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Contents > Author > James Madison > Second Inaugural Address, 1813 1751- 1836
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James Madison
Second Inaugural Address, 1813
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About to add the solemnity of an oath to the obligations imposed by
a second call to the station in which my country heretofore placed me,
I find in the presence of this respectable assembly an opportunity of
publicly repeating my profound sense of so distinguished a confidence
and of the responsibility united with it. The impressions on me are
strengthened by such an evidence that my faithful endeavors to
discharge my arduous duties have been favorably estimated, and by
a consideration of the momentous period at which the trust has been
renewed. From the weight and magnitude now belonging to it I should
be compelled to shrink if I had less reliance on the support of an
enlightened and generous people, and felt less deeply a conviction that
the war with a powerful nation, which forms so prominent a feature in
our situation, is stamped with that justice which invites the smiles of
Heaven on the means of conducting it to a successful termination.

May we not cherish this sentiment without presumption when we reflect
on the characters by which this war is distinguished?

It was not declared on the part of the United States until it had been
long made on them, in reality though not in name; until arguments and
postulations had been exhausted; until a positive declaration had been
received that the wrongs provoking it would not be discontinued; nor
until this last appeal could no longer be delayed without breaking down
the spirit of the nation, destroying all confidence in itself and in its
political institutions, and either perpetuating a state of disgraceful
suffering or regaining by more costly sacrifices and more severe
struggles our lost rank and respect among independent powers.

On the issue of the war are staked our national sovereignty on the high
seas and the security of an important class of citizens, whose occupations
give the proper value to those of every other class. Not to contend for
such a stake is to surrender our equality with other powers on the
element common to all and to violate the sacred title which every
member of the society has to its protection. I need not call into view
the unlawfulness of the practice by which our mariners are forced at
the will of every cruising officer from their own vessels into foreign
ones, nor paint the outrages inseparable from it. The proofs are in
the records of each successive Administration of our Government,
and the cruel sufferings of that portion of the American people have
found their way to every bosom not dead to the sympathies of human

As the war was just in its origin and necessary and noble in its objects,
we can reflect with a proud satisfaction that in carrying it on no principle
of justice or honor, no usage of civilized nations, no precept of courtesy
or humanity, have been infringed. The war has been waged on our part
with scrupulous regard to all these obligations, and in a spirit of liberality
which was never surpassed.

How little has been the effect of this example on the conduct of the

They have retained as prisoners of war citizens of the United States
not liable to be so considered under the usages of war.

They have refused to consider as prisoners of war, and threatened
to punish as traitors and deserters, persons emigrating without
restraint to the United States, incorporated by naturalization into
our political family, and fighting under the authority of their adopted
country in open and honorable war for the maintenance of its rights
and safety. Such is the avowed purpose of a Government which is
in the practice of naturalizing by thousands citizens of other countries,
and not only of permitting but compelling them to fight its battles
against their native country.

They have not, it is true, taken into their own hands the hatchet
and the knife, devoted to indiscriminate massacre, but they have
let loose the savages armed with these cruel instruments; have
allured them into their service, and carried them to battle by their
sides, eager to glut their savage thirst with the blood of the
vanquished and to finish the work of torture and death on maimed
and defenseless captives. And, what was never before seen, British
commanders have extorted victory over the unconquerable valor of
our troops by presenting to the sympathy of their chief captives
awaiting massacre from their savage associates. And now we find
them, in further contempt of the modes of honorable warfare,
supplying the place of a conquering force by attempts to disorganize
our political society, to dismember our confederated Republic. Happily,
like others, these will recoil on the authors; but they mark the
degenerate counsels from which they emanate, and if they did not
belong to a sense of unexampled inconsistencies might excite the
greater wonder as proceeding from a Government which founded the
very war in which it has been so long engaged on a charge against
the disorganizing and insurrectional policy of its adversary.

To render the justice of the war on our part the more conspicuous,
the reluctance to commence it was followed by the earliest and
strongest manifestations of a disposition to arrest its progress.
The sword was scarcely out of the scabbard before the enemy was
apprised of the reasonable terms on which it would be resheathed.
Still more precise advances were repeated, and have been received
in a spirit forbidding every reliance not placed on the military resources
of the nation.

These resources are amply sufficient to bring the war to an honorable
issue. Our nation is in number more than half that of the British Isles.
It is composed of a brave, a free, a virtuous, and an intelligent people.
Our country abounds in the necessaries, the arts, and the comforts of
life. A general prosperity is visible in the public countenance. The means
employed by the British cabinet to undermine it have recoiled on
themselves; have given to our national faculties a more rapid
development, and, draining or diverting the precious metals from British
circulation and British vaults, have poured them into those of the United
States. It is a propitious consideration that an unavoidable war should
have found this seasonable facility for the contributions required to
support it. When the public voice called for war, all knew, and still know,
that without them it could not be carried on through the period which it
might last, and the patriotism, the good sense, and the manly spirit of
our fellow-citizens are pledges for the cheerfulness with which they will
bear each his share of the common burden. To render the war short
and its success sure, animated and systematic exertions alone are
necessary, and the success of our arms now may long preserve our
country from the necessity of another resort to them. Already have the
gallant exploits of our naval heroes proved to the world our inherent
capacity to maintain our rights on one element. If the reputation of our
arms has been thrown under clouds on the other, presaging flashes of
heroic enterprise assure us that nothing is wanting to correspondent
triumphs there also but the discipline and habits which are in daily

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