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ROWER CLEVELAND was born at Caldwell, Essex County, New Jersey, March 18, 1837. The only education which he ever received was obtained at common schools. In 1859 he was admitted to the bar, and practiced with more or less success in Buffalo, New York. From 1863 till 1866 he held the position of Assistant District-Attorney in Erie County. After being defeated for re-election to that office in 1865, he remained in private life for five years, until he was chosen Sheriff. During his tenure of that post he hanged one or two criminals condemned to death by his own hand, a fact which was subsequently used to his discredit by political opponents. In 1881 he was chosen Mayor of Buffalo on the Democratic ticket, and in the following year he was elected Governor of the State of New York by an immense majority, due to the abstention of scores of thousands of Blaine Republicans from the ballot-box. In 1884 he was nominated by the Democrats for the Presidency, and, having carried the State of New York by a plurality of less than 1,200 votes, he secured the office of Chief Magistrate. Defeated for a second term in 1888, he was renominated and re-elected in 1892. After the expiration of his term in 1897, he retired to Princeton, New Jersey, but, unlike Jefferson, Jackson and Van Buren under similar circumstances, he has been almost entirely destitute of political influence.
FIRST INAUGURAL ADDRESS
DELIVERED MARCH 4, 1885 Fellow Citizens :
N THE presence of this vast assemblage of my countrymen, I am about to supplement and seal by the oath which I shall take the manifestation of the will of a great and free people. In the exercise of their power and right of self-government they have committed to one of their fellow citizens a supreme and sacred trust, and he here consecrates himself to their service.
This impressive ceremony adds little to the solemn sense of responsibility with which I contemplate the duty I owe to all the people of the land. Nothing can relieve me from anxiety lest by any act of mine their interests may suffer, and nothing is needed to strengthen my resolution to engage every faculty and effort in the promotion of their welfare. Amid the din of party strife the people's choice was made, but its attendant circumstances have demonstrated anew, the strength and safety of a government by the people. In each succeeding year it more clearly appears that our democratic principle needs no apology, and that in its fearless and faithful application is to be found the surest guarantee of good government. But the best results in the operation of a government wherein every citizen has a share largely depend upon a proper limitation of purely partisan zeal and effort and a correct appreciation of the time when the heat of the partisan should be merged in the patriotism of the citizen. To-day the executive branch of the government is transferred to new keeping. But this is still the government of all the people, and it should be none the less an object of their affectionate solicitude. At this hour the animosities of political strife, the bitterness of partisan defeat, and the exultation of partisan triumph, should be supplanted by an ungrudging acquiescence in the popular will, and a sober, conscientious concern for the general weal. Moreover, if from this hour we cheerfully and honestly abandon all sectional prejudice and distrust, and determine, with manly confidence in one another, to work out harmoniously the achievement of our national destiny, we shall deserve to realize all the benefits which our happy form of government can bestow.
On this auspicious occasion we may well renew the pledge of our devotion to the Constitution, which, launched by the founders of the Republic and consecrated by their prayers and patriotic devotion, has for almost a century borne the hopes and the aspirations of a great people through prosperity and peace and through the shock of foreign conflicts and the perils of domestic strife and vicissitudes.
By the Father of his Country our Constitution was commended for adoption as “the result of a spirit of amity and mutual concession.” In that same spirit it should be administered, in order to promote the lasting welfare of the country and to secure the full measure of its priceless benefits to us and to those who will succeed to the blessings of our national life. The large variety of diverse and competing interests subject to Federal control, persistently seeking the recognition of their claims, need give us no fear that “the greatest good to the greatest number” will fail to be accomplished if in the halls of national legislation that spirit of amity and mutual concession shall prevail in which the Constitution had its birth. If this involves the surrender or postponement of private interests and the abandonment of local advantages, compensation will be found in the assurance that the common interest is subserved and the general welfare advanced.
In the discharge of my official duty I shall endeavor to be guided by a just and unstrained construction of the Constitution, a careful observance of the distinction between the powers granted to the Federal Government and those reserved to the States or to the people, and by a cautious appreciation of those functions which by the Constitution and laws have been especially assigned to the executive branch of the government.
But he who takes the oath to-day to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States only assumes the solemn obligation which every patriotic citizen— on the farm, in the workshop, in the busy marts of trade, and everywhere—should share with him. The Constitution which prescribes his oath, my countrymen, is yours; the government you have chosen him to administer for a time is yours; the suffrage which executes the will of freemen is yours; the laws and the entire scheme of our civil rule, from the town meeting to the State capitals and the national capital, is yours. Your every voter, as surely as your Chief Magistrate, under the same high sanction, though in a different sphere, exercises a public trust. Nor is this all. Every citizen owes to the country a vigilant watch and close scrutiny of its public servants and a fair and reasonable estimate of their fidelity and usefulness. Thus is the people's will impressed upon the whole framework of our civil polity—municipal, State, and Federal; and this is the price of our liberty and the inspiration of our faith in the Republic.
It is the duty of those serving the people in public place to closely limit public expenditures to the actual needs of the government economically administered, because this bounds the right of the government to exact tribute from the earnings of labor or the property of the citizen, and because public extravagance begets extravagance among the people. We should never be ashamed of the simplicity and prudential economies which are best suited to the operation of a republican form of government and most compatible with the mission of the American people. Those who are selected for a limited time to manage public affairs are still of the people, and may do much by their example to encourage, consistently with the dignity of their official functions, that plain way of life which among their fellow citizens aids integrity and promotes thrift and prosperity. The genius of our institutions, the needs of our people in their home life, and the attention which is demanded for the settlement and development of the resources of our vast territory, dictate the scrupulous avoidance of any departure from that foreign policy commended by the history, the traditions, and the prosperity of our Republic. It is the policy of independence, favored by our position and defended by our known love of justice and by our own power. It is the policy of peace suitable to our interests. It is the policy of neutrality, rejecting any share in foreign broils and ambitions upon other continents and repelling their intrusion here. It is the policy of Monroe, and of Washington, and of Jefferson—“Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations; entangling alliance with none.” A due regard for the interests and prosperity of all the people demands that our finances shall be established upon such a sound and sensible basis as shall secure the safety and confidence of business interests and make the wages of labor sure and steady, and that our system of revenue shall be so adjusted as to relieve the people of unnecessary taxation, having a due regard to the interests of capital invested and workingmen employed in American industries, and preventing the accumulation of a surplus in the Treasury to tempt extravagance and waste. Care for the property of the nation and for the needs of future settlers requires that the public domain should be protected from purloining schemes and unlawful occupation.