March 4, 1869: First Inaugural Address
Citizens of the United States:
Your suffrages having elected me to the office of President of the UnitedStates, I have, in conformity to the Constitution of our country, takenthe oath of office prescribed therein. I have taken this oath without mentalreservation and with the determination to do to the best of my abilityall that is required of me. The responsibilities of the position I feel,but accept them without fear. The office has come to me unsought; I commenceits duties untrammeled. I bring to it a conscious desire and determinationto fill it to the best of my ability to the satisfaction of the people.
On all leading questions agitating the public mind I will always expressmy views to Congress and urge them according to my judgment, and when Ithink it advisable will exercise the constitutional privilege of interposinga veto to defeat measures which I oppose; but all laws will be faithfullyexecuted, whether they meet my approval or not.
I shall on all subjects have a policy to recommend, but none to enforceagainst the will of the people. Laws are to govern all alike--those opposedas well as those who favor them. I know no method to secure the repealof bad or obnoxious laws so effective as their stringent execution.
The country having just emerged from a great rebellion, many questionswill come before it for settlement in the next four years which precedingAdministrations have never had to deal with. In meeting these it is desirablethat they should be approached calmly, without prejudice, hate, or sectionalpride, remembering that the greatest good to the greatest number is theobject to be attained.
This requires security of person, property, and free religious and politicalopinion in every part of our common country, without regard to local prejudice.All laws to secure these ends will receive my best efforts for their enforcement.
A great debt has been contracted in securing to us and our posteritythe Union. The payment of this, principal and interest, as well as thereturn to a specie basis as soon as it can be accomplished without materialdetriment to the debtor class or to the country at large, must be providedfor. To protect the national honor, every dollar of Government indebtednessshould be paid in gold, unless otherwise expressly stipulated in the contract.Let it be understood that no repudiator of one farthing of our public debtwill be trusted in public place, and it will go far toward strengtheninga credit which ought to be the best in the world, and will ultimately enableus to replace the debt with bonds bearing less interest than we now pay.To this should be added a faithful collection of the revenue, a strictaccountability to the Treasury for every dollar collected, and the greatestpracticable retrenchment in expenditure in every department of Government.
When we compare the paying capacity of the country now, with the tenStates in poverty from the effects of war, but soon to emerge, I trust,into greater prosperity than ever before, with its paying capacity twenty-fiveyears ago, and calculate what it probably will be twenty-five years hence,who can doubt the feasibility of paying every dollar then with more easethan we now pay for useless luxuries? Why, it looks as though Providencehad bestowed upon us a strong box in the precious metals locked up in thesterile mountains of the far West, and which we are now forging the keyto unlock, to meet the very contingency that is now upon us.
Ultimately it may be necessary to insure the facilities to reach theseriches and it may be necessary also that the General Government shouldgive its aid to secure this access; but that should only be when a dollarof obligation to pay secures precisely the same sort of dollar to use now,and not before. Whilst the question of specie payments is in abeyance theprudent business man is careful about contracting debts payable in thedistant future. The nation should follow the same rule. A prostrate commerceis to be rebuilt and all industries encouraged.
The young men of the country--those who from their age must be its rulerstwenty-five years hence--have a peculiar interest in maintaining the nationalhonor. A moment's reflection as to what will be our commanding influenceamong the nations of the earth in their day, if they are only true to themselves,should inspire them with national pride. All divisions--geographical, political,and religious--can join in this common sentiment. How the public debt isto be paid or specie payments resumed is not so important as that a planshould be adopted and acquiesced in. A united determination to do is worthmore than divided counsels upon the method of doing. Legislation upon thissubject may not be necessary now, or even advisable, but it will be whenthe civil law is more fully restored in all parts of the country and traderesumes its wonted channels.
It will be my endeavor to execute all laws in good faith, to collectall revenues assessed, and to have them properly accounted for and economicallydisbursed. I will to the best of my ability appoint to office those onlywho will carry out this design.
In regard to foreign policy, I would deal with nations as equitablelaw requires individuals to deal with each other, and I would protect thelaw-abiding citizen, whether of native or foreign birth, wherever his rightsare jeopardized or the flag of our country floats. I would respect therights of all nations, demanding equal respect for our own. If others departfrom this rule in their dealings with us, we may be compelled to followtheir precedent.
The proper treatment of the original occupants of this land--the Indiansone deserving of careful study. I will favor any course toward them whichtends to their civilization and ultimate citizenship.
The question of suffrage is one which is likely to agitate the publicso long as a portion of the citizens of the nation are excluded from itsprivileges in any State. It seems to me very desirable that this questionshould be settled now, and I entertain the hope and express the desirethat it may be by the ratification of the fifteenth article of amendmentto the Constitution.
In conclusion I ask patient forbearance one toward another throughoutthe land, and a determined effort on the part of every citizen to do hisshare toward cementing a happy union; and I ask the prayers of the nationto Almighty God in behalf of this consummation.