Millercenter.org’s summary of speech:
“After a particularly bitter and divisive campaign and election, Jefferson focuses on unifying the country, especially Republicans and Federalists. The President enumerates his ideas of the principles of government, which include equal rights, preservation of the constitution, and civil control of the military.”
Thoughts on Transcript:
There’s an interesting line in a speech by Roy Blunt prior to the inauguration of Donald Trump: “The history teacher in me must note that our nation’s first transfer of power, from George Washington to John Adams, wasn’t terribly remarkable. The real test came in the wake of the extremely divisive, fiercely partisan contest between Adams and his vice president, Thomas Jefferson, in 1800.
In his 1801 inaugural address, Jefferson declared: “We have called by different names brethren of the same principles. We are all Republicans. We are all Federalists.” While the election proved so vitriolic that Adams refused to attend the inauguration, he accepted the results and, in doing so, strengthened the foundation of our young republic. The change in administration from Adams to Jefferson was the first time power transferred willingly, though not enthusiastically, between political parties — but it certainly wasn’t the last.”
Jefferson’s inauguration marked the Anti-Federalists gaining power over the Executive Branch (for obvious reasons, they had run under the Democratic-Republican party rather than keep the Anti-Federalist moniker), a worrying prospect for the Federalists, who saw this as the potential dismantling of a government they had instituted only 12 years earlier. Jefferson thus faced a challenge that neither Washington nor Adams had faced at the start of their presidencies: a nation bitterly divided. Unfortunately, it would not be the last time this scenario played out, but Jefferson’s example inspires hope.
Jefferson makes many references to “Fellow-citizens”. The speech is addressed to them and he goes on to use the phrase five more times. For comparison’s sake, this is more often than some inaugural addresses use the word “I”! From the content of the speech, two reasons for this are readily apparent. First, that Jefferson is trying to place himself alongside all Americans, regardless of party background. Second, that Jefferson is speaking particularly to his base: those who distrust a strong federal government and want more power concentrated in the states.
There are a couple of major themes present throughout:
- Humility of achieving this post
- A call for unity and healing
- The amazing uniqueness of the American Experiment
- A joy for the rights enumerated within the Bill of Rights
- A pledge to do the best possible and a plea for understanding should he falter or make a decision that is not agreed with
Finally, the religious language of Washington and Adams is muted to the point of absence within this address. There is a single reference to an “Infinite Power” and a general statement about the diversity of religions within the USA, but the majority is an exercise in rationality and the importance of what Americans are doing to ensure their government.
Phrases I have underlined, starred, or otherwise marked:
“A rising nation, spread over a wide and fruitful land, traversing all the seas with the rich productions of their industry, engaged in commerce with nations who feel power and forget right, advancing rapidly to destinies beyond the reach of mortal eye — when I contemplate these transcendent objects, and see the honor, the happiness, and the hopes of this beloved country committed to the issue and the auspices of this day, I shrink from the contemplation, and humble myself before the magnitude of the undertaking.”
“… all will, of course, arrange themselves under the will of the law, and unite in common efforts for the common good. All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression. Let us, then, fellow-citizens, unite with one heart and one mind. Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things. And let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions.”
“But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it. I know, indeed, that some honest men fear that a republican government can not be strong, that this Government is not strong enough; but would the honest patriot, in the full tide of successful experiment, abandon a government which has so far kept us free and firm on the theoretic and visionary fear that this Government, the world’s best hope, may by possibility want energy to preserve itself? I trust not. I believe this, on the contrary, the strongest Government on earth. I believe it the only one where every man, at the call of the law, would fly to the standard of the law, and would meet invasions of the public order as his own personal concern.”
“Kindly separated by nature and a wide ocean from the exterminating havoc of one quarter of the globe … a due sense of our equal right to the use of our own faculties … [and respect] resulting not from birth, but from our actions and their sense of them; enlightened by a benign religion, professed, indeed, and practiced in various forms, yet all of them inculcating honesty, truth, temperance, gratitude, and the love of man … [are all blessings of this nation]”
“… peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none … the support of the State governments in all their rights, as the most competent administrations for our domestic concerns and the surest bulwarks against antirepublican tendencies … a well-disciplined militia, our best reliance in peace and for the first moments of war till regulars may relieve them … the supremacy of the civil over the military authority … These principles form the bright constellation which has gone before us and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation. The wisdom of our sages and blood of our heroes have been devoted to their attainment.”
“I shall often go wrong through defect of judgment. When right, I shall often be thought wrong by those whose positions will not command a view of the whole ground. I ask your indulgence for my own errors, which will never be intentional, and your support against the errors of others, who may condemn what they would not if seen in all its parts.”
Thoughts on delivery (audio and/or video of speech):
None. They didn’t have that technology when Jefferson was inaugurated.