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John Adams
Inaugural Address
Saturday, March 4, 1797


When it was first perceived, in early times, that no middle course for
America remained between unlimited submission to a foreign legislature
and a total independence of its claims, men of reflection were less
apprehensive of danger from the formidable power of fleets and armies
they must determine to resist than from those contests and dissensions
which would certainly arise concerning the forms of government to be
instituted over the whole and over the parts of this extensive country.
Relying, however, on the purity of their intentions, the justice of
their cause, and the integrity and intelligence of the people, under an
overruling Providence which had so signally protected this country from
the first, the representatives of this nation, then consisting of little
more than half its present number, not only broke to pieces the chains
which were forging and the rod of iron that was lifted up, but frankly
cut asunder the ties which had bound them, and launched into an ocean of
uncertainty.

The zeal and ardor of the people during the Revolutionary war, supplying
the place of government, commanded a degree of order sufficient at least
for the temporary preservation of society. The Confederation which was
early felt to be necessary was prepared from the models of the Batavian
and Helvetic confederacies, the only examples which remain with any
detail and precision in history, and certainly the only ones which the
people at large had ever considered. But reflecting on the striking
difference in so many particulars between this country and those where a
courier may go from the seat of government to the frontier in a single
day, it was then certainly foreseen by some who assisted in Congress at
the formation of it that it could not be durable.

Negligence of its regulations, inattention to its recommendations, if
not disobedience to its authority, not only in individuals but in
States, soon appeared with their melancholy consequences--universal
languor, jealousies and rivalries of States, decline of navigation and
commerce, discouragement of necessary manufactures, universal fall in
the value of lands and their produce, contempt of public and private
faith, loss of consideration and credit with foreign nations, and at
length in discontents, animosities, combinations, partial conventions,
and insurrection, threatening some great national calamity.

In this dangerous crisis the people of America were not abandoned by
their usual good sense, presence of mind, resolution, or integrity.
Measures were pursued to concert a plan to form a more perfect union,
establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common
defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of
liberty. The public disquisitions, discussions, and deliberations issued
in the present happy Constitution of Government.

Employed in the service of my country abroad during the whole course of
these transactions, I first saw the Constitution of the United States in
a foreign country. Irritated by no literary altercation, animated by no
public debate, heated by no party animosity, I read it with great
satisfaction, as the result of good heads prompted by good hearts, as an
experiment better adapted to the genius, character, situation, and
relations of this nation and country than any which had ever been
proposed or suggested. In its general principles and great outlines it
was conformable to such a system of government as I had ever most
esteemed, and in some States, my own native State in particular, had
contributed to establish. Claiming a right of suffrage, in common with
my fellow-citizens, in the adoption or rejection of a constitution which
was to rule me and my posterity, as well as them and theirs, I did not
hesitate to express my approbation of it on all occasions, in public and
in private. It was not then, nor has been since, any objection to it in
my mind that the Executive and Senate were not more permanent. Nor have
I ever entertained a thought of promoting any alteration in it but such
as the people themselves, in the course of their experience, should see
and feel to be necessary or expedient, and by their representatives in
Congress and the State legislatures, according to the Constitution
itself, adopt and ordain.

Returning to the bosom of my country after a painful separation from it
for ten years, I had the honor to be elected to a station under the new
order of things, and I have repeatedly laid myself under the most
serious obligations to support the Constitution. The operation of it has
equaled the most sanguine expectations of its friends, and from an
habitual attention to it, satisfaction in its administration, and
delight in its effects upon the peace, order, prosperity, and happiness
of the nation I have acquired an habitual attachment to it and
veneration for it.

What other form of government, indeed, can so well deserve our esteem
and love?

There may be little solidity in an ancient idea that congregations of
men into cities and nations are the most pleasing objects in the sight
of superior intelligences, but this is very certain, that to a
benevolent human mind there can be no spectacle presented by any nation
more pleasing, more noble, majestic, or august, than an assembly like
that which has so often been seen in this and the other Chamber of
Congress, of a Government in which the Executive authority, as well as
that of all the branches of the Legislature, are exercised by citizens
selected at regular periods by their neighbors to make and execute laws
for the general good. Can anything essential, anything more than mere
ornament and decoration, be added to this by robes and diamonds? Can
authority be more amiable and respectable when it descends from
accidents or institutions established in remote antiquity than when it
springs fresh from the hearts and judgments of an honest and enlightened
people? For it is the people only that are represented. It is their
power and majesty that is reflected, and only for their good, in every
legitimate government, under whatever form it may appear. The existence
of such a government as ours for any length of time is a full proof of a
general dissemination of knowledge and virtue throughout the whole body
of the people. And what object or consideration more pleasing than this
can be presented to the human mind? If national pride is ever
justifiable or excusable it is when it springs, not from power or
riches, grandeur or glory, but from conviction of national innocence,
information, and benevolence.

In the midst of these pleasing ideas we should be unfaithful to
ourselves if we should ever lose sight of the danger to our liberties if
anything partial or extraneous should infect the purity of our free,
fair, virtuous, and independent elections. If an election is to be
determined by a majority of a single vote, and that can be procured by a
party through artifice or corruption, the Government may be the choice
of a party for its own ends, not of the nation for the national good. If
that solitary suffrage can be obtained by foreign nations by flattery or
menaces, by fraud or violence, by terror, intrigue, or venality, the
Government may not be the choice of the American people, but of foreign
nations. It may be foreign nations who govern us, and not we, the
people, who govern ourselves; and candid men will acknowledge that in
such cases choice would have little advantage to boast of over lot or
chance.

Such is the amiable and interesting system of government (and such are
some of the abuses to which it may be exposed) which the people of
America have exhibited to the admiration and anxiety of the wise and
virtuous of all nations for eight years under the administration of a
citizen who, by a long course of great actions, regulated by prudence,
justice, temperance, and fortitude, conducting a people inspired with
the same virtues and animated with the same ardent patriotism and love
of liberty to independence and peace, to increasing wealth and
unexampled prosperity, has merited the gratitude of his fellow-citizens,
commanded the highest praises of foreign nations, and secured immortal
glory with posterity.

In that retirement which is his voluntary choice may he long live to
enjoy the delicious recollection of his services, the gratitude of
mankind, the happy fruits of them to himself and the world, which are
daily increasing, and that splendid prospect of the future fortunes of
this country which is opening from year to year. His name may be still a
rampart, and the knowledge that he lives a bulwark, against all open or
secret enemies of his country's peace. This example has been recommended
to the imitation of his successors by both Houses of Congress and by the
voice of the legislatures and the people throughout the nation.

On this subject it might become me better to be silent or to speak with
diffidence; but as something may be expected, the occasion, I hope, will
be admitted as an apology if I venture to say that if a preference, upon
principle, of a free republican government, formed upon long and serious
reflection, after a diligent and impartial inquiry after truth; if an
attachment to the Constitution of the United States, and a conscientious
determination to support it until it shall be altered by the judgments
and wishes of the people, expressed in the mode prescribed in it; if a
respectful attention to the constitutions of the individual States and a
constant caution and delicacy toward the State governments; if an equal
and impartial regard to the rights, interest, honor, and happiness of
all the States in the Union, without preference or regard to a northern
or southern, an eastern or western, position, their various political
opinions on unessential points or their personal attachments; if a love
of virtuous men of all parties and denominations; if a love of science
and letters and a wish to patronize every rational effort to encourage
schools, colleges, universities, academies, and every institution for
propagating knowledge, virtue, and religion among all classes of the
people, not only for their benign influence on the happiness of life in
all its stages and classes, and of society in all its forms, but as the
only means of preserving our Constitution from its natural enemies, the
spirit of sophistry, the spirit of party, the spirit of intrigue, the
profligacy of corruption, and the pestilence of foreign influence, which
is the angel of destruction to elective governments; if a love of equal
laws, of justice, and humanity in the interior administration; if an
inclination to improve agriculture, commerce, and manufacturers for
necessity, convenience, and defense; if a spirit of equity and humanity
toward the aboriginal nations of America, and a disposition to meliorate
their condition by inclining them to be more friendly to us, and our
citizens to be more friendly to them; if an inflexible determination to
maintain peace and inviolable faith with all nations, and that system of
neutrality and impartiality among the belligerent powers of Europe which
has been adopted by this Government and so solemnly sanctioned by both
Houses of Congress and applauded by the legislatures of the States and
the public opinion, until it shall be otherwise ordained by Congress; if
a personal esteem for the French nation, formed in a residence of seven
years chiefly among them, and a sincere desire to preserve the
friendship which has been so much for the honor and interest of both
nations; if, while the conscious honor and integrity of the people of
America and the internal sentiment of their own power and energies must
be preserved, an earnest endeavor to investigate every just cause and
remove every colorable pretense of complaint; if an intention to pursue
by amicable negotiation a reparation for the injuries that have been
committed on the commerce of our fellow-citizens by whatever nation, and
if success can not be obtained, to lay the facts before the Legislature,
that they may consider what further measures the honor and interest of
the Government and its constituents demand; if a resolution to do
justice as far as may depend upon me, at all times and to all nations,
and maintain peace, friendship, and benevolence with all the world; if
an unshaken confidence in the honor, spirit, and resources of the
American people, on which I have so often hazarded my all and never been
deceived; if elevated ideas of the high destinies of this country and of
my own duties toward it, founded on a knowledge of the moral principles
and intellectual improvements of the people deeply engraven on my mind
in early life, and not obscured but exalted by experience and age; and,
with humble reverence, I feel it to be my duty to add, if a veneration
for the religion of a people who profess and call themselves Christians,
and a fixed resolution to consider a decent respect for Christianity
among the best recommendations for the public service, can enable me in
any degree to comply with your wishes, it shall be my strenuous endeavor
that this sagacious injunction of the two Houses shall not be without
effect.

With this great example before me, with the sense and spirit, the faith
and honor, the duty and interest, of the same American people pledged to
support the Constitution of the United States, I entertain no doubt of
its continuance in all its energy, and my mind is prepared without
hesitation to lay myself under the most solemn obligations to support it
to the utmost of my power.

And may that Being who is supreme over all, the Patron of Order, the
Fountain of Justice, and the Protector in all ages of the world of
virtuous liberty, continue His blessing upon this nation and its
Government and give it all possible success and duration consistent with
the ends of His providence.



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