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Link to MillerCenter.org’s transcript of speech

Millercenter.org’s summary of speech:

“President Adams gives an overview of the success of the United States in domestic and foreign relations. He then reviews the promises and the record of his predecessor and gives a general set of goals he wishes to achieve, specifically better roads.”

Thoughts on Transcript:

John Quincy Adams is the first President to have a relative who had also served as President.  He had large shoes to fill – his father was one of the people critical to the early success of the country.  This is recognized in his speech where he refers to the Constitution, government, and the United States (these three concepts are often intertwined throughout Presidential speeches) as “a precious inheritance” that has been received by a generation which has “passed away”.  (His father and Jefferson will pass away the following year on July 4, 1826.)

John Quincy Adams’s speech is beautiful in its descriptions, especially those of the taming of the wilderness and subjugation of the land to American civilization.  He speaks of the growth of the country, of the government and its ability to evolve the Constitution and smooth over differences between the states, and of the need for infrastructure improvements as “the roads and aqueducts of Rome have been the admiration of all after ages”.

He also states the beauty of the form of government that we have – especially in regard to the way that debate and dissension is handled.  For many of these Presidents, and for the modern Presidents as well, the Inaugural Address is a time to heal divisions from hard fought elections.  Removed as we are by years (this address was given almost 200 years ago), we often forget the divisiveness and nastiness that has always been present in humanity.  Smoothing over those differences and working through the disagreements is how our country has survived for so long and why many believe the past to be more civil than the present – it is because when we look back, we only see the monuments erected, the landscapes crossed, and the tapestries woven.  We do not see the back breaking labor, the hidden ditches and hazards, and the many times where we unsure of the overall picture.

The speech

  1. Commits himself to the Constitution
  2. Notes the passing of the Founding Fathers
    1. Talks of the US as an inheritance
  3. Beautiful imagery regarding the conquest of the land
  4. Dissensions and evil remain
    1. We have differences but are respectful
    2. Can all agree on the foundation shared by all citizens of country
    3. Geographical divisions are the most dangerous
    4. DC helps heal some divisions by bringing together representatives from across country
  5. Lists good things from the Monroe Administration
  6. Speaks of plans for upcoming four years, including public works and infrastructure
  7. Acknowledges messiness and political animosity of elections
  8. Blessing and re-commitment to the people

Phrases I have underlined, starred, or otherwise marked:

“… bind myself by the solemnities of religious obligation to the faithful performance of the duties allotted to me in the station to which I have been called.”

Since the adoption of this social compact one of these generations has passed away.  It is the work of our forefathers … We now receive it as a precious inheritance from those to whom we are indebted for its establishment, doubly bound by the examples which they have left us and by the blessings which we have enjoyed as the fruits of their labors to transmit the same unimpaired to the succeeding generation.”

“… a body of laws under its authority and in conformity with its provisions has unfolded its powers and carried into practical operation its effective energies. … A coordinate department of the judiciary has expounded the Constitution and the laws, settling in harmonious coincidence with the legislative will numerous weighty questions of construction which the imperfection of human language had rendered unavoidable.

“Since that period a population of four millions has multiplied to twelve.  A territory bounded by the Mississippi has been extended from sea to sea.  New States have been admitted to the Union in numbers nearly equal to those of the first Confederation.  Treaties of peace, amity, and commerce have been concluded with the principal dominions of the earth.  The people of other nations, inhabitants of regions acquired not by conquest, but by compact, have been united with us in the participation of our rights and duties, of our burdens and blessings.  The forest has fallen by the ax of our woodsmen; the soil has been made to teem by the tillage of our farmers; our commerce has whitened every ocean.  The dominion of man over physical nature has been extended by the invention of our artists.  Liberty and law have marched hand in hand.  All the purposes of human association have been accomplished as effectively as under any other government on the globe, and at a cost little exceeding in a whole generation the expenditure of other nations in a single year.”

“To admit that this picture has its shades is but to say that it is still the condition of men upon earth.  From evil — physical, moral, and political — it is not our claim to be exempt.”

“The causes of these dissensions have been various, founded upon differences of speculation in the theory of republican government; upon conflicting views of policy in our relations with foreign nations; upon jealousies of partial and sectional interests, aggravated by prejudices and prepossessions which strangers to each other are ever apt to entertain.”

“Standing at this point of time, looking back to that generation which has gone by and forward to that which is advancing, we may at once indulge in grateful exultation and in cheering hope.  From the experience of the past we derive instructive lessons for the future.”

“Of the two great political parties which have divided the opinions and feelings of our country, the candid and the just will now admit that both have contributed splendid talents, spotless integrity, ardent patriotism, and disinterested sacrifices to the formation and administration of this Government, and that both have required a liberal indulgence for a portion of human infirmity and error.”

“Our political creed is, without a dissenting voice that can be heard, that the will of the people is the source and the happiness of the people the end of all legitimate government upon earth; that the best security for the beneficence and the best guaranty against the abuse of power consists in the freedom, the purity, and the frequency of popular elections; that the General Government of the Union and the separate governments of the States are all sovereignties of limited powers, fellow-servants of the same masters, uncontrolled within their respective spheres, uncontrollable by encroachments upon each other; that the firmest security of peace is the preparation during peace of the defenses of war; that a rigorous economy and accountability of public expenditures should guard against the aggravation and alleviate when possible the burden of taxation; that the military should be kept in strict subordination to the civil power; that the freedom of the press and of religious opinion should be inviolate; that the policy of our country is peace and the ark of our salvation union are articles of faith upon which we are all now agreed.”

The collisions of party spirit which originate in speculative opinions or in different views of administrative policy are in their nature transitory.  Those which are founded on geographical divisions, adverse interests of soil, climate, and modes of domestic life are more permanent, and therefore, perhaps, more dangerous.”

“Here the distinguished men from every section of our country, while meeting to deliberate upon the great interests of those by whom they are deputed, learn to estimate the talents and do justice to the virtues of each other.  The harmony of the nation is promoted and the whole Union is knit together by the sentiments of mutual respect, the habits of social intercourse, and the ties of personal friendship formed between the representatives of its several parts in the performance of their service at this metropolis.”

“… [Policies of the Monroe Administration have been to] cherish peace while preparing for defensive war … reduce within the narrowest limits of efficiency the military force; to improve the organization and discipline of the Army; to provide and sustain a school of military science … to promote the civilization of the Indian tribes … provision has been made for the comfort and relief of the aged and indigent among the surviving warriors of the Revolution … the Floridas have been peaceably acquired, and our boundary has been extended to the Pacific Ocean …”

“The magnificence and splendor of their public works are among the imperishable glories of the ancient republics.  The road and aqueducts of Rome have been the admiration of all after ages, and have survived thousands of years after all her conquests have been swallowed up in despotism or become the spoil of barbarians.”

“Repeated, liberal, and candid discussions in the Legislature have conciliated the sentiments and approximated the opinions of enlightened minds upon the question of constitutional power.  I can not but hope that by the same process of friendly, patient, and persevering deliberation all constitutional objections will ultimately be removed.”

“Less possessed of your confidence in advance than any of my predecessors, I am deeply conscious of the prospect that I shall stand more and oftener in need of your indulgence.”

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

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