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VAN BUREN'S INAUGURAL ADDRESS,
MARCH 4, 1837.
The practice of all my predecessors imposes on me an obligation I cheerfully fulfil, to accompany the first and solemn act of my public trust with an avowal of the principles that will guide me in performing it, and an expression of my feelings on assuming a charge so responsible and vast. In imitating their example, I tread in the footsteps of illustrious men, whose superiors it is our happiness to believe are not found on the executive calendar of any country. Among them we recognize the earliest and firmest pillars of the republic; those by whom our national independence was first declared; him who, above all others, contributed to establish it on the field of battle; and those whose expanded intellect and patriotism constructed, improved and perfected the inestimable institutions under which we live. If such men, in the position I now occupy, felt themselves overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude for this, the highest of all marks of their country's confidence, and by a consciousness of their inability adequately to discharge the duties of an office so difficult and exalted, how much more must these considerations affect one, who can rely on no such claim for favor or forbearance. Unlike all who have preceded me, the revolution that gave us existence as one people, was achieved at the period of my birth; and whilst I contemplate, with grateful reverence, that memorable event, I feel that I belong to a later age, and that I may not expect my countrymen to weigh my actions with the same kind and partial hand.
So sensibly, fellow-citizens, do these circumstances press themselves upon me, that I should not dare to enter upon my path of duty, did I not look for the generous aid of those who will be associated with me in the various and co-ordinate branches of the government; did I not repose with unwavering reliance on the patriotism, the intelligence and the kindness of a people who never
yet deserted a public servant honestly laboring in their cause; and, above all, did I not permit myself humbly to hope for the sustaining support of an ever-watchful and beneficent Providence.
To the confidence and consolation derived from these sources, it would be ungrateful not to add those which spring from our present fortunate condition. Though not altogether exempt from embarrassments that disturb our tranquillity at home and threaten it abroad, yet, in all the attributes of a great, happy, and flourishing people, we stand without a parallel in the world. Abroad, we enjoy the respect, and, with scarcely an exception, the friendship of every nation; at home, while our government quietly, but efficiently performs the sole legitimate end of political institutions, in doing the greatest good to the greatest number, we present an aggregate of human prosperity surely not elsewhere to be found.
How imperious, then, is the obligation imposed upon every citizen, in his own sphere of action, whether limited or extended, to exert himself in perpetuating a condition of things so singularly happy. All the lessons of history and experience must be lost upon us, if we are content to trust alone to the peculiar advantages we hap pen to possess. Position and climate, and the bounteous resources that nature has scattered with so liberal a hand-even the diffused intelligence and elevated character of our people-will avail us nothing, if we fail sacredly to uphold those political institutions that were wisely and deliberately formed, with reference to every circumstance that could preserve, or might endanger the blessings we enjoy. The thoughtful framers of our constitution legislated for our country as they found it. Looking upon it with the eyes of statesmen and of patriots, they saw all the sources of rapid and wonderful prosperity; but they saw, also, that various habits, opinions, and institutions, peculiar to the various portions of so vast a region, were deeply fixed. Distinct sovereignties were in actual existence, whose cordial union was essential to the welfare and happiness of all. Between many of them there was, at least to some extent, a real diversity of interests, liable to be exaggerated through sinister designs;
they differed in size, in population, in wealth, and in actual and prospective resources and power; they varied in the character of their industry and staple productions; and in some existed domestic institutions, which, unwisely disturbed, might endanger the harmony of the whole Most carefully were all these circumstances weighed, and the foundation of the government laid upon principles of mutual concession and equitable compromise. The jealousies which the smaller states might entertain of the power of the rest, were allayed by a rule of representation, confessedly unequal at the time, and designed forever to remain so. A natural fear that the broad scope of general legislation might bear upon and unwisely control particular interests, was counteracted by limits strictly drawn around the action of the federal authority; and to the people and the states was left unimpaired their sovereign power over the innumerable subjects embraced in the internal government of a just republic, excepting such only as necessarily appertain to the concerns of the whole confederacy, or its intercourse, as a united community, with the other nations of the world.
This provident forecast has been verified by time. Half a century, teeming with extraordinary events, and elsewhere producing astonishing results, has passed along; but on our institutions it has left no injurious mark. From a small community, we have risen to a people powerful in numbers and in strength; but with our increase has gone hand in hand the progress of just principle; the privileges, civil and religious, of the humblest individual are sacredly protected at home: and while the valor and fortitude of our people have removed far from us the slightest apprehension of foreign power, they have not yet induced us, in a single instance, to forget what is right. Our commerce has been extended to the remotest nations; the value, and even nature of the productions has been greatly changed; a wide difference has arisen in the relative wealth and resources of every portion of our country; yet the spirit of mutual regard and of faithful adherence to existing compacts, has continued to prevail in our councils, and never long been absent from our conduct. We have learned by experience a fruitful