Miller Center

First Inaugural Address (March 4, 1885)

Grover Cleveland

Fellow-Citizens: 

In the presence of this vast assemblage of my countrymen I am aboutto supplement and seal by the oath which I shall take the manifestationof the will of a great and free people. In the exercise of their powerand right of self-government they have committed to one of their fellow-citizensa supreme and sacred trust, and he here consecrates himself to their service. 

This impressive ceremony adds little to the solemn sense of responsibilitywith which I contemplate the duty I owe to all the people of the land.Nothing can relieve me from anxiety lest by any act of mine their interestsmay suffer, and nothing is needed to strengthen my resolution to engageevery faculty and effort in the promotion of their welfare. 

Amid the din of party strife the people's choice was made, but its attendantcircumstances have demonstrated anew the strength and safety of a governmentby the people. In each succeeding year it more clearly appears that ourdemocratic principle needs no apology, and that in its fearless and faithfulapplication is to be found the surest guaranty of good government. 

But the best results in the operation of a government wherein everycitizen has a share largely depend upon a proper limitation of purely partisanzeal and effort and a correct appreciation of the time when the heat ofthe partisan should be merged in the patriotism of the citizen. 

To-day the executive branch of the Government is transferred to newkeeping. But this is still the Government of all the people, and it shouldbe none the less an object of their affectionate solicitude. At this hourthe animosities of political strife, the bitterness of partisan defeat,and the exultation of partisan triumph should be supplanted by an ungrudgingacquiescence in the popular will and a sober, conscientious concern forthe general weal. Moreover, if from this hour we cheerfully and honestlyabandon all sectional prejudice and distrust, and determine, with manlyconfidence in one another, to work out harmoniously the achievements ofour national destiny, we shall deserve to realize all the benefits whichour happy form of government can bestow. 

On this auspicious occasion we may well renew the pledge of our devotionto the Constitution, which, launched by the founders of the Republic andconsecrated by their prayers and patriotic devotion, has for almost a centuryborne the hopes and the aspirations of a great people through prosperityand peace and through the shock of foreign conflicts and the perils ofdomestic strife and vicissitudes. 

By the Father of his Country our Constitution was commended for adoptionas "the result of a spirit of amity and mutual concession." In that samespirit it should be administered, in order to promote the lasting welfareof the country and to secure the full measure of its priceless benefitsto us and to those who will succeed to the blessings of our national life.The large variety of diverse and competing interests subject to Federalcontrol, persistently seeking the recognition of their claims, need giveus no fear that "the greatest good to the greatest number" will fail tobe accomplished if in the halls of national legislation that spirit ofamity and mutual concession shall prevail in which the Constitution hadits birth. If this involves the surrender or postponement of private interestsand the abandonment of local advantages, compensation will be found inthe assurance that the common interest is subserved and the general welfareadvanced. 

In the discharge of my official duty I shall endeavor to be guided bya just and unstrained construction of the Constitution, a careful observanceof the distinction between the powers granted to the Federal Governmentand those reserved to the States or to the people, and by a cautious appreciationof those functions which by the Constitution and laws have been especiallyassigned to the executive branch of the Government. 

But he who takes the oath today to preserve, protect, and defend theConstitution of the United States only assumes the solemn obligation whichevery patriotic citizen--on the farm, in the workshop, in the busy martsof trade, and everywhere--should share with him. The Constitution whichprescribes his oath, my countrymen, is yours; the Government you have chosenhim to administer for a time is yours; the suffrage which executes thewill of freemen is yours; the laws and the entire scheme of our civil rule,from the town meeting to the State capitals and the national capital, isyours. Your every voter, as surely as your Chief Magistrate, under thesame high sanction, though in a different sphere, exercises a public trust.Nor is this all. Every citizen owes to the country a vigilant watch andclose scrutiny of its public servants and a fair and reasonable estimateof their fidelity and usefulness. Thus is the people's will impressed uponthe whole framework of our civil polity--municipal, State, and Federal;and this is the price of our liberty and the inspiration of our faith inthe Republic. 

It is the duty of those serving the people in public place to closelylimit public expenditures to the actual needs of the Government economicallyadministered, because this bounds the right of the Government to exacttribute from the earnings of labor or the property of the citizen, andbecause public extravagance begets extravagance among the people. We shouldnever be ashamed of the simplicity and prudential economies which are bestsuited to the operation of a republican form of government and most compatiblewith the mission of the American people. Those who are selected for a limitedtime to manage public affairs are still of the people, and may do muchby their example to encourage, consistently with the dignity of their officialfunctions, that plain way of life which among their fellow- citizens aidsintegrity and promotes thrift and prosperity. 

The genius of our institutions, the needs of our people in their homelife, and the attention which is demanded for the settlement and developmentof the resources of our vast territory dictate the scrupulous avoidanceof any departure from that foreign policy commended by the history, thetraditions, and the prosperity of our Republic. It is the policy of independence,favored by our position and defended by our known love of justice and byour power. It is the policy of peace suitable to our interests. It is thepolicy of neutrality, rejecting any share in foreign broils and ambitionsupon other continents and repelling their intrusion here. It is the policyof Monroe and of Washington and Jefferson-- "Peace, commerce, and honestfriendship with all nations; entangling alliance with none." 

A due regard for the interests and prosperity of all the people demandsthat our finances shall be established upon such a sound and sensible basisas shall secure the safety and confidence of business interests and makethe wage of labor sure and steady, and that our system of revenue shallbe so adjusted as to relieve the people of unnecessary taxation, havinga due regard to the interests of capital invested and workingmen employedin American industries, and preventing the accumulation of a surplus inthe Treasury to tempt extravagance and waste. 

Care for the property of the nation and for the needs of future settlersrequires that the public domain should be protected from purloining schemesand unlawful occupation. 

The conscience of the people demands that the Indians within our boundariesshall be fairly and honestly treated as wards of the Government and theireducation and civilization promoted with a view to their ultimate citizenship,and that polygamy in the Territories, destructive of the family relationand offensive to the moral sense of the civilized world, shall be repressed. 

The laws should be rigidly enforced which prohibit the immigration ofa servile class to compete with American labor, with no intention of acquiringcitizenship, and bringing with them and retaining habits and customs repugnantto our civilization. 

The people demand reform in the administration of the Government andthe application of business principles to public affairs. As a means tothis end, civil-service reform should be in good faith enforced. Our citizenshave the right to protection from the incompetency of public employeeswho hold their places solely as the reward of partisan service, and fromthe corrupting influence of those who promise and the vicious methods ofthose who expect such rewards; and those who worthily seek public employmenthave the right to insist that merit and competency shall be recognizedinstead of party subserviency or the surrender of honest political belief. 

In the administration of a government pledged to do equal and exactjustice to all men there should be no pretext for anxiety touching theprotection of the freedmen in their rights or their security in the enjoymentof their privileges under the Constitution and its amendments. All discussionas to their fitness for the place accorded to them as American citizensis idle and unprofitable except as it suggests the necessity for theirimprovement. The fact that they are citizens entitles them to all the rightsdue to that relation and charges them with all its duties, obligations,and responsibilities. 

These topics and the constant and ever-varying wants of an active andenterprising population may well receive the attention and the patrioticendeavor of all who make and execute the Federal law. Our duties are practicaland call for industrious application, an intelligent perception of theclaims of public office, and, above all, a firm determination, by unitedaction, to secure to all the people of the land the full benefits of thebest form of government ever vouchsafed to man. And let us not trust tohuman effort alone, but humbly acknowledging the power and goodness ofAlmighty God, who presides over the destiny of nations, and who has atall times been revealed in our country's history, let us invoke His aidand His blessings upon our labors.