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will still float in undiminished honor. But these, like many other subjects, will be appropriately brought at a future time to the attention of the co-ordinate branches of the government, to which I shall always look with profound respect, and with trustful confidence, that they will accord to me the aid and support which I shall so much need, and which their experience and wisdom will readily suggest.
In the administration of domestic affairs you expect a devoted integrity in the public service, and an observance of rigid economy in all departments, so marked as never justly to be questioned. If this reasonable expectation be not realized, I frankly confess that one of your leading hopes is doomed to disappointment, and that my efforts, in a very important particular, must result in a humiliating failure. Offices can be properly regarded only in the light of aids for the accomplishment of these objects; and as occupancy can confer no prerogative, nor importunate desire for preferment any claim, the public interest imperatively demands that they be considered with sole reference to the duties to be performed. Good citizens may well claim the protection of good laws and the benign influence of good government; but a claim for office is what the people of a republic should never recognize. No reasonable man of any party will expect the administration to be so regardless of its responsibility, and of the obvious elements of success, as to retain persons known to be under the influence of political hostility and partisan prejudice, in positions which will require not only severe labor, but cordial co-operation. Having no implied engagements to ratify, no rewards to bestow, no resentments to remember, and no personal wishes to consult, in selections for official station-I shall fulfil this difficult and delicate trust, admitting no motive as worthy either of my character or position, which does not contemplate an efficient discharge of duty and the best interests of my country. I acknowledge my obligations to the masses of my countrymen, and to them alone. Higher objects than personal aggrandizement gave direction and energy to their exertions in the late canvass, and they shall not be disappointed. They require at my hands diligence, integrity, and capacity, wherever there are duties to be performed. Without these qualities in their public servants, more stringent
laws for the prevention or punishment of fraud, negligence, and peculation, will be vain. With them, they will be unnecessary
But these are not the only points to which you look for vigilant watchfulness. The dangers of a concentration of all power in the general government of a confederacy like ours, are too obvious to be disregarded. You have a right, therefore, to expect your agents, in every department, to regard strictly the limits imposed upon them by the constitution of the United States
The great scheme of our constitutional liberty rests upon a proper distribution of power between the State and federal authorities; and experience has shown that the harmony and happiness of our people must depend upon a just discrimination between the separate rights and responsibilities of the States, and your common rights and obligations under the general government. And here, in my opinion, are the considerations which should form the true basis of future concord in regard to the questions which have most seriously disturbed public tranquillity. If the federal government will confine itself to the exercise of power clearly granted by the constitution, it can hardly happen that its action upon any question should endanger the institutions of the States, or interfere with their right to manage matters strictly domestic according to the will of their own people.
In expressing briefly my views upon an important subject, which has recently agitated the nation to almost a fearful degree, I am moved by no other impulse than a most earnest desire for the perpetuation of that Union which has made us what we are—showering upon us blessings, and conferring a power and influence which our fathers could hardly have anticipated even with their most sanguine hopes directed to a far-off future. The sentiments I now announce were not unknown before the expression of the voice which called me here. My own position upon this subject was clear and unequivocal, upon the record of my words and my acts, and it is only recurred to at this time because silence might, pero haps, be misconstrued. With the Union my best and dearest earthly hopes are entwined. Without it, what are we, individually or collectively?what becomes of the noblest field ever opened for the advancement of our race in religion in government, in the arts, and in all that dignifies and adorns mankind ? From that radiant constellation, which both illumines our own way and points out to struggling nations their course, let but a single star be lost, and, if there be not utter darkness, the lustre of the whole is dimmed. Do my countrymen need any assurance that such a catastrophe is not to overtake them while I possess the power to stay it ? It is with me an earnest and vital belief, that as the Union hils been the source, under Providence, of our prosperity to this time, so it is the surest pledge of a continuance of the blessings we have enjoyed, and which we are sacredly bound to transmit undiminished to our children. The field of calm and free discussion in our country is open, and will always be so; but it never has been and never can be traversed for good in a spirit of sectionalism and uncharitableness. The founders of the republic dealt with things as they were presented to them, in a spirit of self-sacrificing patriotism, and, as time has proved, with a comprehensive wisdom which it will be always safe for us to consult. Every measure, tending to strengthen the fraternal feelings of all the members of our Union has had my heartfelt approbation. To every theory of society or government, whether the offspring of feverish ambition or of morbid enthusiasm, calculated to dissolve the bonds of law and affection which unite us, I shall interpose a ready and stern resistance. I believe that involuntary servitude, as it exists in different States of this confederacy, is recognized by the constitution. I beliere that it stands like any other admitted right, and that the States wherein it exists are entitled to efficient remedies to enforce the constitutional provisions. I hold that the laws of 1850, commonly called the “ compromise measures,” are strictly constitutional, and to be unhesitatingly carried into effect. I believe that the constituted authorities of this republic are bound to regard the rights of the South in this respect, as they would view any other legal and constitutional right, and that the laws to enforce them should be respected and obeyed, not with a reluctance encouraged by abstract opinions as to their propriety in a different state of society, but cheerfully, and according to the decisions of the tribunal to which their exposition belongs. Such have been and are my convictions, and upon them I shall act. I fervently liope that the question is at rest, and that no sectional, or ambitious, or fanatical excitement, may again threaten the durability of our institutions, or obscure the light of our prosperity.
But let not the foundation of our hope rest upon man's wisdom. It will not be sufficient that sectional prejudices find no place in the public deliberations. It will not be sufficient that the rash counsels of human passion are rejected. It must be felt that there is no national security but in the nation's humble, acknowledged dependence upon God and his overruling providence.
We have been carried in safety through a perilous crisis. Wise councils, like those which gave us the constitution, prevailed to uphold it. Let the period be remembered as an admonition, and not as an encouragement, in any section of the Union, to make experiments where experiments are fraught with such fearful hazard.
Let it be impressed upon all hearts, that, beautiful as our fabric is, no earthly power or wisdom could ever reunite its broken fragments.
Standing as I do, almost within view of the green slopes of Monticello, and, as it were, within reach of the tomb of Washington, with all the cherished memories of the past gathering around me, like so many eloquent voices as exhortations from Heaven, I can express no better hope for my country than that the kind Providence which smiled upon our fathers may enable their children to preserve the blessings they have inherited.