections of the country have
been swerved from their devotion to the bond of union and the
principles it has made sacred. It will be ever thus. Such attempts
at dangerous agitation may periodically return, but with each the
object will be better understood. That predominating affection for
our political system which prevails throughout our territorial
limits, that calm and enlightened judgment which ultimately
governs our people as one vast body, will always be at hand to
resist and control every effort, foreign or domestic, which aims
or would lead to overthrow our institutions.

What can be more gratifying than such a retrospect as this? We
look back on obstacles avoided and dangers overcome, on
expectations more than realized and prosperity perfectly secured.
To the hopes of the hostile, the fears of the timid, and the
doubts of the anxious actual experience has given the conclusive
reply. We have seen time gradually dispel every unfavorable
foreboding and our Constitution surmount every adverse
circumstance dreaded at the outset as beyond control. Present
excitement will at all times magnify present dangers, but true
philosophy must teach us that none more threatening than the past
can remain to be overcome; and we ought (for we have just reason)
to entertain an abiding confidence in the stability of our
institutions and an entire conviction that if administered in the
true form, character, and spirit in which they were established
they are abundantly adequate to preserve to us and our children
the rich blessings already derived from them, to make our beloved
land for a thousand generations that chosen spot where happiness
springs from a perfect equality of political rights.

For myself, therefore, I desire to declare that the principle that
will govern me in the high duty to which my country calls me is a
strict adherence to the letter and spirit of the Constitution as
it was designed by those who framed it. Looking back to it as a
sacred instrument carefully and not easily framed; remembering
that it was throughout a work of concession and compromise;
viewing it as limited to national objects; regarding it as leaving
to the people and the States all power not explicitly parted with,
I shall endeavor to preserve, protect, and defend it by anxiously
referring to its provision for direction in every action. To
matters of domestic concernment which it has intrusted to the
Federal Government and to such as relate to our intercourse with
foreign nations I shall zealously devote myself; beyond those
limits I shall never pass.

To enter on this occasion into a further or more minute exposition
of my views on the various questions of domestic policy would be
as obtrusive as it is probably unexpected. Before the suffrages of
my countrymen were conferred upon me I submitted to them, with
great precision, my opinions on all the most prominent of these
subjects. Those opinions I shall endeavor to carry out with my
utmost ability.

Our course of foreign policy has been so uniform and intelligible
as to constitute a rule of Executive conduct which leaves little
to my discretion, unless, indeed, I were willing to run counter to
the lights of experience and the known opinions of my
constituents. We sedulously cultivate the friendship of all
nations as the conditions most compatible with our welfare and the
principles of our Government. We decline alliances as adverse to
our peace. We desire commercial relations on equal terms, being
ever willing to give a fair equivalent for advantages received. We
endeavor to conduct our intercourse with openness and sincerity,
promptly avowing our objects and seeking to establish that mutual
frankness which is as beneficial in the dealings of nations as of
men. We have no disposition and we disclaim all right to meddle in
disputes, whether internal or foreign, that may molest other
countries, regarding them in their actual state as social
communities, and preserving a strict neutrality in all their
controversies. Well knowing the tried valor of our people and our
exhaustless resources, we neither anticipate nor fear any designed
aggression; and in the consciousness of our own just conduct we
feel a security that we shall never be called upon to exert our
determination never to permit an invasion of our rights without
punishment or redress.

In approaching, then, in the presence of my assembled countrymen,
to make the solemn promise that yet remains, and to pledge myself
that I will faithfully execute the office I am about to fill, I
bring with me a settled purpose to maintain the institutions of my
country, which I trust will atone for the errors I commit.

In receiving from the people the sacred trust twice confided to my
illustrious predecessor, and which he has discharged so faithfully
and so well, I know that I can not expect to perform the arduous
task with equal ability and success. But united as I have been in
his counsels, a daily witness of his exclusive and unsurpassed
devotion to his country's welfare, agreeing with him in sentiments
which his countrymen have warmly supported, and permitted to
partake largely of his confidence, I may hope that somewhat of the
same cheering approbation will be found to attend upon my path.
For him I but express with my own the wishes of all, that he may
yet long live to enjoy the brilliant evening of his well-spent
life; and for myself, conscious of but one desire, faithfully to
serve my country, I throw myself without fear on its justice and
its kindness. Beyond that I only look to the gracious protection
of the Divine Being whose strengthening support I humbly solicit,
and whom I fervently pray to look down upon us all. May it be
among the dispensations of His providence to bless our beloved
country with honors and with length of days. May her ways be ways
of pleasantness and all her paths be peace!


William Henry Harrison




President Harrison has the dual distinction among all the
Presidents of giving the longest inaugural speech and of serving
the shortest term of office. Known to the public as "Old
Tippecanoe," the former general of the Indian campaigns delivered
an hour-and-forty-five-minute speech in a snowstorm. The oath of
office was administered on the East Portico of the Capitol by
Chief Justice Roger Taney. The 68-year-old President stood outside
for the entire proceeding, greeted crowds of well-wishers at the
White House later that day, and attended several celebrations that
evening. One month later he died of pneumonia.


Called from a retirement which I had supposed was to continue for
the residue of my life to fill the chief executive office of this
great and free nation, I appear before you, fellow-citizens, to
take the oaths which the Constitution prescribes as a necessary
qualification for the performance of its duties; and in obedience
to a custom coeval with our Government and what I believe to be
your expectations I proceed to present to you a summary of the
principles which will govern me in the discharge of the duties
which I shall be called upon to perform.

It was the remark of a Roman consul in an early period of that
celebrated Republic that a most striking contrast was observable
in the conduct of candidates for offices of power and trust before
and after obtaining them, they seldom carrying out in the latter
case the pledges and promises made in the former. However much the
world may have improved in many respects in the lapse of upward of
two thousand years since the remark was made by the virtuous and
indignant Roman, I fear that a strict examination of the annals of
some of the modern elective governments would develop similar
instances of violated confidence.

Although the fiat of the people has gone forth proclaiming me the
Chief Magistrate of this glorious Union, nothing upon their part
remaining to be done, it may be thought that a motive may exist to
keep up the delusion under which they may be supposed to have
acted in relation to my principles and opinions; and perhaps there
may be some in this assembly who have come here either prepared to
condemn those I shall now deliver, or, approving them, to doubt
the sincerity with which they are now uttered. But the lapse of a
few months will confirm or dispel their fears. The outline of
principles to govern and measures to be adopted by an
Administration not yet begun will soon be exchanged for immutable
history, and I shall stand either exonerated by my countrymen or
classed with the mass of those who promised that they might
deceive and flattered with the intention to betray. However strong
may be my present purpose to realize the expectations of a
magnanimous and confiding people, I too well understand the
dangerous temptations to which I shall be exposed from the
magnitude of the power which it has been the pleasure of the
people to commit to my hands not to place my chief confidence upon
the aid of that Almighty Power which has hitherto protected me and
enabled me to bring to favorable issues other important but still
greatly inferior trusts heretofore confided to me by my country.

The broad foundation upon which our Constitution rests being the
people--a breath of theirs having made, as a breath can unmake,
change, or modify it--it can be assigned to none of the great
divisions of government but to that of democracy. If such is its
theory, those who are called upon to administer it must recognize
as its leading principle the duty of shaping their measures so as
to produce the greatest good to the greatest number. But with
these broad admissions, if we would compare the sovereignty
acknowledged to exist in the mass of our people with the power
claimed by other sovereignties, even by those which have been
considered most purely democratic, we shall find a most essential
difference. All others lay claim to power limited only by their
own will. The majority of our citizens, on the contrary, possess a
sovereignty with an amount of power precisely equal to that which
has been granted to them by the parties to the national compact,
and nothing beyond. We admit of no government by divine right,
believing that so far as power is concerned the Beneficent Creator
has made no distinction amongst men; that all are upon an
equality, and that the only legitimate right to govern is an
express grant of power from the governed. The Constitution of the
United States is the instrument containing this grant of power to
the several departments composing the Government. On an
examination of that instrument it will be found to contain
declarations of power granted and of power withheld. The latter is
also susceptible of division into power which the majority had the
right to grant, but which they do not think proper to intrust to
their agents, and that which they could not have granted, not
being possessed by themselves. In other words, there are certain
rights possessed by each individual American citizen which in his
compact with the others he has never surrendered. Some of them,
indeed, he is unable to surrender, being, in the language of our
system, unalienable. The boasted privilege of a Roman citizen was
to him a shield only against a petty provincial ruler, whilst the
proud democrat of Athens would console himself under a sentence of
death for a supposed violation of the national faith--which no one
understood and which at times was the subject of the mockery of
all--or the banishment from his home, his family, and his country
with or without an alleged cause, that it was the act not of a
single tyrant or hated aristocracy, but of his assembled
countrymen. Far different is the power of our sovereignty. It can
interfere with no one's faith, prescribe forms of worship for no
one's observance, inflict no punishment but after well-ascertained
guilt, the result of investigation under rules prescribed by the
Constitution itself. These precious privileges, and those scarcely
less important of giving expression to his thoughts and opinions,
either by writing or speaking, unrestrained but by the liability
for injury to others, and that of a full participation in all the
advantages which flow from the Government, the acknowledged
property of all, the American citizen derives from no charter
granted by his fellow-man. He claims them because he is himself a
man, fashioned by the same Almighty hand as the rest of his
species and entitled to a full share of the blessings with which
He has endowed them. Notwithstanding the limited sovereignty
possessed by the people of the United Stages and the restricted
grant of power to the Government which they have adopted, enough
has been given to accomplish all the objects for which it was
created. It has been found powerful in war, and hitherto justice
has been administered, and intimate union effected, domestic
tranquillity preserved, and personal liberty secured to the
citizen. As was to be expected, however, from the defect of
language and the necessarily sententious manner in which the
Constitution is written, disputes have arisen as to the amount of
power which it has actually granted or was intended to grant.

This is more particularly the case in relation to that part of the
instrument which treats of the legislative branch, and not only as
regards the exercise of powers claimed under a general clause
giving that body the authority to pass all laws necessary to carry
into effect the specified powers, but in relation to the latter
also. It is, however, consolatory to reflect that most of the
instances of alleged departure from the letter or spirit of the
Constitution have ultimately received the sanction of a majority
of the people. And the fact that many of our statesmen most
distinguished for talent and patriotism have been at one time or
other of their political career on both sides of each of the most
warmly disputed questions forces upon us the inference that the
errors, if errors there were, are attributable to the intrinsic
difficulty in many instances of ascertaining the intentions of the
framers of the Constitution rather than the influence of any
sinister or unpatriotic motive. But the great danger to our
institutions does not appear to me to be in a usurpation by the
Government of power not granted by the people, but by the
accumulation in one of the departments of that which was assigned
to others. Limited as are the powers which have been granted,
still enough have been granted to constitute a despotism if
concentrated in one of the departments. This danger is greatly
heightened, as it has been always observable that men are less
jealous of encroachments of one department upon another than upon
their own reserved rights. When the Constitution of the United
States first came from the hands of the Convention which formed
it, many of the sternest republicans of the day were alarmed at
the extent of the power which had been granted to the Federal
Government, and more particularly of that portion which had been
assigned to the executive branch. There were in it features which
appeared not to be in harmony with their ideas of a simple
representative democracy or republic, and knowing the tendency of
power to increase itself, particularly when exercised by a single
individual, predictions were made that at no very remote period
the Government would terminate in virtual monarchy. It would not
become me to say that the fears of these patriots have been
already realized; but as I sincerely believe that the tendency of
measures and of men's opinions for some years past has been in
that direction, it is, I conceive, strictly proper that I should
take this occasion to repeat the assurances I have heretofore
given of my determination to arrest the progress of that tendency
if it really exists and restore the Government to its pristine
health and vigor, as far as this can be effected by any legitimate
exercise of the power placed in my hands.

I proceed to state in as summary a manner as I can my opinion of
the sources of the evils which have been so extensively complained
of and the correctives which may be applied. Some of the former
are unquestionably to be found in the defects of the Constitution;
others, in my judgment, are attributable to a misconstruction of
some of its provisions. Of the former is the eligibility of the
same individual to a second term of the Presidency. The sagacious
mind of Mr. Jefferson early saw and lamented this error, and
attempts have been made, hitherto without success, to apply the
amendatory power of the States to its correction. As, however, one
mode of correction is in the power of every President, and
consequently in mine, it would be useless, and perhaps invidious,
to enumerate the evils of which, in the opinion of many of our
fellow-citizens, this error of the sages who framed the
Constitution may have been the source and the bitter fruits which
we are still to gather from it if it continues to disfigure our
system. It may be observed, however, as a general remark, that
republics can commit no greater error than to adopt or continue
any feature in their systems of government which may be calculated
to create or increase the lover of power in the bosoms of those to
whom necessity obliges them to commit the management of their
affairs; and surely nothing is more likely to produce such a state
of mind than the long continuance of an office of high trust.
Nothing can be more corrupting, nothing more destructive of all
those noble feelings which belong to the character of a devoted
republican patriot. When this corrupting passion once takes
possession of the human mind, like the love of gold it becomes
insatiable. It is the never-dying worm in his bosom, grows with
his growth and strengthens with the declining years of its victim.
If this is true, it is the part of wisdom for a republic to limit
the service of that officer at least to whom she has intrusted the
management of her foreign relations, the execution of her laws,
and the command of her armies and navies to a period so short as
to prevent his forgetting that he is the accountable agent, not
the principal; the servant, not the master. Until an amendment of
the Constitution can be effected public opinion may secure the
desired object. I give my aid to it by renewing the pledge
heretofore given that under no circumstances will I consent to
serve a second term.

But if there is danger to public liberty from the acknowledged
defects of the Constitution in the want of limit to the
continuance of the Executive power in the same hands, there is, I
apprehend, not much less from a misconstruction of that instrument
as it regards the powers actually given. I can not conceive that
by a fair construction any or either of its provisions would be
found to constitute the President a part of the legislative power.
It can not be claimed from the power to recommend, since, although
enjoined as a duty upon him, it is a privilege which he holds in
common with every other citizen; and although there may be
something more of confidence in the propriety of the measures
recommended in the one case than in the other, in the obligations
of ultimate decision there can be no difference. In the language
of the Constitution, "all the legislative powers" which it grants
"are vested in the Congress of the United States." It would be a
solecism in language to say that any portion of these is not
included in the whole.

It may be said, indeed, that the Constitution has given to the
Executive the power to annul the acts of the legislative body by
refusing to them his assent. So a similar power has necessarily
resulted from that instrument to the judiciary, and yet the
judiciary forms no part of the Legislature. There is, it is true,
this difference between these grants of power: The Executive can
put his negative upon the acts of the Legislature for other cause
than that of want of conformity to the Constitution, whilst the
judiciary can only declare void those which violate that
instrument. But the decision of the judiciary is final in such a
case, whereas in every instance where the veto of the Executive is
applied it may be overcome by a vote of two-thirds of both Houses
of Congress. The negative upon the acts of the legislative by the
executive authority, and that in the hands of one individual,
would seem to be an incongruity in our system. Like some others of
a similar character, however, it appears to be highly expedient,
and if used only with the forbearance and in the spirit which was
intended by its authors it may be productive of great good and be
found one of the best safeguards to the Union. At the period of
the formation of the Constitution the principle does not appear to
have enjoyed much favor in the State governments. It existed but
in two, and in one of these there was a plural executive. If we
would search for the motives which operated upon the purely
patriotic and enlightened assembly which framed the Constitution
for the adoption of a provision so apparently repugnant to the
leading democratic principle that the majority should govern, we
must reject the idea that they anticipated from it any benefit to
the ordinary course of legislation. They knew too well the high
degree of intelligence which existed among the people and the
enlightened character of the State legislatures not to have the
fullest confidence that the two bodies elected by them would be
worthy representatives of such constituents, and, of course, that
they would require no aid in conceiving and maturing the measures
which the circumstances of the country might require. And it is
preposterous to suppose that a thought could for a moment have
been entertained that the President, placed at the capital, in the
center of the country, could better understand the wants and
wishes of the people than their own immediate representatives, who
spend a part of every year among them, living with them, often
laboring with them, and bound to them by the triple tie of
interest, duty, and affection. To assist or control Congress,
then, in its ordinary legislation could not, I conceive, have been
the motive for conferring the veto power on the President. This
argument acquires additional force from the fact of its never
having been thus used by the first six Presidents--and two of them
were members of the Convention, one presiding over its
deliberations and the other bearing a larger share in consummating
the labors of that august body than any other person. But if bills
were never returned to Congress by either of the Presidents above
referred to upon the ground of their being inexpedient or not as
well adapted as they might be to the wants of the people, the veto
was applied upon that of want of conformity to the Constitution or
because errors had been committed from a too hasty enactment.

There is another ground for the adoption of the veto principle,
which had probably more influence in recommending it to the
Convention than any other. I refer to the security which it gives
to the just and equitable action of the Legislature upon all parts
of the Union. It could not but have occurred to the Convention
that in a country so extensive, embracing so great a variety of
soil and climate, and consequently of products, and which from the
same causes must ever exhibit a great difference in the amount of
the population of its various sections, calling for a great
diversity in the employments of the people, that the legislation
of the majority might not always justly regard the rights and
interests of the minority, and that acts of this character might
be passed under an express grant by the words of the Constitution,
and therefore not within the competency of the judiciary to
declare void; that however enlightened and patriotic they might
suppose from past experience the members of Congress might be, and
however largely partaking, in the general, of the liberal feelings
of the people, it was impossible to expect that bodies so
constituted should not sometimes be controlled by local interests
and sectional feelings. It was proper, therefore, to provide some
umpire from whose situation and mode of appointment more
independence and freedom from such influences might be expected.
Such a one was afforded by the executive department constituted by
the Constitution. A person elected to that high office, having his
constituents in every section, State, and subdivision of the
Union, must consider himself bound by the most solemn sanctions to
guard, protect, and defend the rights of all and of every portion,
great or small, from the injustice and oppression of the rest. I
consider the veto power, therefore given by the Constitution to
the Executive of the United States solely as a conservative power,
to be used only first, to protect the Constitution from violation;
secondly, the people from the effects of hasty legislation where
their will has been probably disregarded or not well understood,
and, thirdly, to prevent the effects of combinations violative of
the rights of minorities. In reference to the second of these
objects I may observe that I consider it the right and privilege
of the people to decide disputed points of the Constitution
arising from the general grant of power to Congress to carry into
effect the powers expressly given; and I believe with Mr. Madison
that "repeated recognitions under varied circumstances in acts of
the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the
Government, accompanied by indications in different modes of the
concurrence of the general will of the nation," as affording to
the President sufficient authority for his considering such
disputed points as settled.

Upward of half a century has elapsed since the adoption of the
present form of government. It would be an object more highly
desirable than the gratification of the curiosity of speculative
statesmen if its precise situation could be ascertained, a fair
exhibit made of the operations of each of its departments, of the
powers which they respectively claim and exercise, of the
collisions which have occurred between them or between the whole
Government and those of the States or either of them. We could
then compare our actual condition after fifty years' trial of our
system with what it was in the commencement of its operations and
ascertain whether the predictions of the patriots who opposed its
adoption or the confident hopes of its advocates have been best
realized. The great dread of the former seems to have been that
the reserved powers of the States would be absorbed by those of
the Federal Government and a consolidated power established,
leaving to the States the shadow only of that independent action
for which they had so zealously contended and on the preservation
of which they relied as the last hope of liberty. Without denying
that the result to which they looked with so much apprehension is
in the way of being realized, it is obvious that they did not
clearly see the mode of its accomplishment The General Government
has seized upon none of the reserved rights of the States. AS far
as any open warfare may have gone, the State authorities have
amply maintained their rights. To a casual observer our system
presents no appearance of discord between the different members
which compose it. Even the addition of many new ones has produced
no jarring. They move in their respective orbits in perfect
harmony with the central head and with each other. But there is
still an undercurrent at work by which, if not seasonably checked,
the worst apprehensions of our antifederal patriots will be
realized, and not only will the State authorities be overshadowed
by the great increase of power in the executive department of the
General Government, but the character of that Government, if not
its designation, be essentially and radically changed. This state
of things has been in part effected by causes inherent in the
Constitution and in part by the never-failing tendency of
political power to increase itself. By making the President the
sole distributer of all the patronage of the Government the
framers of the Constitution do not appear to have anticipated at
how short a period it would become a formidable instrument to
control the free operations of the State governments. Of trifling
importance at first, it had early in Mr. Jefferson's
Administration become so powerful as to create great alarm in the
mind of that patriot from the potent influence it might exert in
controlling the freedom of the elective franchise. If such could
have then been the effects of its influence, how much greater must
be the danger at this time, quadrupled in amount as it certainly
is and more completely under the control of the Executive will
than their construction of their powers allowed or the forbearing
characters of all the early Presidents permitted them to make. But
it is not by the extent of its patronage alone that the executive
department has become dangerous, but by the use which it appears
may be made of the appointing power to bring under its control the
whole revenues of the country. The Constitution has declared it to
be the duty of the President to see that the laws are executed,
and it makes him the Commander in Chief of the Armies and Navy of
the United States. If the opinion of the most approved writers
upon that species of mixed government which in modern Europe is
termed monarchy in contradistinction to despotism is correct,
there was wanting no other addition to the powers of our Chief
Magistrate to stamp a monarchical character on our Government but
the control of the public finances; and to me it appears strange
indeed that anyone should doubt that the entire control which the
President possesses over the officers who have the custody of the
public money, by the power of removal with or without cause, does,
for all mischievous purposes at least, virtually subject the
treasure also to his disposal. The first Roman Emperor, in his
attempt to seize the sacred treasure, silenced the opposition of
the officer to whose charge it had been committed by a significant
allusion to his sword. By a selection of political instruments for
the care of the public money a reference to their commissions by a
President would be quite as effectual an argument as that of
Caesar to the Roman knight. I am not insensible of the great
difficulty that exists in drawing a proper plan for the safe-
keeping and disbursement of the public revenues, and I know the
importance which has been attached by men of great abilities and
patriotism to the divorce, as it is called, of the Treasury from
the banking institutions It is not the divorce which is complained
of, but the unhallowed union of the Treasury with the executive
department, which has created such extensive alarm. To this danger
to our republican institutions and that created by the influence
given to the Executive through the instrumentality of the Federal
officers I propose to apply all the remedies which may be at my
command. It was certainly a great error in the framers of the
Constitution not to have made the officer at the head of the
Treasury Department entirely independent of the Executive. He
should at least have been removable only upon the demand of the
popular branch of the Legislature. I have determined never to
remove a Secretary of the Treasury without communicating all the
circumstances attending such removal to both Houses of Congress.

The influence of the Executive in controlling the freedom of the
elective franchise through the medium of the public officers can
be effectually checked by renewing the prohibition published by
Mr. Jefferson forbidding their interference in elections further
than giving their own votes, and their own independence secured by
an assurance of perfect immunity in exercising this sacred
privilege of freemen under the dictates of their own unbiased
judgments. Never with my consent shall an officer of the people,
compensated for his services out of their pockets, become the
pliant instrument of Executive will.

There is no part of the means placed in the hands of the Executive
which might be used with greater effect for unhallowed purposes
than the control of the public press. The maxim which our
ancestors derived from the mother country that "the freedom of the
press is the great bulwark of civil and religious liberty" is one
of the most precious legacies which they have left us. We have
learned, too, from our own as well as the experience of other
countries, that golden shackles, by whomsoever or by whatever
pretense imposed, are as fatal to it as the iron bonds of
despotism. The presses in the necessary employment of the
Government should never be used "to clear the guilty or to varnish
crime." A decent and manly examination of the acts of the
Government should be not only tolerated, but encouraged.

Upon another occasion I have given my opinion at some length upon
the impropriety of Executive interference in the legislation of
Congress--that the article in the Constitution making it the duty
of the President to communicate information and authorizing him to
recommend measures was not intended to make him the source in
legislation, and, in particular, that he should never be looked to
for schemes of finance. It would be very strange, indeed, that the
Constitution should have strictly forbidden one branch of the
Legislature from interfering in the origination of such bills and
that it should be considered proper that an altogether different
department of the Government should be permitted to do so. Some of
our best political maxims and opinions have been drawn from our
parent isle. There are others, however, which can not be
introduced in our system without singular incongruity and the
production of much mischief, and this I conceive to be one. No
matter in which of the houses of Parliament a bill may originate
nor by whom introduced--a minister or a member of the opposition--
by the fiction of law, or rather of constitutional principle, the
sovereign is supposed to have prepared it agreeably to his will
and then submitted it to Parliament for their advice and consent.
Now the very reverse is the case here, not only with regard to the
principle, but the forms prescribed by the Constitution. The
principle certainly assigns to the only body constituted by the
Constitution (the legislative body) the power to make laws, and
the forms even direct that the enactment should be ascribed to
them. The Senate, in relation to revenue bills, have the right to
propose amendments, and so has the Executive by the power given
him to return them to the House of Representatives with his
objections. It is in his power also to propose amendments in the
existing revenue laws, suggested by his observations upon their
defective or injurious operation. But the delicate duty of
devising schemes of revenue should be left where the Constitution
has placed it--with the immediate representatives of the people.
For similar reasons the mode of keeping the public treasure should
be prescribed by them, and the further removed it may be from the
control of the Executive the more wholesome the arrangement and
the more in accordance with republican principle.

Connected with this subject is the character of the currency. The
idea of making it exclusively metallic, however well intended,
appears to me to be fraught with more fatal consequences than any
other scheme having no relation to the personal rights of the
citizens that has ever been devised. If any single scheme could
produce the effect of arresting at once that mutation of condition
by which thousands of our most indigent fellow-citizens by their
industry and enterprise are raised to the possession of wealth,
that is the one. If there is one measure better calculated than
another to produce that state of things so much deprecated by all
true republicans, by which the rich are daily adding to their
hoards and the poor sinking deeper into penury, it is an exclusive
metallic currency. Or if there is a process by which the character
of the country for generosity and nobleness of feeling may be
destroyed by the great increase and neck toleration of usury, it
is an exclusive metallic currency.

Amongst the other duties of a delicate character which the
President is called upon to perform is the supervision of the
government of the Territories of the United States. Those of them
which are destined to become members of our great political family
are compensated by their rapid progress from infancy to manhood
for the partial and temporary deprivation of their political
rights. It is in this District only where American citizens are to
be found who under a settled policy are deprived of many important
political privileges without any inspiring hope as to the future.
Their only consolation under circumstances of such deprivation is
that of the devoted exterior guards of a camp--that their
sufferings secure tranquillity and safety within. Are there any of
their countrymen, who would subject them to greater sacrifices, to
any other humiliations than those essentially necessary to the
security of the object for which they were thus separated from
their fellow-citizens? Are their rights alone not to be guaranteed
by the application of those great principles upon which all our
constitutions are founded? We are told by the greatest of British
orators and statesmen that at the commencement of the War of the
Revolution the most stupid men in England spoke of "their American
subjects." Are there, indeed, citizens of any of our States who
have dreamed of their subjects in the District of Columbia? Such
dreams can never be realized by any agency of mine. The people of
the District of Columbia are not the subjects of the people of the
States, but free American citizens. Being in the latter condition
when the Constitution was formed, no words used in that instrument
could have been intended to deprive them of that character. If
there is anything in the great principle of unalienable rights so
emphatically insisted upon in our Declaration of Independence,
they could neither make nor the United States accept a surrender
of their liberties and become the subjects--in other words, the
slaves--of their former fellow-citizens. If this be true--and it
will scarcely be denied by anyone who has a correct idea of his
own rights as an American citizen--the grant to Congress of
exclusive jurisdiction in the District of Columbia can be
interpreted, so far as respects the aggregate people of the United
States, as meaning nothing more than to allow to Congress the
controlling power necessary to afford a free and safe exercise of
the functions assigned to the General Government by the
Constitution. In all other respects the legislation of Congress
should be adapted to their peculiar position and wants and be
conformable with their deliberate opinions of their own interests.

I have spoken of the necessity of keeping the respective
departments of the Government, as well as all the other
authorities of our country, within their appropriate orbits. This
is a matter of difficulty in some cases, as the powers which they
respectively claim are often not defined by any distinct lines.
Mischievous, however, in their tendencies as collisions of this
kind may be, those which arise between the respective communities
which for certain purposes compose one nation are much more so,
for no such nation can long exist without the careful culture of
those feelings of confidence and affection which are the effective
bonds to union between free and confederated states. Strong as is
the tie of interest, it has been often found ineffectual. Men
blinded by their passions have been known to adopt measures for
their country in direct opposition to all the suggestions of
policy. The alternative, then, is to destroy or keep down a bad
passion by creating and fostering a good one, and this seems to be
the corner stone upon which our American political architects have
reared the fabric of our Government. The cement which was to bind
it and perpetuate its existence was the affectionate attachment
between all its members. To insure the continuance of this
feeling, produced at first by a community of dangers, of
sufferings, and of interests, the advantages of each were made
accessible to all. No participation in any good possessed by any
member of our extensive Confederacy, except in domestic
government, was withheld from the citizen of any other member. By
a process attended with no difficulty, no delay, no expense but
that of removal, the citizen of one might become the citizen of
any other, and successively of the whole. The lines, too,
separating powers to be exercised by the citizens of one State
from those of another seem to be so distinctly drawn as to leave
no room for misunderstanding. The citizens of each State unite in
their persons all the privileges which that character confers and
all that they may claim as citizens of the United States, but in
no case can the same persons at the same time act as the citizen
of two separate States, and he is therefore positively precluded
from any interference with the reserved powers of any State but
that of which he is for the time being a citizen. He may, indeed,
offer to the citizens of other States his advice as to their
management, and the form in which it is tendered is left to his
own discretion and sense of propriety. It may be observed,
however, that organized associations of citizens requiring
compliance with their wishes too much resemble the recommendations
of Athens to her allies, supported by an armed and powerful fleet.
It was, indeed, to the ambition of the leading States of Greece to
control the domestic concerns of the others that the destruction
of that celebrated Confederacy, and subsequently of all its
members, is mainly to be attributed, and it is owing to the
absence of that spirit that the Helvetic Confederacy has for so
many years been preserved. Never has there been seen in the
institutions of the separate members of any confederacy more
elements of discord. In the principles and forms of government and
religion, as well as in the circumstances of the several Cantons,
so marked a discrepancy was observable as to promise anything but
harmony in their intercourse or permanency in their alliance, and
yet for ages neither has been interrupted. Content with the
positive benefits which their union produced, with the
independence and safety from foreign aggression which it secured,
these sagacious people respected the institutions of each other,
however repugnant to their own principles and prejudices.

Our Confederacy, fellow-citizens, can only be preserved by the
same forbearance. Our citizens must be content with the exercise
of the powers with which the Constitution clothes them. The
attempt of those of one State to control the domestic institutions
of another can only result in feelings of distrust and jealousy,
the certain harbingers of disunion, violence, and civil war, and
the ultimate destruction of our free institutions. Our Confederacy
is perfectly illustrated by the terms and principles governing a
common copartnership There is a fund of power to be exercised
under the direction of the joint councils of the allied members,
but that which has been reserved by the individual members is
intangible by the common Government or the individual members
composing it. To attempt it finds no support in the principles of
our Constitution.

It should be our constant and earnest endeavor mutually to
cultivate a spirit of concord and harmony among the various parts
of our Confederacy. Experience has abundantly taught us that the
agitation by citizens of one part of the Union of a subject not
confided to the General Government, but exclusively under the
guardianship of the local authorities, is productive of no other
consequences than bitterness, alienation, discord, and injury to
the very cause which is intended to be advanced. Of all the great
interests which appertain to our country, that of union--cordial,
confiding, fraternal union--is by far the most important, since it
is the only true and sure guaranty of all others.

In consequence of the embarrassed state of business and the
currency, some of the States may meet with difficulty in their
financial concerns. However deeply we may regret anything
imprudent or excessive in the engagements into which States have
entered for purposes of their own, it does not become us to
disparage the States governments, nor to discourage them from
making proper efforts for their own relief. On the contrary, it is
our duty to encourage them to the extent of our constitutional
authority to apply their best means and cheerfully to make all
necessary sacrifices and submit to all necessary burdens to
fulfill their engagements and maintain their credit, for the
character and credit of the several States form a part of the
character and credit of the whole country. The resources of the
country are abundant, the enterprise and activity of our people
proverbial, and we may well hope that wise legislation and prudent
administration by the respective governments, each acting within
its own sphere, will restore former prosperity.

Unpleasant and even dangerous as collisions may sometimes be
between the constituted authorities of the citizens of our country
in relation to the lines which separate their respective
jurisdictions, the results can be of no vital injury to our
institutions if that ardent patriotism, that devoted attachment to
liberty, that spirit of moderation and forbearance for which our
countrymen were once distinguished, continue to be cherished. If
this continues to be the ruling passion of our souls, the weaker
feeling of the mistaken enthusiast will be corrected, the Utopian
dreams of the scheming politician dissipated, and the complicated
intrigues of the demagogue rendered harmless. The spirit of
liberty is the sovereign balm for every injury which our
institutions may receive. On the contrary, no care that can be
used in the construction of our Government, no division of powers,
no distribution of checks in its several departments, will prove
effectual to keep us a free people if this spirit is suffered to
decay; and decay it will without constant nurture. To the neglect
of this duty the best historians agree in attributing the ruin of
all the republics with whose existence and fall their writings
have made us acquainted. The same causes will ever produce the
same effects, and as long as the love of power is a dominant
passion of the human bosom, and as long as the understandings of
men can be warped and their affections changed by operations upon
their passions and prejudices, so long will the liberties of a
people depend on their own constant attention to its preservation.
The danger to all well-established free governments arises from
the unwillingness of the people to believe in its existence or
from the influence of designing men diverting their attention from
the quarter whence it approaches to a source from which it can
never come. This is the old trick of those who would usurp the
government of their country. In the name of democracy they speak,
warning the people against the influence of wealth and the danger
of aristocracy. History, ancient and modern, is full of such
examples. Caesar became the master of the Roman people and the
senate under the pretense of supporting the democratic claims of
the former against the aristocracy of the latter; Cromwell, in the
character of protector of the liberties of the people, became the
dictator of England, and Bolivar possessed himself of unlimited
power with the title of his country's liberator. There is, on the
contrary, no instance on record of an extensive and well-
established republic being changed into an aristocracy. The
tendencies of all such governments in their decline is to
monarchy, and the antagonist principle to liberty there is the
spirit of faction--a spirit which assumes the character and in
times of great excitement imposes itself upon the people as the
genuine spirit of freedom, and, like the false Christs whose
coming was foretold by the Savior, seeks to, and were it possible
would, impose upon the true and most faithful disciples of
liberty. It is in periods like this that it behooves the people to
be most watchful of those to whom they have intrusted power. And
although there is at times much difficulty in distinguishing the
false from the true spirit, a calm and dispassionate investigation
will detect the counterfeit, as well by the character of its
operations as the results that are produced. The true spirit of
liberty, although devoted, persevering, bold, and uncompromising
in principle, that secured is mild and tolerant and scrupulous as
to the means it employs, whilst the spirit of party, assuming to
be that of liberty, is harsh, vindictive, and intolerant, and
totally reckless as to the character of the allies which it brings
to the aid of its cause. When the genuine spirit of liberty
animates the body of a people to a thorough examination of their
affairs, it leads to the excision of every excrescence which may
have fastened itself upon any of the departments of the
government, and restores the system to its pristine health and
beauty. But the reign of an intolerant spirit of party amongst a
free people seldom fails to result in a dangerous accession to the
executive power introduced and established amidst unusual
professions of devotion to democracy.

The foregoing remarks relate almost exclusively to matters
connected with our domestic concerns. It may be proper, however,
that I should give some indications to my fellow-citizens of my
proposed course of conduct in the management of our foreign
relations. I assure them, therefore, that it is my intention to
use every means in my power to preserve the friendly intercourse
which now so happily subsists with every foreign nation, and that
although, of course, not well informed as to the state of pending
negotiations with any of them, I see in the personal characters of
the sovereigns, as well as in the mutual interests of our own and
of the governments with which our relations are most intimate, a
pleasing guaranty that the harmony so important to the interests
of their subjects as well as of our citizens will not be
interrupted by the advancement of any claim or pretension upon
their part to which our honor would not permit us to yield. Long
the defender of my country's rights in the field, I trust that my
fellow-citizens will not see in my earnest desire to preserve
peace with foreign powers any indication that their rights will
ever be sacrificed or the honor of the nation tarnished by any
admission on the part of their Chief Magistrate unworthy of their
former glory. In our intercourse with our aboriginal neighbors the
same liberality and justice which marked the course prescribed to
me by two of my illustrious predecessors when acting under their
direction in the discharge of the duties of superintendent and
commissioner shall be strictly observed. I can conceive of no more
sublime spectacle, none more likely to propitiate an impartial and
common Creator, than a rigid adherence to the principles of
justice on the part of a powerful nation in its transactions with
a weaker and uncivilized people whom circumstances have placed at
its disposal.

Before concluding, fellow-citizens, I must say something to you on
the subject of the parties at this time existing in our country.
To me it appears perfectly clear that the interest of that country
requires that the violence of the spirit by which those parties
are at this time governed must be greatly mitigated, if not
entirely extinguished, or consequences will ensue which are
appalling to be thought of.

If parties in a republic are necessary to secure a degree of
vigilance sufficient to keep the public functionaries within the
bounds of law and duty, at that point their usefulness ends.
Beyond that they become destructive of public virtue, the parent
of a spirit antagonist to that of liberty, and eventually its
inevitable conqueror. We have examples of republics where the love
of country and of liberty at one time were the dominant passions
of the whole mass of citizens, and yet, with the continuance of
the name and forms of free government, not a vestige of these
qualities remaining in the bosoms of any one of its citizens. It
was the beautiful remark of a distinguished English writer that
"in the Roman senate Octavius had a party and Anthony a party, but
the Commonwealth had none." Yet the senate continued to meet in
the temple of liberty to talk of the sacredness and beauty of the
Commonwealth and gaze at the statues of the elder Brutus and of
the Curtii and Decii, and the people assembled in the forum, not,
as in the days of Camillus and the Scipios, to cast their free
votes for annual magistrates or pass upon the acts of the senate,
but to receive from the hands of the leaders of the respective
parties their share of the spoils and to shout for one or the
other, as those collected in Gaul or Egypt and the lesser Asia
would furnish the larger dividend. The spirit of liberty had fled,
and, avoiding the abodes of civilized man, had sought protection
in the wilds of Scythia or Scandinavia; and so under the operation
of the same causes and influences it will fly from our Capitol and
our forums. A calamity so awful, not only to our country, but to
the world, must be deprecated by every patriot and every tendency
to a state of things likely to produce it immediately checked.
Such a tendency has existed--does exist. Always the friend of my
countrymen, never their flatterer, it becomes my duty to say to
them from this high place to which their partiality has exalted me
that there exists in the land a spirit hostile to their best
interests--hostile to liberty itself. It is a spirit contracted in
its views, selfish in its objects. It looks to the aggrandizement
of a few even to the destruction of the interests of the whole.
The entire remedy is with the people. Something, however, may be
effected by the means which they have placed in my hands. It is
union that we want, not of a party for the sake of that party, but
a union of the whole country for the sake of the whole country,
for the defense of its interests and its honor against foreign
aggression, for the defense of those principles for which our
ancestors so gloriously contended As far as it depends upon me it
shall be accomplished. All the influence that I possess shall be
exerted to prevent the formation at least of an Executive party in
the halls of the legislative body. I wish for the support of no
member of that body to any measure of mine that does not satisfy
his judgment and his sense of duty to those from whom he holds his
appointment, nor any confidence in advance from the people but
that asked for by Mr. Jefferson, "to give firmness and effect to
the legal administration of their affairs."

I deem the present occasion sufficiently important and solemn to
justify me in expressing to my fellow-citizens a profound
reverence for the Christian religion and a thorough conviction
that sound morals, religious liberty, and a just sense of
religious responsibility are essentially connected with all true
and lasting happiness; and to that good Being who has blessed us
by the gifts of civil and religious freedom, who watched over and
prospered the labors of our fathers and has hitherto preserved to
us institutions far exceeding in excellence those of any other
people, let us unite in fervently commending every interest of our
beloved country in all future time.

Fellow-citizens, being fully invested with that high office to
which the partiality of my countrymen has called me, I now take an
affectionate leave of you. You will bear with you to your homes
the remembrance of the pledge I have this day given to discharge
all the high duties of my exalted station according to the best of
my ability, and I shall enter upon their performance with entire
confidence in the support of a just and generous people.


James Knox Polk




The inaugural ceremonies of former Tennessee Governor and Speaker
of the House James Knox Polk were conducted before a large crowd
that stood in the pouring rain. The popular politician had been
nominated on the ninth ballot as his party's candidate. His name
had not been in nomination until the third polling of the
delegates at the national convention. The outgoing President
Tyler, who had taken office upon the death of William Henry
Harrison, rode to the Capitol with Mr. Polk. The oath of office
was administered on the East Portico by Chief Justice Roger Taney.
The events of the ceremony were telegraphed to Baltimore by Samuel
Morse on his year-old invention.



Without solicitation on my part, I have been chosen by the free
and voluntary suffrages of my countrymen to the most honorable and
most responsible office on earth. I am deeply impressed with
gratitude for the confidence reposed in me. Honored with this
distinguished consideration at an earlier period of life than any
of my predecessors, I can not disguise the diffidence with which I
am about to enter on the discharge of my official duties.

If the more aged and experienced men who have filled the office of
President of the United States even in the infancy of the Republic
distrusted their ability to discharge the duties of that exalted
station, what ought not to be the apprehensions of one so much
younger and less endowed now that our domain extends from ocean to
ocean, that our people have so greatly increased in numbers, and
at a time when so great diversity of opinion prevails in regard to
the principles and policy which should characterize the
administration of our Government? Well may the boldest fear and
the wisest tremble when incurring responsibilities on which may
depend our country's peace and prosperity, and in some degree the
hopes and happiness of the whole human family.

In assuming responsibilities so vast I fervently invoke the aid of
that Almighty Ruler of the Universe in whose hands are the
destinies of nations and of men to guard this Heaven-favored land
against the mischiefs which without His guidance might arise from
an unwise public policy. With a firm reliance upon the wisdom of
Omnipotence to sustain and direct me in the path of duty which I
am appointed to pursue, I stand in the presence of this assembled
multitude of my countrymen to take upon myself the solemn
obligation "to the best of my ability to preserve, protect, and
defend the Constitution of the United States."

A concise enumeration of the principles which will guide me in the
administrative policy of the Government is not only in accordance
with the examples set me by all my predecessors, but is eminently
befitting the occasion.

The Constitution itself, plainly written as it is, the safeguard
of our federative compact, the offspring of concession and
compromise, binding together in the bonds of peace and union this
great and increasing family of free and independent States, will
be the chart by which I shall be directed.

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