Presidential Speeches

March 4, 1901: Second Inaugural Address

About this speech

William McKinley

March 04, 1901

Source National Archives
Presidential Speeches |

March 4, 1901: Second Inaugural Address


My Fellow-Citizens: 

When we assembled here on the 4th of March, 1897, there was great anxietywith regard to our currency and credit. None exists now. Then our Treasuryreceipts were inadequate to meet the current obligations of the Government.Now they are sufficient for all public needs, and we have a surplus insteadof a deficit. Then I felt constrained to convene the Congress in extraordinarysession to devise revenues to pay the ordinary expenses of the Government.Now I have the satisfaction to announce that the Congress just closed hasreduced taxation in the sum of $41,000,000. Then there was deep solicitudebecause of the long depression in our manufacturing, mining, agricultural,and mercantile industries and the consequent distress of our laboring population.Now every avenue of production is crowded with activity, labor is wellemployed, and American products find good markets at home and abroad. 

Our diversified productions, however, are increasing in such unprecedentedvolume as to admonish us of the necessity of still further enlarging ourforeign markets by broader commercial relations. For this purpose reciprocaltrade arrangements with other nations should in liberal spirit be carefullycultivated and promoted. 

The national verdict of 1896 has for the most part been executed. Whateverremains unfulfilled is a continuing obligation resting with undiminishedforce upon the Executive and the Congress. But fortunate as our conditionis, its permanence can only be assured by sound business methods and stricteconomy in national administration and legislation. We should not permitour great prosperity to lead us to reckless ventures in business or profligacyin public expenditures. While the Congress determines the objects and thesum of appropriations, the officials of the executive departments are responsiblefor honest and faithful disbursement, and it should be their constant careto avoid waste and extravagance. 

Honesty, capacity, and industry are nowhere more indispensable thanin public employment. These should be fundamental requisites to originalappointment and the surest guaranties against removal. 

Four years ago we stood on the brink of war without the people knowingit and without any preparation or effort at preparation for the impendingperil. I did all that in honor could be done to avert the war, but withoutavail. It became inevitable; and the Congress at its first regular session,without party division, provided money in anticipation of the crisis andin preparation to meet it. It came. The result was signally favorable toAmerican arms and in the highest degree honorable to the Government. Itimposed upon us obligations from which we cannot escape and from whichit would be dishonorable to seek escape. We are now at peace with the world,and it is my fervent prayer that if differences arise between us and otherpowers they may be settled by peaceful arbitration and that hereafter wemay be spared the horrors of war. 

Intrusted by the people for a second time with the office of President,I enter upon its administration appreciating the great responsibilitieswhich attach to this renewed honor and commission, promising unreserveddevotion on my part to their faithful discharge and reverently invokingfor my guidance the direction and favor of Almighty God. I should shrinkfrom the duties this day assumed if I did not feel that in their performanceI should have the co-operation of the wise and patriotic men of all parties.It encourages me for the great task which I now undertake to believe thatthose who voluntarily committed to me the trust imposed upon the ChiefExecutive of the Republic will give to me generous support in my dutiesto "preserve, protect, and defend, the Constitution of the United States"and to "care that the laws be faithfully executed." The national purposeis indicated through a national election. It is the constitutional methodof ascertaining the public will. When once it is registered it is a lawto us all, and faithful observance should follow its decrees. 

Strong hearts and helpful hands are needed, and, fortunately, we havethem in every part of our beloved country. We are reunited. Sectionalismhas disappeared. Division on public questions can no longer be traced bythe war maps of 1861. These old differences less and less disturb the judgment.Existing problems demand the thought and quicken the conscience of thecountry, and the responsibility for their presence, as well as for theirrighteous settlement, rests upon us all--no more upon me than upon you.There are some national questions in the solution of which patriotism shouldexclude partisanship. Magnifying their difficulties will not take themoff our hands nor facilitate their adjustment. Distrust of the capacity,integrity, and high purposes of the American people will not be an inspiringtheme for future political contests. Dark pictures and gloomy forebodingsare worse than useless. These only becloud, they do not help to point theway of safety and honor. "Hope maketh not ashamed." The prophets of evilwere not the builders of the Republic, nor in its crises since have theysaved or served it. The faith of the fathers was a mighty force in itscreation, and the faith of their descendants has wrought its progress andfurnished its defenders. They are obstructionists who despair, and whowould destroy confidence in the ability of our people to solve wisely andfor civilization the mighty problems resting upon them. The American people,intrenched in freedom at home, take their love for it with them whereverthey go, and they reject as mistaken and unworthy the doctrine that welose our own liberties by securing the enduring foundations of libertyto others. Our institutions will not deteriorate by extension, and oursense of justice will not abate under tropic suns in distant seas. As heretofore,so hereafter will the nation demonstrate its fitness to administer anynew estate which events devolve upon it, and in the fear of God will "takeoccasion by the hand and make the bounds of freedom wider yet." If thereare those among us who would make our way more difficult, we must not bedisheartened, but the more earnestly dedicate ourselves to the task uponwhich we have rightly entered. The path of progress is seldom smooth. Newthings are often found hard to do. Our fathers found them so. We find themso. They are inconvenient. They cost us something. But are we not madebetter for the effort and sacrifice, and are not those we serve liftedup and blessed? 

We will be consoled, to, with the fact that opposition has confrontedevery onward movement of the Republic from its opening hour until now,but without success. The Republic has marched on and on, and its step hasexalted freedom and humanity. We are undergoing the same ordeal as didour predecessors nearly a century ago. We are following the course theyblazed. They triumphed. Will their successors falter and plead organicimpotency in the nation? Surely after 125 years of achievement for mankindwe will not now surrender our equality with other powers on matters fundamentaland essential to nationality. With no such purpose was the nation created.In no such spirit has it developed its full and independent sovereignty.We adhere to the principle of equality among ourselves, and by no act ofours will we assign to ourselves a subordinate rank in the family of nations. 

My fellow-citizens, the public events of the past four years have goneinto history. They are too near to justify recital. Some of them were unforeseen;many of them momentous and far-reaching in their consequences to ourselvesand our relations with the rest of the world. The part which the UnitedStates bore so honorably in the thrilling scenes in China, while new toAmerican life, has been in harmony with its true spirit and best traditions,and in dealing with the results its policy will be that of moderation andfairness. 

We face at this moment a most important question that of the futurerelations of the United States and Cuba. With our near neighbors we mustremain close friends. The declaration of the purposes of this Governmentin the resolution of April 20, 1898, must be made good. Ever since theevacuation of the island by the army of Spain, the Executive, with allpracticable speed, has been assisting its people in the successive stepsnecessary to the establishment of a free and independent government preparedto assume and perform the obligations of international law which now restupon the United States under the treaty of Paris. The convention electedby the people to frame a constitution is approaching the completion ofits labors. The transfer of American control to the new government is ofsuch great importance, involving an obligation resulting from our interventionand the treaty of peace, that I am glad to be advised by the recent actof Congress of the policy which the legislative branch of the Governmentdeems essential to the best interests of Cuba and the United States. Theprinciples which led to our intervention require that the fundamental lawupon which the new government rests should be adapted to secure a governmentcapable of performing the duties and discharging the functions of a separatenation, of observing its international obligations of protecting life andproperty, insuring order, safety, and liberty, and conforming to the establishedand historical policy of the United States in its relation to Cuba. 

The peace which we are pledged to leave to the Cuban people must carrywith it the guaranties of permanence. We became sponsors for the pacificationof the island, and we remain accountable to the Cubans, no less than toour own country and people, for the reconstruction of Cuba as a free commonwealthon abiding foundations of right, justice, liberty, and assured order. Ourenfranchisement of the people will not be completed until free Cuba shall"be a reality, not a name; a perfect entity, not a hasty experiment bearingwithin itself the elements of failure." 

While the treaty of peace with Spain was ratified on the 6th of February,1899, and ratifications were exchanged nearly two years ago, the Congresshas indicated no form of government for the Philippine Islands. It has,however, provided an army to enable the Executive to suppress insurrection,restore peace, give security to the inhabitants, and establish the authorityof the United States throughout the archipelago. It has authorized theorganization of native troops as auxiliary to the regular force. It hasbeen advised from time to time of the acts of the military and naval officersin the islands, of my action in appointing civil commissions, of the instructionswith which they were charged, of their duties and powers, of their recommendations,and of their several acts under executive commission, together with thevery complete general information they have submitted. These reports fullyset forth the conditions, past and present, in the islands, and the instructionsclearly show the principles which will guide the Executive until the Congressshall, as it is required to do by the treaty, determine "the civil rightsand political status of the native inhabitants." The Congress having addedthe sanction of its authority to the powers already possessed and exercisedby the Executive under the Constitution, thereby leaving with the Executivethe responsibility for the government of the Philippines, I shall continuethe efforts already begun until order shall be restored throughout theislands, and as fast as conditions permit will establish local governments,in the formation of which the full co-operation of the people has beenalready invited, and when established will encourage the people to administerthem. The settled purpose, long ago proclaimed, to afford the inhabitantsof the islands self- government as fast as they were ready for it willbe pursued with earnestness and fidelity. Already something has been accomplishedin this direction. The Government's representatives, civil and military,are doing faithful and noble work in their mission of emancipation andmerit the approval and support of their countrymen. The most liberal termsof amnesty have already been communicated to the insurgents, and the wayis still open for those who have raised their arms against the Governmentfor honorable submission to its authority. Our countrymen should not bedeceived. We are not waging war against the inhabitants of the PhilippineIslands. A portion of them are making war against the United States. Byfar the greater part of the inhabitants recognize American sovereigntyand welcome it as a guaranty of order and of security for life, property,liberty, freedom of conscience, and the pursuit of happiness. To them fullprotection will be given. They shall not be abandoned. We will not leavethe destiny of the loyal millions the islands to the disloyal thousandswho are in rebellion against the United States. Order under civil institutionswill come as soon as those who now break the peace shall keep it. Forcewill not be needed or used when those who make war against us shall makeit no more. May it end without further bloodshed, and there be usheredin the reign of peace to be made permanent by a government of liberty underlaw!