First Inaugural Address of Grover Cleveland
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 4, 1885
In the presence of this vast assemblage of my countrymen I am about
to supplement and seal by the oath which I shall take the manifestation
of the will of a great and free people. In the exercise of their power
and right of self-government they have committed to one of their fellow-citizens
a supreme and sacred trust, and he here consecrates himself to their service.
This impressive ceremony adds little to the solemn sense of responsibility
with which I contemplate the duty I owe to all the people of the land.
Nothing can relieve me from anxiety lest by any act of mine their interests
may suffer, and nothing is needed to strengthen my resolution to engage
every faculty and effort in the promotion of their welfare.
Amid the din of party strife the people's choice was made, but its attendant
circumstances have demonstrated anew the strength and safety of a government
by the people. In each succeeding year it more clearly appears that our
democratic principle needs no apology, and that in its fearless and faithful
application is to be found the surest guaranty of good government.
But the best results in the operation of a government wherein every
citizen has a share largely depend upon a proper limitation of purely partisan
zeal and effort and a correct appreciation of the time when the heat of
the partisan should be merged in the patriotism of the citizen.
To-day the executive branch of the Government is transferred to new
keeping. But this is still the Government of all the people, and it should
be none the less an object of their affectionate solicitude. At this hour
the animosities of political strife, the bitterness of partisan defeat,
and the exultation of partisan triumph should be supplanted by an ungrudging
acquiescence in the popular will and a sober, conscientious concern for
the general weal. Moreover, if from this hour we cheerfully and honestly
abandon all sectional prejudice and distrust, and determine, with manly
confidence in one another, to work out harmoniously the achievements of
our national destiny, we shall deserve to realize all the benefits which
our happy form of government can bestow.
On this auspicious occasion we may well renew the pledge of our devotion
to the Constitution, which, launched by the founders of the Republic and
consecrated by their prayers and patriotic devotion, has for almost a century
borne the hopes and the aspirations of a great people through prosperity
and peace and through the shock of foreign conflicts and the perils of
domestic strife and vicissitudes.
By the Father of his Country our Constitution was commended for adoption
as "the result of a spirit of amity and mutual concession." In that same
spirit it should be administered, in order to promote the lasting welfare
of the country and to secure the full measure of its priceless benefits
to us and to those who will succeed to the blessings of our national life.
The large variety of diverse and competing interests subject to Federal
control, persistently seeking the recognition of their claims, need give
us no fear that "the greatest good to the greatest number" will fail to
be accomplished if in the halls of national legislation that spirit of
amity and mutual concession shall prevail in which the Constitution had
its birth. If this involves the surrender or postponement of private interests
and the abandonment of local advantages, compensation will be found in
the assurance that the common interest is subserved and the general welfare
In the discharge of my official duty I shall endeavor to be guided by
a just and unstrained construction of the Constitution, a careful observance
of the distinction between the powers granted to the Federal Government
and those reserved to the States or to the people, and by a cautious appreciation
of those functions which by the Constitution and laws have been especially
assigned to the executive branch of the Government.
But he who takes the oath today to preserve, protect, and defend the
Constitution of the United States only assumes the solemn obligation which
every patriotic citizen--on the farm, in the workshop, in the busy marts
of trade, and everywhere--should share with him. The Constitution which
prescribes his oath, my countrymen, is yours; the Government you have chosen
him to administer for a time is yours; the suffrage which executes the
will of freemen is yours; the laws and the entire scheme of our civil rule,
from the town meeting to the State capitals and the national capital, is
yours. Your every voter, as surely as your Chief Magistrate, under the
same high sanction, though in a different sphere, exercises a public trust.
Nor is this all. Every citizen owes to the country a vigilant watch and
close scrutiny of its public servants and a fair and reasonable estimate
of their fidelity and usefulness. Thus is the people's will impressed upon
the whole framework of our civil polity--municipal, State, and Federal;
and this is the price of our liberty and the inspiration of our faith in
It is the duty of those serving the people in public place to closely
limit public expenditures to the actual needs of the Government economically
administered, because this bounds the right of the Government to exact
tribute from the earnings of labor or the property of the citizen, and
because public extravagance begets extravagance among the people. We should
never be ashamed of the simplicity and prudential economies which are best
suited to the operation of a republican form of government and most compatible
with the mission of the American people. Those who are selected for a limited
time to manage public affairs are still of the people, and may do much
by their example to encourage, consistently with the dignity of their official
functions, that plain way of life which among their fellow- citizens aids
integrity and promotes thrift and prosperity.
The genius of our institutions, the needs of our people in their home
life, and the attention which is demanded for the settlement and development
of the resources of our vast territory dictate the scrupulous avoidance
of any departure from that foreign policy commended by the history, the
traditions, and the prosperity of our Republic. It is the policy of independence,
favored by our position and defended by our known love of justice and by
our power. It is the policy of peace suitable to our interests. It is the
policy of neutrality, rejecting any share in foreign broils and ambitions
upon other continents and repelling their intrusion here. It is the policy
of Monroe and of Washington and Jefferson-- "Peace, commerce, and honest
friendship with all nations; entangling alliance with none."
A due regard for the interests and prosperity of all the people demands
that our finances shall be established upon such a sound and sensible basis
as shall secure the safety and confidence of business interests and make
the wage of labor sure and steady, and that our system of revenue shall
be so adjusted as to relieve the people of unnecessary taxation, having
a due regard to the interests of capital invested and workingmen employed
in American industries, and preventing the accumulation of a surplus in
the Treasury to tempt extravagance and waste.
Care for the property of the nation and for the needs of future settlers
requires that the public domain should be protected from purloining schemes
and unlawful occupation.
The conscience of the people demands that the Indians within our boundaries
shall be fairly and honestly treated as wards of the Government and their
education and civilization promoted with a view to their ultimate citizenship,
and that polygamy in the Territories, destructive of the family relation
and offensive to the moral sense of the civilized world, shall be repressed.
The laws should be rigidly enforced which prohibit the immigration of
a servile class to compete with American labor, with no intention of acquiring
citizenship, and bringing with them and retaining habits and customs repugnant
to our civilization.
The people demand reform in the administration of the Government and
the application of business principles to public affairs. As a means to
this end, civil-service reform should be in good faith enforced. Our citizens
have the right to protection from the incompetency of public employees
who hold their places solely as the reward of partisan service, and from
the corrupting influence of those who promise and the vicious methods of
those who expect such rewards; and those who worthily seek public employment
have the right to insist that merit and competency shall be recognized
instead of party subserviency or the surrender of honest political belief.
In the administration of a government pledged to do equal and exact
justice to all men there should be no pretext for anxiety touching the
protection of the freedmen in their rights or their security in the enjoyment
of their privileges under the Constitution and its amendments. All discussion
as to their fitness for the place accorded to them as American citizens
is idle and unprofitable except as it suggests the necessity for their
improvement. The fact that they are citizens entitles them to all the rights
due to that relation and charges them with all its duties, obligations,
These topics and the constant and ever-varying wants of an active and
enterprising population may well receive the attention and the patriotic
endeavor of all who make and execute the Federal law. Our duties are practical
and call for industrious application, an intelligent perception of the
claims of public office, and, above all, a firm determination, by united
action, to secure to all the people of the land the full benefits of the
best form of government ever vouchsafed to man. And let us not trust to
human effort alone, but humbly acknowledging the power and goodness of
Almighty God, who presides over the destiny of nations, and who has at
all times been revealed in our country's history, let us invoke His aid
and His blessings upon our labors.