March 5, 1877: Inaugural Address
We have assembled to repeat the public ceremonial, begun by Washington,observed by all my predecessors, and now a time- honored custom, whichmarks the commencement of a new term of the Presidential office. Calledto the duties of this great trust, I proceed, in compliance with usage,to announce some of the leading principles, on the subjects that now chieflyengage the public attention, by which it is my desire to be guided in thedischarge of those duties. I shall not undertake to lay down irrevocablyprinciples or measures of administration, but rather to speak of the motiveswhich should animate us, and to suggest certain important ends to be attainedin accordance with our institutions and essential to the welfare of ourcountry.
At the outset of the discussions which preceded the recent Presidentialelection it seemed to me fitting that I should fully make known my sentimentsin regard to several of the important questions which then appeared todemand the consideration of the country. Following the example, and inpart adopting the language, of one of my predecessors, I wish now, whenevery motive for misrepresentation has passed away, to repeat what wassaid before the election, trusting that my countrymen will candidly weighand understand it, and that they will feel assured that the sentimentsdeclared in accepting the nomination for the Presidency will be the standardof my conduct in the path before me, charged, as I now am, with the graveand difficult task of carrying them out in the practical administrationof the Government so far as depends, under the Constitution and laws onthe Chief Executive of the nation.
The permanent pacification of the country upon such principles and bysuch measures as will secure the complete protection of all its citizensin the free enjoyment of all their constitutional rights is now the onesubject in our public affairs which all thoughtful and patriotic citizensregard as of supreme importance.
Many of the calamitous efforts of the tremendous revolution which haspassed over the Southern States still remain. The immeasurable benefitswhich will surely follow, sooner or later, the hearty and generous acceptanceof the legitimate results of that revolution have not yet been realized.Difficult and embarrassing questions meet us at the threshold of this subject.The people of those States are still impoverished, and the inestimableblessing of wise, honest, and peaceful local self-government is not fullyenjoyed. Whatever difference of opinion may exist as to the cause of thiscondition of things, the fact is clear that in the progress of events thetime has come when such government is the imperative necessity requiredby all the varied interests, public and private, of those States. But itmust not be forgotten that only a local government which recognizes andmaintains inviolate the rights of all is a true self-government.
With respect to the two distinct races whose peculiar relations to eachother have brought upon us the deplorable complications and perplexitieswhich exist in those States, it must be a government which guards the interestsof both races carefully and equally. It must be a government which submitsloyally and heartily to the Constitution and the laws--the laws of thenation and the laws of the States themselves--accepting and obeying faithfullythe whole Constitution as it is.
Resting upon this sure and substantial foundation, the superstructureof beneficent local governments can be built up, and not otherwise. Infurtherance of such obedience to the letter and the spirit of the Constitution,and in behalf of all that its attainment implies, all so-called party interestslose their apparent importance, and party lines may well be permitted tofade into insignificance. The question we have to consider for the immediatewelfare of those States of the Union is the question of government or nogovernment; of social order and all the peaceful industries and the happinessthat belongs to it, or a return to barbarism. It is a question in whichevery citizen of the nation is deeply interested, and with respect to whichwe ought not to be, in a partisan sense, either Republicans or Democrats,but fellow-citizens and fellowmen, to whom the interests of a common countryand a common humanity are dear.
The sweeping revolution of the entire labor system of a large portionof our country and the advance of 4,000,000 people from a condition ofservitude to that of citizenship, upon an equal footing with their formermasters, could not occur without presenting problems of the gravest moment,to be dealt with by the emancipated race, by their former masters, andby the General Government, the author of the act of emancipation. Thatit was a wise, just, and providential act, fraught with good for all concerned,is not generally conceded throughout the country. That a moral obligationrests upon the National Government to employ its constitutional power andinfluence to establish the rights of the people it has emancipated, andto protect them in the enjoyment of those rights when they are infringedor assailed, is also generally admitted.
The evils which afflict the Southern States can only be removed or remediedby the united and harmonious efforts of both races, actuated by motivesof mutual sympathy and regard; and while in duty bound and fully determinedto protect the rights of all by every constitutional means at the disposalof my Administration, I am sincerely anxious to use every legitimate influencein favor of honest and efficient local self-government as the true resourceof those States for the promotion of the contentment and prosperity oftheir citizens. In the effort I shall make to accomplish this purpose Iask the cordial cooperation of all who cherish an interest in the welfareof the country, trusting that party ties and the prejudice of race willbe freely surrendered in behalf of the great purpose to be accomplished.In the important work of restoring the South it is not the political situationalone that merits attention. The material development of that section ofthe country has been arrested by the social and political revolution throughwhich it has passed, and now needs and deserves the considerate care ofthe National Government within the just limits prescribed by the Constitutionand wise public economy.
But at the basis of all prosperity, for that as well as for every otherpart of the country, lies the improvement of the intellectual and moralcondition of the people. Universal suffrage should rest upon universaleducation. To this end, liberal and permanent provision should be madefor the support of free schools by the State governments, and, if needbe, supplemented by legitimate aid from national authority.
Let me assure my countrymen of the Southern States that it is my earnestdesire to regard and promote their truest interest--the interests of thewhite and of the colored people both and equally--and to put forth my bestefforts in behalf of a civil policy which will forever wipe out in ourpolitical affairs the color line and the distinction between North andSouth, to the end that we may have not merely a united North or a unitedSouth, but a united country.
I ask the attention of the public to the paramount necessity of reformin our civil service--a reform not merely as to certain abuses and practicesof so-called official patronage which have come to have the sanction ofusage in the several Departments of our Government, but a change in thesystem of appointment itself; a reform that shall be thorough, radical,and complete; a return to the principles and practices of the foundersof the Government. They neither expected nor desired from public officersany partisan service. They meant that public officers should owe theirwhole service to the Government and to the people. They meant that theofficer should be secure in his tenure as long as his personal characterremained untarnished and the performance of his duties satisfactory. Theyheld that appointments to office were not to be made nor expected merelyas rewards for partisan services, nor merely on the nomination of membersof Congress, as being entitled in any respect to the control of such appointments.
The fact that both the great political parties of the country, in declaringtheir principles prior to the election, gave a prominent place to the subjectof reform of our civil service, recognizing and strongly urging its necessity,in terms almost identical in their specific import with those I have hereemployed, must be accepted as a conclusive argument in behalf of thesemeasures. It must be regarded as the expression of the united voice andwill of the whole country upon this subject, and both political partiesare virtually pledged to give it their unreserved support.
The President of the United States of necessity owes his election tooffice to the suffrage and zealous labors of a political party, the membersof which cherish with ardor and regard as of essential importance the principlesof their party organization; but he should strive to be always mindfulof the fact that he serves his party best who serves the country best.
In furtherance of the reform we seek, and in other important respectsa change of great importance, I recommend an amendment to the Constitutionprescribing a term of six years for the Presidential office and forbiddinga reelection.
With respect to the financial condition of the country, I shall notattempt an extended history of the embarrassment and prostration whichwe have suffered during the past three years. The depression in all ourvaried commercial and manufacturing interests throughout the country, whichbegan in September, 1873, still continues. It is very gratifying, however,to be able to say that there are indications all around us of a comingchange to prosperous times.
Upon the currency question, intimately connected, as it is, with thistopic, I may be permitted to repeat here the statement made in my letterof acceptance, that in my judgment the feeling of uncertainty inseparablefrom an irredeemable paper currency, with its fluctuation of values, isone of the greatest obstacles to a return to prosperous times. The onlysafe paper currency is one which rests upon a coin basis and is at alltimes and promptly convertible into coin.
I adhere to the views heretofore expressed by me in favor of Congressionallegislation in behalf of an early resumption of specie payments, and Iam satisfied not only that this is wise, but that the interests, as wellas the public sentiment, of the country imperatively demand it.
Passing from these remarks upon the condition of our own country toconsider our relations with other lands, we are reminded by the internationalcomplications abroad, threatening the peace of Europe, that our traditionalrule of noninterference in the affairs of foreign nations has proved ofgreat value in past times and ought to be strictly observed.
The policy inaugurated by my honored predecessor, President Grant, ofsubmitting to arbitration grave questions in dispute between ourselvesand foreign powers points to a new, and incomparably the best, instrumentalityfor the preservation of peace, and will, as I believe, become a beneficentexample of the course to be pursued in similar emergencies by other nations.
If, unhappily, questions of difference should at any time during theperiod of my Administration arise between the United States and any foreigngovernment, it will certainly be my disposition and my hope to aid in theirsettlement in the same peaceful and honorable way, thus securing to ourcountry the great blessings of peace and mutual good offices with all thenations of the world.
Fellow-citizens, we have reached the close of a political contest markedby the excitement which usually attends the contests between great politicalparties whose members espouse and advocate with earnest faith their respectivecreeds. The circumstances were, perhaps, in no respect extraordinary savein the closeness and the consequent uncertainty of the result.
For the first time in the history of the country it has been deemedbest, in view of the peculiar circumstances of the case, that the objectionsand questions in dispute with reference to the counting of the electoralvotes should be referred to the decision of a tribunal appointed for thispurpose.
That tribunal--established by law for this sole purpose; its members,all of them, men of long-established reputation for integrity and intelligence,and, with the exception of those who are also members of the supreme judiciary,chosen equally from both political parties; its deliberations enlightenedby the research and the arguments of able counsel--was entitled to thefullest confidence of the American people. Its decisions have been patientlywaited for, and accepted as legally conclusive by the general judgmentof the public. For the present, opinion will widely vary as to the wisdomof the several conclusions announced by that tribunal. This is to be anticipatedin every instance where matters of dispute are made the subject of arbitrationunder the forms of law. Human judgment is never unerring, and is rarelyregarded as otherwise than wrong by the unsuccessful party in the contest.
The fact that two great political parties have in this way settled adispute in regard to which good men differ as to the facts and the lawno less than as to the proper course to be pursued in solving the questionin controversy is an occasion for general rejoicing.
Upon one point there is entire unanimity in public sentiment--that conflictingclaims to the Presidency must be amicably and peaceably adjusted, and thatwhen so adjusted the general acquiescence of the nation ought surely tofollow.
It has been reserved for a government of the people, where the rightof suffrage is universal, to give to the world the first example in historyof a great nation, in the midst of the struggle of opposing parties forpower, hushing its party tumults to yield the issue of the contest to adjustmentaccording to the forms of law.
Looking for the guidance of that Divine Hand by which the destiniesof nations and individuals are shaped, I call upon you, Senators, Representatives,judges, fellow-citizens, here and everywhere, to unite w
ith me in an earnest effort to secure to our country the blessings,not only of material prosperity, but of justice, peace, and union--a uniondepending not upon the constraint of force, but upon the loving devotionof a free people; "and that all things may be so ordered and settled uponthe best and surest foundations that peace and happiness, truth and justice,religion and piety, may be established among us for all generations."