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LETTERS AND STATE PAPERS OF
March 4, 1861.–FIRST INAUGURAL ADDRESS. Fellow-citizens of the United States: In compliance with a custom as old as the government itself, I appear before you to address you briefly, and to take in your presence the oath prescribed by the Constitution of the United States to be taken by the President “before he enters on the execution of his office.”
I do not consider it necessary at present for me to discuss those matters of administration about which there is no special anxiety or excitement.
Apprehension seems to exist among the people of the Southern States that by the accession of a Republican administration their property and their peace and personal security are to be endangered. There has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension. Indeed, the most ample evidence to the contrary has all the while existed and been open to their inspection. It is found in nearly all the published speeches of him who now addresses you. I do but quote from one of those speeches when I declare that "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so." Those who nominated and elected me did so with full knowledge that I had made this and many similar declarations, and had never recanted them. And, more than this, they placed in the platform for my acceptance, and as a law to themselves and to me, the clear and emphatic resolution which I now read:
Resolved, That the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the States, and especially the right of each State to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of power on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depend, and we denounce the lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any State or Territory, no matter under what pretext, as among the gravest of crimes.
I now reiterate these sentiments; and, in doing so, I only press upon the public attention the most conclusive evidence of which the case is susceptible, that the property, peace, and security of no section are to be in any wise endangered by the now incoming
administration. I add, too, that all the protection which, con tently with the Constitution and the laws, can be given, will cheerfully given to all the States when lawfully demanded, whatever cause-as cheerfully to one section as to another.
There is much controversy about the delivering up of fugiti from service or labor. The clause I now read is as plainly writ in the Constitution as any other of its provisions:
No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws there escaping into another, shall in consequence of any law or regulat therein be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be deliver up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.
It is scarcely questioned that this provision was intended those who made it for the reclaiming of what we call fugiti slaves; and the intention of the lawgiver is the law. All membe of Congress swear their support to the whole Constitution—to ti provision as much as to any other. To the proposition, then, th slaves whose cases come within the terms of this clause “shall 1 delivered up,” their oaths are unanimous. Now, if they wou make the effort in good temper, could they not with nearly equ unanimity frame and pass a law by means of which to keep go that unanimous oath ?
There is some difference of opinion whether this clause shou be enforced by national or by State authority; but surely thi difference is not a very material one. If the slave is to be surrei dered, it can be of but little consequence to him or to others by whic authority it is done. And should any one in any case be content tha his oath shall go unkept on a merely unsubstantial controversy a to how it shall be kept
Again, in any law upon this subject, ought not all the safeguard of liberty known in civilized and humane jurisprudence to be intro duced, so that a free man be not, in any case, surrendered as slave And might it not be well at the same time to provide b: law for the enforcement of that clause in the Constitution whici guarantees that “the citizen of each State shall be entitled to al privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States”?
I take the official oath to-day with no mental reservations, and with no purpose to construe the Constitution or laws by any hyper critical rules. And while I do not choose now to specify particulai acts of Congress as proper to be enforced, I do suggest that it wil be much safer for all, both in official and private stations, to con form to and abide by all those acts which stand unrepealed, than to violate any of them, trusting to find impunity in having them held to be unconstitutional.
It is seventy-two years since the first inauguration of a President under our National Constitution. During that period fifteen different and greatly distinguished citizens have, in succession, administered the executive branch of the government. They have conducted it through many perils, and generally with great success. Yet, with all this scope of precedent, I now enter upon the same task for the brief constitutional term of four years under or among the people anywhere. Where hostility to the U States, in any interior locality, shall be so great and univers to prevent competent resident citizens from holding the Fe offices, there will be no attempt to force obnoxious strangers ai the people for that object. While the strict legal right may in the government to enforce the exercise of these offices, th tempt to do so would be so irritating, and so nearly impractii withal, that I deem it better to forego for the time the uses of offices
The mails, unless repelled, will continue to be furnished in parts of the Union. So far as possible, the people everywhere : have that sense of perfect security which is most favorable to thought and reflection. The course here indicated will be follo unless current events and experience shall show a modificatio change to be proper, and in every case and exigency my best cretion will be exercised according to circumstances actually e ing, and with a view and a hope of a peaceful solution of national troubles and the restoration of fraternal sympathies i affections.
That there are persons in one section or another who seek destroy the Union at all events, and are glad of any pretext to it, I will neither affirm nor deny; but if there be such, I ni address no word to them. To those, however, who really love Union may I not speak!
Before entering upon so grave a matter as the destruction of national fabric, with all its benefits, its memories, and its hop would it not be wise to ascertain precisely why we do it? Will y hazard so desperate a step while there is any possibility that a portion of the ills you fly from have no real existence? Will yo while the certain ills you fly to are greater than all the real ones y fly from — will you risk the commission of so fearful a mistake ?
All profess to be content in the Union if all constitutional righ can be maintained. Is it true, then, that any right, plainly writte in the Constitution, has been denied ! I think not. Happily ti human mind is so constituted that no party can reach to the aud city of doing this. Think, if you can, of a single instance in whic a plainly written provision of the Constitution has ever been denied If by the mere force of numbers a majority should deprive a m nority of any clearly written constitutional right, it might, in a mora point of view, justify revolution - certainly would if such a righ were a vital one. But such is not our case. All the vital right of minorities and of individuals are so plainly assured to them by affirmations and negations, guarantees and prohibitions, in the Con stitution, that controversies never arise concerning them. But no organic law can ever be framed with a provision specifically appli cable to every question which may occur in practical administration. No foresight can anticipate, nor any document of reasonable length contain, express provisions for all possible questions. Shall fugitives from labor be surrendered by national or by State authority? The Constitution does not expressly say. May Congress prohibit slavery in the Territories! The Constitution does not ex