Millercenter.org’s summary of speech:
“President Monroe outlines the challenges that the new nation has overcome since Revolution and further details the dangers ahead for the United States. Monroe concludes his speech with an assessment of the positive aspects of the American government.”
Thoughts on Transcript:
The US has just survived a major test in the history of any nation: war with a major power. The Treaty of Ghent, signed in 1814, ended the War of 1812 between the US and Great Britain. The US returns to isolationism – looking inward for growth and to its southern and western borders for expansion.
Monroe’s speech captures this. His major themes surround the abundance of resources for the country; the great potential for commercial, industrial, and agricultural expansion; and the need to come together based on a shared history to properly exploit the opportunities now available. However, Monroe also focuses a lot on the individual and their relation to government, and how a government will falter and fail should the people who compose it become complacent.
Below are three timeless quotes from his speech that should be kept in the heart of every American (or really, of anyone under a representative government).
The Government has been in the hands of the people. To the people, therefore, and to the faithful and able depositaries of their trust is the credit due. …
It is only when the people become ignorant and corrupt, when they degenerate into a populace, that they are incapable of exercising the sovereignty. Usurpation is then an easy attainment, and an usurper soon found. The people themselves become the willing instruments of their own debasement and ruin. … Let us by all wise and constitutional measures promote intelligence among the people as the best means of preserving our liberties. …
We must support our rights or lose our character, and with it, perhaps, our liberties. A people who fail to do it can scarcely be said to hold a place among independent nations. National honor is national property of the highest value. The sentiment in the mind of every citizen is national strength. It ought therefore to be cherished.
Other things that struck me about Monroe’s speech: a continued call for infrastructure improvement in order to tame the vast territory of the US and bind the people closer together; a call that he echoes from Jefferson (and others) regarding the importance of bringing civilization to the natives; the first call for a much expanded peace time military; and the acknowledgement of a blooming national pride and belief in American Exceptionalism.
- Humility in accepting post
- Extols Constitution and the guarding of rights
- Recap of the War of 1812
- Praise for the natural resources of the country (including the Great Lakes)
- Praise for the people and charge for them to safeguard country and Constitution
- Calls for Unity and Nationalism
- First calls for a significant build up of military strength for defense
- Infrastructure improvements, especially during time of peace
- Reduce reliance on foreign sources for resources
- Natives: Bring them civilization
- American Exceptionalism
- Look to the history of this nation for instruction and advice
Phrases I have underlined, starred, or otherwise marked:
“During a period fraught with difficulties and marked by very extraordinary events the United States have flourished beyond example.”
“[The states] enjoying within their separate spheres, by a wise partition of power, a just proportion of the sovereignty, have improved their police, extended their settlements, and attained a strength and maturity which are the best proofs of wholesome laws well administered.”
“On whom has oppression fallen in any quarter of our Union? Who has been deprived of any right of person or property? Who restrained from offering his vows in the mode which he prefers to the Divine Author of his being?” (Except for slaves)
“I add with peculiar satisfaction that there has been no example of a capital punishment being inflicted on anyone for the crime of high treason.”
“War became at length inevitable, and the result has shown that our Government is equal to that, the greatest of trials, under the most unfavorable circumstances. Of the virtue of the people and of the heroic exploits of the Army, the Navy, and the militia I need not speak.”
” … under which every citizen may by his merit obtain the highest trust recognized by the Constitution …”
“Penetrating internally to the Great Lakes and beyond the sources of the great rivers which communicate through our whole interior, no country was ever happier with respect to its domain.”
“Our fellow-citizens of the North engaged in navigation find great encouragement in being made the favored carriers of the vast productions of the other portions of the United States, while the inhabitants of these are amply recompensed, in their turn, by the nursery for seamen and naval force thus formed and reared up for the support of our common rights.”
“[Our form of government remedies] the defects of the first instrument of our Union, by infusing into the National Government sufficient power for national purposes, without impairing the just rights of the States or affecting those of individuals”
“The Government has been in the hands of the people. To the people, therefore, and to the faithful and able depositaries of their trust is the credit due.”
“It is only when the people become ignorant and corrupt, when they degenerate into a populace, that they are incapable of exercising the sovereignty. Usurpation is then an easy attainment, and an usurper soon found. The people themselves become the willing instruments of their own debasement and ruin. … Let us by all wise and constitutional measures promote intelligence among the people as the best means of preserving our liberties.”
“We must support our rights or lose our character, and with it, perhaps, our liberties. A people who fail to do it can scarcely be said to hold a place among independent nations. National honor is national property of the highest value. The sentiment in the mind of every citizen is national strength. It ought therefore to be cherished.”
“… out coast and inland frontiers should be fortified, our Army and Navy, regulated upon just principles as the force of each, be kept in perfect order, and our militia be placed on the best practicable footing … to diminish the calamities of war and to bring the was to a speedy and honorable termination.”
“But it ought always to be held prominently in view that the safety of these States and of everything dear to a free people must depend in an eminent degree on the militia.”
“This arrangement should be formed, too, in time of peace, to be the better prepared for war. With such an organization of such a people the United States have nothing to dread from foreign invasion. At its approach an overwhelming force of gallant men might always be put in motion.”
“Other interests of high importance … [include] the improvement of our country by roads and canals, proceeding always with a constitutional sanction … we shall shorten distances, and, by making each part more accessible to and dependent on the other, we shall bind the Union more closely together.”
“Possessing as we do all the raw materials, the fruit of our own soil and industry, we ought not to depend in the degree we have done on supplies from other countries. While we are thus dependent the sudden event of war, unsought and unexpected, can not fail to plunge us into the most serious difficulties.”
“Peace is the best time for improvement and preparation of every kind; it is in peace that our commerce flourishes most, that taxes are most easily paid, and that the revenue is most productive.”
“Equally gratifying is it to witness the increased harmony of opinion which pervades our Union. Discord does not belong to our system. Union is recommended as well by the free and benign principles of our Government, extending its blessings to every individual, as by the other eminent advantages attending it. … [The American people] constitute one great family with a common interest.”
“If we look to the history of other nations, ancient or modern, we find no example of a growth so rapid, so gigantic, of a people so prosperous and happy.”
“In the Administrations of the illustrious men who have preceded me in this high station, with some of whom I have been connected by the closest ties from early life, examples are presented which will always be found highly instructive and useful to their successors.”
Thoughts on delivery (audio and/or video of speech):
None. They didn’t have that technology when Monroe was inaugurated.