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Benjamin Harrison
Inaugural Address, 1889
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Monday, March 4, 1889


There is no constitutional or legal requirement that the President
shall take the oath of office in the presence of the people, but
there is so manifest an appropriateness in the public induction
to office of the chief executive officer of the nation that from the
beginning of the Government the people, to whose service the
official oath consecrates the officer, have been called to witness
the solemn ceremonial. The oath taken in the presence of the
people becomes a mutual covenant. The officer covenants to serve
the whole body of the people by a faithful execution of the laws,
so that they may be the unfailing defense and security of those
who respect and observe them, and that neither wealth, station,
nor the power of combinations shall be able to evade their just
penalties or to wrest them from a beneficent public purpose to
serve the ends of cruelty or selfishness.

My promise is spoken; yours unspoken, but not the less real
and solemn. The people of every State have here their representatives.
Surely I do not misinterpret the spirit of the occasion when I assume
that the whole body of the people covenant with me and with each
other to-day to support and defend the Constitution and the Union
of the States, to yield willing obedience to all the laws and each to
every other citizen his equal civil and political rights. Entering thus
solemnly into covenant with each other, we may reverently invoke
and confidently expect the favor and help of Almighty God? that He
will give to me wisdom, strength, and fidelity, and to our people a
spirit of fraternity and a love of righteousness and peace.

This occasion derives peculiar interest from the fact that the
Presidential term which begins this day is the twenty-sixth under
our Constitution. The first inauguration of President Washington
took place in New York, where Congress was then sitting, on the
30th day of April, 1789, having been deferred by reason of delays
attending the organization of the Congress and the canvass of the
electoral vote. Our people have already worthily observed the
centennials of the Declaration of Independence, of the battle of
Yorktown, and of the adoption of the Constitution, and will shortly
celebrate in New York the institution of the second great department
of our constitutional scheme of government. When the centennial
of the institution of the judicial department, by the organization of
the Supreme Court, shall have been suitably observed, as I trust
it will be, our nation will have fully entered its second century.

I will not attempt to note the marvelous and in great part happy
contrasts between our country as it steps over the threshold into
its second century of organized existence under the Constitution
and that weak but wisely ordered young nation that looked
undauntedly down the first century, when all its years stretched
out before it.

Our people will not fail at this time to recall the incidents which
accompanied the institution of government under the Constitution,
or to find inspiration and guidance in the teachings and example
of Washington and his great associates, and hope and courage
in the contrast which thirty-eight populous and prosperous States
offer to the thirteen States, weak in everything except courage
and the love of liberty, that then fringed our Atlantic seaboard.

The Territory of Dakota has now a population greater than
any of the original States (except Virginia) and greater than the
aggregate of five of the smaller States in 1790. The center of
population when our national capital was located was east of
Baltimore, and it was argued by many well-informed persons
that it would move eastward rather than westward; yet in 1880
it was found to be near Cincinnati, and the new census about to
be taken will show another stride to the westward. That which
was the body has come to be only the rich fringe of the nation's
robe. But our growth has not been limited to territory, population
and aggregate wealth, marvelous as it has been in each of those
directions. The masses of our people are better fed, clothed, and
housed than their fathers were. The facilities for popular education
have been vastly enlarged and more generally diffused.

The virtues of courage and patriotism have given recent proof of
their continued presence and increasing power in the hearts and
over the lives of our people. The influences of religion have been
multiplied and strengthened. The sweet offices of charity have
greatly increased. The virtue of temperance is held in higher
estimation. We have not attained an ideal condition. Not all of our
people are happy and prosperous; not all of them are virtuous
and law-abiding. But on the whole the opportunities offered to
the individual to secure the comforts of life are better than are
found elsewhere and largely better than they were here one
hundred years ago.

The surrender of a large measure of sovereignty to the General
Government, effected by the adoption of the Constitution, was
not accomplished until the suggestions of reason were strongly
reinforced by the more imperative voice of experience. The
divergent interests of peace speedily demanded a "more perfect
union." The merchant, the shipmaster, and the manufacturer
discovered and disclosed to our statesmen and to the people
that commercial emancipation must be added to the political freedom
which had been so bravely won. The commercial policy of the mother
country had not relaxed any of its hard and oppressive features. To
hold in check the development of our commercial marine, to prevent
or retard the establishment and growth of manufactures in the States,
and so to secure the American market for their shops and the carrying
trade for their ships, was the policy of European statesmen, and was
pursued with the most selfish vigor.

Petitions poured in upon Congress urging the imposition of discriminating
duties that should encourage the production of needed things at home.
The patriotism of the people, which no longer found afield of exercise
in war, was energetically directed to the duty of equipping the young
Republic for the defense of its independence by making its people
self-dependent. Societies for the promotion of home manufactures and
for encouraging the use of domestics in the dress of the people were
organized in many of the States. The revival at the end of the century
of the same patriotic interest in the preservation and development of
domestic industries and the defense of our working people against
injurious foreign competition is an incident worthy of attention. It is
not a departure but a return that we have witnessed. The protective
policy had then its opponents. The argument was made, as now, that
its benefits inured to particular classes or sections.

If the question became in any sense or at any time sectional, it
was only because slavery existed in some of the States. But for
this there was no reason why the cotton-producing States should
not have led or walked abreast with the New England States in the
production of cotton fabrics. There was this reason only why the
States that divide with Pennsylvania the mineral treasures of the
great southeastern and central mountain ranges should have been
so tardy in bringing to the smelting furnace and to the mill the coal
and iron from their near opposing hillsides. Mill fires were lighted
at the funeral pile of slavery. The emancipation proclamation was
heard in the depths of the earth as well as in the sky; men were
made free, and material things became our better servants.

The sectional element has happily been eliminated from the tariff
discussion. We have no longer States that are necessarily only
planting States. None are excluded from achieving that diversification
of pursuits among the people which brings wealth and contentment.
The cotton plantation will not be less valuable when the product is
spun in the country town by operatives whose necessities call for
diversified crops and create a home demand for garden and
agricultural products. Every new mine, furnace, and factory is an
extension of the productive capacity of the State more real and
valuable than added territory.

Shall the prejudices and paralysis of slavery continue to hang
upon the skirts of progress? How long will those who rejoice that
slavery no longer exists cherish or tolerate the incapacities it put
upon their communities? I look hopefully to the continuance of our
protective system and to the consequent development of manufacturing
and mining enterprises in the States hitherto wholly given to
agriculture as a potent influence in the perfect unification of our
people. The men who have invested their capital in these enterprises,
the farmers who have felt the benefit of their neighborhood, and the
men who work in shop or field will not fail to find and to defend a
community of interest.

Is it not quite possible that the farmers and the promoters of the
great mining and manufacturing enterprises which have recently
been established in the South may yet find that the free ballot of
the workingman, without distinction of race, is needed for their
defense as well as for his own? I do not doubt that if those men
in the South who now accept the tariff views of Clay and the
constitutional expositions of Webster would courageously avow
and defend their real convictions they would not find it difficult,
by friendly instruction and cooperation, to make the black man
their efficient and safe ally, not only in establishing correct
principles in our national administration, but in preserving for
their local communities the benefits of social order and economical
and honest government. At least until the good offices of kindness
and education have been fairly tried the contrary conclusion can
not be plausibly urged.

I have altogether rejected the suggestion of a special Executive
policy for any section of our country. It is the duty of the Executive
to administer and enforce in the methods and by the instrumentalities
pointed out and provided by the Constitution all the laws enacted
by Congress. These laws are general and their administration
should be uniform and equal. As a citizen may not elect what laws
he will obey, neither may the Executive eject which he will enforce.
The duty to obey and to execute embraces the Constitution in its
entirety and the whole code of laws enacted under it. The evil
example of permitting individuals, corporations, or communities to
nullify the laws because they cross some selfish or local interest or
prejudices is full of danger, not only to the nation at large, but
much more to those who use this pernicious expedient to escape
their just obligations or to obtain an unjust advantage over others.
They will presently themselves be compelled to appeal to the law
for protection, and those who would use the law as a defense
must not deny that use of it to others.

If our great corporations would more scrupulously observe their
legal limitations and duties, they would have less cause to complain
of the unlawful limitations of their rights or of violent interference
with their operations. The community that by concert, open or
secret, among its citizens denies to a portion of its members their
plain rights under the law has severed the only safe bond of social
order and prosperity. The evil works from a bad center both ways.
It demoralizes those who practice it and destroys the faith of those
who suffer by it in the efficiency of the law as a safe protector. The
man in whose breast that faith has been darkened is naturally the
subject of dangerous and uncanny suggestions. Those who use
unlawful methods, if moved by no higher motive than the selfishness
that prompted them, may well stop and inquire what is to be the
end of this.

An unlawful expedient can not become a permanent condition
of government. If the educated and influential classes in a community
either practice or connive at the systematic violation of laws that
seem to them to cross their convenience, what can they expect
when the lesson that convenience or a supposed class interest is
a sufficient cause for lawlessness has been well learned by the
ignorant classes? A community where law is the rule of conduct
and where courts, not mobs, execute its penalties is the only
attractive field for business investments and honest labor.

Our naturalization laws should be so amended as to make the
inquiry into the character and good disposition of persons applying
for citizenship more careful and searching. Our existing laws have
been in their administration an unimpressive and often an
unintelligible form. We accept the man as a citizen without any
knowledge of his fitness, and he assumes the duties of citizenship
without any knowledge as to what they are. The privileges of American
citizenship are so great and its duties so grave that we may well insist
upon a good knowledge of every person applying for citizenship and
a good knowledge by him of our institutions. We should not cease to
be hospitable to immigration, but we should cease to be careless as
to the character of it. There are men of all races, even the best, whose
coming is necessarily a burden upon our public revenues or a threat
to social order. These should be identified and excluded.

We have happily maintained a policy of avoiding all interference
with European affairs. We have been only interested spectators
of their contentions in diplomacy and in war, ready to use our friendly
offices to promote peace, but never obtruding our advice and never
attempting unfairly to coin the distresses of other powers into
commercial advantage to ourselves. We have a just right to expect
that our European policy will be the American policy of European

It is so manifestly incompatible with those precautions for our peace
and safety which all the great powers habitually observe and enforce
in matters affecting them that a shorter waterway between our
eastern and western seaboards should be dominated by any
European Government that we may confidently expect that such
a purpose will not be entertained by any friendly power.

We shall in the future, as in the past, use every endeavor to maintain
and enlarge our friendly relations with all the great powers, but they
will not expect us to look kindly upon any project that would leave us
subject to the dangers of a hostile observation or environment. We
have not sought to dominate or to absorb any of our weaker
neighbors, but rather to aid and encourage them to establish free
and stable governments resting upon the consent of their own people.
We have a clear right to expect, therefore, that no European
Government will seek to establish colonial dependencies upon the
territory of these independent American States. That which a sense
of justice restrains us from seeking they may be reasonably expected
willingly to forego.

It must not be assumed, however, that our interests are so
exclusively American that our entire inattention to any events
that may transpire elsewhere can be taken for granted. Our citizens
domiciled for purposes of trade in all countries and in many of the
islands of the sea demand and will have our adequate care in their
personal and commercial rights. The necessities of our Navy require
convenient coaling stations and dock and harbor privileges. These
and other trading privileges we will feel free to obtain only by means
that do not in any degree partake of coercion, however feeble the
government from which we ask such concessions. But having fairly
obtained them by methods and for purposes entirely consistent
with the most friendly disposition toward all other powers, our
consent will be necessary to any modification or impairment of the

We shall neither fail to respect the flag of any friendly nation or
the just rights of its citizens, nor to exact the like treatment for our
own. Calmness, justice, and consideration should characterize our
diplomacy. The offices of an intelligent diplomacy or of friendly
arbitration in proper cases should be adequate to the peaceful
adjustment of all international difficulties. By such methods we will
make our contribution to the world's peace, which no nation values
more highly, and avoid the opprobrium which must fall upon the
nation that ruthlessly breaks it.

The duty devolved by law upon the President to nominate and,
by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to appoint all
public officers whose appointment is not otherwise provided for
in the Constitution or by act of Congress has become very
burdensome and its wise and efficient discharge full of difficulty.
The civil list is so large that a personal knowledge of any large
number of the applicants is impossible. The President must rely
upon the representations of others, and these are often made
inconsiderately and without any just sense of responsibility. I
have a right, I think, to insist that those who volunteer or are
invited to give advice as to appointments shall exercise consideration
and fidelity. A high sense of duty and an ambition to improve the
service should characterize all public officers.

There are many ways in which the convenience and comfort of
those who have business with our public offices may be promoted
by a thoughtful and obliging officer, and I shall expect those whom
I may appoint to justify their selection by a conspicuous efficiency
in the discharge of their duties. Honorable party service will certainly
not be esteemed by me a disqualification for public office, but it will
in no case be allowed to serve as a shield of official negligence,
incompetency, or delinquency. It is entirely creditable to seek public
office by proper methods and with proper motives, and all applicants
will be treated with consideration; but I shall need, and the heads
of Departments will need, time for inquiry and deliberation. Persistent
importunity will not, therefore, be the best support of an application
for office. Heads of Departments, bureaus, and all other public
officers having any duty connected therewith will be expected to
enforce the civil-service law fully and without evasion. Beyond this
obvious duty I hope to do something more to advance the reform
of the civil service. The ideal, or even my own ideal, I shall probably
not attain. Retrospect will be a safer basis of judgment than
promises. We shall not, however, I am sure, be able to put our civil
service upon a nonpartisan basis until we have secured an
incumbency that fair-minded men of the opposition will approve
for impartiality and integrity. As the number of such in the civil list
is increased removals from office will diminish.

While a Treasury surplus is not the greatest evil, it is a serious
evil. Our revenue should be ample to meet the ordinary annual
demands upon our Treasury, with a sufficient margin for those
extraordinary but scarcely less imperative demands which arise
now and then. Expenditure should always be made with economy
and only upon public necessity. Wastefulness, profligacy, or
favoritism in public expenditures is criminal. But there is nothing
in the condition of our country or of our people to suggest that
anything presently necessary to the public prosperity, security,
or honor should be unduly postponed.

It will be the duty of Congress wisely to forecast and estimate
these extraordinary demands, and, having added them to our
ordinary expenditures, to so adjust our revenue laws that no
considerable annual surplus will remain. We will fortunately be
able to apply to the redemption of the public debt any small and
unforeseen excess of revenue. This is better than to reduce our
income below our necessary expenditures, with the resulting
choice between another change of our revenue laws and an
increase of the public debt. It is quite possible, I am sure, to
effect the necessary reduction in our revenues without breaking
down our protective tariff or seriously injuring any domestic

The construction of a sufficient number of modern war ships and
of their necessary armament should progress as rapidly as is
consistent with care and perfection in plans and workmanship.
The spirit, courage, and skill of our naval officers and seamen
have many times in our history given to weak ships and inefficient
guns a rating greatly beyond that of the naval list. That they will
again do so upon occasion I do not doubt; but they ought not,
by premeditation or neglect, to be left to the risks and exigencies
of an unequal combat. We should encourage the establishment of
American steamship lines. The exchanges of commerce demand
stated, reliable, and rapid means of communication, and until
these are provided the development of our trade with the States
lying south of us is impossible.

Our pension laws should give more adequate and discriminating
relief to the Union soldiers and sailors and to their widows and
orphans. Such occasions as this should remind us that we owe
everything to their valor and sacrifice.

It is a subject of congratulation that there is a near prospect
of the admission into the Union of the Dakotas and Montana and
Washington Territories. This act of justice has been unreasonably
delayed in the case of some of them. The people who have settled
these Territories are intelligent, enterprising, and patriotic, and the
accession these new States will add strength to the nation. It is
due to the settlers in the Territories who have availed themselves
of the invitations of our land laws to make homes upon the public
domain that their titles should be speedily adjusted and their
honest entries confirmed by patent.

It is very gratifying to observe the general interest now being
manifested in the reform of our election laws. Those who have
been for years calling attention to the pressing necessity of throwing
about the ballot box and about the elector further safeguards, in
order that our elections might not only be free and pure, but might
clearly appear to be so, will welcome the accession of any who did
not so soon discover the need of reform. The National Congress
has not as yet taken control of elections in that case over which
the Constitution gives it jurisdiction, but has accepted and adopted
the election laws of the several States, provided penalties for their
violation and a method of supervision. Only the inefficiency of the
State laws or an unfair partisan administration of them could
suggest a departure from this policy.

It was clearly, however, in the contemplation of the framers
of the Constitution that such an exigency might arise, and provision
was wisely made for it. The freedom of the ballot is a condition of
our national life, and no power vested in Congress or in the Executive
to secure or perpetuate it should remain unused upon occasion.
The people of all the Congressional districts have an equal interest
that the election in each shall truly express the views and wishes of
a majority of the qualified electors residing within it. The results of
such elections are not local, and the insistence of electors residing
in other districts that they shall be pure and free does not savor
at all of impertinence.

If in any of the States the public security is thought to be
threatened by ignorance among the electors, the obvious remedy
is education. The sympathy and help of our people will not be
withheld from any community struggling with special embarrassments
or difficulties connected with the suffrage if the remedies proposed
proceed upon lawful lines and are promoted by just and honorable
methods. How shall those who practice election frauds recover that
respect for the sanctity of the ballot which is the first condition and
obligation of good citizenship? The man who has come to regard
the ballot box as a juggler's hat has renounced his allegiance.

Let us exalt patriotism and moderate our party contentions. Let
those who would die for the flag on the field of battle give a better
proof of their patriotism and a higher glory to their country by
promoting fraternity and justice. A party success that is achieved
by unfair methods or by practices that partake of revolution is
hurtful and evanescent even from a party standpoint. We should
hold our differing opinions in mutual respect, and, having submitted
them to the arbitrament of the ballot, should accept an adverse
judgment with the same respect that we would have demanded
of our opponents if the decision had been in our favor.

No other people have a government more worthy of their respect
and love or a land so magnificent in extent, so pleasant to look
upon, and so full of generous suggestion to enterprise and labor.
God has placed upon our head a diadem and has laid at our feet
power and wealth beyond definition or calculation. But we must
not forget that we take these gifts upon the condition that justice
and mercy shall hold the reins of power and that the upward
avenues of hope shall be free to all the people.

I do not mistrust the future. Dangers have been in frequent
ambush along our path, but we have uncovered and vanquished
them all. Passion has swept some of our communities, but only to
give us a new demonstration that the great body of our people
are stable, patriotic, and law-abiding. No political party can long
pursue advantage at the expense of public honor or by rude and
indecent methods without protest and fatal disaffection in its own
body. The peaceful agencies of commerce are more fully revealing
the necessary unity of all our communities, and the increasing
intercourse of our people is promoting mutual respect. We shall
find unalloyed pleasure in the revelation which our next census
will make of the swift development of the great resources of some
of the States. Each State will bring its generous contribution to
the great aggregate of the nation's increase. And when the harvests
from the fields, the cattle from the hills, and the ores of the earth
shall have been weighed, counted, and valued, we will turn from
them all to crown with the highest honor the State that has most
promoted education, virtue, justice, and patriotism among its


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