ignorance and vice in the citizens when joined to corruption and fraud
in the suffrage.
The voters of the Union, who make and unmake constitutions, and upon
whose will hang the destinies of our governments, can transmit their
supreme authority to no successors save the coming generation of
voters, who are the sole heirs of sovereign power. If that generation
comes to its inheritance blinded by ignorance and corrupted by vice,
the fall of the Republic will be certain and remediless.
The census has already sounded the alarm in the appalling figures which
mark how dangerously high the tide of illiteracy has risen among our
voters and their children.
To the South this question is of supreme importance. But the
responsibility for the existence of slavery did not rest upon the South
alone. The nation itself is responsible for the extension of the
suffrage, and is under special obligations to aid in removing the
illiteracy which it has added to the voting population. For the North
and South alike there is but one remedy. All the constitutional power
of the nation and of the States and all the volunteer forces of the
people should be surrendered to meet this danger by the savory
influence of universal education.
It is the high privilege and sacred duty of those now living to educate
their successors and fit them, by intelligence and virtue, for the
inheritance which awaits them.
In this beneficent work sections and races should be forgotten and
partisanship should be unknown. Let our people find a new meaning in
the divine oracle which declares that "a little child shall lead them,"
for our own little children will soon control the destinies of the
My countrymen, we do not now differ in our judgment concerning the
controversies of past generations, and fifty years hence our children
will not be divided in their opinions concerning our controversies.
They will surely bless their fathers and their fathers' God that the
Union was preserved, that slavery was overthrown, and that both races
were made equal before the law. We may hasten or we may retard, but we
can not prevent, the final reconciliation. Is it not possible for us
now to make a truce with time by anticipating and accepting its
Enterprises of the highest importance to our moral and material
well-being unite us and offer ample employment of our best powers. Let
all our people, leaving behind them the battlefields of dead issues,
move forward and in their strength of liberty and the restored Union
win the grander victories of peace.
The prosperity which now prevails is without parallel in our history.
Fruitful seasons have done much to secure it, but they have not done
all. The preservation of the public credit and the resumption of specie
payments, so successfully attained by the Administration of my
predecessors, have enabled our people to secure the blessings which the
By the experience of commercial nations in all ages it has been found
that gold and silver afford the only safe foundation for a monetary
system. Confusion has recently been created by variations in the
relative value of the two metals, but I confidently believe that
arrangements can be made between the leading commercial nations which
will secure the general use of both metals. Congress should provide
that the compulsory coinage of silver now required by law may not
disturb our monetary system by driving either metal out of circulation.
If possible, such an adjustment should be made that the purchasing
power of every coined dollar will be exactly equal to its debt-paying
power in all the markets of the world.
The chief duty of the National Government in connection with the
currency of the country is to coin money and declare its value. Grave
doubts have been entertained whether Congress is authorized by the
Constitution to make any form of paper money legal tender. The present
issue of United States notes has been sustained by the necessities of
war; but such paper should depend for its value and currency upon its
convenience in use and its prompt redemption in coin at the will of the
holder, and not upon its compulsory circulation. These notes are not
money, but promises to pay money. If the holders demand it, the promise
should be kept.
The refunding of the national debt at a lower rate of interest should
be accomplished without compelling the withdrawal of the national-bank
notes, and thus disturbing the business of the country.
I venture to refer to the position I have occupied on financial
questions during a long service in Congress, and to say that time and
experience have strengthened the opinions I have so often expressed on
The finances of the Government shall suffer no detriment which it may
be possible for my Administration to prevent.
The interests of agriculture deserve more attention from the Government
than they have yet received. The farms of the United States afford
homes and employment for more than one-half our people, and furnish
much the largest part of all our exports. As the Government lights our
coasts for the protection of mariners and the benefit of commerce, so
it should give to the tillers of the soil the best lights of practical
science and experience.
Our manufacturers are rapidly making us industrially independent, and
are opening to capital and labor new and profitable fields of
employment. Their steady and healthy growth should still be matured.
Our facilities for transportation should be promoted by the continued
improvement of our harbors and great interior waterways and by the
increase of our tonnage on the ocean.
The development of the world's commerce has led to an urgent demand for
shortening the great sea voyage around Cape Horn by constructing ship
canals or railways across the isthmus which unites the continents.
Various plans to this end have been suggested and will need
consideration, but none of them has been sufficiently matured to
warrant the United States in extending pecuniary aid. The subject,
however, is one which will immediately engage the attention of the
Government with a view to a thorough protection to American interests.
We will urge no narrow policy nor seek peculiar or exclusive privileges
in any commercial route; but, in the language of my predecessor, I
believe it to be the right "and duty of the United States to assert and
maintain such supervision and authority over any interoceanic canal
across the isthmus that connects North and South America as will
protect our national interest."
The Constitution guarantees absolute religious freedom. Congress is
prohibited from making any law respecting an establishment of religion
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The Territories of the United
States are subject to the direct legislative authority of Congress, and
hence the General Government is responsible for any violation of the
Constitution in any of them. It is therefore a reproach to the
Government that in the most populous of the Territories the
constitutional guaranty is not enjoyed by the people and the authority
of Congress is set at naught. The Mormon Church not only offends the
moral sense of manhood by sanctioning polygamy, but prevents the
administration of justice through ordinary instrumentalities of law.
In my judgment it is the duty of Congress, while respecting to the
uttermost the conscientious convictions and religious scruples of every
citizen, to prohibit within its jurisdiction all criminal practices,
especially of that class which destroy the family relations and
endanger social order. Nor can any ecclesiastical organization be
safely permitted to usurp in the smallest degree the functions and
powers of the National Government.
The civil service can never be placed on a satisfactory basis until it
is regulated by law. For the good of the service itself, for the
protection of those who are intrusted with the appointing power against
the waste of time and obstruction to the public business caused by the
inordinate pressure for place, and for the protection of incumbents
against intrigue and wrong, I shall at the proper time ask Congress to
fix the tenure of the minor offices of the several Executive
Departments and prescribe the grounds upon which removals shall be made
during the terms for which incumbents have been appointed.
Finally, acting always within the authority and limitations of the
Constitution, invading neither the rights of the States nor the
reserved rights of the people, it will be the purpose of my
Administration to maintain the authority of the nation in all places
within its jurisdiction; to enforce obedience to all the laws of the
Union in the interests of the people; to demand rigid economy in all
the expenditures of the Government, and to require the honest and
faithful service of all executive officers, remembering that the
offices were created, not for the benefit of incumbents or their
supporters, but for the service of the Government.
And now, fellow-citizens, I am about to assume the great trust which
you have committed to my hands. I appeal to you for that earnest and
thoughtful support which makes this Government in fact, as it is in
law, a government of the people.
I shall greatly rely upon the wisdom and patriotism of Congress and of
those who may share with me the responsibilities and duties of
administration, and, above all, upon our efforts to promote the welfare
of this great people and their Government I reverently invoke the
support and blessings of Almighty God.
First Inaugural Address
Wednesday, March 4, 1885
IN the presence of this vast assemblage of my countrymen I am about to
supplement and seal by the oath which I shall take the manifestation of
the will of a great and free people. In the exercise of their power and
right of self-government they have committed to one of their
fellow-citizens a supreme and sacred trust, and he here consecrates
himself to their service.
This impressive ceremony adds little to the solemn sense of
responsibility with which I contemplate the duty I owe to all the
people of the land. Nothing can relieve me from anxiety lest by any act
of mine their interests may suffer, and nothing is needed to strengthen
my resolution to engage every faculty and effort in the promotion of
Amid the din of party strife the people's choice was made, but its
attendant circumstances have demonstrated anew the strength and safety
of a government by the people. In each succeeding year it more clearly
appears that our democratic principle needs no apology, and that in its
fearless and faithful application is to be found the surest guaranty of
But the best results in the operation of a government wherein every
citizen has a share largely depend upon a proper limitation of purely
partisan zeal and effort and a correct appreciation of the time when
the heat of the partisan should be merged in the patriotism of the
To-day the executive branch of the Government is transferred to new
keeping. But this is still the Government of all the people, and it
should be none the less an object of their affectionate solicitude. At
this hour the animosities of political strife, the bitterness of
partisan defeat, and the exultation of partisan triumph should be
supplanted by an ungrudging acquiescence in the popular will and a
sober, conscientious concern for the general weal. Moreover, if from
this hour we cheerfully and honestly abandon all sectional prejudice
and distrust, and determine, with manly confidence in one another, to
work out harmoniously the achievements of our national destiny, we
shall deserve to realize all the benefits which our happy form of
government can bestow.
On this auspicious occasion we may well renew the pledge of our
devotion to the Constitution, which, launched by the founders of the
Republic and consecrated by their prayers and patriotic devotion, has
for almost a century borne the hopes and the aspirations of a great
people through prosperity and peace and through the shock of foreign
conflicts and the perils of domestic strife and vicissitudes.
By the Father of his Country our Constitution was commended for
adoption as "the result of a spirit of amity and mutual concession." In
that same spirit it should be administered, in order to promote the
lasting welfare of the country and to secure the full measure of its
priceless benefits to us and to those who will succeed to the blessings
of our national life. The large variety of diverse and competing
interests subject to Federal control, persistently seeking the
recognition of their claims, need give us no fear that "the greatest
good to the greatest number" will fail to be accomplished if in the
halls of national legislation that spirit of amity and mutual
concession shall prevail in which the Constitution had its birth. If
this involves the surrender or postponement of private interests and
the abandonment of local advantages, compensation will be found in the
assurance that the common interest is subserved and the general welfare
In the discharge of my official duty I shall endeavor to be guided by a
just and unstrained construction of the Constitution, a careful
observance of the distinction between the powers granted to the Federal
Government and those reserved to the States or to the people, and by a
cautious appreciation of those functions which by the Constitution and
laws have been especially assigned to the executive branch of the
But he who takes the oath today to preserve, protect, and defend the
Constitution of the United States only assumes the solemn obligation
which every patriotic citizen - on the farm, in the workshop, in the
busy marts of trade, and everywhere - should share with him. The
Constitution which prescribes his oath, my countrymen, is yours; the
Government you have chosen him to administer for a time is yours; the
suffrage which executes the will of freemen is yours; the laws and the
entire scheme of our civil rule, from the town meeting to the State
capitals and the national capital, is yours. Your every voter, as
surely as your Chief Magistrate, under the same high sanction, though
in a different sphere, exercises a public trust. Nor is this all. Every
citizen owes to the country a vigilant watch and close scrutiny of its
public servants and a fair and reasonable estimate of their fidelity
and usefulness. Thus is the people's will impressed upon the whole
framework of our civil polity - municipal, State, and Federal; and this
is the price of our liberty and the inspiration of our faith in the
It is the duty of those serving the people in public place to closely
limit public expenditures to the actual needs of the Government
economically administered, because this bounds the right of the
Government to exact tribute from the earnings of labor or the property
of the citizen, and because public extravagance begets extravagance
among the people. We should never be ashamed of the simplicity and
prudential economies which are best suited to the operation of a
republican form of government and most compatible with the mission of
the American people. Those who are selected for a limited time to
manage public affairs are still of the people, and may do much by their
example to encourage, consistently with the dignity of their official
functions, that plain way of life which among their fellow-citizens
aids integrity and promotes thrift and prosperity.
The genius of our institutions, the needs of our people in their home
life, and the attention which is demanded for the settlement and
development of the resources of our vast territory dictate the
scrupulous avoidance of any departure from that foreign policy
commended by the history, the traditions, and the prosperity of our
Republic. It is the policy of independence, favored by our position and
defended by our known love of justice and by our power. It is the
policy of peace suitable to our interests. It is the policy of
neutrality, rejecting any share in foreign broils and ambitions upon
other continents and repelling their intrusion here. It is the policy
of Monroe and of Washington and Jefferson - "Peace, commerce, and
honest friendship with all nations; entangling alliance with none."
A due regard for the interests and prosperity of all the people demands
that our finances shall be established upon such a sound and sensible
basis as shall secure the safety and confidence of business interests
and make the wage of labor sure and steady, and that our system of
revenue shall be so adjusted as to relieve the people of unnecessary
taxation, having a due regard to the interests of capital invested and
workingmen employed in American industries, and preventing the
accumulation of a surplus in the Treasury to tempt extravagance and
Care for the property of the nation and for the needs of future
settlers requires that the public domain should be protected from
purloining schemes and unlawful occupation.
The conscience of the people demands that the Indians within our
boundaries shall be fairly and honestly treated as wards of the
Government and their education and civilization promoted with a view to
their ultimate citizenship, and that polygamy in the Territories,
destructive of the family relation and offensive to the moral sense of
the civilized world, shall be repressed.
The laws should be rigidly enforced which prohibit the immigration of a
servile class to compete with American labor, with no intention of
acquiring citizenship, and bringing with them and retaining habits and
customs repugnant to our civilization.
The people demand reform in the administration of the Government and
the application of business principles to public affairs. As a means to
this end, civil-service reform should be in good faith enforced. Our
citizens have the right to protection from the incompetency of public
employees who hold their places solely as the reward of partisan
service, and from the corrupting influence of those who promise and the
vicious methods of those who expect such rewards; and those who
worthily seek public employment have the right to insist that merit and
competency shall be recognized instead of party subserviency or the
surrender of honest political belief.
In the administration of a government pledged to do equal and exact
justice to all men there should be no pretext for anxiety touching the
protection of the freedmen in their rights or their security in the
enjoyment of their privileges under the Constitution and its
amendments. All discussion as to their fitness for the place accorded
to them as American citizens is idle and unprofitable except as it
suggests the necessity for their improvement. The fact that they are
citizens entitles them to all the rights due to that relation and
charges them with all its duties, obligations, and responsibilities.
These topics and the constant and ever-varying wants of an active and
enterprising population may well receive the attention and the
patriotic endeavor of all who make and execute the Federal law. Our
duties are practical and call for industrious application, an
intelligent perception of the claims of public office, and, above all,
a firm determination, by united action, to secure to all the people of
the land the full benefits of the best form of government ever
vouchsafed to man. And let us not trust to human effort alone, but
humbly acknowledging the power and goodness of Almighty God, who
presides over the destiny of nations, and who has at all times been
revealed in our country's history, let us invoke His aid and His
blessings upon our labors.
Monday, March 4, 1889
THERE is no constitutional or legal requirement that the President
shall take the oath of office in the presence of the people, but there
is so manifest an appropriateness in the public induction to office of
the chief executive officer of the nation that from the beginning of
the Government the people, to whose service the official oath
consecrates the officer, have been called to witness the solemn
ceremonial. The oath taken in the presence of the people becomes a
mutual covenant. The officer covenants to serve the whole body of the
people by a faithful execution of the laws, so that they may be the
unfailing defense and security of those who respect and observe them,
and that neither wealth, station, nor the power of combinations shall
be able to evade their just penalties or to wrest them from a
beneficent public purpose to serve the ends of cruelty or selfishness.
My promise is spoken; yours unspoken, but not the less real and solemn.
The people of every State have here their representatives. Surely I do
not misinterpret the spirit of the occasion when I assume that the
whole body of the people covenant with me and with each other to-day to
support and defend the Constitution and the Union of the States, to
yield willing obedience to all the laws and each to every other citizen
his equal civil and political rights. Entering thus solemnly into
covenant with each other, we may reverently invoke and confidently
expect the favor and help of Almighty God - that He will give to me
wisdom, strength, and fidelity, and to our people a spirit of
fraternity and a love of righteousness and peace.
This occasion derives peculiar interest from the fact that the
Presidential term which begins this day is the twenty-sixth under our
Constitution. The first inauguration of President Washington took place
in New York, where Congress was then sitting, on the 30th day of April,
1789, having been deferred by reason of delays attending the
organization of the Congress and the canvass of the electoral vote. Our
people have already worthily observed the centennials of the
Declaration of Independence, of the battle of Yorktown, and of the
adoption of the Constitution, and will shortly celebrate in New York
the institution of the second great department of our constitutional
scheme of government. When the centennial of the institution of the
judicial department, by the organization of the Supreme Court, shall
have been suitably observed, as I trust it will be, our nation will
have fully entered its second century.
I will not attempt to note the marvelous and in great part happy
contrasts between our country as it steps over the threshold into its
second century of organized existence under the Constitution and that
weak but wisely ordered young nation that looked undauntedly down the
first century, when all its years stretched out before it.
Our people will not fail at this time to recall the incidents which
accompanied the institution of government under the Constitution, or to
find inspiration and guidance in the teachings and example of
Washington and his great associates, and hope and courage in the
contrast which thirty-eight populous and prosperous States offer to the
thirteen States, weak in everything except courage and the love of
liberty, that then fringed our Atlantic seaboard.
The Territory of Dakota has now a population greater than any of the
original States (except Virginia) and greater than the aggregate of
five of the smaller States in 1790. The center of population when our
national capital was located was east of Baltimore, and it was argued
by many well-informed persons that it would move eastward rather than
westward; yet in 1880 it was found to be near Cincinnati, and the new
census about to be taken will show another stride to the westward. That
which was the body has come to be only the rich fringe of the nation's
robe. But our growth has not been limited to territory, population and
aggregate wealth, marvelous as it has been in each of those directions.
The masses of our people are better fed, clothed, and housed than their
fathers were. The facilities for popular education have been vastly
enlarged and more generally diffused.
The virtues of courage and patriotism have given recent proof of their
continued presence and increasing power in the hearts and over the
lives of our people. The influences of religion have been multiplied
and strengthened. The sweet offices of charity have greatly increased.
The virtue of temperance is held in higher estimation. We have not
attained an ideal condition. Not all of our people are happy and
prosperous; not all of them are virtuous and law-abiding. But on the