Presidential Speeches

March 4, 1893: Second Inaugural Address

About this speech

Grover Cleveland

March 04, 1893

Source National Archives
Presidential Speeches |

March 4, 1893: Second Inaugural Address


My Fellow-Citizens: 

In obedience of the mandate of my countrymen I am about to dedicatemyself to their service under the sanction of a solemn oath. Deeply movedby the expression of confidence and personal attachment which has calledme to this service, I am sure my gratitude can make no better return thanthe pledge I now give before God and these witnesses of unreserved andcomplete devotion to the interests and welfare of those who have honoredme. 

I deem it fitting on this occasion, while indicating the opinion I holdconcerning public questions of present importance, to also briefly referto the existence of certain conditions and tendencies among our peoplewhich seem to menace the integrity and usefulness of their Government. 

While every American citizen must contemplate with the utmost prideand enthusiasm the growth and expansion of our country, the sufficiencyof our institutions to stand against the rudest shocks of violence, thewonderful thrift and enterprise of our people, and the demonstrated superiorityof our free government, it behooves us to constantly watch for every symptomof insidious infirmity that threatens our national vigor. 

The strong man who in the confidence of sturdy health courts the sternestactivities of life and rejoices in the hardihood of constant labor maystill have lurking near his vitals the unheeded disease that dooms himto sudden collapse. 

It can not be doubted that,our stupendous achievements as a people andour country's robust strength have given rise to heedlessness of thoselaws governing our national health which we can no more evade than humanlife can escape the laws of God and nature. 

Manifestly nothing is more vital to our supremacy as a nation and tothe beneficent purposes of our Government than a sound and stable currency.Its exposure to degradation should at once arouse to activity the mostenlightened statesmanship, and the danger of depreciation in the purchasingpower of the wages paid to toil should furnish the strongest incentiveto prompt and conservative precaution. 

In dealing with our present embarrassing situation as related to thissubject we will be wise if we temper our confidence and faith in our nationalstrength and resources with the frank concession that even these will notpermit us to defy with impunity the inexorable laws of finance and trade.At the same time, in our efforts to adjust differences of opinion we shouldbe free from intolerance or passion, and our judgments should be unmovedby alluring phrases and unvexed by selfish interests. 

I am confident that such an approach to the subject will result in prudentand effective remedial legislation. In the meantime, so far as the executivebranch of the Government can intervene, none of the powers with which itis invested will be withheld when their exercise is deemed necessary tomaintain our national credit or avert financial disaster. 

Closely related to the exaggerated confidence in our country's greatnesswhich tends to a disregard of the rules of national safety, another dangerconfronts us not less serious. I refer to the prevalence of a popular dispositionto expect from the operation of the Government especial and direct individualadvantages. 

The verdict of our voters which condemned the injustice of maintainingprotection for protection's sake enjoins upon the people's servants theduty of exposing and destroying the brood of kindred evils which are theunwholesome progeny of paternalism. This is the bane of republican institutionsand the constant peril of our government by the people. It degrades tothe purposes of wily craft the plan of rule our fathers established andbequeathed to us as an object of our love and veneration. It perverts thepatriotic sentiments of our countrymen and tempts them to pitiful calculationof the sordid gain to be derived from their Government's maintenance. Itundermines the self-reliance of our people and substitutes in its placedependence upon governmental favoritism. It stifles the spirit of trueAmericanism and stupefies every ennobling trait of American citizenship. 

The lessons of paternalism ought to be unlearned and the better lessontaught that while the people should patriotically and cheerfully supporttheir Government its functions do not include the support of the people. 

The acceptance of this principle leads to a refusal of bounties andsubsidies, which burden the labor and thrift of a portion of our citizensto aid ill-advised or languishing enterprises in which they have no concern.It leads also to a challenge of wild and reckless pension expenditure,which overleaps the bounds of grateful recognition of patriotic serviceand prostitutes to vicious uses the people's prompt and generous impulseto aid those disabled in their country's defense. 

Every thoughtful American must realize the importance of checking atits beginning any tendency in public or private station to regard frugalityand economy as virtues which we may safely outgrow. The toleration of thisidea results in the waste of the people's money by their chosen servantsand encourages prodigality and extravagance in the home life of our countrymen. 

Under our scheme of government the waste of public money is a crimeagainst the citizen, and the contempt of our people for economy and frugalityin their personal affairs deplorably saps the strength and sturdiness ofour national character. 

It is a plain dictate of honesty and good government that public expendituresshould be limited by public necessity, and that this should be measuredby the rules of strict economy; and it is equally clear that frugalityamong the people is the best guaranty of a contented and strong supportof free institutions. 

One mode of the misappropriation of public funds is avoided when appointmentsto office, instead of being the rewards of partisan activity, are awardedto those whose efficiency promises a fair return of work for the compensationpaid to them. To secure the fitness and competency of appointees to officeand remove from political action the demoralizing madness for spoils, civil-service reform has found a place in our public policy and laws. The benefitsalready gained through this instrumentality and the further usefulnessit promises entitle it to the hearty support and encouragement of all whodesire to see our public service well performed or who hope for the elevationof political sentiment and the purification of political methods. 

The existence of immense aggregations of kindred enterprises and combinationsof business interests formed for the purpose of limiting production andfixing prices is inconsistent with the fair field which ought to be opento every independent activity. Legitimate strife in business should notbe superseded by an enforced concession to the demands of combinationsthat have the power to destroy, nor should the people to be served losethe benefit of cheapness which usually results from wholesome competition.These aggregations and combinations frequently constitute conspiraciesagainst the interests of the people, and in all their phases they are unnaturaland opposed to our American sense of fairness. To the extent that theycan be reached and restrained by Federal power the General Government shouldrelieve our citizens from their interference and exactions. 

Loyalty to the principles upon which our Government rests positivelydemands that the equality before the law which it guarantees to every citizenshould be justly and in good faith conceded in all parts of the land. Theenjoyment of this right follows the badge of citizenship wherever found,and, unimpaired by race or color, it appeals for recognition to Americanmanliness and fairness. 

Our relations with the Indians located within our border impose uponus responsibilities we can not escape. Humanity and consistency requireus to treat them with forbearance and in our dealings with them to honestlyand considerately regard their rights and interests. Every effort shouldbe made to lead them, through the paths of civilization and education,to self- supporting and independent citizenship. In the meantime, as thenation's wards, they should be promptly defended against the cupidity ofdesigning men and shielded from every influence or temptation that retardstheir advancement. 

The people of the United States have decreed that on this day the controlof their Government in its legislative and executive branches shall begiven to a political party pledged in the most positive terms to the accomplishmentof tariff reform. They have thus determined in favor of a more just andequitable system of Federal taxation. The agents they have chosen to carryout their purposes are bound by their promises not less than by the commandof their masters to devote themselves unremittingly to this service. 

While there should be no surrender of principle, our task must be undertakenwisely and without heedless vindictiveness. Our mission is not punishment,but the rectification of wrong. If in lifting burdens from the daily lifeof our people we reduce inordinate and unequal advantages too long enjoyed,this is but a necessary incident of our return to right and justice. Ifwe exact from unwilling minds acquiescence in the theory of an honest distributionof the fund of the governmental beneficence treasured up for all, we butinsist upon a principle which underlies our free institutions. When wetear aside the delusions and misconceptions which have blinded our countrymento their condition under vicious tariff laws, we but show them how farthey have been led away from the paths of contentment and prosperity. Whenwe proclaim that the necessity for revenue to support the Government furnishesthe only justification for taxing the people, we announce a truth so plainthat its denial would seem to indicate the extent to which judgment maybe influenced by familiarity with perversions of the taxing power. Andwhen we seek to reinstate the self-confidence and business enterprise ofour citizens by discrediting an abject dependence upon governmental favor,we strive to stimulate those elements of American character which supportthe hope of American achievement. 

Anxiety for the redemption of the pledges which my party has made andsolicitude for the complete justification of the trust the people havereposed in us constrain me to remind those with whom I am to cooperatethat we can succeed in doing the work which has been especially set beforeus only by the most sincere, harmonious, and disinterested effort. Evenif insuperable obstacles and opposition prevent the consummation of ourtask, we shall hardly be excused; and if failure can be traced to our faultor neglect we may be sure the people will hold us to a swift and exactingaccountability. 

The oath I now take to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitutionof the United States not only impressively defines the great responsibilityI assume, but suggests obedience to constitutional commands as the ruleby which my official conduct must be guided. I shall to the best of myability and within my sphere of duty preserve the Constitution by loyallyprotecting every grant of Federal power it contains, by defending all itsrestraints when attacked by impatience and restlessness, and by enforcingits limitations and reservations in favor of the States and the people. 

Fully impressed with the gravity of the duties that confront me andmindful of my weakness, I should be appalled if it were my lot to bearunaided the responsibilities which await me. I am, however, saved fromdiscouragement when I remember that I shall have the support and the counseland cooperation of wise and patriotic men who will stand at my side inCabinet places or will represent the people in their legislative halls. 

I find also much comfort in remembering that my countrymen are justand generous and in the assurance that they will not condemn those whoby sincere devotion to their service deserve their forbearance and approval. 

Above all, I know there is a Supreme Being who rules the affairs ofmen and whose goodness and mercy have always followed the American people,and I know He will not turn from us now if we humbly and reverently seekHis powerful aid.