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Link to MillerCenter.org’s transcript of speech

Millercenter.org’s summary of speech:

“Thanking the nation for his second opportunity to serve, Monroe discusses the importance of American neutrality throughout the wars between the European powers. He further emphasizes the important steps in commerce and trade that have been made with foreign powers before briefly discussing a variety of domestic topics.”

Thoughts on Transcript:

Monroe’s second address shares many common threads with his first: 1) a call for stronger defensive fortifications, 2) discussion on the civilization of the Native Americans, 3) a spirit of neutrality, and 4) the growth of the US.  As others have done, he also celebrates the US form of government, but at this time, it is starting to be a regular occurrence and, as I see more of these speeches, it seems to be a standard piece much like “God Bless the USA” is a standard within modern speeches.

We do see signs of colonialism retreating and of the retreat of European powers across the ocean.  Latin America, specifically Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Venezuela, is in the throes of a mass revolution.  Brazil will join them (albeit against Portugal instead of Spain) during Monroe’s presidency.  Monroe speaks for strict neutrality at this time and reiterates his calls for a Fortress Americana, protected by forts on the coasts and navies which keep invaders at bay.  Two years later, Monroe will lay out the Monroe Doctrine – a call for the cessation of new colonialism in the New World and the recognition of the independence of the various colonies which have declared it.

One part of the speech that jumped out at me was Monroe’s actions taken against pirates within the Floridas (prior to the treaty granting it to us from Spain).

Shortly after the general peace a band of adventurers took advantage of this conflict and of the facility which it afforded to establish a system of buccaneering in the neighboring seas, to the great annoyance of the commerce of the United States, and, as was represented, of that of other powers. … It belongs to the Executive not to suffer the executions under these decisions to transcend the great purpose for which punishment is necessary.  The full benefit of example being secured, policy as well as humanity equally forbids that they should be carried further.  I have acted on this principle, pardoning those who appear to have been led astray by ignorance of the criminality of the acts they had committed, and suffering the law to take effect on those only in whose favor no extenuating circumstances could be urged.

As is the case today, wars and instability are ripe grounds for groups of anarchists or brigands to etch out areas of control.  For President Monroe, this was on the coast of Florida.  What struck me was not that he sent a force to deal with them (after all, we had done this twice with the Barbary Pirates) but that he only executed enough to make an example and then allowed the rest to go free.  I wonder what the media said at the time, or if these men who had looked at death then turned from the path they had been on.

The speech:

  1. Thanks for re-election and re-entrusting with position
  2. Importance of speaking to the people via the inauguration address
  3. Recap of War of 1812 and the lessons that it taught
  4. Defensive Fortifications and stronger navy to be built
  5. Spirit of neutrality.  Next several paragraphs describe specific countries and foreign policy in general
    1. Spain and the Latin American colonies rebelling
    2. Piracy within the Florida area and judgment upon them
    3. Acquisition of Florida
    4. Relations with Great Britain
    5. Relations with France
    6. Barbary States and the establishment of a 2 navy policy
  6. Taxation and paying for wars, the budget
  7. Relations with natives and desire to civilize / assimilate them
  8. Concern of wars on the horizon
  9. Extols form of government and ability to represent people as well as the ability to modify the laws and organization as needed
  10. Growth of US territory

Phrases I have underlined, starred, or otherwise marked:

“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 preeminently 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 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.”

“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.”

“As soon as [the War of 1812] had terminated, the nation, admonished by its events, resolved to place itself in a situation which should be better calculated to prevent the recurrence of a like evil, and, in case it should recur, to mitigate its calamities.”

“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 is believed, and experience has shown, that such a preparation is the best expedient that can be resorted to prevent war.” (speaking of peaceful, loving, just disposition)

“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 … commerce with each has been alike protected by the Government … neutrality heretofore observed should still be adhered to.” (On war between Spain and Latin American colonies)

Shortly after the general peace a band of adventurers took advantage of this conflict and of the facility which it afforded to establish a system of buccaneering in the neighboring seas, to the great annoyance of the commerce of the United States, and, as was represented, of that of other powers. … It belongs to the Executive not to suffer the executions under these decisions to transcend the great purpose for which punishment is necessary.  The full benefit of example being secured, policy as well as humanity equally forbids that they should be carried further.  I have acted on this principle, pardoning those who appear to have been led astray by ignorance of the criminality of the acts they had committed, and suffering the law to take effect on those only in whose favor no extenuating circumstances could be urged.”

“But to the acquisition of Florida, too much importance can not be attached. … It secures us against all future annoyance from powerful Indian tribes. … It covers by its position in the Gulf the Mississippi and other great waters within our extended limits, and thereby enables the United States to afford complete protection to the vast and very valuable productions of our whole Western country, which find a market through those streams.”

As early as 1801 is was found necessary to send a squadron into the Mediterranean for the protection of our commerce and no period has intervened, a short time excepted, when it was though advisable to withdraw it.  The great interests which the United States have in the Pacific, in commerce and in the fisheries, have also made it necessary to maintain a naval force there.  In disposing of this force in both instances the most effectual measures in our power have been taken, without interfering with its other duties, for the suppression of the slave trade and of piracy in the neighboring seas.”

” … the direct tax and excise having been repealed soon after the conclusion of the late war, and the revenue applied to these great objects having been raised in a manner not to be felt.”

“Under the present depression of prices, affecting all the productions of the country and every branch of industry, proceeding from causes explained on a former occasion, the revenue has considerably diminished, the effect of which has been to compel Congress either to abandon these great measures of defense or to resort to loans or internal taxes to supply the deficiency.  On the presumption that this depression and the deficiency in the revenue arising from it would be temporary, loans were authorized for the demands of the last and present year.”

“I am equally well satisfied, as a general rule, that the demands of the current year, especially in time of peace, should be provided for by the revenue of that year.”

“We have treated [the native tribes] as independent nations, without their having any substantial pretensions to that rank.  The distinction has flattered their pride, retarded their improvement, and in many instances paved the way to their destruction.  The progress of our settlements westward, supported as they are by a dense population, has constantly driven them back, with almost the total sacrifice of the lands which they have been compelled to abandon.  They have claims on the magnanimity and, I may add, on the justice of this nation which we must all feel. … Their sovereignty over vast territories should cease, in lieu of which the right of soil should be secured to each individual and his posterity in competent portions; and for the territory thus ceded by each tribe some reasonable equivalent should be granted, to be vested in permanent funds for the support of civil government over them and for the education of their children, for their instruction in the arts of husbandry, and to provide sustenance for them until they could provide it for themselves.”

Europe is again unsettled and the prospect of war increasing. … I see no reasonable cause to apprehend variance with any power, unless it proceed from a violation of our maritime rights.  In these contests, should they occur, and to whatever extent they may be carried, we shall be neutral; but as a neutral power we have rights which it is our duty to maintain.”

“A people who were able to surmount in their infant state such great perils would be more competent as they rose into manhood to repel any which they might meet in their progress.  Their physical strength would be more adequate to foreign danger, and the practice of self-government, aided by the light of experience, could not fail to produce an effect equally salutary on all those questions connected with the internal organization.”

“Perfection in our organization could not have been expected in the outset either in the National or State Governments or in tracing the line between their respective powers.  But no serious conflict has arisen, nor any contest but such as are managed by argument and by a fair appeal to the good sense of the people, and many of the defects which experience had clearly demonstrated in both Governments have been remedied.”

Thoughts on delivery (audio and/or video of speech):

None.  They didn’t have that technology when Monroe was inaugurated.

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