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Grover Cleveland
First Inaugural Address, 1885
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Wednesday, March 4, 1885

Fellow-Citizens:

In the presence of this vast assemblage of my countrymen I am
about to supplement and seal by the oath which I shall take the
manifestation of the will of a great and free people. In the exercise
of their power and right of self-government they have committed
to one of their fellow-citizens a supreme and sacred trust, and he
here consecrates himself to their service.

This impressive ceremony adds little to the solemn sense of
responsibility with which I contemplate the duty I owe to all the
people of the land. Nothing can relieve me from anxiety lest by
any act of mine their interests may suffer, and nothing is needed
to strengthen my resolution to engage every faculty and effort in
the promotion of their welfare.

Amid the din of party strife the people's choice was made, but its
attendant circumstances have demonstrated anew the strength
and safety of a government by the people. In each succeeding year
it more clearly appears that our democratic principle needs no
apology, and that in its fearless and faithful application is to be
found the surest guaranty of good government.

But the best results in the operation of a government wherein
every citizen has a share largely depend upon a proper limitation
of purely partisan zeal and effort and a correct appreciation of the
time when the heat of the partisan should be merged in the
patriotism of the citizen.

To-day the executive branch of the Government is transferred to
new keeping. But this is still the Government of all the people,
and it should be none the less an object of their affectionate
solicitude. At this hour the animosities of political strife, the
bitterness of partisan defeat, and the exultation of partisan triumph
should be supplanted by an ungrudging acquiescence in the popular
will and a sober, conscientious concern for the general weal.
Moreover, if from this hour we cheerfully and honestly abandon
all sectional prejudice and distrust, and determine, with manly
confidence in one another, to work out harmoniously the achievements
of our national destiny, we shall deserve to realize all the benefits
which our happy form of government can bestow.

On this auspicious occasion we may well renew the pledge of our
devotion to the Constitution, which, launched by the founders of
the Republic and consecrated by their prayers and patriotic devotion,
has for almost a century borne the hopes and the aspirations of a
great people through prosperity and peace and through the shock
of foreign conflicts and the perils of domestic strife and vicissitudes.

By the Father of his Country our Constitution was commended
for adoption as "the result of a spirit of amity and mutual concession."
In that same spirit it should be administered, in order to promote
the lasting welfare of the country and to secure the full measure of
its priceless benefits to us and to those who will succeed to the
blessings of our national life. The large variety of diverse and
competing interests subject to Federal control, persistently seeking
the recognition of their claims, need give us no fear that "the
greatest good to the greatest number" will fail to be accomplished
if in the halls of national legislation that spirit of amity and mutual
concession shall prevail in which the Constitution had its birth. If
this involves the surrender or postponement of private interests
and the abandonment of local advantages, compensation will be
found in the assurance that the common interest is subserved
and the general welfare advanced.

In the discharge of my official duty I shall endeavor to be guided
by a just and unstrained construction of the Constitution, a careful
observance of the distinction between the powers granted to the
Federal Government and those reserved to the States or to the
people, and by a cautious appreciation of those functions which
by the Constitution and laws have been especially assigned to
the executive branch of the Government.

But he who takes the oath today to preserve, protect, and defend
the Constitution of the United States only assumes the solemn
obligation which every patriotic citizen? on the farm, in the
workshop, in the busy marts of trade, and everywhere? should
share with him. The Constitution which prescribes his oath, my
countrymen, is yours; the Government you have chosen him to
administer for a time is yours; the suffrage which executes the
will of freemen is yours; the laws and the entire scheme of our
civil rule, from the town meeting to the State capitals and the
national capital, is yours. Your every voter, as surely as your
Chief Magistrate, under the same high sanction, though in a
different sphere, exercises a public trust. Nor is this all. Every
citizen owes to the country a vigilant watch and close scrutiny of
its public servants and a fair and reasonable estimate of their
fidelity and usefulness. Thus is the people's will impressed upon
the whole framework of our civil polity? municipal, State, and
Federal; and this is the price of our liberty and the inspiration
of our faith in the Republic.

It is the duty of those serving the people in public place to
closely limit public expenditures to the actual needs of the
Government economically administered, because this bounds
the right of the Government to exact tribute from the earnings
of labor or the property of the citizen, and because public
extravagance begets extravagance among the people. We
should never be ashamed of the simplicity and prudential
economies which are best suited to the operation of a republican
form of government and most compatible with the mission of the
American people. Those who are selected for a limited time to
manage public affairs are still of the people, and may do much
by their example to encourage, consistently with the dignity of
their official functions, that plain way of life which among their
fellow-citizens aids integrity and promotes thrift and prosperity.

The genius of our institutions, the needs of our people in their
home life, and the attention which is demanded for the settlement
and development of the resources of our vast territory dictate the
scrupulous avoidance of any departure from that foreign policy
commended by the history, the traditions, and the prosperity of
our Republic. It is the policy of independence, favored by our
position and defended by our known love of justice and by our
power. It is the policy of peace suitable to our interests. It is the
policy of neutrality, rejecting any share in foreign broils and
ambitions upon other continents and repelling their intrusion
here. It is the policy of Monroe and of Washington and Jefferson?
"Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations; entangling
alliance with none."

A due regard for the interests and prosperity of all the people
demands that our finances shall be established upon such a
sound and sensible basis as shall secure the safety and confidence
of business interests and make the wage of labor sure and steady,
and that our system of revenue shall be so adjusted as to relieve
the people of unnecessary taxation, having a due regard to the
interests of capital invested and workingmen employed in American
industries, and preventing the accumulation of a surplus in the
Treasury to tempt extravagance and waste.

Care for the property of the nation and for the needs of future
settlers requires that the public domain should be protected
from purloining schemes and unlawful occupation.

The conscience of the people demands that the Indians within
our boundaries shall be fairly and honestly treated as wards of
the Government and their education and civilization promoted
with a view to their ultimate citizenship, and that polygamy in
the Territories, destructive of the family relation and offensive
to the moral sense of the civilized world, shall be repressed.

The laws should be rigidly enforced which prohibit the immigration
of a servile class to compete with American labor, with no intention
of acquiring citizenship, and bringing with them and retaining habits
and customs repugnant to our civilization.

The people demand reform in the administration of the Government
and the application of business principles to public affairs. As a means
to this end, civil-service reform should be in good faith enforced. Our
citizens have the right to protection from the incompetency of public
employees who hold their places solely as the reward of partisan
service, and from the corrupting influence of those who promise
and the vicious methods of those who expect such rewards; and
those who worthily seek public employment have the right to insist
that merit and competency shall be recognized instead of party
subserviency or the surrender of honest political belief.

In the administration of a government pledged to do equal and
exact justice to all men there should be no pretext for anxiety
touching the protection of the freedmen in their rights or their
security in the enjoyment of their privileges under the Constitution
and its amendments. All discussion as to their fitness for the place
accorded to them as American citizens is idle and unprofitable
except as it suggests the necessity for their improvement. The
fact that they are citizens entitles them to all the rights due to
that relation and charges them with all its duties, obligations,
and responsibilities.

These topics and the constant and ever-varying wants of an
active and enterprising population may well receive the attention
and the patriotic endeavor of all who make and execute the
Federal law. Our duties are practical and call for industrious
application, an intelligent perception of the claims of public office,
and, above all, a firm determination, by united action, to secure
to all the people of the land the full benefits of the best form of
government ever vouchsafed to man. And let us not trust to
human effort alone, but humbly acknowledging the power and
goodness of Almighty God, who presides over the destiny of
nations, and who has at all times been revealed in our country's
history, let us invoke His aid and His blessings upon our labors.
 

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