Second Inaugural Address of Grover Cleveland
SATURDAY, MARCH 4, 1893
In obedience of the mandate of my countrymen I am about to dedicate
myself to their service under the sanction of a solemn oath. Deeply moved
by the expression of confidence and personal attachment which has called
me to this service, I am sure my gratitude can make no better return than
the pledge I now give before God and these witnesses of unreserved and
complete devotion to the interests and welfare of those who have honored
I deem it fitting on this occasion, while indicating the opinion I hold
concerning public questions of present importance, to also briefly refer
to the existence of certain conditions and tendencies among our people
which seem to menace the integrity and usefulness of their Government.
While every American citizen must contemplate with the utmost pride
and enthusiasm the growth and expansion of our country, the sufficiency
of our institutions to stand against the rudest shocks of violence, the
wonderful thrift and enterprise of our people, and the demonstrated superiority
of our free government, it behooves us to constantly watch for every symptom
of insidious infirmity that threatens our national vigor.
The strong man who in the confidence of sturdy health courts the sternest
activities of life and rejoices in the hardihood of constant labor may
still have lurking near his vitals the unheeded disease that dooms him
to sudden collapse.
It can not be doubted that,our stupendous achievements as a people and
our country's robust strength have given rise to heedlessness of those
laws governing our national health which we can no more evade than human
life can escape the laws of God and nature.
Manifestly nothing is more vital to our supremacy as a nation and to
the beneficent purposes of our Government than a sound and stable currency.
Its exposure to degradation should at once arouse to activity the most
enlightened statesmanship, and the danger of depreciation in the purchasing
power of the wages paid to toil should furnish the strongest incentive
to prompt and conservative precaution.
In dealing with our present embarrassing situation as related to this
subject we will be wise if we temper our confidence and faith in our national
strength and resources with the frank concession that even these will not
permit us to defy with impunity the inexorable laws of finance and trade.
At the same time, in our efforts to adjust differences of opinion we should
be free from intolerance or passion, and our judgments should be unmoved
by alluring phrases and unvexed by selfish interests.
I am confident that such an approach to the subject will result in prudent
and effective remedial legislation. In the meantime, so far as the executive
branch of the Government can intervene, none of the powers with which it
is invested will be withheld when their exercise is deemed necessary to
maintain our national credit or avert financial disaster.
Closely related to the exaggerated confidence in our country's greatness
which tends to a disregard of the rules of national safety, another danger
confronts us not less serious. I refer to the prevalence of a popular disposition
to expect from the operation of the Government especial and direct individual
The verdict of our voters which condemned the injustice of maintaining
protection for protection's sake enjoins upon the people's servants the
duty of exposing and destroying the brood of kindred evils which are the
unwholesome progeny of paternalism. This is the bane of republican institutions
and the constant peril of our government by the people. It degrades to
the purposes of wily craft the plan of rule our fathers established and
bequeathed to us as an object of our love and veneration. It perverts the
patriotic sentiments of our countrymen and tempts them to pitiful calculation
of the sordid gain to be derived from their Government's maintenance. It
undermines the self-reliance of our people and substitutes in its place
dependence upon governmental favoritism. It stifles the spirit of true
Americanism and stupefies every ennobling trait of American citizenship.
The lessons of paternalism ought to be unlearned and the better lesson
taught that while the people should patriotically and cheerfully support
their Government its functions do not include the support of the people.
The acceptance of this principle leads to a refusal of bounties and
subsidies, which burden the labor and thrift of a portion of our citizens
to aid ill-advised or languishing enterprises in which they have no concern.
It leads also to a challenge of wild and reckless pension expenditure,
which overleaps the bounds of grateful recognition of patriotic service
and prostitutes to vicious uses the people's prompt and generous impulse
to aid those disabled in their country's defense.
Every thoughtful American must realize the importance of checking at
its beginning any tendency in public or private station to regard frugality
and economy as virtues which we may safely outgrow. The toleration of this
idea results in the waste of the people's money by their chosen servants
and encourages prodigality and extravagance in the home life of our countrymen.
Under our scheme of government the waste of public money is a crime
against the citizen, and the contempt of our people for economy and frugality
in their personal affairs deplorably saps the strength and sturdiness of
our national character.
It is a plain dictate of honesty and good government that public expenditures
should be limited by public necessity, and that this should be measured
by the rules of strict economy; and it is equally clear that frugality
among the people is the best guaranty of a contented and strong support
of free institutions.
One mode of the misappropriation of public funds is avoided when appointments
to office, instead of being the rewards of partisan activity, are awarded
to those whose efficiency promises a fair return of work for the compensation
paid to them. To secure the fitness and competency of appointees to office
and remove from political action the demoralizing madness for spoils, civil-
service reform has found a place in our public policy and laws. The benefits
already gained through this instrumentality and the further usefulness
it promises entitle it to the hearty support and encouragement of all who
desire to see our public service well performed or who hope for the elevation
of political sentiment and the purification of political methods.
The existence of immense aggregations of kindred enterprises and combinations
of business interests formed for the purpose of limiting production and
fixing prices is inconsistent with the fair field which ought to be open
to every independent activity. Legitimate strife in business should not
be superseded by an enforced concession to the demands of combinations
that have the power to destroy, nor should the people to be served lose
the benefit of cheapness which usually results from wholesome competition.
These aggregations and combinations frequently constitute conspiracies
against the interests of the people, and in all their phases they are unnatural
and opposed to our American sense of fairness. To the extent that they
can be reached and restrained by Federal power the General Government should
relieve our citizens from their interference and exactions.
Loyalty to the principles upon which our Government rests positively
demands that the equality before the law which it guarantees to every citizen
should be justly and in good faith conceded in all parts of the land. The
enjoyment of this right follows the badge of citizenship wherever found,
and, unimpaired by race or color, it appeals for recognition to American
manliness and fairness.
Our relations with the Indians located within our border impose upon
us responsibilities we can not escape. Humanity and consistency require
us to treat them with forbearance and in our dealings with them to honestly
and considerately regard their rights and interests. Every effort should
be made to lead them, through the paths of civilization and education,
to self- supporting and independent citizenship. In the meantime, as the
nation's wards, they should be promptly defended against the cupidity of
designing men and shielded from every influence or temptation that retards
The people of the United States have decreed that on this day the control
of their Government in its legislative and executive branches shall be
given to a political party pledged in the most positive terms to the accomplishment
of tariff reform. They have thus determined in favor of a more just and
equitable system of Federal taxation. The agents they have chosen to carry
out their purposes are bound by their promises not less than by the command
of their masters to devote themselves unremittingly to this service.
While there should be no surrender of principle, our task must be undertaken
wisely and without heedless vindictiveness. Our mission is not punishment,
but the rectification of wrong. If in lifting burdens from the daily life
of our people we reduce inordinate and unequal advantages too long enjoyed,
this is but a necessary incident of our return to right and justice. If
we exact from unwilling minds acquiescence in the theory of an honest distribution
of the fund of the governmental beneficence treasured up for all, we but
insist upon a principle which underlies our free institutions. When we
tear aside the delusions and misconceptions which have blinded our countrymen
to their condition under vicious tariff laws, we but show them how far
they have been led away from the paths of contentment and prosperity. When
we proclaim that the necessity for revenue to support the Government furnishes
the only justification for taxing the people, we announce a truth so plain
that its denial would seem to indicate the extent to which judgment may
be influenced by familiarity with perversions of the taxing power. And
when we seek to reinstate the self-confidence and business enterprise of
our citizens by discrediting an abject dependence upon governmental favor,
we strive to stimulate those elements of American character which support
the hope of American achievement.
Anxiety for the redemption of the pledges which my party has made and
solicitude for the complete justification of the trust the people have
reposed in us constrain me to remind those with whom I am to cooperate
that we can succeed in doing the work which has been especially set before
us only by the most sincere, harmonious, and disinterested effort. Even
if insuperable obstacles and opposition prevent the consummation of our
task, we shall hardly be excused; and if failure can be traced to our fault
or neglect we may be sure the people will hold us to a swift and exacting
The oath I now take to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution
of the United States not only impressively defines the great responsibility
I assume, but suggests obedience to constitutional commands as the rule
by which my official conduct must be guided. I shall to the best of my
ability and within my sphere of duty preserve the Constitution by loyally
protecting every grant of Federal power it contains, by defending all its
restraints when attacked by impatience and restlessness, and by enforcing
its limitations and reservations in favor of the States and the people.
Fully impressed with the gravity of the duties that confront me and
mindful of my weakness, I should be appalled if it were my lot to bear
unaided the responsibilities which await me. I am, however, saved from
discouragement when I remember that I shall have the support and the counsel
and cooperation of wise and patriotic men who will stand at my side in
Cabinet places or will represent the people in their legislative halls.
I find also much comfort in remembering that my countrymen are just
and generous and in the assurance that they will not condemn those who
by sincere devotion to their service deserve their forbearance and approval.
Above all, I know there is a Supreme Being who rules the affairs of
men and whose goodness and mercy have always followed the American people,
and I know He will not turn from us now if we humbly and reverently seek
His powerful aid.