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William McKinley
First Inaugural Address, 1897
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Thursday, March 4, 1897

Fellow-Citizens:

In obedience to the will of the people, and in their presence,
by the authority vested in me by this oath, I assume the arduous
and responsible duties of President of the United States, relying
upon the support of my countrymen and invoking the guidance of
Almighty God. Our faith teaches that there is no safer reliance
than upon the God of our fathers, who has so singularly favored
the American people in every national trial, and who will not
forsake us so long as we obey His commandments and walk
humbly in His footsteps.

The responsibilities of the high trust to which I have been
called? always of grave importance? are augmented by the
prevailing business conditions entailing idleness upon willing
labor and loss to useful enterprises. The country is suffering
from industrial disturbances from which speedy relief must be
had. Our financial system needs some revision; our money is
all good now, but its value must not further be threatened. It
should all be put upon an enduring basis, not subject to easy
attack, nor its stability to doubt or dispute. Our currency
should continue under the supervision of the Government.
The several forms of our paper money offer, in my judgment,
a constant embarrassment to the Government and a safe
balance in the Treasury. Therefore I believe it necessary to
devise a system which, without diminishing the circulating
medium or offering a premium for its contraction, will present
a remedy for those arrangements which, temporary in their
nature, might well in the years of our prosperity have been
displaced by wiser provisions. With adequate revenue secured,
but not until then, we can enter upon such changes in our fiscal
laws as will, while insuring safety and volume to our money,
no longer impose upon the Government the necessity of
maintaining so large a gold reserve, with its attendant and
inevitable temptations to speculation. Most of our financial
laws are the outgrowth of experience and trial, and should
not be amended without investigation and demonstration of
the wisdom of the proposed changes. We must be both "sure
we are right" and "make haste slowly." If, therefore, Congress,
in its wisdom, shall deem it expedient to create a commission
to take under early consideration the revision of our coinage,
banking and currency laws, and give them that exhaustive,
careful and dispassionate examination that their importance
demands, I shall cordially concur in such action. If such power
is vested in the President, it is my purpose to appoint a
commission of prominent, well-informed citizens of different
parties, who will command public confidence, both on account
of their ability and special fitness for the work. Business
experience and public training may thus be combined, and
the patriotic zeal of the friends of the country be so directed
that such a report will be made as to receive the support of
all parties, and our finances cease to be the subject of mere
partisan contention. The experiment is, at all events, worth
a trial, and, in my opinion, it can but prove beneficial to the
entire country.

The question of international bimetallism will have early and
earnest attention. It will be my constant endeavor to secure it
by co-operation with the other great commercial powers of the
world. Until that condition is realized when the parity between
our gold and silver money springs from and is supported by the
relative value of the two metals, the value of the silver already
coined and of that which may hereafter be coined, must be kept
constantly at par with gold by every resource at our command.
The credit of the Government, the integrity of its currency, and
the inviolability of its obligations must be preserved. This was
the commanding verdict of the people, and it will not be
unheeded.

Economy is demanded in every branch of the Government at
all times, but especially in periods, like the present, of depression
in business and distress among the people. The severest economy
must be observed in all public expenditures, and extravagance
stopped wherever it is found, and prevented wherever in the
future it may be developed. If the revenues are to remain as
now, the only relief that can come must be from decreased
expenditures. But the present must not become the permanent
condition of the Government. It has been our uniform practice
to retire, not increase our outstanding obligations, and this
policy must again be resumed and vigorously enforced. Our
revenues should always be large enough to meet with ease
and promptness not only our current needs and the principal
and interest of the public debt, but to make proper and liberal
provision for that most deserving body of public creditors, the
soldiers and sailors and the widows and orphans who are the
pensioners of the United States.

The Government should not be permitted to run behind or
increase its debt in times like the present. Suitably to provide
against this is the mandate of duty? the certain and easy remedy
for most of our financial difficulties. A deficiency is inevitable so
long as the expenditures of the Government exceed its receipts.
It can only be met by loans or an increased revenue. While a
large annual surplus of revenue may invite waste and
extravagance, inadequate revenue creates distrust and undermines
public and private credit. Neither should be encouraged. Between
more loans and more revenue there ought to be but one opinion.
We should have more revenue, and that without delay, hindrance,
or postponement. A surplus in the Treasury created by loans is
not a permanent or safe reliance. It will suffice while it lasts, but
it can not last long while the outlays of the Government are
greater than its receipts, as has been the case during the past
two years. Nor must it be forgotten that however much such
loans may temporarily relieve the situation, the Government is
still indebted for the amount of the surplus thus accrued, which
it must ultimately pay, while its ability to pay is not strengthened,
but weakened by a continued deficit. Loans are imperative in
great emergencies to preserve the Government or its credit, but
a failure to supply needed revenue in time of peace for the
maintenance of either has no justification.

The best way for the Government to maintain its credit is to pay
as it goes?not by resorting to loans, but by keeping out of debt
? through an adequate income secured by a system of taxation,
external or internal, or both. It is the settled policy of the
Government, pursued from the beginning and practiced by all
parties and Administrations, to raise the bulk of our revenue
from taxes upon foreign productions entering the United States
for sale and consumption, and avoiding, for the most part, every
form of direct taxation, except in time of war. The country is
clearly opposed to any needless additions to the subject of
internal taxation, and is committed by its latest popular utterance
to the system of tariff taxation. There can be no misunderstanding,
either, about the principle upon which this tariff taxation shall be
levied. Nothing has ever been made plainer at a general election
than that the controlling principle in the raising of revenue from
duties on imports is zealous care for American interests and
American labor. The people have declared that such legislation
should be had as will give ample protection and encouragement
to the industries and the development of our country. It is,
therefore, earnestly hoped and expected that Congress will,
at the earliest practicable moment, enact revenue legislation
that shall be fair, reasonable, conservative, and just, and which,
while supplying sufficient revenue for public purposes, will still
be signally beneficial and helpful to every section and every
enterprise of the people. To this policy we are all, of whatever
party, firmly bound by the voice of the people? a power vastly
more potential than the expression of any political platform. The
paramount duty of Congress is to stop deficiencies by the
restoration of that protective legislation which has always been
the firmest prop of the Treasury. The passage of such a law or
laws would strengthen the credit of the Government both at
home and abroad, and go far toward stopping the drain upon
the gold reserve held for the redemption of our currency, which
has been heavy and well-nigh constant for several years.

In the revision of the tariff especial attention should be given
to the re-enactment and extension of the reciprocity principle
of the law of 1890, under which so great a stimulus was given
to our foreign trade in new and advantageous markets for our
surplus agricultural and manufactured products. The brief trial
given this legislation amply justifies a further experiment and
additional discretionary power in the making of commercial
treaties, the end in view always to be the opening up of new
markets for the products of our country, by granting concessions
to the products of other lands that we need and cannot produce
ourselves, and which do not involve any loss of labor to our own
people, but tend to increase their employment.

The depression of the past four years has fallen with especial
severity upon the great body of toilers of the country, and upon
none more than the holders of small farms. Agriculture has
languished and labor suffered. The revival of manufacturing will
be a relief to both. No portion of our population is more devoted
to the institution of free government nor more loyal in their
support, while none bears more cheerfully or fully its proper
share in the maintenance of the Government or is better entitled
to its wise and liberal care and protection. Legislation helpful to
producers is beneficial to all. The depressed condition of industry
on the farm and in the mine and factory has lessened the ability
of the people to meet the demands upon them, and they rightfully
expect that not only a system of revenue shall be established
that will secure the largest income with the least burden, but
that every means will be taken to decrease, rather than increase,
our public expenditures. Business conditions are not the most
promising. It will take time to restore the prosperity of former years.
If we cannot promptly attain it, we can resolutely turn our faces
in that direction and aid its return by friendly legislation. However
troublesome the situation may appear, Congress will not, I am
sure, be found lacking in disposition or ability to relieve it as far
as legislation can do so. The restoration of confidence and the
revival of business, which men of all parties so much desire,
depend more largely upon the prompt, energetic, and intelligent
action of Congress than upon any other single agency affecting
the situation.

It is inspiring, too, to remember that no great emergency in the
one hundred and eight years of our eventful national life has ever
arisen that has not been met with wisdom and courage by the
American people, with fidelity to their best interests and highest
destiny, and to the honor of the American name. These years of
glorious history have exalted mankind and advanced the cause
of freedom throughout the world, and immeasurably strengthened
the precious free institutions which we enjoy. The people love
and will sustain these institutions. The great essential to our
happiness and prosperity is that we adhere to the principles
upon which the Government was established and insist upon their
faithful observance. Equality of rights must prevail, and our laws
be always and everywhere respected and obeyed. We may have
failed in the discharge of our full duty as citizens of the great
Republic, but it is consoling and encouraging to realize that free
speech, a free press, free thought, free schools, the free and
unmolested right of religious liberty and worship, and free and
fair elections are dearer and more universally enjoyed to-day than
ever before. These guaranties must be sacredly preserved and
wisely strengthened. The constituted authorities must be cheerfully
and vigorously upheld. Lynchings must not be tolerated in a great
and civilized country like the United States; courts, not mobs, must
execute the penalties of the law. The preservation of public order,
the right of discussion, the integrity of courts, and the orderly
administration of justice must continue forever the rock of safety
upon which our Government securely rests.

One of the lessons taught by the late election, which all can rejoice
in, is that the citizens of the United States are both law-respecting
and law-abiding people, not easily swerved from the path of
patriotism and honor. This is in entire accord with the genius of our
institutions, and but emphasizes the advantages of inculcating even
a greater love for law and order in the future. Immunity should be
granted to none who violate the laws, whether individuals,
corporations, or communities; and as the Constitution imposes
upon the President the duty of both its own execution, and of the
statutes enacted in pursuance of its provisions, I shall endeavor
carefully to carry them into effect. The declaration of the party now
restored to power has been in the past that of "opposition to all
combinations of capital organized in trusts, or otherwise, to control
arbitrarily the condition of trade among our citizens," and it has
supported "such legislation as will prevent the execution of all
schemes to oppress the people by undue charges on their supplies,
or by unjust rates for the transportation of their products to the
market." This purpose will be steadily pursued, both by the
enforcement of the laws now in existence and the recommendation
and support of such new statutes as may be necessary to carry it
into effect.

Our naturalization and immigration laws should be further improved
to the constant promotion of a safer, a better, and a higher citizenship.
A grave peril to the Republic would be a citizenship too ignorant to
understand or too vicious to appreciate the great value and
beneficence of our institutions and laws, and against all who come
here to make war upon them our gates must be promptly and tightly
closed. Nor must we be unmindful of the need of improvement among
our own citizens, but with the zeal of our forefathers encourage the
spread of knowledge and free education. Illiteracy must be banished
from the land if we shall attain that high destiny as the foremost of
the enlightened nations of the world which, under Providence, we
ought to achieve.

Reforms in the civil service must go on; but the changes should
be real and genuine, not perfunctory, or prompted by a zeal in
behalf of any party simply because it happens to be in power.
As a member of Congress I voted and spoke in favor of the
present law, and I shall attempt its enforcement in the spirit in
which it was enacted. The purpose in view was to secure the
most efficient service of the best men who would accept
appointment under the Government, retaining faithful and
devoted public servants in office, but shielding none, under
the authority of any rule or custom, who are inefficient, incompetent,
or unworthy. The best interests of the country demand this, and the
people heartily approve the law wherever and whenever it has
been thus administrated.

Congress should give prompt attention to the restoration of
our American merchant marine, once the pride of the seas in all
the great ocean highways of commerce. To my mind, few more
important subjects so imperatively demand its intelligent
consideration. The United States has progressed with marvelous
rapidity in every field of enterprise and endeavor until we have
become foremost in nearly all the great lines of inland trade,
commerce, and industry. Yet, while this is true, our American
merchant marine has been steadily declining until it is now lower,
both in the percentage of tonnage and the number of vessels
employed, than it was prior to the Civil War. Commendable
progress has been made of late years in the upbuilding of the
American Navy, but we must supplement these efforts by providing
as a proper consort for it a merchant marine amply sufficient for
our own carrying trade to foreign countries. The question is one
that appeals both to our business necessities and the patriotic
aspirations of a great people.

It has been the policy of the United States since the foundation
of the Government to cultivate relations of peace and amity with
all the nations of the world, and this accords with my conception
of our duty now. We have cherished the policy of non-interference
with affairs of foreign governments wisely inaugurated by
Washington, keeping ourselves free from entanglement, either as
allies or foes, content to leave undisturbed with them the settlement
of their own domestic concerns. It will be our aim to pursue a firm
and dignified foreign policy, which shall be just, impartial, ever
watchful of our national honor, and always insisting upon the
enforcement of the lawful rights of American citizens everywhere.
Our diplomacy should seek nothing more and accept nothing less
than is due us. We want no wars of conquest; we must avoid the
temptation of territorial aggression. War should never be entered
upon until every agency of peace has failed; peace is preferable to
war in almost every contingency. Arbitration is the true method of
settlement of international as well as local or individual differences.
It was recognized as the best means of adjustment of differences
between employers and employees by the Forty-ninth Congress,
in 1886, and its application was extended to our diplomatic relations
by the unanimous concurrence of the Senate and House of the
Fifty-first Congress in 1890. The latter resolution was accepted
as the basis of negotiations with us by the British House of
Commons in 1893, and upon our invitation a treaty of arbitration
between the United States and Great Britain was signed at
Washington and transmitted to the Senate for its ratification in
January last. Since this treaty is clearly the result of our own
initiative; since it has been recognized as the leading feature of
our foreign policy throughout our entire national history? the
adjustment of difficulties by judicial methods rather than force
of arms? and since it presents to the world the glorious example
of reason and peace, not passion and war, controlling the
relations between two of the greatest nations in the world, an
example certain to be followed by others, I respectfully urge the
early action of the Senate thereon, not merely as a matter of
policy, but as a duty to mankind. The importance and moral
influence of the ratification of such a treaty can hardly be
overestimated in the cause of advancing civilization. It may
well engage the best thought of the statesmen and people of
every country, and I cannot but consider it fortunate that it was
reserved to the United States to have the leadership in so grand
a work.

It has been the uniform practice of each President to avoid, as
far as possible, the convening of Congress in extraordinary session.
It is an example which, under ordinary circumstances and in the
absence of a public necessity, is to be commended. But a failure
to convene the representatives of the people in Congress in extra
session when it involves neglect of a public duty places the
responsibility of such neglect upon the Executive himself. The
condition of the public Treasury, as has been indicated, demands
the immediate consideration of Congress. It alone has the power
to provide revenues for the Government. Not to convene it under
such circumstances I can view in no other sense than the neglect
of a plain duty. I do not sympathize with the sentiment that
Congress in session is dangerous to our general business interests.
Its members are the agents of the people, and their presence at
the seat of Government in the execution of the sovereign will
should not operate as an injury, but a benefit. There could be no
better time to put the Government upon a sound financial and
economic basis than now. The people have only recently voted
that this should be done, and nothing is more binding upon the
agents of their will than the obligation of immediate action. It has
always seemed to me that the postponement of the meeting of
Congress until more than a year after it has been chosen
deprived Congress too often of the inspiration of the popular
will and the country of the corresponding benefits. It is evident,
therefore, that to postpone action in the presence of so great
a necessity would be unwise on the part of the Executive
because unjust to the interests of the people. Our action now
will be freer from mere partisan consideration than if the question
of tariff revision was postponed until the regular session of
Congress. We are nearly two years from a Congressional election,
and politics cannot so greatly distract us as if such contest was
immediately pending. We can approach the problem calmly and
patriotically, without fearing its effect upon an early election.

Our fellow-citizens who may disagree with us upon the character
of this legislation prefer to have the question settled now, even
against their preconceived views, and perhaps settled so
reasonably, as I trust and believe it will be, as to insure great
permanence, than to have further uncertainty menacing the vast
and varied business interests of the United States. Again,
whatever action Congress may take will be given a fair opportunity
for trial before the people are called to pass judgment upon it, and
this I consider a great essential to the rightful and lasting settlement
of the question. In view of these considerations, I shall deem it my
duty as President to convene Congress in extraordinary session
on Monday, the 15th day of March, 1897.

In conclusion, I congratulate the country upon the fraternal spirit
of the people and the manifestations of good will everywhere so
apparent. The recent election not only most fortunately demonstrated
the obliteration of sectional or geographical lines, but to some extent
also the prejudices which for years have distracted our councils and
marred our true greatness as a nation. The triumph of the people,
whose verdict is carried into effect today, is not the triumph of one
section, nor wholly of one party, but of all sections and all the people.
The North and the South no longer divide on the old lines, but upon
principles and policies; and in this fact surely every lover of the
country can find cause for true felicitation. Let us rejoice in and
cultivate this spirit; it is ennobling and will be both a gain and a
blessing to our beloved country. It will be my constant aim to do
nothing, and permit nothing to be done, that will arrest or disturb
this growing sentiment of unity and cooperation, this revival of
esteem and affiliation which now animates so many thousands in
both the old antagonistic sections, but I shall cheerfully do
everything possible to promote and increase it.

Let me again repeat the words of the oath administered by the
Chief Justice which, in their respective spheres, so far as applicable,
I would have all my countrymen observe: "I will faithfully execute
the office of President of the United States, and will, to the best
of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the
United States." This is the obligation I have reverently taken before
the Lord Most High. To keep it will be my single purpose, my
constant prayer; and I shall confidently rely upon the forbearance
and assistance of all the people in the discharge of my solemn
responsibilities.
 

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