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Thomas Jefferson
First Inaugural Address
Wednesday, March 4, 1801

Friends and Fellow-Citizens:

Called upon to undertake the duties of the first executive office of our
country, I avail myself of the presence of that portion of my
fellow-citizens which is here assembled to express my grateful thanks
for the favor with which they have been pleased to look toward me, to
declare a sincere consciousness that the task is above my talents, and
that I approach it with those anxious and awful presentiments which the
greatness of the charge and the weakness of my powers so justly inspire.
A rising nation, spread over a wide and fruitful land, traversing all
the seas with the rich productions of their industry, engaged in
commerce with nations who feel power and forget right, advancing rapidly
to destinies beyond the reach of mortal eye--when I contemplate these
transcendent objects, and see the honor, the happiness, and the hopes of
this beloved country committed to the issue, and the auspices of this
day, I shrink from the contemplation, and humble myself before the
magnitude of the undertaking. Utterly, indeed, should I despair did not
the presence of many whom I here see remind me that in the other high
authorities provided by our Constitution I shall find resources of
wisdom, of virtue, and of zeal on which to rely under all difficulties.
To you, then, gentlemen, who are charged with the sovereign functions of
legislation, and to those associated with you, I look with encouragement
for that guidance and support which may enable us to steer with safety
the vessel in which we are all embarked amidst the conflicting elements
of a troubled world.

During the contest of opinion through which we have passed the animation
of discussions and of exertions has sometimes worn an aspect which might
impose on strangers unused to think freely and to speak and to write
what they think; but this being now decided by the voice of the nation,
announced according to the rules of the Constitution, all will, of
course, arrange themselves under the will of the law, and unite in
common efforts for the common good. All, too, will bear in mind this
sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases
to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the
minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and
to violate would be oppression. Let us, then, fellow-citizens, unite
with one heart and one mind. Let us restore to social intercourse that
harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but
dreary things. And let us reflect that, having banished from our land
that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and
suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political
intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody
persecutions. During the throes and convulsions of the ancient world,
during the agonizing spasms of infuriated man, seeking through blood and
slaughter his long-lost liberty, it was not wonderful that the
agitation of the billows should reach even this distant and peaceful
shore; that this should be more felt and feared by some and less by
others, and should divide opinions as to measures of safety. But every
difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called
by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all
Republicans, we are all Federalists. If there be any among us who would
wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them
stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion
may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it. I know, indeed,
that some honest men fear that a republican government can not be
strong, that this Government is not strong enough; but would the honest
patriot, in the full tide of successful experiment, abandon a government
which has so far kept us free and firm on the theoretic and visionary
fear that this Government, the world's best hope, may by possibility
want energy to preserve itself? I trust not. I believe this, on the
contrary, the strongest Government on earth. I believe it the only one
where every man, at the call of the law, would fly to the standard of
the law, and would meet invasions of the public order as his own
personal concern. Sometimes it is said that man can not be trusted with
the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government
of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him?
Let history answer this question.

Let us, then, with courage and confidence pursue our own Federal and
Republican principles, our attachment to union and representative
government. Kindly separated by nature and a wide ocean from the
exterminating havoc of one quarter of the globe; too high-minded to
endure the degradations of the others; possessing a chosen country, with
room enough for our descendants to the thousandth and thousandth
generation; entertaining a due sense of our equal right to the use of
our own faculties, to the acquisitions of our own industry, to honor and
confidence from our fellow-citizens, resulting not from birth, but from
our actions and their sense of them; enlightened by a benign religion,
professed, indeed, and practiced in various forms, yet all of them
inculcating honesty, truth, temperance, gratitude, and the love of man;
acknowledging and adoring an overruling Providence, which by all its
dispensations proves that it delights in the happiness of man here and
his greater happiness hereafter--with all these blessings, what more is
necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people? Still one thing
more, fellow-citizens--a wise and frugal Government, which shall
restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free
to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall
not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the
sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our

About to enter, fellow-citizens, on the exercise of duties which
comprehend everything dear and valuable to you, it is proper you should
understand what I deem the essential principles of our Government, and
consequently those which ought to shape its Administration. I will
compress them within the narrowest compass they will bear, stating the
general principle, but not all its limitations. Equal and exact justice
to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political;
peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling
alliances with none; the support of the State governments in all their
rights, as the most competent administrations for our domestic concerns
and the surest bulwarks against antirepublican tendencies; the
preservation of the General Government in its whole constitutional
vigor, as the sheet anchor of our peace at home and safety abroad; a
jealous care of the right of election by the people--a mild and safe
corrective of abuses which are lopped by the sword of revolution where
peaceable remedies are unprovided; absolute acquiescence in the
decisions of the majority, the vital principle of republics, from which
is no appeal but to force, the vital principle and immediate parent of
despotism; a well disciplined militia, our best reliance in peace and
for the first moments of war, till regulars may relieve them; the
supremacy of the civil over the military authority; economy in the
public expense, that labor may be lightly burthened; the honest payment
of our debts and sacred preservation of the public faith; encouragement
of agriculture, and of commerce as its handmaid; the diffusion of
information and arraignment of all abuses at the bar of the public
reason; freedom of religion; freedom of the press, and freedom of person
under the protection of the habeas corpus, and trial by juries
impartially selected. These principles form the bright constellation
which has gone before us and guided our steps through an age of
revolution and reformation. The wisdom of our sages and blood of our
heroes have been devoted to their attainment. They should be the creed
of our political faith, the text of civic instruction, the touchstone by
which to try the services of those we trust; and should we wander from
them in moments of error or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps
and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety.

I repair, then, fellow-citizens, to the post you have assigned me. With
experience enough in subordinate offices to have seen the difficulties
of this the greatest of all, I have learnt to expect that it will rarely
fall to the lot of imperfect man to retire from this station with the
reputation and the favor which bring him into it. Without pretensions to
that high confidence you reposed in our first and greatest revolutionary
character, whose preeminent services had entitled him to the first place
in his country's love and destined for him the fairest page in the
volume of faithful history, I ask so much confidence only as may give
firmness and effect to the legal administration of your affairs. I shall
often go wrong through defect of judgment. When right, I shall often be
thought wrong by those whose positions will not command a view of the
whole ground. I ask your indulgence for my own errors, which will never
be intentional, and your support against the errors of others, who may
condemn what they would not if seen in all its parts. The approbation
implied by your suffrage is a great consolation to me for the past, and
my future solicitude will be to retain the good opinion of those who
have bestowed it in advance, to conciliate that of others by doing them
all the good in my power, and to be instrumental to the happiness and
freedom of all.

Relying, then, on the patronage of your good will, I advance with
obedience to the work, ready to retire from it whenever you become
sensible how much better choice it is in your power to make. And may
that Infinite Power which rules the destinies of the universe lead our
councils to what is best, and give them a favorable issue for your peace
and prosperity.


Thomas Jefferson
Second Inaugural Address
Monday, March 4, 1805

Proceeding, fellow-citizens, to that qualification which the
Constitution requires before my entrance on the charge again conferred
on me, it is my duty to express the deep sense I entertain of this new
proof of confidence from my fellow-citizens at large, and the zeal with
which it inspires me so to conduct myself as may best satisfy their just

On taking this station on a former occasion I declared the principles on
which I believed it my duty to administer the affairs of our
Commonwealth. My conscience tells me I have on every occasion acted up
to that declaration according to its obvious import and to the
understanding of every candid mind.

In the transaction of your foreign affairs we have endeavored to
cultivate the friendship of all nations, and especially of those with
which we have the most important relations. We have done them justice on
all occasions, favored where favor was lawful, and cherished mutual
interests and intercourse on fair and equal terms. We are firmly
convinced, and we act on that conviction, that with nations as with
individuals our interests soundly calculated will ever be found
inseparable from our moral duties, and history bears witness to the fact
that a just nation is trusted on its word when recourse is had to
armaments and wars to bridle others.

At home, fellow-citizens, you best know whether we have done well or
ill. The suppression of unnecessary offices, of useless establishments
and expenses, enabled us to discontinue our internal taxes. These,
covering our land with officers and opening our doors to their
intrusions, had already begun that process of domiciliary vexation which
once entered is scarcely to be restrained from reaching successively
every article of property and produce. If among these taxes some minor
ones fell which had not been inconvenient, it was because their amount
would not have paid the officers who collected them, and because, if
they had any merit, the State authorities might adopt them instead of
others less approved.

The remaining revenue on the consumption of foreign articles is paid
chiefly by those who can afford to add foreign luxuries to domestic
comforts, being collected on our seaboard and frontiers only, and
incorporated with the transactions of our mercantile citizens, it may be
the pleasure and the pride of an American to ask, What farmer, what
mechanic, what laborer ever sees a taxgatherer of the United States?
These contributions enable us to support the current expenses of the
Government, to fulfill contracts with foreign nations, to extinguish the
native right of soil within our limits, to extend those limits, and to
apply such a surplus to our public debts as places at a short day their
final redemption, and that redemption once effected the revenue thereby
liberated may, by a just repartition of it among the States and a
corresponding amendment of the Constitution, be applied in time of peace
to rivers, canals, roads, arts, manufactures, education, and other great
objects within each State. In time of war, if injustice by ourselves or
others must sometimes produce war, increased as the same revenue will be
by increased population and consumption, and aided by other resources
reserved for that crisis, it may meet within the year all the expenses
of the year without encroaching on the rights of future generations by
burthening them with the debts of the past. War will then be but a
suspension of useful works, and a return to a state of peace, a return
to the progress of improvement.

I have said, fellow-citizens, that the income reserved had enabled us to
extend our limits, but that extension may possibly pay for itself before
we are called on, and in the meantime may keep down the accruing
interest; in all events, it will replace the advances we shall have
made. I know that the acquisition of Louisiana had been disapproved by
some from a candid apprehension that the enlargement of our territory
would endanger its union. But who can limit the extent to which the
federative principle may operate effectively? The larger our association
the less will it be shaken by local passions; and in any view is it not
better that the opposite bank of the Mississippi should be settled by
our own brethren and children than by strangers of another family? With
which should we be most likely to live in harmony and friendly

In matters of religion I have considered that its free exercise is
placed by the Constitution independent of the powers of the General
Government. I have therefore undertaken on no occasion to prescribe the
religious exercises suited to it, but have left them, as the
Constitution found them, under the direction and discipline of the
church or state authorities acknowledged by the several religious

The aboriginal inhabitants of these countries I have regarded with the
commiseration their history inspires. Endowed with the faculties and the
rights of men, breathing an ardent love of liberty and independence, and
occupying a country which left them no desire but to be undisturbed, the
stream of overflowing population from other regions directed itself on
these shores; without power to divert or habits to contend against it,
they have been overwhelmed by the current or driven before it; now
reduced within limits too narrow for the hunter's state, humanity
enjoins us to teach them agriculture and the domestic arts; to encourage
them to that industry which alone can enable them to maintain their
place in existence and to prepare them in time for that state of society
which to bodily comforts adds the improvement of the mind and morals. We
have therefore liberally furnished them with the implements of husbandry
and household use; we have placed among them instructors in the arts of
first necessity, and they are covered with the aegis of the law against
aggressors from among ourselves.

But the endeavors to enlighten them on the fate which awaits their
present course of life, to induce them to exercise their reason, follow
its dictates, and change their pursuits with the change of circumstances
have powerful obstacles to encounter; they are combated by the habits of
their bodies, prejudices of their minds, ignorance, pride, and the
influence of interested and crafty individuals among them who feel
themselves something in the present order of things and fear to become
nothing in any other. These persons inculcate a sanctimonious reverence
for the customs of their ancestors; that whatsoever they did must be
done through all time; that reason is a false guide, and to advance
under its counsel in their physical, moral, or political condition is
perilous innovation; that their duty is to remain as their Creator made
them, ignorance being safety and knowledge full of danger; in short, my
friends, among them also is seen the action and counteraction of good
sense and of bigotry; they too have their antiphilosophists who find an
interest in keeping things in their present state, who dread
reformation, and exert all their faculties to maintain the ascendancy of
habit over the duty of improving our reason and obeying its mandates.

In giving these outlines I do not mean, fellow-citizens, to arrogate to
myself the merit of the measures. That is due, in the first place, to
the reflecting character of our citizens at large, who, by the weight of
public opinion, influence and strengthen the public measures. It is due
to the sound discretion with which they select from among themselves
those to whom they confide the legislative duties. It is due to the zeal
and wisdom of the characters thus selected, who lay the foundations of
public happiness in wholesome laws, the execution of which alone remains
for others, and it is due to the able and faithful auxiliaries, whose
patriotism has associated them with me in the executive functions.

During this course of administration, and in order to disturb it, the
artillery of the press has been leveled against us, charged with
whatsoever its licentiousness could devise or dare. These abuses of an
institution so important to freedom and science are deeply to be
regretted, inasmuch as they tend to lessen its usefulness and to sap its
safety. They might, indeed, have been corrected by the wholesome
punishments reserved to and provided by the laws of the several States
against falsehood and defamation, but public duties more urgent press on
the time of public servants, and the offenders have therefore been left
to find their punishment in the public indignation.

Nor was it uninteresting to the world that an experiment should be
fairly and fully made, whether freedom of discussion, unaided by power,
is not sufficient for the propagation and protection of truth--whether a
government conducting itself in the true spirit of its constitution,
with zeal and purity, and doing no act which it would be unwilling the
whole world should witness, can be written down by falsehood and
defamation. The experiment has been tried; you have witnessed the scene;
our fellow-citizens looked on, cool and collected; they saw the latent
source from which these outrages proceeded; they gathered around their
public functionaries, and when the Constitution called them to the
decision by suffrage, they pronounced their verdict, honorable to those
who had served them and consolatory to the friend of man who believes
that he may be trusted with the control of his own affairs.

No inference is here intended that the laws provided by the States
against false and defamatory publications should not be enforced; he who
has time renders a service to public morals and public tranquillity in
reforming these abuses by the salutary coercions of the law; but the
experiment is noted to prove that, since truth and reason have
maintained their ground against false opinions in league with false
facts, the press, confined to truth, needs no other legal restraint; the
public judgment will correct false reasoning and opinions on a full
hearing of all parties; and no other definite line can be drawn between
the inestimable liberty of the press and its demoralizing
licentiousness. If there be still improprieties which this rule would
not restrain, its supplement must be sought in the censorship of public

Contemplating the union of sentiment now manifested so generally as
auguring harmony and happiness to our future course, I offer to our
country sincere congratulations. With those, too, not yet rallied to the
same point the disposition to do so is gaining strength; facts are
piercing through the veil drawn over them, and our doubting brethren
will at length see that the mass of their fellow-citizens with whom they
can not yet resolve to act as to principles and measures, think as they
think and desire what they desire; that our wish as well as theirs is
that the public efforts may be directed honestly to the public good,
that peace be cultivated, civil and religious liberty unassailed, law
and order preserved, equality of rights maintained, and that state of
property, equal or unequal, which results to every man from his own
industry or that of his father's. When satisfied of these views it is
not in human nature that they should not approve and support them. In
the meantime let us cherish them with patient affection, let us do them
justice, and more than justice, in all competitions of interest; and we
need not doubt that truth, reason, and their own interests will at
length prevail, will gather them into the fold of their country, and
will complete that entire union of opinion which gives to a nation the
blessing of harmony and the benefit of all its strength.

I shall now enter on the duties to which my fellow-citizens have again
called me, and shall proceed in the spirit of those principles which
they have approved. I fear not that any motives of interest may lead me
astray; I am sensible of no passion which could seduce me knowingly from
the path of justice, but the weaknesses of human nature and the limits
of my own understanding will produce errors of judgment sometimes
injurious to your interests. I shall need, therefore, all the indulgence
which I have heretofore experienced from my constituents; the want of it
will certainly not lessen with increasing years. I shall need, too, the
favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our fathers, as
Israel of old, from their native land and planted them in a country
flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life; who has covered
our infancy with His providence and our riper years with His wisdom and
power, and to whose goodness I ask you to join in supplications with me
that He will so enlighten the minds of your servants, guide their
councils, and prosper their measures that whatsoever they do shall
result in your good, and shall secure to you the peace, friendship, and
approbation of all nations.

servants, guide their councils, and prosper their measures that 
whatsoever they do shall result in your good, and shall secure to you 
the peace, friendship, and approbation of all nations.

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