Millercenter.org’s summary of speech:
“The President praises his first administration’s restraint in keeping the government from spending too much or growing too large, while arguing that the Louisiana Purchase increases national security. Jefferson spends a great deal of time discussing better Indian relations, advocating for a responsible, moral government to execute the business of the nation.”
Thoughts on Transcript:
Where Jefferson’s first address focused on a need for unity and a shared view for awesomeness of the Constitution, his second address extols the successes of his administration, attacks the press, and discusses his policy decisions which are, and continue to be, disconnects between the major parties. Where his first address is humble, the second is commanding – the type of address given when a politician believes that he or she has a mandate to push the most ambitious policies of their platform. He again uses the phrase “fellow citizens”, this time on six occasions, but it varies in use between an inclusive connotation and a specific meaning for his supporters.
The address covers the following points:
- Review of actions taken during first administration
- Large chunk of time taken to expound on tax policy and actions taken to reduce the size and cost of the federal government
- Discusses the rationale behind the Louisiana Purchase
- Briefly mentions religion and the federal government’s policy towards it
- Large chunk taken to discuss federal government’s policy towards the natives
- Very large chunk taken to discuss press attacks on his administration
- Rallying cry that “facts are piercing through the veil drawn over [those who disagree with his party’s platform]”
Some of these points are repeated in full below (Louisiana Purchase, religion) while almost every one of them has a large quote attached to it.
The two pieces of the address that may spur the most discussions for modern audiences are 5 and 6: The policies of the federal government towards the Native Americans and the reaction of an early administration to attacks leveled against it from the media.
The presidency of Thomas Jefferson oversees the expansion of the USA far beyond its original borders. Florida is purchased. The Louisiana territory is purchased. And the USA expands westward. This brings the native issue to the forefront as more settlers come into contact with natives and encroach on hunting and territorial lands. Jefferson’s solution is not yet a relocation to reservations / forcing West (this will happen during his second term) but is instead a desire to bring Western civilization and enlightenment to those he derides as “[inculcating] a sanctimonious reverence for the customs of their ancestors … that reason is a false guide and to advance under its counsel … is perilous innovation.”
In regards to the freedom of the press, a large list of quotes from Thomas Jefferson from many different times in his political career is available at Family Guardian. Jefferson believed strongly in a free press, but it is clear that his approval of the institution did not extend so far as to allow for the publishing of falsehoods or slander. To Jefferson, the press is a tool for allowing the honest exchange of ideas – when the press falters, it effects the stability of the government “inasmuch as they tend to lessen its usefullness and sap its safety.” One can only speculate how he would have reacted to the radio, television, and internet, especially when it removes the power of the press from gatekeepers and presents that power to the American people.
Finally, Jefferson ends with a blessing extolling a longer, more complete description of “that Being in whose hands we are”. This is a departure from his first address, where mentions of God were shorter and more spiritual in nature.
Phrases I have underlined, starred, or otherwise marked:
” … history bears witness to the fact, that a just nation is taken on its word, when recourse is had to armaments and wars to bridle others.”
“The suppression of unnecessary offices, of useless establishments and expenses, enabled us to discontinue our internal taxes. These covering our land with officers, and opening our doors to their intrusions, had already begun that process of domiciliary vexation which, once entered, is scarcely to be restrained from reaching successively every article of produce and property.”
“[Taxes on foreign goods enable the ability] to extinguish the native right of soil within our limits … apply such a surplus to our public debts … be applied, in time of peace, to rivers, canals, roads, arts, manufactures, education, and other great objects within each state. In time of war, if injustice, by ourselves or others, must sometimes produce war, increased as the same revenue will be increased by population and consumption, and aided by other resources reserved for that crisis, it may meet within the year all the expenses of the year, without encroaching on the rights of future generations, by burdening them with the debts of the past. War will then be but a suspension of useful works, and a return to a state of peace, a return to the progress of improvement.”
“I know that the acquisition of Louisiana has been disapproved by some, from a candid apprehension that the enlargement of our territory would endanger its union. But who can limit the extent to which the federative principle may operate effectively? The larger our association, the less will it be shaken by local passions; and in any view, is it not better that the opposite bank of the Mississippi should be settled by our own brethren and children, than by strangers of another family? With which shall we be most likely to live in harmony and friendly intercourse?”
“In matters of religion, I have considered that its free exercise is placed by the constitution independent of the powers of the general government. I have therefore undertaken, on no occasion, to prescribe the religious exercises suited to it; but have left them, as the constitution found them, under the direction and discipline of state or church authorities acknowledged by the several religious societies.”
“… humanity enjoins us to teach [the natives] agriculture and the domestic arts; to encourage them to that industry which alone can enable them to maintain their place in existence; and to prepare them in time for that state of society …”
“These persons inculcate a sanctimonious reverence for the customs of their ancestors; that whatsoever they did, must be done through all time; that reason is a false guide, and to advance under its counsel, in their physical, moral, or political condition, is perilous innovation; that their duty is to remain as their Creator made them, ignorance being safety, and knowledge full of danger …”
“[The Legislature lays] … the foundations of public happiness in wholesome laws, the execution of which alone remains for others …”
“During this course of administration, and in order to disturb it, the artillery of the press has been levelled against us, charged with whatsoever its licentiousness could devise or date. These abuses of an institution so important to freedom and science, are deeply to be regretted, inasmuch as they tend to lessen its usefulness, and to sap its safety; they might indeed, have been corrected by the wholesome punishments reserved and provided by the laws of the several States against falsehood and defamation; but public duties more urgent press on the time of public servants, and the offenders have therefore been left to find their punishment in the public indignation.”
“Nor was it uninteresting to the world, that an experiment should be fairly and fully made, whether freedom of discussion, unaided by power, is not sufficient for the propagation and protection of truth — whether a government, conducting itself in the true spirit of its constitution, with zeal and purity, and doing no act which it would be unwilling the whole world should witness, can be written down by falsehood and defamation.”
” … he who has time, renders a service to public morals and public tranquility, in reforming these abuses by the salutary coercions of the law …”
“… facts are piercing through the veil drawn over them; and our doubting brethren will at length see, that the mass of their fellow citizens, with whom they cannot yet resolve to act, as to principles and measures, think as they think, and desire what they desire; that our wish, as well as theirs, is, that the public efforts may be directed honestly to the public good, that peace be cultivated, civil and religious liberty unassailed, law and order preserved; equality of rights maintained, and that state of property, equal or unequal, which results to every man from his own industry, or that of his fathers. … let us cherish them with patient affection; let us do them justice …”
“I am sensible of no passion which could seduce me knowingly from the path of justice; but the weakness of human nature, and the limits of my own understanding, will produce errors of judgment sometimes injurious to your interests.”
Thoughts on delivery (audio and/or video of speech):
None. They didn’t have that technology when Jefferson was inaugurated.