Editor’s Note: In his first inaugural address “since the Revolution of 1800,” President Thomas Jefferson laid out the correct American foreign policy. Jefferson would explain, to use today’s language, why America must never be the world’s policeman and must remain free from the turmoil of the Old World. Certain highlighted parts do not appear in the original.
March 4, 1801 – President Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural address
friends and fellow citizens,
Called to the duties of the first executive office of our country, I have availed myself of the presence of that part of my fellow-citizens who have assembled here to thank me for the gratitude they have been pleased to look upon me. , declaring an earnest consciousness that the task was beyond my talents, and that I approached it with those alarming and fearful representations which the greatness of the charge and the weakness of my powers so justly inspire.
A rising nation, spread over a wide and fruitful land, crossing all seas with the rich productions of their industry, engaged in commerce with those nations who feel power and forget right, speeding towards a destiny beyond the reach of mortal eye; When I contemplate these transcendent objects, and see the honor, happiness, and hope of this beloved country committed to the issues and good wishes of the day, I shrink from the thought and humble myself before the enormity of the undertaking.
Indeed I should despair, the presence of many, whom I see here, reminds me that, among other high authorities provided by our constitution, I shall find a wealth of wisdom, virtue, and enterprise, upon which to rely under all difficulties. To, then, gentlemen, who are responsible for the sovereign functions of legislation, and to those of you concerned, I look eagerly for that guidance and support which may enable us all to safely steer the ship in which we have embarked, amidst the conflicting elements of a troubled world.
During the contest of opinions through which we have passed, the animation of discussion and exertion sometimes wears an aspect which may impose upon unaccustomed strangers to think and speak freely, and write what they think; But it is now decreed by the voice of the nation, declared by the rules of the constitution, that all must conform themselves under the will of the law, and unite in a common effort for the common good. All will remember this sacred principle, that although the will of the majority prevails in all matters, that will, to be just, must be reasonable; Minorities who are entitled to their equal rights, which must be protected by equal laws and violated, are oppressed.
Let us, then, fellow-citizens, unite with one heart and one mind, let us restore that social union of harmony and affection, without which liberty, even life, is a fearful thing. And let us reflect that after banishing from our land religious intolerance, under which mankind has so long bled and suffered, we can still achieve little if we face political intolerance, despotic, vicious, and capable of bitter and bloody oppression. . During the pangs and convulsions of the ancient world, the agonizing convulsions of an angry man, blood and slaying its long-lost liberties, it was not surprising that the movement of billows should reach even these distant and peaceful shores; It should be felt and feared more by some and less by others; And opinions should be divided about security measures; But not every difference of opinion is a difference of principle.
We call the same principles brothers by different names. We are all Republicans: we are all Federalists. If there are any among us who wish to dissolve this union, or change its republican form, they should stand undisturbed as monuments of security with which error of opinion may be tolerated, while reason is left free to deal with it. I know indeed that some honest men fear that a republican government cannot be strong; That this government is not strong enough. But will the honest patriot, in the full tide of successful experiment, abandon a government which has so long kept us free and strong, for theoretical and visionary fear, that this government, the best hope in the world, will, perhaps, want power? To protect yourself? I don’t believe it. I believe it is, on the contrary, the most powerful government on earth.
I believe it is the only one, where every man, at the call of law, will fly to the standard of law, and meet the attack of public order as his private concern.—It is sometimes said that man cannot be. Confident in his government. So can he be trusted by other governments? Or have we received angels in the form of kings to rule over him? History Answer this question.
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Let us then, with courage and confidence, pursue our own federal and republican principles; Our attachment to Union and Representative Government. Kindly separated by nature and vast oceans from the destructive catastrophes of a quarter of the world; Too high minded to suffer the degradation of others, possessed of a chosen country, with room enough for our descendants to thousands and thousands of generations, to exercise our own faculties, entertain a proper sense of our equal right to our acquisitions. Art itself, for respect and confidence from our fellow-citizens, not by birth, but from our actions and their sense of them, enlightened by a benign religion, admitting truth and practicing it in various forms, yet all of them honesty, truth, moderation, Gratitude and love of man, acknowledging and worshiping an all-powerful Providence, which by all its provisions proves that it delights in the happiness of man here and in his hereafter; With all these blessings, what else is needed to make us happy and prosperous people?
Yet another thing, a co-citizen, a wise and frugal government, which will prevent men from injuring each other, or else leave them free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and will not take bread from the mouths of labour. achieved That is the sum of good government; And this is necessary to close our circle of pleasure.
Fellow-citizens, entering upon the exercise of duty to understand every thing dear and precious to you, it is right that you should understand what I consider the necessary principles of our government, and consequently those which ought to constitute its administration. I shall narrow them within the narrow compass they bear, stating the general principle, but not all its limitations.—That equal and proper justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political:—Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, alliances with none:—support in all rights of state governments as the most suitable administration for our domestic concerns, and sure resistance to anti-republican tendencies:—preserving the general government in its full constitutional power, our peace at home as a sheet anchor, and security abroad: jealous of the suffrage of the people. Care, a gentle and safe correction of abuses by the sword of revolution, where peaceful remedies are unprepared:- Absolute consent to the decision of the majority, the essential principle of the republic, from which there is no appeal but coercion, the essential principle and immediate parent of despotism:-A disciplined militia, our best reliance in peace, and for the first moments of war. Extent, and all abuses charged to the bar of public cause:—Liberty of Religion; freedom of the press; and liberty of the individual under the protection of habeas corpus:—and trial by impartially selected juries. These principles form the bright constellation, which has gone before us and guided our steps in the age of revolution and reformation.
The wisdom of our sages, and the blood of our heroes devoted to their acquisition: — they should be the religion of our political faith; Citizen instruction texts, touchstones by which to try the services of those we trust; And if we stray from them in a moment of error or alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and retrace the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and security.
I am then repairing, fellow-citizen, to the post you have given me. Having seen the greatest of these difficulties by considerable experience in subordinate offices, I have learned to hope that it will seldom fall to imperfect men to retire from this station with fame and grace. Inside it. Without pretense of that lofty confidence you settle upon our first and greatest revolutionary character, whose pre-eminent services have won him the first place in the love of his country, and the fairest page in the volume of faithful history has been assigned to him, I ask so. Only so much confidence can give firmness and influence to the legal administration of your affairs.
I will often err through errors of judgment. When right, I will often be mistaken by those whose position does not command a view of the whole ground. I seek your indulgence for my own faults, which will never be deliberate; and your support against the errors of others, who, when seen in all its parts, may condemn what they will not. The approval implied by your franchise, is a great consolation to me for the past; and my future contraction shall be, to retain the good opinion of those who have already bestowed it, to conciliate others by doing them all good in my power, and to be conducive to the happiness and liberty of all.
Then depending on your patronage of good will, I proceed faithfully to the work, ready to retire from it whenever you are wise, as best it is in your power. And that infinite power, which rules the destinies of the universe, may direct our councils in the best direction, and give them a favorable subject for your peace and prosperity.
Reprinted from Founders.Archives.Gov: “III. First Inaugural Address, 4 March 1801,” founder online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-33-02-0116-0004. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 33, 17 February–30 April 1801, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006, pp. 148–152.]
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