« AnteriorContinuar »
ments, for such suggestions as their experience might enable them to make, as to what further legislative provisions may be advantageously adopted to secure the faithful application of public money to the objects for which they are appropriated; to prevent their misapplication or embezzlement by those intrusted with the expenditure of them; and generally to increase the security of the government against losses in their disbursement. It is needless to dilate on the importance of providing such new safeguards as are within the power of legislation to promote these ends; and I have little to add to the recommendations submitted in the accompanying papers.
By law, the terms of service of our most important collecting and disbursing officers in the civil departments, are limited to four years, and when reappointed their bonds are required to be renewed. The safety of the public is much increased by this feature of the law, and there can be no doubt that its application to all officers intrusted with the collection or disbursement of the public money, whatever may be the tenure of their offices, would be equally beneficial. I therefore recommend, in addition to such of the suggestions presented by the heads of department as you may think useful, a general provision that all officers of the army or navy, or in the civil department, intrusted with the receipt or payment of the public money, and whose term of service is either unlimited or for a longer time than four years, be required to give bonds, with good and sufficient securities, at the expiration of every such period.
A change in the period of terminating the fiscal year, from the 1st of October to the 1st of April, has been frequently recommended, and appears to be desirable.
The distressing casualties in steamboats, which have so frequently happened, during the year, seem to evince the necessity of attempting to prevent them by means of severe provisions connected with their custom-house papers. This subject was submitted to the attention of Congress by the secretary of the treasury, in his last annual report, and will be again noticed at the present session, with additional details. It will doubtless receive that early and careful consideration which its pressing importance appears to require.
Your attention has heretofore been frequently called to the affairs of the District of Columbia, and I should not again ask it, did not their entire dependence on Congress give them a constant claim upon its notice. Separated by the constitution from the rest of the Union, limited in extent, and aided by no legislature of its own, it would seem to be a spot where a wise and uniform system of local government might have been easily adopted.
This district, however, unfortunately, has been left to linger behind the rest of the Union ; its codes, civil and criminal, are not only very defective, but full of obsolete or inconvenient provisions ; being formed of portions of two states, discrepancies in the laws prevail in different parts of the territory, small as it is; and although it was selected as the seat of the general government, the site of its public edifices, the depository of its archives, and the residence of officers intrusted with large amounts of public property, and the management of public business, yet it has never been subjected to, or received, that special and comprehensive legislation which these circumstances peculiarly demand.
I am well aware of the various subjects of greater magnitude and immediate interest, that press themselves on the consideration of Congress; but I believe there is no one that appeals more directly to its justice, than a liberal and even generous attention to the interests of the District of Columbia, and a thorough and careful revision of its local government.
HARRISON'S INAUGURAL ADDRESS.
March 4, 1841. Called from a retirement which I had supposed was to continue for the residue of my life, to fill the chief executive office of this great and free nation, I appear
before you, fellow-citizens, to take the oaths which the constitution prescribes as a necessary qualification for the performance of its duties. And in obedience with a custom
coeval with our government, and what I believe to be your expectations, I proceed to present to you à summary of the principles which will govern me in the discharge of the duties which I shall be called upon to perform.
It was the remark of a Roman consul, in an early period of that celebrated republic, that a most striking contrast was observable in the conduct of candidates for offices of power and trust, before and after obtaining them - they seldom carrying out, in the latter case, the pledges and promises made in the former. However much the world may have improved, in many respects, in the lapse of upwards of two thousand years since the remark was made by the virtuous and indignant Roman, I fear that a strict examination of the annals of some of the modern elective governments would develop similar instances of violated confidence.
Although the fiat of the people has gone forth, proclaiming me the chief magistrate of this glorious Union, nothing upon their part remaining to be done, it may be thought that a motive may exist to keep up the delusion under which they may be supposed to have acted in relation to my principles and opinions; and perhaps there may be some in this assembly, who have come here either prepared to condemn those I shall now deliver, or, approving them, to doubt the sincerity with which they are uttered. But the lapse of a few months will confirm or dispel their fears. The outline of principles to govern, and measures to be adopted by an administration not yet begun, will soon be exchanged for immutable history, and I shall stand either exonerated by my countrymen, or classed with the mass of those who promised that they might deceive, and flattered with the intention to betray.
However strong may be my present purpose to realize the expectations of a magnanimous and confiding people, I too well understand the infirmities of human nature, and the dangerous temptations to which I shall be exposed, from the magnitude of the power which it has been the pleasure of the people to commit to my hands, not to place my chief confidence upon the aid of that Almighty Power which has hitherto protected me, and enabled me to bring
to favorable issues other important but still greatly inferior trusts heretofore confided to me by my country.
The broad foundation upon which our constitution rests being the people -- a breath of theirs having made, as a breath can unmake, change, or modify it - it can be assigned to none of the great divisions of government, but to that of democracy. If such is its theory, those who are called upon to administer it, must recognize, as its leading principle, the duty of shaping their measures so as to produce the greatest good to the greatest number. But, with these broad admissions, if we would compare
the sovereignty acknowledged to exist in the mass of the people with the power claimed by other sovereignties, even by those which had been considered most purely democratic, we shall find a most essential difference. All others lay claim to power limited only by their own will. The majority of our citizens, on the contrary, possess a sovereignty, with an amount of power precisely equal to that which has been granted to them by the parties to the national compact, and nothing beyond.
We admit of no government by divine right; believing that, so far as power is concerned, the beneficent Creator has made no distinction among men, that all are upon an equality, and that the only legitimate right to govern is an express grant of power from the governed.
The constitution of the United States is the instrument containing this grant of power to the several departments composing the government. On an examination of that instrument, it will be found to contain declarations of power granted and power withheld. The latter is also susceptible of division into power which the majority had a right to grant, but which they did not think proper to intrust to their agents, and that which they could not have granted, not being possessed by themselves. In other words, there are certain rights possessed by each individual American citizen, which, in his compact with the others, he has never surrendered. Some of them, indeed, he is unable to surrender, being, in the language of our system, inalienable.
The boasted privilege of a Roman citizen was to him a shield only against a petty provincial ruler, whilst the
proud democrat of Athens could console himself under a sentence of death, for a supposed violation of national faith, which no one understood, and which at times was the subject of the mockery of all, or banishment from his home, his family, and his country, with or without an alleged cause,
that it was not the act of a single tyrant, or hated aristocracy, but of his assembled countrymen. Far different is the power of our sovereignty. It can interfere with no man's faith, prescribe forms of worship for no one's observance, inflict no punishment but after well-ascertained guilt, the result of investigation under forms prescribed by the constitution itself. cious privileges, and those, scarcely, less important, of giving expression to his thoughts and opinions, either by writing or speaking, unrestrained but by the liability of injury to others, and that of a full participation in all the advantages which flow from the government, the acknowledged property of all, the American citizen receives from no charter derived from his fellow-man. He claims them, because he is himself a man, fashioned by the same almighty hand as the rest of his species, and entitled to the same blessings with which He has endowed them.
Notwithstanding the limited sovereignty possessed by the people of the United States, and the restricted grant of power to the government which they have adopted, enough has been given to accomplish all the objects for which it was created. It has been found powerful in war, and, hitherto, justice has been administered, an inti, mate union effected, domestic tranquillity, preserved, and personal liberty secured to the citizen. As was to be expected, however, from the defect of language, and the necessarily sententious manner in which the constitution is written, disputes have arisen as to the amount of power which it has actually granted, or was intended to grant. This is more particularly the case in relation to that part of the instrument which treats of the legislative branch; and not only as regards the exercise of powers, claimed under a general clause, giving that body the authority to carry into effect the specified powers, but in relation to the latter also. It is, however, consolatory to reflect that