Jefferson’s 1st inaugural speech?

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In his inaugural address, President Thomas Jefferson expresses gratitude for being chosen as the first executive officer of the United States, but admits that the task is beyond his talents. He calls for unity and encourages the government to uphold the principles of equal justice, peace, and friendship with all nations, support for state governments, and the preservation of the General Government. He also emphasizes the importance of freedom of religion, the press, and person, as well as the need for a wise and frugal government.

Washington, 4 marzo 1801
Friends and fellow citizens:

CALLED to assume the functions of the first executive office of our country, I avail myself of the presence of that part of my fellow citizens who are gathered here to express my grateful thanks for the favor with which they have been pleased to address me, to declare a sincere conscience that the task is beyond my talents, and that I approach it with those anxious and fearful presentiments which the grandeur of the charge and the weakness of my faculties so justly inspire. Rising nation, spread over a vast and fruitful land, spanning all seas with the rich produce of her industry, engaged in commerce with nations that feel power and forget well, advancing swiftly to destinies beyond the reach of mortal eye – when I contemplate these transcendent objects, and seeing the honour, happiness and hopes of this beloved country engaged in the matter, and the auspices of this day, I shrink from contemplation and humble myself before the grandeur of the undertaking. Don’t despair at all, indeed, the presence of many that I see here does not remind me that in the other high authorities provided for by our Constitution I will find resources of wisdom, virtue and zeal on which to rely in all difficulties. To you, then, gentlemen, who are charged with the sovereign functions of legislation, and to those associated with them, I look with encouragement for that guidance and support which will enable us to safely steer the ship in which we are all embarked amidst the elements. conflicts of a troubled world.

During the contest of opinions through which we have passed the animation of discussions and efforts has sometimes taken on an aspect which might impose on outsiders not accustomed to think freely and to speak and write what they think; but this being now decided by the voice of the nation, announced according to the rules of the Constitution, all, of course, will organize themselves according to the will of the law, and unite in common endeavours, for the common good. All, moreover, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that although the will of the majority must prevail in all cases, that will, in order to be legitimate, must be reasonable; that the minority has its equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression. Let us unite therefore, fellow citizens, with one heart and one mind. Let us restore to social relationships that harmony and affection without which freedom and even life itself are nothing but sad things. And let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious tolerance under which humanity has so long bled and suffered, we still have little gained if we accept a political intolerance as despotic as it is wicked and capable of persecution as bitter and bloody . During the pangs and convulsions of the ancient world, during the agonizing spasms of enraged man, seeking through blood and slaughter his long-lost freedom, was it not wonderful that the turmoil of the billows reached even this distant and peaceful shore; that this should be felt and feared more by some and less by others, and should divide opinions on security measures. But any difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by names different brothers of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists. If there is any of us who would like to dissolve this Union or change its republican form, let them remain undisturbed as monuments of security with which error of opinion may be tolerated when reason is left free to combat it. I know, indeed, that some honest men fear that a republican government cannot be strong, that this government is not strong enough; but would the honest patriot, in the midst of the successful experiment, abandon a government that has hitherto kept us free and steadfast on the theoretical and visionary fear that this government, the best hope in the world, might by chance want energy to preserve itself? I trust not. I believe this, on the contrary, the strongest government on earth. I believe it is the only one in which any man, at the call of the law, would soar to the level of the law and meet encroachments on public order as his personal concern. It is sometimes said that the government man cannot be trusted with himself. Can we therefore entrust the government of others to him? Or have we found angels in the form of kings to rule it? Let history answer this question.

Let us therefore courageously and confidently pursue our federal and republican principles, our attachment to the union and to representative government. Kindly separated from nature and a vast ocean by the exterminating havoc of a quarter of the globe; too haughty to bear the degradations of others; own a chosen country, with room enough for our thousandth and thousandth generation descendants; to cherish a due sense of our equal right to the use of our faculties, to the acquisitions of our own industry, to the honor and confidence of our fellow citizens, arising not from birth, but from our actions and their sense of them; enlightened by a benevolent religion, indeed professed and practiced in various forms, but all inculcated in honesty, truth, temperance, gratitude and love of man; acknowledging and worshiping an overbearing Providence, which by all its dispensations proves that it delights in man’s happiness here and his greater happiness hereafter er – with all these blessings, what more is needed to make us a happy and prosperous people ? Still another thing, fellow citizens, a wise and frugal government, which prevents men from injuring each other, otherwise leaves them free to regulate their own industrial and improvement activities, and does not take away from the mouth of the workman the bread that has earned. This is the sum of good governance, and this is necessary to close the circle of our happiness.

As you enter, fellow citizens, into the exercise of duties which encompass all that is dear and precious to you, it is fitting that you understand what I consider to be the essential principles of our government, and consequently those which should shape its administration. I will squeeze them into the narrowest range they will bear, stating the general principle, but not all of its limits. Equal and exact justice to all men, of any state or creed, religious or political; peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, intricate alliances with none; the support of state governments in all their rights, as the most competent administrations for our domestic concerns and the surest bulwarks against anti-republican tendencies; the preservation of the General Government in all its constitutional vigor, as the lifeline of our peace at home and security abroad; a jealous care of the people’s right of election, mild and sure corrective of abuses that are cut off by the sword of revolution where peaceful remedies are not provided; absolute acquiescence in the decisions of the majority, the vital principle of republics, to which one can only appeal to force, the vital principle and immediate parent of despotism; a well-disciplined militia, our best confidence in peace and for the first moments of war, until regulars can replace them; the supremacy of civil over military authority; economy in public spending, that work may be lightly burdened; the honest payment of our debts and the sacred preservation of the public faith; encouragement of agriculture and commerce as her handmaid; the dissemination of information and the contestation of all abuses of the order of public reason; freedom of religion; freedom of the press and freedom of person under the protection of habeas corpus and trial by impartially selected juries. These principles form the luminous constellation that has preceded us and guided our steps through an era of revolution and reform. The wisdom of our sages and the blood of our heroes have been dedicated to their making. They should be the creed of our political faith, the textbook of civics, the touchstone by which to test the services of those we trust; and if we should turn away from them in moments of error or alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and take the road that alone leads to peace, freedom and security.

So, fellow citizens, I am leaving again in the place you have assigned me. Having enough experience in subordinate offices to have seen the difficulties of it all the greatest, I have learned to expect that it will seldom be the lot of the imperfect man to retire from this position with the reputation and favor which bring him into it. Without pretensions of that high trust that you placed in our first and greatest revolutionary figure, whose outstanding services entitled him to the first place in the love of his country and destined for him the most beautiful page in the volume of faithful history, so much trust I only ask how it can give firmness and efficacy to the legal administration of your affairs. I will often err through lack of judgement. When I am right, I will often be considered wrong by those whose positions will not allow for a view of the whole terrain. I ask your forgiveness for my mistakes, which will never be intentional, and your support against the mistakes of others, which may condemn what they would not do if they were seen in their entirety. The approval implicit in your suffrage is a great consolation to me for the past, and my future solicitude will be to preserve the good opinion of those who have given it in advance, to reconcile that of the others by doing them all the good to my power and be instrumental to the happiness and freedom of all.

Trusting therefore in the patronage of your good will, I proceed with obedience to the work, ready to withdraw from it whenever you realize how much better choice is in your power to make. And may that Infinite Power which governs the destinies of the universe lead our counsels to that which is best, and give them a result favorable to your peace and prosperity.

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