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Benjamin Harrison
Inaugural Address
Monday, March 4, 1889


THERE is no constitutional or legal requirement that the President shall
take the oath of office in the presence of the people, but there is so
manifest an appropriateness in the public induction to office of the
chief executive officer of the nation that from the beginning of the
Government the people, to whose service the official oath consecrates
the officer, have been called to witness the solemn ceremonial. The oath
taken in the presence of the people becomes a mutual covenant. The
officer covenants to serve the whole body of the people by a faithful
execution of the laws, so that they may be the unfailing defense and
security of those who respect and observe them, and that neither wealth,
station, nor the power of combinations shall be able to evade their just
penalties or to wrest them from a beneficent public purpose to serve the
ends of cruelty or selfishness.

My promise is spoken; yours unspoken, but not the less real and solemn.
The people of every State have here their representatives. Surely I do
not misinterpret the spirit of the occasion when I assume that the whole
body of the people covenant with me and with each other to-day to
support and defend the Constitution and the Union of the States, to
yield willing obedience to all the laws and each to every other citizen
his equal civil and political rights. Entering thus solemnly into
covenant with each other, we may reverently invoke and confidently
expect the favor and help of Almighty God--that He will give to me
wisdom, strength, and fidelity, and to our people a spirit of fraternity
and a love of righteousness and peace.

This occasion derives peculiar interest from the fact that the
Presidential term which begins this day is the twenty-sixth under our
Constitution. The first inauguration of President Washington took place
in New York, where Congress was then sitting, on the 30th day of April,
1789, having been deferred by reason of delays attending the
organization of the Congress and the canvass of the electoral vote. Our
people have already worthily observed the centennials of the Declaration
of Independence, of the battle of Yorktown, and of the adoption of the
Constitution, and will shortly celebrate in New York the institution of
the second great department of our constitutional scheme of government.
When the centennial of the institution of the judicial department, by
the organization of the Supreme Court, shall have been suitably
observed, as I trust it will be, our nation will have fully entered its
second century.

I will not attempt to note the marvelous and in great part happy
contrasts between our country as it steps over the threshold into its
second century of organized existence under the Constitution and that
weak but wisely ordered young nation that looked undauntedly down the
first century, when all its years stretched out before it.

Our people will not fail at this time to recall the incidents which
accompanied the institution of government under the Constitution, or to
find inspiration and guidance in the teachings and example of Washington
and his great associates, and hope and courage in the contrast which
thirty-eight populous and prosperous States offer to the thirteen
States, weak in everything except courage and the love of liberty, that
then fringed our Atlantic seaboard.

The Territory of Dakota has now a population greater than any of the
original States (except Virginia) and greater than the aggregate of five
of the smaller States in 1790. The center of population when our
national capital was located was east of Baltimore, and it was argued by
many well-informed persons that it would move eastward rather than
westward; yet in 1880 it was found to be near Cincinnati, and the new
census about to be taken will show another stride to the westward. That
which was the body has come to be only the rich fringe of the nation's
robe. But our growth has not been limited to territory, population and
aggregate wealth, marvelous as it has been in each of those directions.
The masses of our people are better fed, clothed, and housed than their
fathers were. The facilities for popular education have been vastly
enlarged and more generally diffused.

The virtues of courage and patriotism have given recent proof of their
continued presence and increasing power in the hearts and over the lives
of our people. The influences of religion have been multiplied and
strengthened. The sweet offices of charity have greatly increased. The
virtue of temperance is held in higher estimation. We have not attained
an ideal condition. Not all of our people are happy and prosperous; not
all of them are virtuous and law-abiding. But on the whole the
opportunities offered to the individual to secure the comforts of life
are better than are found elsewhere and largely better than they were
here one hundred years ago.

The surrender of a large measure of sovereignty to the General
Government, effected by the adoption of the Constitution, was not
accomplished until the suggestions of reason were strongly reenforced by
the more imperative voice of experience. The divergent interests of
peace speedily demanded a "more perfect union." The merchant, the
shipmaster, and the manufacturer discovered and disclosed to our
statesmen and to the people that commercial emancipation must be added
to the political freedom which had been so bravely won. The commercial
policy of the mother country had not relaxed any of its hard and
oppressive features. To hold in check the development of our commercial
marine, to prevent or retard the establishment and growth of
manufactures in the States, and so to secure the American market for
their shops and the carrying trade for their ships, was the policy of
European statesmen, and was pursued with the most selfish vigor.

Petitions poured in upon Congress urging the imposition of
discriminating duties that should encourage the production of needed
things at home. The patriotism of the people, which no longer found
afield of exercise in war, was energetically directed to the duty of
equipping the young Republic for the defense of its independence by
making its people self-dependent. Societies for the promotion of home
manufactures and for encouraging the use of domestics in the dress of
the people were organized in many of the States. The revival at the end
of the century of the same patriotic interest in the preservation and
development of domestic industries and the defense of our working people
against injurious foreign competition is an incident worthy of
attention. It is not a departure but a return that we have witnessed.
The protective policy had then its opponents. The argument was made, as
now, that its benefits inured to particular classes or sections.

If the question became in any sense or at any time sectional, it was
only because slavery existed in some of the States. But for this there
was no reason why the cotton-producing States should not have led or
walked abreast with the New England States in the production of cotton
fabrics. There was this reason only why the States that divide with
Pennsylvania the mineral treasures of the great southeastern and central
mountain ranges should have been so tardy in bringing to the smelting
furnace and to the mill the coal and iron from their near opposing
hillsides. Mill fires were lighted at the funeral pile of slavery. The
emancipation proclamation was heard in the depths of the earth as well
as in the sky; men were made free, and material things became our better

The sectional element has happily been eliminated from the tariff
discussion. We have no longer States that are necessarily only planting
States. None are excluded from achieving that diversification of
pursuits among the people which brings wealth and contentment. The
cotton plantation will not be less valuable when the product is spun in
the country town by operatives whose necessities call for diversified
crops and create a home demand for garden and agricultural products.
Every new mine, furnace, and factory is an extension of the productive
capacity of the State more real and valuable than added territory.

Shall the prejudices and paralysis of slavery continue to hang upon the
skirts of progress? How long will those who rejoice that slavery no
longer exists cherish or tolerate the incapacities it put upon their
communities? I look hopefully to the continuance of our protective
system and to the consequent development of manufacturing and mining
enterprises in the States hitherto wholly given to agriculture as a
potent influence in the perfect unification of our people. The men who
have invested their capital in these enterprises, the farmers who have
felt the benefit of their neighborhood, and the men who work in shop or
field will not fail to find and to defend a community of interest.

Is it not quite possible that the farmers and the promoters of the great
mining and manufacturing enterprises which have recently been
established in the South may yet find that the free ballot of the
workingman, without distinction of race, is needed for their defense as
well as for his own? I do not doubt that if those men in the South who
now accept the tariff views of Clay and the constitutional expositions
of Webster would courageously avow and defend their real convictions
they would not find it difficult, by friendly instruction and
cooperation, to make the black man their efficient and safe ally, not
only in establishing correct principles in our national administration,
but in preserving for their local communities the benefits of social
order and economical and honest government. At least until the good
offices of kindness and education have been fairly tried the contrary
conclusion can not be plausibly urged.

I have altogether rejected the suggestion of a special Executive policy
for any section of our country. It is the duty of the Executive to
administer and enforce in the methods and by the instrumentalities
pointed out and provided by the Constitution all the laws enacted by
Congress. These laws are general and their administration should be
uniform and equal. As a citizen may not elect what laws he will obey,
neither may the Executive eject which he will enforce. The duty to obey
and to execute embraces the Constitution in its entirety and the whole
code of laws enacted under it. The evil example of permitting
individuals, corporations, or communities to nullify the laws because
they cross some selfish or local interest or prejudices is full of
danger, not only to the nation at large, but much more to those who use
this pernicious expedient to escape their just obligations or to obtain
an unjust advantage over others. They will presently themselves be
compelled to appeal to the law for protection, and those who would use
the law as a defense must not deny that use of it to others.

If our great corporations would more scrupulously observe their legal
limitations and duties, they would have less cause to complain of the
unlawful limitations of their rights or of violent interference with
their operations. The community that by concert, open or secret, among
its citizens denies to a portion of its members their plain rights under
the law has severed the only safe bond of social order and prosperity.
The evil works from a bad center both ways. It demoralizes those who
practice it and destroys the faith of those who suffer by it in the
efficiency of the law as a safe protector. The man in whose breast that
faith has been darkened is naturally the subject of dangerous and
uncanny suggestions. Those who use unlawful methods, if moved by no
higher motive than the selfishness that prompted them, may well stop and
inquire what is to be the end of this.

An unlawful expedient can not become a permanent condition of
government. If the educated and influential classes in a community
either practice or connive at the systematic violation of laws that seem
to them to cross their convenience, what can they expect when the lesson
that convenience or a supposed class interest is a sufficient cause for
lawlessness has been well learned by the ignorant classes? A community
where law is the rule of conduct and where courts, not mobs, execute its
penalties is the only attractive field for business investments and
honest labor.

Our naturalization laws should be so amended as to make the inquiry into
the character and good disposition of persons applying for citizenship
more careful and searching. Our existing laws have been in their
administration an unimpressive and often an unintelligible form. We
accept the man as a citizen without any knowledge of his fitness, and he
assumes the duties of citizenship without any knowledge as to what they
are. The privileges of American citizenship are so great and its duties
so grave that we may well insist upon a good knowledge of every person
applying for citizenship and a good knowledge by him of our
institutions. We should not cease to be hospitable to immigration, but
we should cease to be careless as to the character of it. There are men
of all races, even the best, whose coming is necessarily a burden upon
our public revenues or a threat to social order. These should be
identified and excluded.

We have happily maintained a policy of avoiding all interference with
European affairs. We have been only interested spectators of their
contentions in diplomacy and in war, ready to use our friendly offices
to promote peace, but never obtruding our advice and never attempting
unfairly to coin the distresses of other powers into commercial
advantage to ourselves. We have a just right to expect that our European
policy will be the American policy of European courts.

It is so manifestly incompatible with those precautions for our peace
and safety which all the great powers habitually observe and enforce in
matters affecting them that a shorter waterway between our eastern and
western seaboards should be dominated by any European Government that we
may confidently expect that such a purpose will not be entertained by
any friendly power.

We shall in the future, as in the past, use every endeavor to maintain
and enlarge our friendly relations with all the great powers, but they
will not expect us to look kindly upon any project that would leave us
subject to the dangers of a hostile observation or environment. We have
not sought to dominate or to absorb any of our weaker neighbors, but
rather to aid and encourage them to establish free and stable
governments resting upon the consent of their own people. We have a
clear right to expect, therefore, that no European Government will seek
to establish colonial dependencies upon the territory of these
independent American States. That which a sense of justice restrains us
from seeking they may be reasonably expected willingly to forego.

It must not be assumed, however, that our interests are so exclusively
American that our entire inattention to any events that may transpire
elsewhere can be taken for granted. Our citizens domiciled for purposes
of trade in all countries and in many of the islands of the sea demand
and will have our adequate care in their personal and commercial rights.
The necessities of our Navy require convenient coaling stations and dock
and harbor privileges. These and other trading privileges we will feel
free to obtain only by means that do not in any degree partake of
coercion, however feeble the government from which we ask such
concessions. But having fairly obtained them by methods and for purposes
entirely consistent with the most friendly disposition toward all other
powers, our consent will be necessary to any modification or impairment
of the concession.

We shall neither fail to respect the flag of any friendly nation or the
just rights of its citizens, nor to exact the like treatment for our
own. Calmness, justice, and consideration should characterize our
diplomacy. The offices of an intelligent diplomacy or of friendly
arbitration in proper cases should be adequate to the peaceful
adjustment of all international difficulties. By such methods we will
make our contribution to the world's peace, which no nation values more
highly, and avoid the opprobrium which must fall upon the nation that
ruthlessly breaks it.

The duty devolved by law upon the President to nominate and, by and with
the advice and consent of the Senate, to appoint all public officers
whose appointment is not otherwise provided for in the Constitution or
by act of Congress has become very burdensome and its wise and efficient
discharge full of difficulty. The civil list is so large that a personal
knowledge of any large number of the applicants is impossible. The
President must rely upon the representations of others, and these are
often made inconsiderately and without any just sense of responsibility.
I have a right, I think, to insist that those who volunteer or are
invited to give advice as to appointments shall exercise consideration
and fidelity. A high sense of duty and an ambition to improve the
service should characterize all public officers.

There are many ways in which the convenience and comfort of those who
have business with our public offices may be promoted by a thoughtful
and obliging officer, and I shall expect those whom I may appoint to
justify their selection by a conspicuous efficiency in the discharge of
their duties. Honorable party service will certainly not be esteemed by
me a disqualification for public office, but it will in no case be
allowed to serve as a shield of official negligence, incompetency, or
delinquency. It is entirely creditable to seek public office by proper
methods and with proper motives, and all applicants will be treated with
consideration; but I shall need, and the heads of Departments will need,
time for inquiry and deliberation. Persistent importunity will not,
therefore, be the best support of an application for office. Heads of
Departments, bureaus, and all other public officers having any duty
connected therewith will be expected to enforce the civil-service law
fully and without evasion. Beyond this obvious duty I hope to do
something more to advance the reform of the civil service. The ideal, or
even my own ideal, I shall probably not attain. Retrospect will be a
safer basis of judgment than promises. We shall not, however, I am sure,
be able to put our civil service upon a nonpartisan basis until we have
secured an incumbency that fair-minded men of the opposition will
approve for impartiality and integrity. As the number of such in the
civil list is increased removals from office will diminish.

While a Treasury surplus is not the greatest evil, it is a serious evil.
Our revenue should be ample to meet the ordinary annual demands upon our
Treasury, with a sufficient margin for those extraordinary but scarcely
less imperative demands which arise now and then. Expenditure should
always be made with economy and only upon public necessity.
Wastefulness, profligacy, or favoritism in public expenditures is
criminal. But there is nothing in the condition of our country or of our
people to suggest that anything presently necessary to the public
prosperity, security, or honor should be unduly postponed.

It will be the duty of Congress wisely to forecast and estimate these
extraordinary demands, and, having added them to our ordinary
expenditures, to so adjust our revenue laws that no considerable annual
surplus will remain. We will fortunately be able to apply to the
redemption of the public debt any small and unforeseen excess of
revenue. This is better than to reduce our income below our necessary
expenditures, with the resulting choice between another change of our
revenue laws and an increase of the public debt. It is quite possible, I
am sure, to effect the necessary reduction in our revenues without
breaking down our protective tariff or seriously injuring any domestic

The construction of a sufficient number of modern war ships and of their
necessary armament should progress as rapidly as is consistent with care
and perfection in plans and workmanship. The spirit, courage, and skill
of our naval officers and seamen have many times in our history given to
weak ships and inefficient guns a rating greatly beyond that of the
naval list. That they will again do so upon occasion I do not doubt; but
they ought not, by premeditation or neglect, to be left to the risks and
exigencies of an unequal combat. We should encourage the establishment
of American steamship lines. The exchanges of commerce demand stated,
reliable, and rapid means of communication, and until these are provided
the development of our trade with the States lying south of us is

Our pension laws should give more adequate and discriminating relief to
the Union soldiers and sailors and to their widows and orphans. Such
occasions as this should remind us that we owe everything to their valor
and sacrifice.

It is a subject of congratulation that there is a near prospect of the
admission into the Union of the Dakotas and Montana and Washington
Territories. This act of justice has been unreasonably delayed in the
case of some of them. The people who have settled these Territories are
intelligent, enterprising, and patriotic, and the accession these new
States will add strength to the nation. It is due to the settlers in the
Territories who have availed themselves of the invitations of our land
laws to make homes upon the public domain that their titles should be
speedily adjusted and their honest entries confirmed by patent.

It is very gratifying to observe the general interest now being
manifested in the reform of our election laws. Those who have been for
years calling attention to the pressing necessity of throwing about the
ballot box and about the elector further safeguards, in order that our
elections might not only be free and pure, but might clearly appear to
be so, will welcome the accession of any who did not so soon discover
the need of reform. The National Congress has not as yet taken control
of elections in that case over which the Constitution gives it
jurisdiction, but has accepted and adopted the election laws of the
several States, provided penalties for their violation and a method of
supervision. Only the inefficiency of the State laws or an unfair
partisan administration of them could suggest a departure from this

It was clearly, however, in the contemplation of the framers of the
Constitution that such an exigency might arise, and provision was wisely
made for it. The freedom of the ballot is a condition of our national
life, and no power vested in Congress or in the Executive to secure or
perpetuate it should remain unused upon occasion. The people of all the
Congressional districts have an equal interest that the election in each
shall truly express the views and wishes of a majority of the qualified
electors residing within it. The results of such elections are not
local, and the insistence of electors residing in other districts that
they shall be pure and free does not savor at all of impertinence.

If in any of the States the public security is thought to be threatened
by ignorance among the electors, the obvious remedy is education. The
sympathy and help of our people will not be withheld from any community
struggling with special embarrassments or difficulties connected with
the suffrage if the remedies proposed proceed upon lawful lines and are
promoted by just and honorable methods. How shall those who practice
election frauds recover that respect for the sanctity of the ballot
which is the first condition and obligation of good citizenship? The man
who has come to regard the ballot box as a juggler's hat has renounced
his allegiance.

Let us exalt patriotism and moderate our party contentions. Let those
who would die for the flag on the field of battle give a better proof of
their patriotism and a higher glory to their country by promoting
fraternity and justice. A party success that is achieved by unfair
methods or by practices that partake of revolution is hurtful and
evanescent even from a party standpoint. We should hold our differing
opinions in mutual respect, and, having submitted them to the
arbitrament of the ballot, should accept an adverse judgment with the
same respect that we would have demanded of our opponents if the
decision had been in our favor.

No other people have a government more worthy of their respect and love
or a land so magnificent in extent, so pleasant to look upon, and so
full of generous suggestion to enterprise and labor. God has placed upon
our head a diadem and has laid at our feet power and wealth beyond
definition or calculation. But we must not forget that we take these
gifts upon the condition that justice and mercy shall hold the reins of
power and that the upward avenues of hope shall be free to all the

I do not mistrust the future. Dangers have been in frequent ambush along
our path, but we have uncovered and vanquished them all. Passion has
swept some of our communities, but only to give us a new demonstration
that the great body of our people are stable, patriotic, and
law-abiding. No political party can long pursue advantage at the expense
of public honor or by rude and indecent methods without protest and
fatal disaffection in its own body. The peaceful agencies of commerce
are more fully revealing the necessary unity of all our communities, and
the increasing intercourse of our people is promoting mutual respect. We
shall find unalloyed pleasure in the revelation which our next census
will make of the swift development of the great resources of some of the
States. Each State will bring its generous contribution to the great
aggregate of the nation's increase. And when the harvests from the
fields, the cattle from the hills, and the ores of the earth shall have
been weighed, counted, and valued, we will turn from them all to crown
with the highest honor the State that has most promoted education,
virtue, justice, and patriotism among its people.

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