THOMAS JEFFERSON'S FIRST INAUGURAL ADDRESS:

Called upon to undertake the duties of the first
executive office of our country, I avail myself of the
presence of that portion of my fellow citizens which
is here assembled to express my grateful thanks for
the favor with which they have been pleased to look
toward me, to declare a sincere consciousness that the
task is above my talents, and that I approach it with
those anxious and awful presentiments which the
greatness of the charge and the weakness of my powers
so justly inspire.  A rising nation, spread over a
wide and fruitful land, traversing all the seas with
the rich productions of their industry, engaged in
commerce with nations who feel power and forget right,
advancing rapidly to destinies beyond the reach of
mortal eye, when I contemplate these transcendent
objects, and see the honor, the happiness, and the
hopes of this beloved country committed to the issue,
and the auspices of this day, I shrink from the
contemplation, and humble myself before the magnitude
of the undertaking.  Utterly, indeed, should I despair
did not the presence of many whom I see here remind me
that in the other high authorities provided by our
Constitution I shall find resources of wisdom, of
virtue, and of zeal on which to rely under all
difficulties.  To you, then, gentlemen, who are
charged with the sovereign functions of legislation,
and to those associate with you, I look with
encouragement for that guidance and support which may
enable us to steer with safety the vessel in which we
are all embarked amidst the conflicting elements of a
troubled world.
        During the contest of opinion through which we
have passed the animation of discussions and of
exertions has sometimes worn an aspect which might
impose on strangers unused to think freely and to speak
and to write what they think; but this being now
decided by the voice of the nation, announced according
to the rules of the Constitution, all will of course
arrange themselves under the will of the law, and unite
in common efforts for the common good.  All, too, will
bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the
will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that
will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the
minority possesses their equal rights, which equal law
must protect, and to violate would be oppression.  Let
us, then, fellow citizens, unite with one heart and
one mind.  Let us restore to social intercourse that
harmony and affection without which liberty and even
life itself are but dreary things.  And let us reflect
that, having banished from our land that religious
intolerance under which mankind so long bled and
suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance
a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and
capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions.  During
the throes and convulsions of the ancient world, during
the agonizing spasms of infuriated man, seeking through
blood and slaughter his long lost liberty, it was not
wonderful that the agitation of the billows should
reach even this distant and peaceful shore; that this
should be more felt and feared by some and less by
others, and should divide opinions as to measures of
safety.  But every difference of opinion is not a
difference of principle.  We have called by different
names brethren of the same principle.  We are all
republicans, we are all federalists.  If there be any
among us who would wish to dissolve the Union or to
change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed
as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion
may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat
it.  I know, indeed, that some honest men fear that a
republican government can not be strong, that this
Government is not strong enough; but would the honest
patriot, in the full tide of successful experiment,
abandon a government which has so far kept us free and
firm on the theoretic and visionary fear that this
Government, the world's best hope, may by possibility
want energy to preserve itself?  I trust not.  I
believe this, on the contrary, the strongest Government
on earth.  I believe it the only one where every man,
at the call of the law, would fly to the standard of
the law, and would meet invasions of the public order
as his own personal concern.  Sometimes it is said that
man cannot be trusted with the government of himself.
Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others?
Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern
him?  Let history answer this question.
        Let us, then, with courage and confidence pursue
our own Federal and Republican principles, our
attachment to union and representative government.
Kindly separated by nature and a wide ocean from the
exterminating havoc of one quarter of the globe; too
high-minded to endure the degradations of the others;
possessing a chosen country, with room enough for our
descendants to the thousandth and thousandth
generation; entertaining a due sense of our equal right
to the use of our own faculties, to the acquisitions of
our own industry, to honor and confidence from our
fellow citizens, resulting not from birth, but from our
actions and their sense of them; enlightened by a
benign religion, professed, indeed, and practiced in
various forms, yet all of them inculcating honesty,
truth, temperance, gratitude, and the love of man;
acknowledging and adoring an overruling Providence,
which by all its dispensations proves that it delights
in the happiness of man here and his greater happiness
hereafter, with all these blessings, what more is
necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people?
Still one thing more, fellow citizens, a wise and
frugal Government, which shall restrain men from
injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free
to regulate their own pursuits of industry and
improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor
the bread it has earned.  This is the sum of good
government, and this is necessary to close the circle
of our felicities.
        About to enter, fellow citizens, on the exercise
of duties which comprehend everything dear and valuable
to you, it is proper you should understand what I deem
the essential principles of our Government, and
consequently those which ought to shape its
Administration.  I will compress them within the
narrowest compass they will bear, stating the general
principle, but not all its limitations.  Equal and
exact justice to all men, of whatever state or
persuasion, religious or political; peace, commerce,
and honest friendship with all nations, entangling
alliances with none; the support of the State
governments in all their rights, as the most competent
administrations for our domestic concerns and the
surest bulwarks against anti-republican tendencies; the
preservation of the General Government in its whole
constitutional vigor, as the sheet anchor of our peace
at home and safety abroad; a jealous care of the right
of election by the people, a mild and safe corrective
of abuses which are lopped by the sword of revolution
where peaceable remedies are unprovided; absolute
acquiescence in the decisions of the majority, the
vital principle of republics, from which is no appeal
but to force, the vital principle and immediate parent
of despotism; a well disciplined militia, our best
reliance in peace and for the first moments of war,
till regulars may relieve them; the supremacy of the
civil over the military authority; economy in the public
expense, that labor may be lightly burthened; the honest
payment of our debts and sacred preservation of the
public faith; encouragement of agriculture, and of
commerce as its handmaid; the diffusion of information
and arraignment of all abuses at the bar of the public
reason; freedom of religion; freedom of the press, and
freedom of person under the protection of the habeas
corpus, and trial by juries impartially selected.

These principles form the bright constellation which
has gone before us and guided our steps through an age
of revolution and reformation.  The wisdom of our
sages and blood of our heroes have been devoted to
their attainment.  They should be the creed of our
political faith, the text of civic instruction, the
touchstone by which to try the services of those we
trust; and should we wander from them in moments of
error or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps
and to regain the road which alone leads to peace,
liberty, and safety.
        I repair, then, fellow citizens, to the post you
have assigned me.  With experience enough in
subordinate offices to have seen the difficulties of
this the greatest of all, I have learnt to expect that
it will rarely fall to the lot of imperfect man to
retire from this station with the reputation and the
favor which bring him into it.  Without pretensions to
that high confidence you reposed in our first and
greatest revolutionary character, whose preeminent
services had entitled him to the first place in his
country's love and destined for him the fairest page
in the volume of faithful history, I ask so much
confidence only as may give firmness and effect to the
legal administration of your affairs.  I shall often go
wrong through defect of judgment.  When right, I shall
often be thought wrong by those whose positions will
not command a view of the whole ground.  I ask your
indulgence for my own errors, which will never be
intentional, and your support against the errors of
others, who may condemn what they would not if seen in
all its parts.  The approbation implied by your
suffrage is a great consolation to me for the past, and
my future solicitude will be to retain the good opinion
of those who have bestowed it in advance, to conciliate
that of others by doing them all the good in my power,
and to be instrumental to the happiness and freedom of
all.
        Relying, then, on the patronage of your good will,
I advance with obedience to the work, ready to retire
from it whenever you become sensible how much better
choice it is in your power to make.  And may that
Infinite Power which rules the destinies of the
universe lead our councils to what is best, and give
them a favorable issue for your peace and prosperity.

 

 
 
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