Charles William Eliot.

American historical documents 1000-1904, with introductions, notes and illustrations online

. (page 22 of 48)
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Friends and Fellow-Citizens:

THE period for a new election of a Citizen, to admin-
ister the Executive Government of the United States,
being not far distant, and the time actually arrived,
when your thoughts must be employed in designating the
person, who is to be clothed with diat important trust, it
appears to me proper, especially as it may conduce to a
more distinct expression of the public voice, that I should
now apprize you of the resolution I have formed, to decline
being considered among the number of those, out of whom a
choice is to be made.

I beg you, at the same time, to do me the justice to be
assured, that this resolution has not been taken, without
a strict regard to all the considerations appertaining to the
relation, which binds a dutiful citizen to his country — ^and
that, in withdrawing the tender of service which silenec in
my situation might imply, I am influenced by no diminution
of zeal for your future interest, no deficiency of grateful
respect for your past kindness; but am supported by a full
conviction that the step is compatible with both.

The acceptance of, and continuance hitherto in, the office
to which your suffrages have twice called me, have been
a uniform sacrifice of inclination to the opinion of duty,


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and to a deference for what appeared to be your desire.—
I constantly hoped that it would have been much earlier in
my power, consistently with motives, which I was not at
liberty to disregard, to return td that retirement, from
which I had been reluctantly drawn. — ^The strength of my
inclination to do this, previous to the last election, had even
led to the preparation of an address to declare it to you;
but mature reflection on the then perplexed and critical
posture of our affairs with foreign Nations, and the unan-
imous advice of persons entitled to my confidence, impelled
me to abandon the idea. —

I rejoice, that the state of your concerns, external as well
as internal, no longer renders the pursuit of inclination in-
compatible with the sentiment of duty, or propriety ; and am
persuaded, whatever partiality may be retained for my
services, that, in the present circumstances of our country,
you will not disapprove my determination to retire.

The impressions, with which I first undertook the arduous
trust, were explained on the proper occasion. In the dis-
charge of this trust, I will only say, that I have, with good
intentions, contributed towards the organization and ad-
ministration of the government, the best exertions of which
a very fallible judgment was capable. — Not unconscious, in
the outset, of the inferiority of my qualifications, experience
in my own eyes, perhaps still more in the eyes of others,
has strengthened the motives to diffidence of myself; and
every day the increasing weight of years admonishes me
more and more, that the shade of retirement is as necessary
to me as it will be welcome. — Satisfied, that, if any circum-
stances have given peculiar value to my services, they were
temporary, I have the consolation to believe, that, while
choice and prudence invite me to quit the political scene,
patriotism does not forbid it.

In looking forward to the moment, which is intended to
terminate the career of my public life, my feelings do not
permit me to suspend the deep acknowledgment of that
debt of gratitude, which I owe to my beloved country, —
for the many honors it has conferred upon me; still more
for the stedfast confidence with which it has supported me ;
and for the opportunities I have thence enjoyed of mani-

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festing my inviolable attachment, by services faithful and
persevering, though ifi usefulness unequal to my zeal. — ^If
benefits have resulted to our country from these services,
let it always be remembered to your praise, and as an in-
structive example in our annals, that under circumstances
in which the Passions, agitated in every direction, were
liable to mislead, amidst appearances sometimes dubious,
vicissitudes of fortune often discouraging, in situations in
which not unfrequently want of success has countenanced
the spirit of criticism, the constancy of your support was
the essential prop of the efforts, and a guarantee of the
plans by which they were effected. — Profoundly penetrated
with this idea, I shall carry it with me to my grave, as a
strong incitement to unceasing vows that Heaven may con-
tinue to you the choicest tokens of its beneficence — ^that
your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual — ^that
the free constitution, which is the work of your hands, may
be sacredly maintained — ^that its administration in every de-
partment may be stamped with wisdom and virtue — ^tha,t, in
fine, the happiness of the people of these States, under the
auspices of liberty, may be made complete, by so careful
a preservation and so prudent a use of this blessing, as will
acquire to them the glory of recommending it to the ap-
plause, the affection, and adoption of every nation, which is
yet a stranger to it.

Here, perhaps, I ought to stop. — But a solicitude for
your welfare, which cannot end but with my life, and the
apprehension of danger, natural to that solicitude, urge me
on an occasion like the present, to offer to your solemn con-
templation, and to recommend to your frequent review,
some sentiments; which are the result of much reflection,
of no inconsiderable observation and which appear to me
all important to the permanency of your felicity as a People.
These will be offered to you with the more freedom, as
you can only see in them the disinterested warnings of a
parting friend, who can possibly have no personal motive
to bias his counsel. — Nor can I forget, as an encourage-
ment to it, your indulgent reception of my sentiments on a
former and not dissimilar occasion.

Interwoven as is the love of liberty with every ligament

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of your hearts, no recommendation of mine is necessary to
fortify or confirm the attachment. —

The Unity of Government, which constitutes you one peo-
ple, is also now dear to you. — ^It is justly so; for it is a
main Pillar in the Edifice of your real independence; the
support of your tranquillity at home; your peace abroad;
of your safety; of your prosperity in every shape; of that
very Liberty, which you so highly prize. — But as it is easy
to foresee, that, from different causes, and from different
quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices em-
ployed, to weaken in your minds the conviction of this
truth; — ^as this is the point in your political fortress against
which the batteries of internal and external enemies will
be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and
insidiously) directed it is of infinite moment, that you
should properly estimate the immense value of your na-
tional Union to your collective and individual happiness; —
that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immove-
able attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and
speak of it as of the Palladium of your political safety
and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous
anxiety ; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a sus-
picion, that it can in any event be abandoned, and indig-
nantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt
to alienate any portion of our Country from the rest, or to
enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various

For this you have every inducement of sympathy and
interest. — Citizens by birth or choice of a common country,
that country has a right to concentrate your affections. —
The name of American, which belongs to you, in your na-
tional capacity, must always exalt the just pride of Patriot-
ism, more than any appellation derived from local discrimina-
tions. With slight shades of difference, you have the same
Religion, Manners, Habits, and Political Principles. You
have in a common cause fought and triumphed together;
the Independence and Liberty you possess are the work of
joint counsels, and joint efforts — of common dangers, suffer-
ings, and successes. —

But these considerations, however powerfully they address

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themselves to your sensibility, are greatly outweighed by
those which apply more immediately to your Interest Here
every portion of our country finds the most commanding
motives for carefully guarding and preserving the Union
of the whole.

The North, in an unrestrained intercourse with the South,
protected by the equal Laws of a common government, finds,
in the productions of the latter, great additional resources
of maritime and commercial enterprise — and precious ma-
terials of manufacturing industry. — ^Thc South, in the same
intercourse, benefiting by the agency of the North, sees its
agriculture grow and its commerce expand. Turning partly
into its own channels the seamen of the North, it finds its
particular navigation envigorated ; — and, while it contrib-
utes, in different ways, to nourish and increase the general
mass of the national navigation, it looks forward to the pro-
tection of a maritime strength to which itself is unequally
adapted. The East, in a like intercourse with the West,
already finds, and in the progressive improvement of in-
terior communications, by land and water, will more and more
find, a valuable vent for the commodities which it brings
from abroad, or manufactures at home. — ^The West derives
from the East supplies requisite to its growth and comfort,
and — ^what is perhaps of still greater consequence, it must
of necessity owe the secure enjoyment of indispensable out^
lets for its own productions to the weight, influence, and the
future maritime strength of the Atlantic side of the Union,
directed by an indissoluble commimity of interest as one
Nation^ — ^Any other tenure by which the West can hold this
essential advantage, whether derived from its own separate
strength, or from an apostate and unnatural connection with
any foreign power, must be intrinsically precarious.
While then every part of our Country thus feels an im-
' mediate and particular interest in Union, all the parts com-
bined in the united mass of means and efforts cannot fail
to find greater strength, greater resource, proportionably
greater security from external danger,^ a less frequent in-
terruption of their Peace by foreign Nations; and, what
is of inestimable value! they must derive from Union an
exemption from those broils and wars between themselves.

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which so frequently affict neighbouring countries, not tied
together by the same governments; which their own rival-
ships alone would be sufficient to produce; but which op-
posite foreign alliances, attachments, and intrigues would
stimulate and embitter. — ^Hence likewise they will avoid the
necessity of those overgrown Military establishments, which,
under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty,
and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to
Republican Liberty. In this sense it is, that your Union
ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and
that the love of the one ought to endear to you the preserva-
tion of the other.

These considerations speak a persuasive language to every
reflecting and virtuous mind, and exhibit the continuance
of the Union as a primary object of Patriotic desire. Is
there a doubt, whether a common government can embrace
so large a sphere? — ^Let experience solve it To listen to
mere speculation in such a case were criminal. — ^We are
authorized to hope that a proper organization of the whole,
with the auxiliary agency of governments for the respective
subdivisions, will afford a happy issue to the experiment.
It is well worth a fair and full experiment With such
powerful and obvious motives to Union, affecting all parts
of our country, while experience shall not have demonstrated
its impracticability, there will always be reason to distrust
the patriotism of those, who in any quarter may endeavour
to weaken its bands.—

In contemplating the causes which may disturb our Union,
It occurs as matter of serious concern, that any ground
should have been furnished for characterizing parties by
geographical discriminations — Northern and Southern, At*
lantic and Western; whence designing men may endeavour
to excite a belief, that there is a real difference of local
interests and views. One of the expedients of Party to
acquire influence, within particular districts, is to mis-
represent the opinions and aims of other districts. — ^You
cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and
heart burnings, which spring from these misrepresentations ;
—they tend to render alien to each other those, who ought
to be bound together by fraternal affection. — The inhabitants

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of our Western country have lately had a useful lesson on
this head — they have seen, in the negotiation by the Execu-
tive, and in the unanimous ratification by the Senate, of the
treaty with Spain, and in the universal satisfaction at that
event, throughout the United States, a decisive proof how
unfounded were the suspicions propagated among them of
a policy in the General Government and in the Atlantic
States unfriendly to their interests in regard to the Missis-
sippi — ^they have been witnesses to the formation of two
Treaties, that with Great Britain, and that with Spain, which
secure to them every thing they could desire, in respect to
our Foreign Relations, towards confirming their prosperity.
— ^Will it not be their wisdom to rely for the preservation
of these advantages on the Union by which they were pro-
cured? — Will they not henceforth be deaf to those advisers,
if such there are, who would sever them from their Brethren,
and connect them with Aliens? —

To the efficacy and permanency of your Union, a Govern-
ment for the whole is indispensable. — No alliances, however
strict between the parts can be an adequate substitute. —
They must inevitably experience the infractions and inter-
ruptions which all alliances in all times have experienced.
Sensible of this momentous truth, you have improved upon
your first essay, by the adoption of a Constitution of Gov-
ernment, better calculated than your former for an intimate
Union, and for the efficacious management of your common
concerns. — ^This government, the offspring of our own choice
iminfluenced and unawed, adopted upon full investigation
and mature deliberation, completely free in its principles, in
the distribution of its powers, uniting security with energy,
and containing within itself a provision for its own amend-
ment, has a just claim to your confidence and your support.
— Respect for its authority, compliance with its Laws, acqui-
escence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the funda-
mental maxims of true Liberty. — The basis of our political
systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their
Constitutions of Government. — But the Constitution which
at any time exists, 'till changed by an explicit and authentic
act of the whole People, is sacredly obligatory upon all. —
The very idea of the power and the right of the People

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to establish Government presupposes the duty of every in-
dividual to obey the established Government

All obstructions to the execution of the Laws, all combi-
nations and associations, under whatever plausible character,
with the real design to direct, controul, counteract, or awe
the regular deliberation and action of the constituted
authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle,
and of fatal tendency. — ^They serve to organize faction, to
give it an artificial and extraordinary force — ^to put in the
place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party;
~-often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the
community; — ^and, according to the alternate triumphs of
different parties, to make the public administration the mir-
ror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction,
rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans
digested by common councils, and modified by mutual in-
terests. — ^However combinations or associations of the above
descriptions may now and then answer popular ends, they
are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent
engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men
will be enabled to subvert the Power of the People, and to
usurp for themselves the reins of Government; destroying
afterwards the very engines, which have lifted them to un-
just dominion. —

Towards the preservation of your Government, and the
permanency of your present happy state, it is requisite, not
only that you steadily discoimtenance irregular oppositions
to its acknowledged authority, but also that you resist with
care the spirit of innovation upon its principles, however
specious the pretexts. — One method of assault may be to
effect, m the forms of the Constitution, alterations which
will impair the energy of the system, and thus to undermine
what cannot be directly overthrown. — ^In all the changes
to which you may be invited, remember that time and habit
are at least as necessary to fix the true character of Govern-
ments, as of other human institutions— that experience is
the surest standard, by which to test the real tendency of
the existing Constitution of a Country— that facility in
changes upon the credit of mere hypothesis and opinion
exposes to perpetual change, from the endless variety of


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hypothesis and opinion :— and remember, especially, that, for
the efficient management of your common interests, in a
country so extensive as ours, a Government of as much vigor
as IS consistent with the perfect security of Liberty is in^
dispensible.— Liberty itself will find in such a government,
with powers properly distributed and adjusted, its surest
Guardian. — ^It is, indeed, little else than a name, where the
Government is too feeble to withstand the enterprise of
faction, to confine each member of the society within the
limits prescribed by the laws, and to maintain all in the
secure and tranquil enjoyment of the rights of person and

I have already intimated to you the danger of parties
in the State, with particular reference to the founding of
them on Geographical discriminations. — ^Let me now take a
more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn
manner against the baneful effects of the Spirit of Party,

This Spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature,
having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind.
—It exists under different shapes in all Governments, more
or less stifled, controuled, or repressed ; but, in those of the
popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is
truly their worst enemy. —

The alternate domination of one faction over another,
sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissen-
sion, which in different ages and cotmtries has perpetrated
the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.
-^But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent
despotism.^ — ^The disorders and miseries, which result, gradu-
ally incline the minds of men to seek security and repose
in the absolute power of an Individual ; and sooner or later
the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more
fortimate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the
purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind,
(which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight),
the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of Par^
are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise
people to discourage and restrain it—

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It serves always to distract the Public Councils, and en-
feeble the Public administration. It agitates the community
with ill founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the
animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally
riot and insurrection. — ^It opens the door to foreign influence
and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the Gov-
ernment itself through the channels of party passions.
Thus the policy and the will of one country, are subjected
to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion, that parties in free countries are
useful checks upon the Administration of the Government,
and serve to keep alive the spirit of Liberty. — ^This within
certain limits is probably true — ^and in Governments of a
Monarchical cast. Patriotism may look with indulgence, if
not with favor, upon the spirit of party. — But in those of
the popular character, in /Governments purely elective, it is
a spirit not to be encouraged. — From their natural tendency,
it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for
every salutary purpose, — and there being constant danger
of excess, the effort ought to be, by force of public opinion,
to mitigate and assuage it — ^A fire not to be quenched; it
demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into
a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in
a free country should inspire caution in those intrusted with
its administration, to confine themselves within their re-
spective constitutional spheres; avoiding in the exercise of
the powers of one department to encroach upon another.
The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers
of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever
the form of government, a real despotism. — A just estimate
of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which pre-
dominates in the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy us of
the truth of this position. — ^The necessity of reciprocal
checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing and
distributing it into different depositories, and constituting
each the Guardian of the Public Weal against invasions by
the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and
modem; some of them in our country and under our own
eyes. — ^To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute

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them. If, in the opinion of the People, the distribution or
modification of the Constitutional powers be in any particular
wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way
which the constitution designates. — But let there be no
change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may
be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by
which free governments are destroyed. — The precedent must
always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or
transient benefit which the use can at any time yield. —

Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political
prosperity. Religion, and Morality are indispensable supports.
— In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism,
who should labor to subvert these great pillars of htmian
happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and
Citizens. — ^The mere Politician, equally with the pious man,
ought to respect and to cherish them. — ^A voltmie could not
trace all their connexions with private and public felicity. —
Let it simply be asked where is the security for property,
for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation
desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation
in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the
supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion.
— Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined
education on minds of peculiar structure — reason and ex-
perience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can
prevail in exclusion of religious principle.—

'Tis substantially true, that virtue or morality is a neces-
sarjr spring of popular government. — ^The rule indeed extends
with more or less force to every species of Free Government.
— ^Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference
upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric? —

Promote, then, as an object of primary importance, in-

Online LibraryCharles William EliotAmerican historical documents 1000-1904, with introductions, notes and illustrations → online text (page 22 of 48)