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John Adams
Inaugural Address, 1797
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When it was first perceived, in early times, that no middle course for
America remained between unlimited submission to a foreign legislature
and a total independence of its claims, men of reflection were less
apprehensive of danger from the formidable power of fleets and armies
they must determine to resist than from those contests and dissensions
which would certainly arise concerning the forms of government to be
instituted over the whole and over the parts of this extensive country.
Relying, however, on the purity of their intentions, the justice of their
cause, and the integrity and intelligence of the people, under an
overruling Providence which had so signally protected this country from
the first, the representatives of this nation, then consisting of little more
than half its present number, not only broke to pieces the chains which
were forging and the rod of iron that was lifted up, but frankly cut
asunder the ties which had bound them, and launched into an ocean
of uncertainty.

The zeal and ardor of the people during the Revolutionary war, supplying
the place of government, commanded a degree of order sufficient at
least for the temporary preservation of society. The Confederation which
was early felt to be necessary was prepared from the models of the
Batavian and Helvetic confederacies, the only examples which remain
with any detail and precision in history, and certainly the only ones which
the people at large had ever considered. But reflecting on the striking
difference in so many particulars between this country and those where
a courier may go from the seat of government to the frontier in a single
day, it was then certainly foreseen by some who assisted in Congress
at the formation of it that it could not be durable.

Negligence of its regulations, inattention to its recommendations, if not
disobedience to its authority, not only in individuals but in States, soon
appeared with their melancholy consequences?universal languor,
jealousies and rivalries of States, decline of navigation and commerce,
discouragement of necessary manufactures, universal fall in the value
of lands and their produce, contempt of public and private faith, loss of
consideration and credit with foreign nations, and at length in
discontents, animosities, combinations, partial conventions, and
insurrection, threatening some great national calamity.

In this dangerous crisis the people of America were not abandoned
by their usual good sense, presence of mind, resolution, or integrity.
Measures were pursued to concert a plan 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. The public disquisitions, discussions, and deliberations issued
in the present happy Constitution of Government.

Employed in the service of my country abroad during the whole course
of these transactions, I first saw the Constitution of the United States
in a foreign country. Irritated by no literary altercation, animated by
no public debate, heated by no party animosity, I read it with great
satisfaction, as the result of good heads prompted by good hearts,
as an experiment better adapted to the genius, character, situation,
and relations of this nation and country than any which had ever been
proposed or suggested. In its general principles and great outlines it
was conformable to such a system of government as I had ever most
esteemed, and in some States, my own native State in particular, had
contributed to establish. Claiming a right of suffrage, in common with
my fellow-citizens, in the adoption or rejection of a constitution which
was to rule me and my posterity, as well as them and theirs, I did not
hesitate to express my approbation of it on all occasions, in public and
in private. It was not then, nor has been since, any objection to it in
my mind that the Executive and Senate were not more permanent.
Nor have I ever entertained a thought of promoting any alteration in
it but such as the people themselves, in the course of their experience,
should see and feel to be necessary or expedient, and by their
representatives in Congress and the State legislatures, according to
the Constitution itself, adopt and ordain.

Returning to the bosom of my country after a painful separation from
it for ten years, I had the honor to be elected to a station under the
new order of things, and I have repeatedly laid myself under the most
serious obligations to support the Constitution. The operation of it has
equaled the most sanguine expectations of its friends, and from an
habitual attention to it, satisfaction in its administration, and delight in
its effects upon the peace, order, prosperity, and happiness of the
nation I have acquired an habitual attachment to it and veneration for it.

What other form of government, indeed, can so well deserve our
esteem and love?

There may be little solidity in an ancient idea that congregations of
men into cities and nations are the most pleasing objects in the sight
of superior intelligences, but this is very certain, that to a benevolent
human mind there can be no spectacle presented by any nation more
pleasing, more noble, majestic, or august, than an assembly like that
which has so often been seen in this and the other Chamber of
Congress, of a Government in which the Executive authority, as well
as that of all the branches of the Legislature, are exercised by citizens
selected at regular periods by their neighbors to make and execute
laws for the general good. Can anything essential, anything more
than mere ornament and decoration, be added to this by robes and
diamonds? Can authority be more amiable and respectable when it
descends from accidents or institutions established in remote antiquity
than when it springs fresh from the hearts and judgments of an honest
and enlightened people? For it is the people only that are represented.
It is their power and majesty that is reflected, and only for their good,
in every legitimate government, under whatever form it may appear.
The existence of such a government as ours for any length of time is
a full proof of a general dissemination of knowledge and virtue
throughout the whole body of the people. And what object or
consideration more pleasing than this can be presented to the
human mind? If national pride is ever justifiable or excusable it is
when it springs, not from power or riches, grandeur or glory, but from
conviction of national innocence, information, and benevolence.

In the midst of these pleasing ideas we should be unfaithful to
ourselves if we should ever lose sight of the danger to our liberties
if anything partial or extraneous should infect the purity of our free,
fair, virtuous, and independent elections. If an election is to be
determined by a majority of a single vote, and that can be procured
by a party through artifice or corruption, the Government may be the
choice of a party for its own ends, not of the nation for the national
good. If that solitary suffrage can be obtained by foreign nations by
flattery or menaces, by fraud or violence, by terror, intrigue, or venality,
the Government may not be the choice of the American people, but of
foreign nations. It may be foreign nations who govern us, and not we,
the people, who govern ourselves; and candid men will acknowledge
that in such cases choice would have little advantage to boast of
over lot or chance.

Such is the amiable and interesting system of government (and
such are some of the abuses to which it may be exposed) which the
people of America have exhibited to the admiration and anxiety of
the wise and virtuous of all nations for eight years under the
administration of a citizen who, by a long course of great actions,
regulated by prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude,
conducting a people inspired with the same virtues and animated
with the same ardent patriotism and love of liberty to independence
and peace, to increasing wealth and unexampled prosperity, has
merited the gratitude of his fellow-citizens, commanded the
highest praises of foreign nations, and secured immortal glory
with posterity.

In that retirement which is his voluntary choice may he long live to
enjoy the delicious recollection of his services, the gratitude of
mankind, the happy fruits of them to himself and the world, which
are daily increasing, and that splendid prospect of the future
fortunes of this country which is opening from year to year. His
name may be still a rampart, and the knowledge that he lives a
bulwark, against all open or secret enemies of his country's peace.
This example has been recommended to the imitation of his
successors by both Houses of Congress and by the voice of the
legislatures and the people throughout the nation.

On this subject it might become me better to be silent or to speak
with diffidence; but as something may be expected, the occasion,
I hope, will be admitted as an apology if I venture to say that if a
preference, upon principle, of a free republican government, formed
upon long and serious reflection, after a diligent and impartial inquiry
after truth; if an attachment to the Constitution of the United States,
and a conscientious determination to support it until it shall be altered
by the judgments and wishes of the people, expressed in the mode
prescribed in it; if a respectful attention to the constitutions of the
individual States and a constant caution and delicacy toward the
State governments; if an equal and impartial regard to the rights,
interest, honor, and happiness of all the States in the Union,
without preference or regard to a northern or southern, an eastern
or western, position, their various political opinions on unessential
points or their personal attachments; if a love of virtuous men of all
parties and denominations; if a love of science and letters and a wish
to patronize every rational effort to encourage schools, colleges,
universities, academies, and every institution for propagating
knowledge, virtue, and religion among all classes of the people,
not only for their benign influence on the happiness of life in all its
stages and classes, and of society in all its forms, but as the only
means of preserving our Constitution from its natural enemies, the
spirit of sophistry, the spirit of party, the spirit of intrigue, the
profligacy of corruption, and the pestilence of foreign influence,
which is the angel of destruction to elective governments; if a love
of equal laws, of justice, and humanity in the interior administration;
if an inclination to improve agriculture, commerce, and manufacturers
for necessity, convenience, and defense; if a spirit of equity and
humanity toward the aboriginal nations of America, and a disposition
to meliorate their condition by inclining them to be more friendly to
us, and our citizens to be more friendly to them; if an inflexible
determination to maintain peace and inviolable faith with all nations,
and that system of neutrality and impartiality among the belligerent
powers of Europe which has been adopted by this Government and
so solemnly sanctioned by both Houses of Congress and applauded
by the legislatures of the States and the public opinion, until it shall
be otherwise ordained by Congress; if a personal esteem for the
French nation, formed in a residence of seven years chiefly among
them, and a sincere desire to preserve the friendship which has
been so much for the honor and interest of both nations; if, while
the conscious honor and integrity of the people of America and the
internal sentiment of their own power and energies must be preserved,
an earnest endeavor to investigate every just cause and remove
every colorable pretense of complaint; if an intention to pursue by
amicable negotiation a reparation for the injuries that have been
committed on the commerce of our fellow-citizens by whatever nation,
and if success can not be obtained, to lay the facts before the
Legislature, that they may consider what further measures the honor
and interest of the Government and its constituents demand; if a
resolution to do justice as far as may depend upon me, at all times
and to all nations, and maintain peace, friendship, and benevolence
with all the world; if an unshaken confidence in the honor, spirit, and
resources of the American people, on which I have so often hazarded
my all and never been deceived; if elevated ideas of the high destinies
of this country and of my own duties toward it, founded on a knowledge
of the moral principles and intellectual improvements of the people
deeply engraven on my mind in early life, and not obscured but exalted
by experience and age; and, with humble reverence, I feel it to be my
duty to add, if a veneration for the religion of a people who profess
and call themselves Christians, and a fixed resolution to consider a
decent respect for Christianity among the best recommendations for
the public service, can enable me in any degree to comply with your
wishes, it shall be my strenuous endeavor that this sagacious injunction
of the two Houses shall not be without effect.

With this great example before me, with the sense and spirit, the faith
and honor, the duty and interest, of the same American people pledged
to support the Constitution of the United States, I entertain no doubt of
its continuance in all its energy, and my mind is prepared without
hesitation to lay myself under the most solemn obligations to support it
to the utmost of my power.

And may that Being who is supreme over all, the Patron of Order, the
Fountain of Justice, and the Protector in all ages of the world of virtuous
liberty, continue His blessing upon this nation and its Government and
give it all possible success and duration consistent with the ends of
His providence.

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Read by: JB Manning
 

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