Second Inaugural Address, 1893
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Saturday, March 4, 1893
In obedience of the mandate of my countrymen I am about to
dedicate myself to their service under the sanction of a solemn
oath. Deeply moved by the expression of confidence and personal
attachment which has called me to this service, I am sure my
gratitude can make no better return than the pledge I now give
before God and these witnesses of unreserved and complete
devotion to the interests and welfare of those who have honored
I deem it fitting on this occasion, while indicating the opinion I
hold concerning public questions of present importance, to also
briefly refer to the existence of certain conditions and tendencies
among our people which seem to menace the integrity and usefulness
of their Government.
While every American citizen must contemplate with the utmost
pride and enthusiasm the growth and expansion of our country,
the sufficiency of our institutions to stand against the rudest shocks
of violence, the wonderful thrift and enterprise of our people, and
the demonstrated superiority of our free government, it behooves
us to constantly watch for every symptom of insidious infirmity that
threatens our national vigor.
The strong man who in the confidence of sturdy health courts the
sternest activities of life and rejoices in the hardihood of constant
labor may still have lurking near his vitals the unheeded disease
that dooms him to sudden collapse.
It can not be doubted that our stupendous achievements as a
people and our country's robust strength have given rise to
heedlessness of those laws governing our national health which
we can no more evade than human life can escape the laws of
God and nature.
Manifestly nothing is more vital to our supremacy as a nation
and to the beneficent purposes of our Government than a sound
and stable currency. Its exposure to degradation should at once
arouse to activity the most enlightened statesmanship, and the
danger of depreciation in the purchasing power of the wages paid
to toil should furnish the strongest incentive to prompt and
In dealing with our present embarrassing situation as related to
this subject we will be wise if we temper our confidence and faith
in our national strength and resources with the frank concession
that even these will not permit us to defy with impunity the inexorable
laws of finance and trade. At the same time, in our efforts to adjust
differences of opinion we should be free from intolerance or passion,
and our judgments should be unmoved by alluring phrases and
unvexed by selfish interests.
I am confident that such an approach to the subject will result in
prudent and effective remedial legislation. In the meantime, so far
as the executive branch of the Government can intervene, none of
the powers with which it is invested will be withheld when their
exercise is deemed necessary to maintain our national credit or
avert financial disaster.
Closely related to the exaggerated confidence in our country's
greatness which tends to a disregard of the rules of national safety,
another danger confronts us not less serious. I refer to the prevalence
of a popular disposition to expect from the operation of the
Government especial and direct individual advantages.
The verdict of our voters which condemned the injustice of
maintaining protection for protection's sake enjoins upon the
people's servants the duty of exposing and destroying the brood
of kindred evils which are the unwholesome progeny of paternalism.
This is the bane of republican institutions and the constant peril of
our government by the people. It degrades to the purposes of wily
craft the plan of rule our fathers established and bequeathed to us
as an object of our love and veneration. It perverts the patriotic
sentiments of our countrymen and tempts them to pitiful calculation
of the sordid gain to be derived from their Government's maintenance.
It undermines the self-reliance of our people and substitutes in its
place dependence upon governmental favoritism. It stifles the spirit
of true Americanism and stupefies every ennobling trait of American
The lessons of paternalism ought to be unlearned and the better
lesson taught that while the people should patriotically and cheerfully
support their Government its functions do not include the support
of the people.
The acceptance of this principle leads to a refusal of bounties and
subsidies, which burden the labor and thrift of a portion of our
citizens to aid ill-advised or languishing enterprises in which they
have no concern. It leads also to a challenge of wild and reckless
pension expenditure, which overleaps the bounds of grateful
recognition of patriotic service and prostitutes to vicious uses
the people's prompt and generous impulse to aid those disabled
in their country's defense.
Every thoughtful American must realize the importance of checking
at its beginning any tendency in public or private station to regard
frugality and economy as virtues which we may safely outgrow.
The toleration of this idea results in the waste of the people's
money by their chosen servants and encourages prodigality and
extravagance in the home life of our countrymen.
Under our scheme of government the waste of public money is
a crime against the citizen, and the contempt of our people for
economy and frugality in their personal affairs deplorably saps
the strength and sturdiness of our national character.
It is a plain dictate of honesty and good government that public
expenditures should be limited by public necessity, and that this
should be measured by the rules of strict economy; and it is
equally clear that frugality among the people is the best guaranty
of a contented and strong support of free institutions.
One mode of the misappropriation of public funds is avoided
when appointments to office, instead of being the rewards of
partisan activity, are awarded to those whose efficiency promises
a fair return of work for the compensation paid to them. To secure
the fitness and competency of appointees to office and remove
from political action the demoralizing madness for spoils, civil-service
reform has found a place in our public policy and laws. The benefits
already gained through this instrumentality and the further
usefulness it promises entitle it to the hearty support and
encouragement of all who desire to see our public service well
performed or who hope for the elevation of political sentiment
and the purification of political methods.
The existence of immense aggregations of kindred enterprises
and combinations of business interests formed for the purpose
of limiting production and fixing prices is inconsistent with the fair
field which ought to be open to every independent activity.
Legitimate strife in business should not be superseded by an
enforced concession to the demands of combinations that have
the power to destroy, nor should the people to be served lose the
benefit of cheapness which usually results from wholesome
competition. These aggregations and combinations frequently
constitute conspiracies against the interests of the people, and
in all their phases they are unnatural and opposed to our American
sense of fairness. To the extent that they can be reached and
restrained by Federal power the General Government should
relieve our citizens from their interference and exactions.
Loyalty to the principles upon which our Government rests positively
demands that the equality before the law which it guarantees to
every citizen should be justly and in good faith conceded in all parts
of the land. The enjoyment of this right follows the badge of
citizenship wherever found, and, unimpaired by race or color, it
appeals for recognition to American manliness and fairness.
Our relations with the Indians located within our border impose
upon us responsibilities we can not escape. Humanity and consistency
require us to treat them with forbearance and in our dealings with
them to honestly and considerately regard their rights and interests.
Every effort should be made to lead them, through the paths of
civilization and education, to self-supporting and independent
citizenship. In the meantime, as the nation's wards, they should be
promptly defended against the cupidity of designing men and shielded
from every influence or temptation that retards their advancement.
The people of the United States have decreed that on this day the
control of their Government in its legislative and executive branches
shall be given to a political party pledged in the most positive terms
to the accomplishment of tariff reform. They have thus determined
in favor of a more just and equitable system of Federal taxation.
The agents they have chosen to carry out their purposes are bound
by their promises not less than by the command of their masters
to devote themselves unremittingly to this service.
While there should be no surrender of principle, our task must be
undertaken wisely and without heedless vindictiveness. Our mission
is not punishment, but the rectification of wrong. If in lifting burdens
from the daily life of our people we reduce inordinate and unequal
advantages too long enjoyed, this is but a necessary incident of
our return to right and justice. If we exact from unwilling minds
acquiescence in the theory of an honest distribution of the fund
of the governmental beneficence treasured up for all, we but insist
upon a principle which underlies our free institutions. When we tear
aside the delusions and misconceptions which have blinded our
countrymen to their condition under vicious tariff laws, we but
show them how far they have been led away from the paths of
contentment and prosperity. When we proclaim that the necessity
for revenue to support the Government furnishes the only
justification for taxing the people, we announce a truth so plain
that its denial would seem to indicate the extent to which judgment
may be influenced by familiarity with perversions of the taxing power.
And when we seek to reinstate the self-confidence and business
enterprise of our citizens by discrediting an abject dependence upon
governmental favor, we strive to stimulate those elements of American
character which support the hope of American achievement.
Anxiety for the redemption of the pledges which my party has made
and solicitude for the complete justification of the trust the people
have reposed in us constrain me to remind those with whom I am to
cooperate that we can succeed in doing the work which has been
especially set before us only by the most sincere, harmonious, and
disinterested effort. Even if insuperable obstacles and opposition
prevent the consummation of our task, we shall hardly be excused;
and if failure can be traced to our fault or neglect we may be sure
the people will hold us to a swift and exacting accountability.
The oath I now take to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution
of the United States not only impressively defines the great responsibility
I assume, but suggests obedience to constitutional commands as the
rule by which my official conduct must be guided. I shall to the best of
my ability and within my sphere of duty preserve the Constitution by
loyally protecting every grant of Federal power it contains, by defending
all its restraints when attacked by impatience and restlessness, and
by enforcing its limitations and reservations in favor of the States and
Fully impressed with the gravity of the duties that confront me and
mindful of my weakness, I should be appalled if it were my lot to bear
unaided the responsibilities which await me. I am, however, saved
from discouragement when I remember that I shall have the support
and the counsel and cooperation of wise and patriotic men who will
stand at my side in Cabinet places or will represent the people in
their legislative halls.
I find also much comfort in remembering that my countrymen are
just and generous and in the assurance that they will not condemn
those who by sincere devotion to their service deserve their
forbearance and approval.
Above all, I know there is a Supreme Being who rules the affairs
of men and whose goodness and mercy have always followed the
American people, and I know He will not turn from us now if we
humbly and reverently seek His powerful aid.