Inaugural Address (March 5, 1849)
Elected by the American people to the highest office known to our laws,I appear here to take the oath prescribed by the Constitution, and, incompliance with a time-honored custom, to address those who are now assembled.
The confidence and respect shown by my countrymen in calling me to bethe Chief Magistrate of a Republic holding a high rank among the nationsof the earth have inspired me with feelings of the most profound gratitude;but when I reflect that the acceptance of the office which their partialityhas bestowed imposes the discharge of the most arduous duties and involvesthe weightiest obligations, I am conscious that the position which I havebeen called to fill, though sufficient to satisfy the loftiest ambition,is surrounded by fearful responsibilities. Happily, however, in the performanceof my new duties I shall not be without able cooperation. The legislativeand judicial branches of the Government present prominent examples of distinguishedcivil attainments and matured experience, and it shall be my endeavor tocall to my assistance in the Executive Departments individuals whose talents,integrity, and purity of character will furnish ample guaranties for thefaithful and honorable performance of the trusts to be committed to theircharge. With such aids and an honest purpose to do whatever is right, Ihope to execute diligently, impartially, and for the best interests ofthe country the manifold duties devolved upon me.
In the discharge of these duties my guide will be the Constitution,which I this day swear to "preserve, protect, and defend." For the interpretationof that instrument I shall look to the decisions of the judicial tribunalsestablished by its authority and to the practice of the Government underthe earlier Presidents, who had so large a share in its formation. To theexample of those illustrious patriots I shall always defer with reverence,and especially to his example who was by so many titles "the Father ofhis Country."
To command the Army and Navy of the United States; with the advice andconsent of the Senate, to make treaties and to appoint ambassadors andother officers; to give to Congress information of the state of the Unionand recommend such measures as he shall judge to be necessary; and to takecare that the laws shall be faithfully executed--these are the most importantfunctions intrusted to the President by the Constitution, and it may beexpected that I shall briefly indicate the principles which will controlme in their execution.
Chosen by the body of the people under the assurance that my Administrationwould be devoted to the welfare of the whole country, and not to the supportof any particular section or merely local interest, I this day renew thedeclarations I have heretofore made and proclaim my fixed determinationto maintain to the extent of my ability the Government in its originalpurity and to adopt as the basis of my public policy those great republicandoctrines which constitute the strength of our national existence.
In reference to the Army and Navy, lately employed with so much distinctionon active service, care shall be taken to insure the highest conditionof efficiency, and in furtherance of that object the military and navalschools, sustained by the liberality of Congress, shall receive the specialattention of the Executive.
As American freemen we can not but sympathize in all efforts to extendthe blessings of civil and political liberty, but at the same time we arewarned by the admonitions of history and the voice of our own beloved Washingtonto abstain from entangling alliances with foreign nations. In all disputesbetween conflicting governments it is our interest not less than our dutyto remain strictly neutral, while our geographical position, the geniusof our institutions and our people, the advancing spirit of civilization,and, above all, the dictates of religion direct us to the cultivation ofpeaceful and friendly relations with all other powers. It is to be hopedthat no international question can now arise which a government confidentin its own strength and resolved to protect its own just rights may notsettle by wise negotiation; and it eminently becomes a government likeour own, founded on the morality and intelligence of its citizens and upheldby their affections, to exhaust every resort of honorable diplomacy beforeappealing to arms. In the conduct of our foreign relations I shall conformto these views, as I believe them essential to the best interests and thetrue honor of the country.
The appointing power vested in the President imposes delicate and onerousduties. So far as it is possible to be informed, I shall make honesty,capacity, and fidelity indispensable prerequisites to the bestowal of office,and the absence of either of these qualities shall be deemed sufficientcause for removal.
It shall be my study to recommend such constitutional measures to Congressas may be necessary and proper to secure encouragement and protection tothe great interests of agriculture, commerce, and manufactures, to improveour rivers and harbors, to provide for the speedy extinguishment of thepublic debt, to enforce a strict accountability on the part of all officersof the Government and the utmost economy in all public expenditures; butit is for the wisdom of Congress itself, in which all legislative powersare vested by the Constitution, to regulate these and other matters ofdomestic policy. I shall look with confidence to the enlightened patriotismof that body to adopt such measures of conciliation as may harmonize conflictinginterests and tend to perpetuate that Union which should be the paramountobject of our hopes and affections. In any action calculated to promotean object so near the heart of everyone who truly loves his country I willzealously unite with the coordinate branches of the Government.
In conclusion I congratulate you, my fellow-citizens, upon the highstate of prosperity to which the goodness of Divine Providence has conductedour common country. Let us invoke a continuance of the same protectingcare which has led us from small beginnings to the eminence we this dayoccupy, and let us seek to deserve that continuance by prudence and moderationin our councils, by well-directed attempts to assuage the bitterness whichtoo often marks unavoidable differences of opinion, by the promulgationand practice of just and liberal principles, and by an enlarged patriotism,which shall acknowledge no limits but those of our own widespread Republic.