« AnteriorContinuar »
sible and vast. In imitating their example, I tread in the footsteps of illustrious men, whose superiors it is our happiness to believe are not found on the executive calendar of any country. Among them we recognize the earliest and firmest pillars of the republic; those by whom our national independence was first declared ; him who, above all others, contributed to establish it on the field of battle; and those whose expanded intellect and patriotism constructed, improved, and perfected the inestimable institutions under which we live. If such men, in the position I now occupy, felt themselves overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude for this, the highest of all marks of their country's confidence, and by a consciousness of their inability adequately to discharge the duties of an office so difficult and exalted, how much more must hese considerations affect one who can rely on no such claim for favor or forbearance! Unlike all who have preceded me, the revolution that gave us existence as one people, was achieved at the period of my birth; and whilst I contemplate, with grateful reverence, that memorable event, I feel that I belong to a later age, and that I may not expect my countrymen to weigh my actions with the same kind and partial hand.
So sensibly, fellow-citizens, do these circumstances press themselves upon me, that I should not dare to enter upon my path of duty, did I not look for the generous aid of those who will be associated with me in the various and coördinate branches of the government; did I not repose with unwavering reliance on the patriotism, the intelligence, and the kindness of a people who never yet deserted a public servant honestly laboring in their cause; and, above all, did I not permit myself humbly to hope for the sustaining support of an ever-watchful and beneficent Providence.
To the confidence and consolation derived from these sources, it would be ungrateful not to add tho which spring from our present fortunate condition. Though not altogether exempt from embarrassments that disturb our tranquillity at home and threaten it abroad, yet in all the attributes of a great, happy, and flourishing people, we stand without a parallel in the world. Abroad, we enjoy
the respect, and, with scarcely an exception, the friendship of every nation; at home, while our government quietly, but efficiently, perforins the sole legitimate end of political institutions, in doing the greatest good to the greatest number, we present an aggregate of human prosperity surely not elsewhere to be found.
How imperious, then, is the obligation imposed upon every citizen, in his own sphere of action, whether limited or extended, to exert himself in perpetuating a condition of things so singularly happy! All the lessons of history and experience must be lost upon us, if we are content to trust alone to the peculiar advantages we happen to pos
Position and climate, and the bounteous resources that nature has scattered with so liberal a hand,the diffused intelligence and elevated character of our people, will avail us nothing, if we fail sacredly to uphold those political institutions that were wisely and deliberately formed, with reference to every circumstance that could preserve or might endanger the blessings we enjoy. The thoughtful framers of our constitution legislated for our country as they found it. Looking upon it with the eyes of statesmen and of patriots, they saw all the sources of rapid and wonderful prosperity; but they saw, also, that various babits, opinions, and institutions, peculiar to the various portions of so vast a region, were deeply fixed. Distinct sovereignties were in actual existence, whose cordial union was essential to the welfare and happiness of all. Between many of them there was, at least to some extent, a real diversity of interests, liable to be exaggerated through sinister designs; they differed in size, in population, in wealth, and in actual and prospective resources and power; they varied in the character of their industry and staple productions; and in some existed domestic institutions, which, unwisely disturbed, might endanger the harmony of the whole. Most carefully were all these circumstances weighed, and the foundation of the government laid upon principles of mutual concession and equitable compromise. The jealousies which the smaller states might entertain of the power of the rest, were allayed by a rule of representation, confessedly unequal at the time, and designed forever to remain so. A
natural fear that the broad scope of general legislation might bear upon and unwisely control particular interests, was counteracted by limits strictly drawn around the action of the federal authority; and to the people and the states was left unimpaired their sovereign power over the innumerable subjects embraced in the internal government of a just republic, excepting such only as necessarily appertain to the concerns of the whole confederacy, or its intercourse, as a united community, with the other nations of the world.
This provident forecast has been verified by time. Half a century, teeming with extraordinary events, and elsewhere producing astonishing results, has passed along; but on our institutions it has left no injurious mark. From a small community, we have risen to a people powerful in numbers and in strength; but with our increase has gone hand in hand the progress of just principle; the privileges, civil and religious, of the humblest individual are sacredly protected at home; and while the valor and fortitude of our people have removed far from us the slightest apprehension of foreign power, they have not yet induced us, in a single instance, to forget what is right. Our commerce has been extended to the remotest nations; the value, and even nature of the productions has been greatly changed; a wide difference has arisen in the relative wealth and resources of every portion of our country; yet the spirit of mutual regard and of faithful adherence to existing compacts, has continued to prevail in our councils, and never long been absent from our conduct. We have learned by experience a fruitful lesson, that an implicit and undeviating adherence to the principles on which we set out can carry us prosperously onward through all the conflicts of circumstances, and the vicissitudes inseparable from the lapse of years.
The success that has thus attended our great experiment is, in itself, sufficient cause for gratitude, on account of the happiness it has actually conferred, and the example it has unanswerably given. But to me, my fellow-citizens, looking forward to the far-distant future, with ardent prayers and confiding hopes, this retrospect presents a ground for still deeper delight. It impresses on my mind
a firm belief that the perpetuity of our institutions depends upon themselves; that, if we maintain the principles on wnich they were established, they are destined to confer their benefits on countless generations yet to come ; and that America will present to every friend of mankind the cheering proof, that a popular government, wisely formed, is wanting in no element of endurance or strength. Fifty years ago, its rapid failure was predicted. Latent and uncontrollable causes of dissolution were supposed to exist, even by the wise and good; and not only did unfriendly or speculative theorists anticipate for us the fate of past republics, but the fear of many an honest patriot overbalanced his sanguine hopes. Look back on these forebodings, not hastiły, but reluctantly made, and see how, in every instance, they have completely failed.
An imperfect experience, during the struggles of the revolution, was supposed to warrant the belief that the people would not bear the taxation requisite to the discharge of an immense public debt already incurred, and to defray the necessary expenses of government. The cost of two wars has been paid, not only without a murmur, but with unequalled alacrity. No one is now lefi to doubt that every burden will be cheerfully borne that may be necessary to sustain our civil institutions, or guard our honor or our welfare. Indeed, all experience has shown that the willingness of the people to contribute to these ends, in cases of emergency, has uniformly outrun the confidence of their representatives.
In the early stages of the new government, when all felt the imposing influence, as they recognized the unequalled services of the first President, it was a common sentiment, that the great weight of his character could alone bind the discordant materials of our government together, and save us from the violence of contending factions. Since his death, nearly forty years are gone. Party exasperation has been often carried to its highest point; the virtue and fortitude of the people have sometimes been greatly tried; yet our system, purified and enhanced in value by all it has encountered, still preserves its spirit of free and fearless discussion, blended with unimpaired fraternal feeling.
The capacity of the people for self-government, and
their willingness, from a high sense of duty, and without those exhibitions of coercive power so generally employed in other countries, to submit to all needful restraints and exactions of the municipal law, have also been favorably exemplified in the history of the American states. Occasionally, it is true, the ardor of public sentiment, outrunning the regular process of the judicial tribunals, or seeking to reach cases not denounced as criminal by the existing law, has displayed itself in a manner calculated to give pain to the friends of free government, and to encourage the hopes of those who wish for its overthrow. These occurrences, however, have been less frequent in our country than any other of equal population on the globe; and with the diffusion of intelligence, it may well be hoped that they will constantly diminish in frequency and violence. The generous patriotism and sound common sense of the great mass of our fellow-citizens, will assuredly, in time, produce this result; for as every assumption of illegal power not only wounds the majesty of the law, but furnishes a pretext for abridging the liberties of the people, the latter have the most direct and permanent interest in preserving the great landmarks of social order, and maintaining, on all occasions, the inviolability of those constitutional and legal provisions which they themselves have made.
In a supposed unfitness of our institutions for those hostile emergencies which no country can always avoid, their friends found a fruitful source of apprehension, their enemies of hope. While they foresaw less promptness of action than in governments differently formed, they overlooked the far more important considerations, that with us war could never be the result of individual or irresponsible will, but must be a measure of redress for injuries sustained, voluntarily resorted to by those who were to bear the necessary sacrifice, who would consequently feel an individual interest in the contest, and whose energy would be commensurate with the difficulties to be encountered. Actual events have proved their error; the last war,
far from impairing, gave new confidence to our government; and amid recent apprehensions of a similar conflict, we saw that the energies of our country would not be wanting in