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John Quincy Adams
Inaugural Address, 1825
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In compliance with an usage coeval with the existence of our Federal
Constitution, and sanctioned by the example of my predecessors in
the career upon which I am about to enter, I appear, my fellow-citizens,
in your presence and in that of Heaven to bind myself by the solemnities
of religious obligation to the faithful performance of the duties allotted
to me in the station to which I have been called.

In unfolding to my countrymen the principles by which I shall be
governed in the fulfillment of those duties my first resort will be to that
Constitution which I shall swear to the best of my ability to preserve,
protect, and defend. That revered instrument enumerates the powers
and prescribes the duties of the Executive Magistrate, and in its first
words declares the purposes to which these and the whole action of the
Government instituted by it should be invariably and sacredly devoted?
to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity,
provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure
the blessings of liberty to the people of this Union in their successive
generations. Since the adoption of this social compact one of these
generations has passed away. It is the work of our forefathers. Administered
by some of the most eminent men who contributed to its formation, through
a most eventful period in the annals of the world, and through all the
vicissitudes of peace and war incidental to the condition of associated man,
it has not disappointed the hopes and aspirations of those illustrious
benefactors of their age and nation. It has promoted the lasting welfare of
that country so dear to us all; it has to an extent far beyond the ordinary lot
of humanity secured the freedom and happiness of this people. We now
receive it as a precious inheritance from those to whom we are indebted
for its establishment, doubly bound by the examples which they have left us
and by the blessings which we have enjoyed as the fruits of their labors to
transmit the same unimpaired to the succeeding generation.

In the compass of thirty-six years since this great national covenant was
instituted a body of laws enacted under its authority and in conformity with
its provisions has unfolded its powers and carried into practical operation its
effective energies. Subordinate departments have distributed the executive
functions in their various relations to foreign affairs, to the revenue and
expenditures, and to the military force of the Union by land and sea. A
coordinate department of the judiciary has expounded the Constitution
and the laws, settling in harmonious coincidence with the legislative will
numerous weighty questions of construction which the imperfection of
human language had rendered unavoidable. The year of jubilee since the
first formation of our Union has just elapsed; that of the declaration of
our independence is at hand. The consummation of both was effected by
this Constitution.

Since that period a population of four millions has multiplied to twelve.
A territory bounded by the Mississippi has been extended from sea to
sea. New States have been admitted to the Union in numbers nearly
equal to those of the first Confederation. Treaties of peace, amity, and
commerce have been concluded with the principal dominions of the earth.
The people of other nations, inhabitants of regions acquired not by
conquest, but by compact, have been united with us in the participation
of our rights and duties, of our burdens and blessings. The forest has
fallen by the ax of our woodsmen; the soil has been made to teem by
the tillage of our farmers; our commerce has whitened every ocean. The
dominion of man over physical nature has been extended by the invention
of our artists. Liberty and law have marched hand in hand. All the purposes
of human association have been accomplished as effectively as under any
other government on the globe, and at a cost little exceeding in a whole
generation the expenditure of other nations in a single year.

Such is the unexaggerated picture of our condition under a Constitution
founded upon the republican principle of equal rights. To admit that this
picture has its shades is but to say that it is still the condition of men upon
earth. From evil?physical, moral, and political?it is not our claim to be exempt.
We have suffered sometimes by the visitation of Heaven through disease;
often by the wrongs and injustice of other nations, even to the extremities
of war; and, lastly, by dissensions among ourselves?dissensions perhaps
inseparable from the enjoyment of freedom, but which have more than once
appeared to threaten the dissolution of the Union, and with it the overthrow
of all the enjoyments of our present lot and all our earthly hopes of the future.
The causes of these dissensions have been various, founded upon differences
of speculation in the theory of republican government; upon conflicting views
of policy in our relations with foreign nations; upon jealousies of partial and
sectional interests, aggravated by prejudices and prepossessions which
strangers to each other are ever apt to entertain.

It is a source of gratification and of encouragement to me to observe that
the great result of this experiment upon the theory of human rights has at
the close of that generation by which it was formed been crowned with
success equal to the most sanguine expectations of its founders. Union,
justice, tranquillity, the common defense, the general welfare, and the
blessings of liberty?all have been promoted by the Government under
which we have lived. Standing at this point of time, looking back to that
generation which has gone by and forward to that which is advancing, we
may at once indulge in grateful exultation and in cheering hope. From the
experience of the past we derive instructive lessons for the future. Of the
two great political parties which have divided the opinions and feelings of
our country, the candid and the just will now admit that both have
contributed splendid talents, spotless integrity, ardent patriotism, and
disinterested sacrifices to the formation and administration of this
Government, and that both have required a liberal indulgence for a portion
of human infirmity and error. The revolutionary wars of Europe, commencing
precisely at the moment when the Government of the United States first
went into operation under this Constitution, excited a collision of sentiments
and of sympathies which kindled all the passions and imbittered the conflict
of parties till the nation was involved in war and the Union was shaken to
its center. This time of trial embraced a period of five and twenty years,
during which the policy of the Union in its relations with Europe constituted
the principal basis of our political divisions and the most arduous part of
the action of our Federal Government. With the catastrophe in which the
wars of the French Revolution terminated, and our own subsequent peace
with Great Britain, this baneful weed of party strife was uprooted. From
that time no difference of principle, connected either with the theory of
government or with our intercourse with foreign nations, has existed or
been called forth in force sufficient to sustain a continued combination
of parties or to give more than wholesome animation to public sentiment
or legislative debate. Our political creed is, without a dissenting voice that
can be heard, that the will of the people is the source and the happiness
of the people the end of all legitimate government upon earth; that the
best security for the beneficence and the best guaranty against the
abuse of power consists in the freedom, the purity, and the frequency
of popular elections; that the General Government of the Union and the
separate governments of the States are all sovereignties of limited
powers, fellow-servants of the same masters, uncontrolled within their
respective spheres, uncontrollable by encroachments upon each other;
that the firmest security of peace is the preparation during peace of the
defenses of war; that a rigorous economy and accountability of public
expenditures should guard against the aggravation and alleviate when
possible the burden of taxation; that the military should be kept in
strict subordination to the civil power; that the freedom of the press
and of religious opinion should be inviolate; that the policy of our country
is peace and the ark of our salvation union are articles of faith upon
which we are all now agreed. If there have been those who doubted
whether a confederated representative democracy were a government
competent to the wise and orderly management of the common concerns
of a mighty nation, those doubts have been dispelled; if there have been
projects of partial confederacies to be erected upon the ruins of the
Union, they have been scattered to the winds; if there have been
dangerous attachments to one foreign nation and antipathies against
another, they have been extinguished. Ten years of peace, at home and
abroad, have assuaged the animosities of political contention and
blended into harmony the most discordant elements of public opinion.
There still remains one effort of magnanimity, one sacrifice of prejudice
and passion, to be made by the individuals throughout the nation who
have heretofore followed the standards of political party. It is that of
discarding every remnant of rancor against each other, of embracing as
countrymen and friends, and of yielding to talents and virtue alone that
confidence which in times of contention for principle was bestowed only
upon those who bore the badge of party communion.

The collisions of party spirit which originate in speculative opinions or
in different views of administrative policy are in their nature transitory.
Those which are founded on geographical divisions, adverse interests
of soil, climate, and modes of domestic life are more permanent, and
therefore, perhaps, more dangerous. It is this which gives inestimable
value to the character of our Government, at once federal and national.
It holds out to us a perpetual admonition to preserve alike and with
equal anxiety the rights of each individual State in its own government
and the rights of the whole nation in that of the Union. Whatsoever is
of domestic concernment, unconnected with the other members of the
Union or with foreign lands, belongs exclusively to the administration of
the State governments. Whatsoever directly involves the rights and
interests of the federative fraternity or of foreign powers is of the
resort of this General Government. The duties of both are obvious in
the general principle, though sometimes perplexed with difficulties in
the detail. To respect the rights of the State governments is the inviolable
duty of that of the Union; the government of every State will feel its own
obligation to respect and preserve the rights of the whole. The prejudices
everywhere too commonly entertained against distant strangers are worn
away, and the jealousies of jarring interests are allayed by the composition
and functions of the great national councils annually assembled from all
quarters of the Union at this place. Here the distinguished men from every
section of our country, while meeting to deliberate upon the great interests
of those by whom they are deputed, learn to estimate the talents and do
justice to the virtues of each other. The harmony of the nation is promoted
and the whole Union is knit together by the sentiments of mutual respect,
the habits of social intercourse, and the ties of personal friendship formed
between the representatives of its several parts in the performance of
their service at this metropolis.

Passing from this general review of the purposes and injunctions of the
Federal Constitution and their results as indicating the first traces of the
path of duty in the discharge of my public trust, I turn to the Administration
of my immediate predecessor as the second. It has passed away in a
period of profound peace, how much to the satisfaction of our country and
to the honor of our country's name is known to you all. The great features
of its policy, in general concurrence with the will of the Legislature, have
been to cherish peace while preparing for defensive war; to yield exact
justice to other nations and maintain the rights of our own; to cherish
the principles of freedom and of equal rights wherever they were
proclaimed; to discharge with all possible promptitude the national debt;
to reduce within the narrowest limits of efficiency the military force; to
improve the organization and discipline of the Army; to provide and
sustain a school of military science; to extend equal protection to all the
great interests of the nation; to promote the civilization of the Indian
tribes, and to proceed in the great system of internal improvements
within the limits of the constitutional power of the Union. Under the
pledge of these promises, made by that eminent citizen at the time of
his first induction to this office, in his career of eight years the internal
taxes have been repealed; sixty millions of the public debt have been
discharged; provision has been made for the comfort and relief of the
aged and indigent among the surviving warriors of the Revolution; the
regular armed force has been reduced and its constitution revised and
perfected; the accountability for the expenditure of public moneys has
been made more effective; the Floridas have been peaceably acquired,
and our boundary has been extended to the Pacific Ocean; the
independence of the southern nations of this hemisphere has been
recognized, and recommended by example and by counsel to the
potentates of Europe; progress has been made in the defense of the
country by fortifications and the increase of the Navy, toward the
effectual suppression of the African traffic in slaves; in alluring the
aboriginal hunters of our land to the cultivation of the soil and of the
mind, in exploring the interior regions of the Union, and in preparing by
scientific researches and surveys for the further application of our
national resources to the internal improvement of our country.

In this brief outline of the promise and performance of my immediate
predecessor the line of duty for his successor is clearly delineated.
To pursue to their consummation those purposes of improvement in
our common condition instituted or recommended by him will embrace
the whole sphere of my obligations. To the topic of internal improvement,
emphatically urged by him at his inauguration, I recur with peculiar
satisfaction. It is that from which I am convinced that the unborn millions
of our posterity who are in future ages to people this continent will
derive their most fervent gratitude to the founders of the Union; that in
which the beneficent action of its Government will be most deeply felt
and acknowledged. The magnificence and splendor of their public works
are among the imperishable glories of the ancient republics. The roads
and aqueducts of Rome have been the admiration of all after ages, and
have survived thousands of years after all her conquests have been
swallowed up in despotism or become the spoil of barbarians. Some
diversity of opinion has prevailed with regard to the powers of Congress
for legislation upon objects of this nature. The most respectful deference
is due to doubts originating in pure patriotism and sustained by
venerated authority. But nearly twenty years have passed since the
construction of the first national road was commenced. The authority
for its construction was then unquestioned. To how many thousands
of our countrymen has it proved a benefit? To what single individual has
it ever proved an injury? Repeated, liberal, and candid discussions in the
Legislature have conciliated the sentiments and approximated the
opinions of enlightened minds upon the question of constitutional power.
I can not but hope that by the same process of friendly, patient, and
persevering deliberation all constitutional objections will ultimately be
removed. The extent and limitation of the powers of the General
Government in relation to this transcendently important interest will
be settled and acknowledged to the common satisfaction of all, and
every speculative scruple will be solved by a practical public blessing.

Fellow-citizens, you are acquainted with the peculiar circumstances of
the recent election, which have resulted in affording me the opportunity
of addressing you at this time. You have heard the exposition of the
principles which will direct me in the fulfillment of the high and solemn
trust imposed upon me in this station. Less possessed of your confidence
in advance than any of my predecessors, I am deeply conscious of the
prospect that I shall stand more and oftener in need of your indulgence.
Intentions upright and pure, a heart devoted to the welfare of our
country, and the unceasing application of all the faculties allotted to me
to her service are all the pledges that I can give for the faithful
performance of the arduous duties I am to undertake. To the guidance
of the legislative councils, to the assistance of the executive and
subordinate departments, to the friendly cooperation of the respective
State governments, to the candid and liberal support of the people so
far as it may be deserved by honest industry and zeal, I shall look for
whatever success may attend my public service; and knowing that
"except the Lord keep the city the watchman waketh but in vain," with
fervent supplications for His favor, to His overruling providence I commit
with humble but fearless confidence my own fate and the future destinies
of my country.
 

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