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PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES,
DELIVERED MARCH 4, 1821.
FELLOW-CITIZENS, I shall not attempt to describe the grateful emotions which the new and very distinguished proof of the confidence of my fellow-citizens, evinced by my re-election to this high trust, has excited in my bosom. The approbation, which it announces of my conduct in the preceding term, affords me a consolation which I shall profoundly feel through life. The general accord, with which it has been expressed, adds to the great and never-ceasing obligations which it imposes. To merit the continuance of this good opinion, and to carry it with me into my retirement, as the solace of my advancing years, will be the object of my most zealous and unceasing efforts.
Having no pretensions to the high and commanding claims of my predecessors, whose names are so much more conspicuously identified with our revolution, and who contributed so pre-eminently to promote its success, I consider myself rather as the instrument than the cause of the union which has prevailed in the late election. In surmounting, in favor of my humble pretensions, the difficulties which so often produce division in like occurrences, it is obvious that other powerful causes, indicating the great strength and stability of our union, have essentially contributed to draw you together. That these powerful causes exist, and that they are permanent, is my fixed opinion; that they may produce a like accord in all questions, touching, however remotely, the liberty, prosperity and happiness of our country, will always be the object of my most fervent prayers to the Supreme Author of all good.
In a government which is founded by the people, who possess exclusively the sovereignty, it seems proper that the person, who may be placed by their suffrages in this high trust, should declare, on commencing its duties, the principles on which he intends to conduct the administration. If the person, thus elected, has served the preceding term, an opportunity is afforded him to review its principal occurrences, and to give such further explanation respecting them, as in his judgment may be useful to his constituents. The events of one year have influence on those of another; and, in like manner, of a preceding on the succeeding administration. The movements of a great nation are connected in all their parts. If errors have been committed, they ought to be corrected; if the policy is sound, it ought to be supported. It is by a thorough knowledge of the whole subject that our fellow-citizens are enabled to judge correctly of the past, and to give a proper direction to the future.
Just before the commencement of the last term, the United States had concluded a war with a very powerful nation, on conditions equal and honorable to both parties. The events of that war are too recent, and too deeply impressed on the memory of all, to require a development from me. Our commerce had been, in a great measure, driven from the sea; our Atlantic and inland frontiers were invaded in almost every part; the waste of life along our coast, and on some parts of our inland frontiers, to the defence of which our gallant and patriotic citizens were called, was immense; in addition to which, not less than one hundred and twenty millions of dollars were added, at its end, to the public debt.
As soon as the war had terminated, the nation, admonished by its events, resolved to place itself in a VOL. III.
situation which should be better calculated to prevent the recurrence of a like evil, and, in case it should recur, to mitigate its calamities. With this view, after reducing our land force to the basis of a peace establishment, which has been further modified since, provision was made for the construction of fortifications, at proper points, through the whole extent of our coast, and such an augmentation of our naval force, as should be well adapted to both purposes. The laws, making this provision, were passed in 1815 and 16, and it has been, since, the constant effort of the executive, to carry them into effect.
The advantage of these fortifications, and of an augmented naval force, in the extent contemplated, in a point of economy, has been fully illustrated, by a report of the board of engineers and naval commissioners, lately communicated to Congress, by which it appears, that in an invasion by twenty thousand men, with a correspondent naval force, in a campaign of six months only, the whole expense of the construction of the works would be defrayed by the difference in the sum necessary to maintain the force which would be adequate to our defence with the aid of these works, and that which would be incurred without them. The reason of this difference is obvious. If fortifications are judiciously placed on our great inlets, as distant from our cities as circumstances will permit, they will form the only points of attack, and the enemy will be detained there by a small, regular force, a sufficient time to enable our militia to collect, and repair to that on which the attack is made. A force adequate to the enemy, collected at that single point, with suitable preparation for such others as might be menaced, is all that would be requisite. But, if there were no fortifications, then the enemy might go where he pleased, and, changing his position, and sailing from place to place, our force must be called out and spread in vast numbers along the whole coast, and on both sides of every bay and river, as high up in each as it might be navigable for ships of war. By these fortifications, supported by our navy, to which they would afford like support, we should present to other powers, an armed front from St. Croix to the Sabine, which would protect, in the event of war, our whole coast and interior from invasion; and even in the wars of other powers, in which we were neutral, they would be found eminently useful; as, by keeping their public ships at a distance from our cities, peace and order in them would be preserved, and the government be protected from insult.
It need scarcely be remarked, that these measures have not been resorted to in a spirit of hostility to other powers. Such a disposition does not exist towards any power.
Peace and good will have been, and will hereafter be, cultivated with all, and by the most faithful regard for justice. They have been diclated by a love of peace, of economy, and an earnest desire to save the lives of our fellow-citizens from that destruction, and our country from that devastation, which are inseparable from war, when it finds us unprepared for it. It is believed, and experience has shown, that such a preparation is the best expedient that can be resorted to, to prevent war.
I add, with much pleasure, that considerable progress has already been made in these measures of defence, and that they will be completed in a few years, considering the great extent and importance of the object, if the plan be zealously and steadily persevered in.
The conduct of the government, in what relates to foreign powers, is always an object of the highest importance to the nation.
Its agriculture, commerce, manufactures, fisheries, revenue-in short, its peace, may all be affected by it. Attention is, therefore, due to this subject.
At the period adverted to, the powers of Europe, after having been engaged in long and destructive wars with each other, had concluded a peace, which happily still exists. Our peace with the power with whom we had been engaged, had also been concluded. The war between Spain and the colonies of South America, which had commenced many years before, was then the only conflict that remained unsettled. This being a contest between different parts of the same community, in which other powers had not interfered, was not affected by their accommodations.
This contest was considered, at an early stage, by my predecessor, a civil war, in which the parties were entitled to equal rights in our ports. This decision, , the first made by any power, being formed on great consideration of the comparative strength and resources of the parties, the length of time, and successful opposition made by the colonies, and of all other circumstances on which it ought to depend, was in strict accord with the law of nations. Congress has invariably acted on this principle, having made no change in our relations with either party. Our attitude has, therefore, been that of neutrality, between them, which has been maintained with the strictest impartiality. No aid has been afforded to either, nor has any privilege been enjoyed by the one, which has not been equally open to the other party; and every exertion has been made in its power, to enforce the execution of the laws prohibiting illegal equipments, with equal rigor against both.
By this equality between the parties, their public vessels have been received in our ports on the same footing; they have enjoyed an equal right to purchase and export arms, munitions of war, and every other supply, the exportation of all articles whatever being permitted under laws which were passed long before the commencement of the contest; our citizens have traded equally with both, and their commerce with each has been alike protected by the government.
Respecting the attitude which it may be proper for the United States to maintain hereafter between the parties, I have no hesitation in stating it as my opinion, that the neutrality heretofore observed, should still be adhered to. From the change in the government of Spain, and the negotiation now pending, invited by the Cortes and accepted by the colonies, it