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Contents > Author > Thomas Jefferson > Second Inaugural Address, 1805 1743- 1826
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Thomas Jefferson
Second Inaugural Address, 1805
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Proceeding, fellow-citizens, to that qualification which the Constitution
requires before my entrance on the charge again conferred on me,
it is my duty to express the deep sense I entertain of this new proof
of confidence from my fellow-citizens at large, and the zeal with which
it inspires me so to conduct myself as may best satisfy their just
expectations.

On taking this station on a former occasion I declared the principles
on which I believed it my duty to administer the affairs of our
Commonwealth. My conscience tells me I have on every occasion
acted up to that declaration according to its obvious import and
to the understanding of every candid mind.

In the transaction of your foreign affairs we have endeavored to
cultivate the friendship of all nations, and especially of those with
which we have the most important relations. We have done them
justice on all occasions, favored where favor was lawful, and
cherished mutual interests and intercourse on fair and equal terms.
We are firmly convinced, and we act on that conviction, that with
nations as with individuals our interests soundly calculated will ever
be found inseparable from our moral duties, and history bears
witness to the fact that a just nation is trusted on its word when
recourse is had to armaments and wars to bridle others.

At home, fellow-citizens, you best know whether we have done well
or ill. The suppression of unnecessary offices, of useless
establishments and expenses, enabled us to discontinue our internal
taxes. These, covering our land with officers and opening our doors
to their intrusions, had already begun that process of domiciliary
vexation which once entered is scarcely to be restrained from reaching
successively every article of property and produce. If among these
taxes some minor ones fell which had not been inconvenient, it was
because their amount would not have paid the officers who collected
them, and because, if they had any merit, the State authorities might
adopt them instead of others less approved.

The remaining revenue on the consumption of foreign articles is paid
chiefly by those who can afford to add foreign luxuries to domestic
comforts, being collected on our seaboard and frontiers only, and
incorporated with the transactions of our mercantile citizens, it may
be the pleasure and the pride of an American to ask, What farmer,
what mechanic, what laborer ever sees a taxgatherer of the United
States? These contributions enable us to support the current
expenses of the Government, to fulfill contracts with foreign nations,
to extinguish the native right of soil within our limits, to extend those
limits, and to apply such a surplus to our public debts as places at a
short day their final redemption, and that redemption once effected
the revenue thereby liberated may, by a just repartition of it among
the States and a corresponding amendment of the Constitution, be
applied in time of peace to rivers, canals, roads, arts, manufactures,
education, and other great objects within each State. In time of war,
if injustice by ourselves or others must sometimes produce war,
increased as the same revenue will be by increased population and
consumption, and aided by other resources reserved for that crisis,
it may meet within the year all the expenses of the year without
encroaching on the rights of future generations by burthening them
with the debts of the past. War will then be but a suspension of
useful works, and a return to a state of peace, a return to the
progress of improvement.

I have said, fellow-citizens, that the income reserved had enabled
us to extend our limits, but that extension may possibly pay for
itself before we are called on, and in the meantime may keep
down the accruing interest; in all events, it will replace the advances
we shall have made. I know that the acquisition of Louisiana had
been disapproved by some from a candid apprehension that the
enlargement of our territory would endanger its union. But who can
limit the extent to which the federative principle may operate effectively?
The larger our association the less will it be shaken by local passions;
and in any view is it not better that the opposite bank of the Mississippi
should be settled by our own brethren and children than by strangers
of another family? With which should we be most likely to live in harmony
and friendly intercourse?

In matters of religion I have considered that its free exercise is placed by
the Constitution independent of the powers of the General Government. I
have therefore undertaken on no occasion to prescribe the religious exercises
suited to it, but have left them, as the Constitution found them, under the
direction and discipline of the church or state authorities acknowledged by
the several religious societies.

The aboriginal inhabitants of these countries I have regarded with the
commiseration their history inspires. Endowed with the faculties and
the rights of men, breathing an ardent love of liberty and independence,
and occupying a country which left them no desire but to be undisturbed,
the stream of overflowing population from other regions directed itself on
these shores; without power to divert or habits to contend against it, they
have been overwhelmed by the current or driven before it; now reduced
within limits too narrow for the hunter's state, humanity enjoins us to teach
them agriculture and the domestic arts; to encourage them to that industry
which alone can enable them to maintain their place in existence and to
prepare them in time for that state of society which to bodily comforts adds
the improvement of the mind and morals. We have therefore liberally
furnished them with the implements of husbandry and household use; we
have placed among them instructors in the arts of first necessity, and they
are covered with the aegis of the law against aggressors from among
ourselves.

But the endeavors to enlighten them on the fate which awaits their
present course of life, to induce them to exercise their reason, follow its
dictates, and change their pursuits with the change of circumstances have
powerful obstacles to encounter; they are combated by the habits of their
bodies, prejudices of their minds, ignorance, pride, and the influence of
interested and crafty individuals among them who feel themselves something
in the present order of things and fear to become nothing in any other. These
persons inculcate a sanctimonious reverence for the customs of their ancestors;
that whatsoever they did must be done through all time; that reason is a
false guide, and to advance under its counsel in their physical, moral, or
political condition is perilous innovation; that their duty is to remain as their
Creator made them, ignorance being safety and knowledge full of danger;
in short, my friends, among them also is seen the action and counteraction of
good sense and of bigotry; they too have their antiphilosophists who find an
interest in keeping things in their present state, who dread reformation,
and exert all their faculties to maintain the ascendancy of habit over the
duty of improving our reason and obeying its mandates.

In giving these outlines I do not mean, fellow-citizens, to arrogate to myself
the merit of the measures. That is due, in the first place, to the reflecting
character of our citizens at large, who, by the weight of public opinion,
influence and strengthen the public measures. It is due to the sound
discretion with which they select from among themselves those to whom
they confide the legislative duties. It is due to the zeal and wisdom of the
characters thus selected, who lay the foundations of public happiness in
wholesome laws, the execution of which alone remains for others, and it is
due to the able and faithful auxiliaries, whose patriotism has associated
them with me in the executive functions.

During this course of administration, and in order to disturb it, the artillery
of the press has been leveled against us, charged with whatsoever its
licentiousness could devise or dare. These abuses of an institution so
important to freedom and science are deeply to be regretted, inasmuch as
they tend to lessen its usefulness and to sap its safety. They might, indeed,
have been corrected by the wholesome punishments reserved to and provided
by the laws of the several States against falsehood and defamation, but public
duties more urgent press on the time of public servants, and the offenders
have therefore been left to find their punishment in the public indignation.

Nor was it uninteresting to the world that an experiment should be fairly and
fully made, whether freedom of discussion, unaided by power, is not sufficient
for the propagation and protection of truth?whether a government conducting
itself in the true spirit of its constitution, with zeal and purity, and doing no
act which it would be unwilling the whole world should witness, can be written
down by falsehood and defamation. The experiment has been tried; you have
witnessed the scene; our fellow-citizens looked on, cool and collected; they
saw the latent source from which these outrages proceeded; they gathered
around their public functionaries, and when the Constitution called them to
the decision by suffrage, they pronounced their verdict, honorable to those
who had served them and consolatory to the friend of man who believes that
he may be trusted with the control of his own affairs.

No inference is here intended that the laws provided by the States against false
and defamatory publications should not be enforced; he who has time renders
a service to public morals and public tranquillity in reforming these abuses by
the salutary coercions of the law; but the experiment is noted to prove that,
since truth and reason have maintained their ground against false opinions
in league with false facts, the press, confined to truth, needs no other legal
restraint; the public judgment will correct false reasoning and opinions on a
full hearing of all parties; and no other definite line can be drawn between the
inestimable liberty of the press and its demoralizing licentiousness. If there be
still improprieties which this rule would not restrain, its supplement must be
sought in the censorship of public opinion.

Contemplating the union of sentiment now manifested so generally as
auguring harmony and happiness to our future course, I offer to our country
sincere congratulations. With those, too, not yet rallied to the same point the
disposition to do so is gaining strength; facts are piercing through the veil drawn
over them, and our doubting brethren will at length see that the mass of their
fellow-citizens with whom they can not yet resolve to act as to principles and
measures, think as they think and desire what they desire; that our wish as
well as theirs is that the public efforts may be directed honestly to the public
good, that peace be cultivated, civil and religious liberty unassailed, law and
order preserved, equality of rights maintained, and that state of property,
equal or unequal, which results to every man from his own industry or that
of his father's. When satisfied of these views it is not in human nature that
they should not approve and support them. In the meantime let us cherish
them with patient affection, let us do them justice, and more than justice, in all
competitions of interest; and we need not doubt that truth, reason, and their
own interests will at length prevail, will gather them into the fold of their
country, and will complete that entire union of opinion which gives to a
nation the blessing of harmony and the benefit of all its strength.

I shall now enter on the duties to which my fellow-citizens have again called me,
and shall proceed in the spirit of those principles which they have approved.
I fear not that any motives of interest may lead me astray; I am sensible of no
passion which could seduce me knowingly from the path of justice, but the
weaknesses of human nature and the limits of my own understanding will
produce errors of judgment sometimes injurious to your interests. I shall
need, therefore, all the indulgence which I have heretofore experienced
from my constituents; the want of it will certainly not lessen with increasing
years. I shall need, too, the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who
led our fathers, as Israel of old, from their native land and planted them in a
country flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life; who has covered
our infancy with His providence and our riper years with His wisdom and power,
and to whose goodness I ask you to join in supplications with me that He will so
enlighten the minds of your servants, guide their councils, and prosper their
measures that whatsoever they do shall result in your good, and shall secure to
you the peace, friendship, and approbation of all nations.
 

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