First Inaugural Address, 1829
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About to undertake the arduous duties that I have been
appointed to perform by the choice of a free people, I avail
myself of this customary and solemn occasion to express the
gratitude which their confidence inspires and to acknowledge
the accountability which my situation enjoins. While the magnitude
of their interests convinces me that no thanks can be adequate
to the honor they have conferred, it admonishes me that the best
return I can make is the zealous dedication of my humble abilities
to their service and their good.
As the instrument of the Federal Constitution it will devolve on me
for a stated period to execute the laws of the United States, to
superintend their foreign and their confederate relations, to manage
their revenue, to command their forces, and, by communications to
the Legislature, to watch over and to promote their interests generally.
And the principles of action by which I shall endeavor to accomplish
this circle of duties it is now proper for me briefly to explain.
In administering the laws of Congress I shall keep steadily in view
the limitations as well as the extent of the Executive power, trusting
thereby to discharge the functions of my office without transcending
its authority. With foreign nations it will be my study to preserve
peace and to cultivate friendship on fair and honorable terms, and in
the adjustment of any differences that may exist or arise to exhibit
the forbearance becoming a powerful nation rather than the sensibility
belonging to a gallant people.
In such measures as I may be called on to pursue in regard to the
rights of the separate States I hope to be animated by a proper respect
for those sovereign members of our Union, taking care not to confound
the powers they have reserved to themselves with those they have
granted to the Confederacy.
The management of the public revenue?that searching operation
in all governments?is among the most delicate and important trusts
in ours, and it will, of course, demand no inconsiderable share of my
official solicitude. Under every aspect in which it can be considered
it would appear that advantage must result from the observance of
a strict and faithful economy. This I shall aim at the more anxiously
both because it will facilitate the extinguishment of the national debt,
the unnecessary duration of which is incompatible with real
independence, and because it will counteract that tendency to public
and private profligacy which a profuse expenditure of money by the
Government is but too apt to engender. Powerful auxiliaries to the
attainment of this desirable end are to be found in the regulations
provided by the wisdom of Congress for the specific appropriation
of public money and the prompt accountability of public officers.
With regard to a proper selection of the subjects of impost
with a view to revenue, it would seem to me that the spirit of
equity, caution, and compromise in which the Constitution was
formed requires that the great interests of agriculture, commerce,
and manufactures should be equally favored, and that perhaps
the only exception to this rule should consist in the peculiar
encouragement of any products of either of them that may be
found essential to our national independence.
Internal improvement and the diffusion of knowledge, so far
as they can be promoted by the constitutional acts of the Federal
Government, are of high importance.
Considering standing armies as dangerous to free governments
in time of peace, I shall not seek to enlarge our present
establishment, nor disregard that salutary lesson of political
experience which teaches that the military should be held subordinate
to the civil power. The gradual increase of our Navy, whose flag has
displayed in distant climes our skill in navigation and our fame in
arms; the preservation of our forts, arsenals, and dockyards, and
the introduction of progressive improvements in the discipline
and science of both branches of our military service are so plainly
prescribed by prudence that I should be excused for omitting their
mention sooner than for enlarging on their importance. But the
bulwark of our defense is the national militia, which in the present
state of our intelligence and population must render us invincible.
As long as our Government is administered for the good of the
people, and is regulated by their will; as long as it secures to us
the rights of person and of property, liberty of conscience and of
the press, it will be worth defending; and so long as it is worth
defending a patriotic militia will cover it with an impenetrable aegis.
Partial injuries and occasional mortifications we may be subjected
to, but a million of armed freemen, possessed of the means of war,
can never be conquered by a foreign foe. To any just system,
therefore, calculated to strengthen this natural safeguard of the
country I shall cheerfully lend all the aid in my power.
It will be my sincere and constant desire to observe toward
the Indian tribes within our limits a just and liberal policy, and to
give that humane and considerate attention to their rights and
their wants which is consistent with the habits of our Government
and the feelings of our people.
The recent demonstration of public sentiment inscribes on the
list of Executive duties, in characters too legible to be overlooked,
the task of reform, which will require particularly the correction of
those abuses that have brought the patronage of the Federal
Government into conflict with the freedom of elections, and the
counteraction of those causes which have disturbed the rightful
course of appointment and have placed or continued power in
unfaithful or incompetent hands.
In the performance of a task thus generally delineated I shall
endeavor to select men whose diligence and talents will insure
in their respective stations able and faithful cooperation, depending
for the advancement of the public service more on the integrity and
zeal of the public officers than on their numbers.
A diffidence, perhaps too just, in my own qualifications will teach
me to look with reverence to the examples of public virtue left by
my illustrious predecessors, and with veneration to the lights that
flow from the mind that founded and the mind that reformed our
system. The same diffidence induces me to hope for instruction
and aid from the coordinate branches of the Government, and
for the indulgence and support of my fellow-citizens generally.
And a firm reliance on the goodness of that Power whose
providence mercifully protected our national infancy, and has
since upheld our liberties in various vicissitudes, encourages
me to offer up my ardent supplications that He will continue to
make our beloved country the object of His divine care and