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Contents > Author > James Madison > First Inaugural Address, 1809 1751- 1836
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James Madison
First Inaugural Address, 1809
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Unwiling to depart from examples of the most revered authority, I
avail myself of the occasion now presented to express the
profound impression made on me by the call of my country to the
station to the duties of which I am about to pledge myself by the
most solemn of sanctions. So distinguished a mark of confidence,
proceeding from the deliberate and tranquil suffrage of a free and
virtuous nation, would under any circumstances have commanded
my gratitude and devotion, as well as filled me with an awful sense
of the trust to be assumed. Under the various circumstances which
give peculiar solemnity to the existing period, I feel that both the
honor and the responsibility allotted to me are inexpressibly enhanced.

The present situation of the world is indeed without a parallel, and
that of our own country full of difficulties. The pressure of these, too,
is the more severely felt because they have fallen upon us at a
moment when the national prosperity being at a height not before
attained, the contrast resulting from the change has been rendered
the more striking. Under the benign influence of our republican
institutions, and the maintenance of peace with all nations whilst so
many of them were engaged in bloody and wasteful wars, the fruits
of a just policy were enjoyed in an unrivaled growth of our faculties
and resources. Proofs of this were seen in the improvements of
agriculture, in the successful enterprises of commerce, in the progress
of manufacturers and useful arts, in the increase of the public revenue
and the use made of it in reducing the public debt, and in the valuable
works and establishments everywhere multiplying over the face of our

It is a precious reflection that the transition from this prosperous
condition of our country to the scene which has for some time been
distressing us is not chargeable on any unwarrantable views, nor, as
I trust, on any involuntary errors in the public councils. Indulging no
passions which trespass on the rights or the repose of other nations,
it has been the true glory of the United States to cultivate peace by
observing justice, and to entitle themselves to the respect of the nations
at war by fulfilling their neutral obligations with the most scrupulous
impartiality. If there be candor in the world, the truth of these assertions
will not be questioned; posterity at least will do justice to them.

This unexceptionable course could not avail against the injustice and
violence of the belligerent powers. In their rage against each other, or
impelled by more direct motives, principles of retaliation have been
introduced equally contrary to universal reason and acknowledged law.
How long their arbitrary edicts will be continued in spite of the
demonstrations that not even a pretext for them has been given by the
United States, and of the fair and liberal attempt to induce a revocation
of them, can not be anticipated. Assuring myself that under every
vicissitude the determined spirit and united councils of the nation will
be safeguards to its honor and its essential interests, I repair to the
post assigned me with no other discouragement than what springs from
my own inadequacy to its high duties. If I do not sink under the weight
of this deep conviction it is because I find some support in a
consciousness of the purposes and a confidence in the principles which
I bring with me into this arduous service.

To cherish peace and friendly intercourse with all nations having
correspondent dispositions; to maintain sincere neutrality toward
belligerent nations; to prefer in all cases amicable discussion and
reasonable accommodation of differences to a decision of them by an
appeal to arms; to exclude foreign intrigues and foreign partialities, so
degrading to all countries and so baneful to free ones; to foster a spirit
of independence too just to invade the rights of others, too proud to
surrender our own, too liberal to indulge unworthy prejudices ourselves
and too elevated not to look down upon them in others; to hold the
union of the States as the basis of their peace and happiness; to support
the Constitution, which is the cement of the Union, as well in its limitations
as in its authorities; to respect the rights and authorities reserved to the
States and to the people as equally incorporated with and essential to
the success of the general system; to avoid the slightest interference with
the right of conscience or the functions of religion, so wisely exempted from
civil jurisdiction; to preserve in their full energy the other salutary
provisions in behalf of private and personal rights, and of the freedom of
the press; to observe economy in public expenditures; to liberate the
public resources by an honorable discharge of the public debts; to keep
within the requisite limits a standing military force, always remembering
that an armed and trained militia is the firmest bulwark of republics?that
without standing armies their liberty can never be in danger, nor with
large ones safe; to promote by authorized means improvements friendly
to agriculture, to manufactures, and to external as well as internal
commerce; to favor in like manner the advancement of science and the
diffusion of information as the best aliment to true liberty; to carry on the
benevolent plans which have been so meritoriously applied to the
conversion of our aboriginal neighbors from the degradation and
wretchedness of savage life to a participation of the improvements of which
the human mind and manners are susceptible in a civilized state?as far as
sentiments and intentions such as these can aid the fulfillment of my duty,
they will be a resource which can not fail me.

It is my good fortune, moreover, to have the path in which I am to tread
lighted by examples of illustrious services successfully rendered in the
most trying difficulties by those who have marched before me. Of those of
my immediate predecessor it might least become me here to speak. I may,
however, be pardoned for not suppressing the sympathy with which my
heart is full in the rich reward he enjoys in the benedictions of a beloved
country, gratefully bestowed or exalted talents zealously devoted through
a long career to the advancement of its highest interest and happiness.

But the source to which I look or the aids which alone can supply my
deficiencies is in the well-tried intelligence and virtue of my fellow-citizens,
and in the counsels of those representing them in the other departments
associated in the care of the national interests. In these my confidence
will under every difficulty be best placed, next to that which we have all
been encouraged to feel in the guardianship and guidance of that Almighty
Being whose power regulates the destiny of nations, whose blessings
have been so conspicuously dispensed to this rising Republic, and to whom
we are bound to address our devout gratitude for the past, as well as our
fervent supplications and best hopes for the future.

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