your online library and language lab
Contents > Author > Rutherford B. Hayes > Inaugural Address, 1877 1822- 1893
Previous Next

Rutherford B. Hayes
Inaugural Address, 1877
printer friendly version
Monday, March 5, 1877


We have assembled to repeat the public ceremonial, begun by
Washington, observed by all my predecessors, and now a
time-honored custom, which marks the commencement of a
new term of the Presidential office. Called to the duties of this
great trust, I proceed, in compliance with usage, to announce
some of the leading principles, on the subjects that now chiefly
engage the public attention, by which it is my desire to be guided
in the discharge of those duties. I shall not undertake to lay down
irrevocably principles or measures of administration, but rather to
speak of the motives which should animate us, and to suggest
certain important ends to be attained in accordance with our
institutions and essential to the welfare of our country.

At the outset of the discussions which preceded the recent
Presidential election it seemed to me fitting that I should fully
make known my sentiments in regard to several of the important
questions which then appeared to demand the consideration of
the country. Following the example, and in part adopting the language,
of one of my predecessors, I wish now, when every motive for
misrepresentation has passed away, to repeat what was said
before the election, trusting that my countrymen will candidly weigh
and understand it, and that they will feel assured that the sentiments
declared in accepting the nomination for the Presidency will be the
standard of my conduct in the path before me, charged, as I now
am, with the grave and difficult task of carrying them out in the
practical administration of the Government so far as depends,
under the Constitution and laws on the Chief Executive of the

The permanent pacification of the country upon such principles
and by such measures as will secure the complete protection of
all its citizens in the free enjoyment of all their constitutional rights
is now the one subject in our public affairs which all thoughtful and
patriotic citizens regard as of supreme importance.

Many of the calamitous efforts of the tremendous revolution which
has passed over the Southern States still remain. The immeasurable
benefits which will surely follow, sooner or later, the hearty and
generous acceptance of the legitimate results of that revolution
have not yet been realized. Difficult and embarrassing questions
meet us at the threshold of this subject. The people of those States
are still impoverished, and the inestimable blessing of wise, honest,
and peaceful local self-government is not fully enjoyed. Whatever
difference of opinion may exist as to the cause of this condition of
things, the fact is clear that in the progress of events the time has
come when such government is the imperative necessity required
by all the varied interests, public and private, of those States. But
it must not be forgotten that only a local government which
recognizes and maintains inviolate the rights of all is a true

With respect to the two distinct races whose peculiar relations to
each other have brought upon us the deplorable complications and
perplexities which exist in those States, it must be a government
which guards the interests of both races carefully and equally. It
must be a government which submits loyally and heartily to the
Constitution and the laws? the laws of the nation and the laws
of the States themselves? accepting and obeying faithfully the
whole Constitution as it is.

Resting upon this sure and substantial foundation, the
superstructure of beneficent local governments can be built up,
and not otherwise. In furtherance of such obedience to the
letter and the spirit of the Constitution, and in behalf of all that
its attainment implies, all so-called party interests lose their
apparent importance, and party lines may well be permitted to
fade into insignificance. The question we have to consider for
the immediate welfare of those States of the Union is the question
of government or no government; of social order and all the peaceful
industries and the happiness that belongs to it, or a return to
barbarism. It is a question in which every citizen of the nation is
deeply interested, and with respect to which we ought not to be,
in a partisan sense, either Republicans or Democrats, but fellow-citizens
and fellowmen, to whom the interests of a common country and a
common humanity are dear.

The sweeping revolution of the entire labor system of a large
portion of our country and the advance of 4,000,000 people from
a condition of servitude to that of citizenship, upon an equal footing
with their former masters, could not occur without presenting
problems of the gravest moment, to be dealt with by the emancipated
race, by their former masters, and by the General Government, the
author of the act of emancipation. That it was a wise, just, and
providential act, fraught with good for all concerned, is not generally
conceded throughout the country. That a moral obligation rests
upon the National Government to employ its constitutional power
and influence to establish the rights of the people it has emancipated,
and to protect them in the enjoyment of those rights when they are
infringed or assailed, is also generally admitted.

The evils which afflict the Southern States can only be removed or
remedied by the united and harmonious efforts of both races,
actuated by motives of mutual sympathy and regard; and while in
duty bound and fully determined to protect the rights of all by every
constitutional means at the disposal of my Administration, I am
sincerely anxious to use every legitimate influence in favor of honest
and efficient local self-government as the true resource of those
States for the promotion of the contentment and prosperity of their
citizens. In the effort I shall make to accomplish this purpose I ask
the cordial cooperation of all who cherish an interest in the welfare
of the country, trusting that party ties and the prejudice of race will
be freely surrendered in behalf of the great purpose to be
accomplished. In the important work of restoring the South it is not
the political situation alone that merits attention. The material
development of that section of the country has been arrested by
the social and political revolution through which it has passed, and
now needs and deserves the considerate care of the National
Government within the just limits prescribed by the Constitution
and wise public economy.

But at the basis of all prosperity, for that as well as for every
other part of the country, lies the improvement of the intellectual
and moral condition of the people. Universal suffrage should rest
upon universal education. To this end, liberal and permanent provision
should be made for the support of free schools by the State
governments, and, if need be, supplemented by legitimate aid from
national authority.

Let me assure my countrymen of the Southern States that it is my
earnest desire to regard and promote their truest interest? the
interests of the white and of the colored people both and equally?
and to put forth my best efforts in behalf of a civil policy which will
forever wipe out in our political affairs the color line and the
distinction between North and South, to the end that we may have
not merely a united North or a united South, but a united country.

I ask the attention of the public to the paramount necessity of
reform in our civil service? a reform not merely as to certain abuses
and practices of so-called official patronage which have come to
have the sanction of usage in the several Departments of our
Government, but a change in the system of appointment itself;
a reform that shall be thorough, radical, and complete; a return
to the principles and practices of the founders of the Government.
They neither expected nor desired from public officers any partisan
service. They meant that public officers should owe their whole
service to the Government and to the people. They meant that
the officer should be secure in his tenure as long as his personal
character remained untarnished and the performance of his duties
satisfactory. They held that appointments to office were not to be
made nor expected merely as rewards for partisan services, nor
merely on the nomination of members of Congress, as being
entitled in any respect to the control of such appointments.

The fact that both the great political parties of the country, in
declaring their principles prior to the election, gave a prominent
place to the subject of reform of our civil service, recognizing and
strongly urging its necessity, in terms almost identical in their
specific import with those I have here employed, must be accepted
as a conclusive argument in behalf of these measures. It must be
regarded as the expression of the united voice and will of the whole
country upon this subject, and both political parties are virtually
pledged to give it their unreserved support.

The President of the United States of necessity owes his election
to office to the suffrage and zealous labors of a political party, the
members of which cherish with ardor and regard as of essential
importance the principles of their party organization; but he should
strive to be always mindful of the fact that he serves his party best
who serves the country best.

In furtherance of the reform we seek, and in other important respects
a change of great importance, I recommend an amendment to the
Constitution prescribing a term of six years for the Presidential office
and forbidding a reelection.

With respect to the financial condition of the country, I shall not
attempt an extended history of the embarrassment and prostration
which we have suffered during the past three years. The depression
in all our varied commercial and manufacturing interests throughout
the country, which began in September, 1873, still continues. It is
very gratifying, however, to be able to say that there are indications
all around us of a coming change to prosperous times.

Upon the currency question, intimately connected, as it is, with
this topic, I may be permitted to repeat here the statement made
in my letter of acceptance, that in my judgment the feeling of
uncertainty inseparable from an irredeemable paper currency, with
its fluctuation of values, is one of the greatest obstacles to a return
to prosperous times. The only safe paper currency is one which
rests upon a coin basis and is at all times and promptly convertible
into coin.

I adhere to the views heretofore expressed by me in favor of
Congressional legislation in behalf of an early resumption of
specie payments, and I am satisfied not only that this is wise,
but that the interests, as well as the public sentiment, of the
country imperatively demand it.

Passing from these remarks upon the condition of our own
country to consider our relations with other lands, we are
reminded by the international complications abroad, threatening
the peace of Europe, that our traditional rule of noninterference
in the affairs of foreign nations has proved of great value in
past times and ought to be strictly observed.

The policy inaugurated by my honored predecessor, President
Grant, of submitting to arbitration grave questions in dispute
between ourselves and foreign powers points to a new, and
incomparably the best, instrumentality for the preservation of
peace, and will, as I believe, become a beneficent example of
the course to be pursued in similar emergencies by other nations.

If, unhappily, questions of difference should at any time during
the period of my Administration arise between the United States
and any foreign government, it will certainly be my disposition
and my hope to aid in their settlement in the same peaceful and
honorable way, thus securing to our country the great blessings
of peace and mutual good offices with all the nations of the world.

Fellow-citizens, we have reached the close of a political contest
marked by the excitement which usually attends the contests
between great political parties whose members espouse and
advocate with earnest faith their respective creeds. The
circumstances were, perhaps, in no respect extraordinary
save in the closeness and the consequent uncertainty of the

For the first time in the history of the country it has been deemed
best, in view of the peculiar circumstances of the case, that the
objections and questions in dispute with reference to the counting
of the electoral votes should be referred to the decision of a
tribunal appointed for this purpose.

That tribunal? established by law for this sole purpose; its members,
all of them, men of long-established reputation for integrity and
intelligence, and, with the exception of those who are also members
of the supreme judiciary, chosen equally from both political parties;
its deliberations enlightened by the research and the arguments of
able counsel? was entitled to the fullest confidence of the American
people. Its decisions have been patiently waited for, and accepted
as legally conclusive by the general judgment of the public. For the
present, opinion will widely vary as to the wisdom of the several
conclusions announced by that tribunal. This is to be anticipated
in every instance where matters of dispute are made the subject
of arbitration under the forms of law. Human judgment is never
unerring, and is rarely regarded as otherwise than wrong by the
unsuccessful party in the contest.

The fact that two great political parties have in this way settled
a dispute in regard to which good men differ as to the facts and
the law no less than as to the proper course to be pursued in
solving the question in controversy is an occasion for general

Upon one point there is entire unanimity in public sentiment?
that conflicting claims to the Presidency must be amicably and
peaceably adjusted, and that when so adjusted the general
acquiescence of the nation ought surely to follow.

It has been reserved for a government of the people, where
the right of suffrage is universal, to give to the world the first
example in history of a great nation, in the midst of the struggle
of opposing parties for power, hushing its party tumults to yield
the issue of the contest to adjustment according to the forms
of law.

Looking for the guidance of that Divine Hand by which the
destinies of nations and individuals are shaped, I call upon
you, Senators, Representatives, judges, fellow-citizens, here
and everywhere, to unite with me in an earnest effort to secure
to our country the blessings, not only of material prosperity,
but of justice, peace, and union? a union depending not upon
the constraint of force, but upon the loving devotion of a free
people; "and that all things may be so ordered and settled
upon the best and surest foundations that peace and happiness,
truth and justice, religion and piety, may be established among
us for all generations."

Previous Next

12979414 visitors
· 8908 texts · 2350 recordings · 957 authors · 194 readers

· Home · Index · Audio Clips · Links · Feedback · About Us · Contact Us ·

Copyright © All Rights Reserved.