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Link to MillerCenter.org’s transcript of speech

Millercenter.org’s summary of speech:

“With frequent references to the Union’s growth in size, population, and strength, President Polk speaks at length about domestic issues. He is opposed to a national bank, assumption of state debt, and a revenue tariff, but supports a protective tariff and equal taxation. Polk also elaborates on his favorable opinion of Texas rejoining the Union.”

Thoughts on Transcript:

I’m starting to reach the point where a lot of these addresses are running together.  Partly it’s because there’s a good length of time in between when I have time to read a new one, but it’s also due to a lot of themes that are shared across presidencies, both in a given time period as well as the whole of American history.

For Polk, the things that really jumped out at me were 1) the debate between North and South regarding the role of federal government power vs states’ rights, 2) the use of the veto in the presidency, 3) the annexation of Texas and Oregon, and 4) the continuing desire to avoid placing taxes on the populace for purposes of revenue.

I don’t have too much else to talk about with this speech.  The bulk is placed on the importance of annexing Texas in order to avoid a potentially hostile power on the border and on the danger of carrying debt as a nation.  The second point especially appears important to Polk, as it did to other presidents, who says that “melancholy is the condition of that people whose government can be sustained only by a system which periodically transfers large amounts from the labor of the many to the coffers of the few.”  Given that I just completed a portion of that transfer on Monday (April 18th – Tax Day 2017), I wholeheartedly agree.  Many presidents saw taxes as handcuffs that would enslave the citizenry and also contribute to bloat and corruption within Washington DC.  I look forward to the first Inaugural Address which institutes a recurring income tax or other taxation scheme for the purpose of revenue collection.

Notes on speech:

  1. Importance of Concession and Compromise
  2. Limited powers of government (federal) and importance of states
  3. Freedoms are the secret to USA success
  4. Rights of the minority against majority rule
  5. Power of the veto in tempering mob rule
  6. Slavery – Polk says to let it be
  7. Dangers of taxes bleeding country dry
  8. Use of tariffs for protectionalism, not revenue
  9. Importance of annexing Texas into the Union
  10. Desire to annex Oregon
  11. Merchant-leaning foreign policy
  12. Need for a federal audit

Phrases I have underlined, starred, or otherwise marked:

“Honored with this distinguished consideration at an earlier period of life than any of my predecessors, I can not disguise the diffidence with which I am about to enter on the discharge of my official duties.”

“In assuming responsibilities so vast I fervently invoke the aid of that Almighty Ruler of the Universe in whose hands are the destinies of nations and of men to guard this Heaven-favored land against the mischiefs which without His guidance might arise from an unwise public policy.”

“The Constitution itself, plainly written as it is, the safeguard of our federative compact, the offspring of concession and compromise, binding together in the bonds of peace and union this great and increasing family of free and independent States, will be the chart by which I shall be directed.”

The Government of the United States is one of delegated and limited powers, and it is by a strict adherence to the clearly granted powers and by abstaining from the exercise of doubtful or unauthorized implied powers that we have the only sure guaranty against the recurrence of those unfortunate collisions between the Federal and State authorities which have occasionally so much disturbed the harmony of our system and even threatened the perpetuity of our glorious Union.

“‘To the States, respectively, or to the people’ have been reserved ‘the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution nor prohibited by it to the States.’  Each State is a complete sovereignty within the sphere of its reserved powers.  The Government of the Union, acting within the sphere of its delegated authority, is also a complete sovereignty. … One of the most distinguished of my predecessors [Thomas Jefferson] attached deserved importance to ‘the support of the State governments in all their rights, as the most competent administration for our domestic concerns and the surest bulwark against antirepublican tendencies’…”

“To the Government of the United States has been intrusted the exclusive management of our foreign affairs. … It does not force reform on the States, it leaves individuals, over whom it casts its protecting influence, entirely free to improve their own condition by the legitimate exercise of all their mental and physical powers.  It is a common protector … of every religious sect, in their worship of the Almighty according to the dictates of their own conscience … And we rejoice in the general happiness, prosperity, and advancement of our country, which have been the offspring of freedom, and not of power.”

“This most admirable and wisest system of well-regulated self-government among men ever devised by human minds has been tested by its successful operation for more than half a century, and if preserved from the usurpations of the Federal Government on the one hand and the exercise by the States of powers not reserved to them on the other, will, I fervently hope and believe, endure for ages to come and dispense the blessings of civil and religious liberty to distant generations. … By the theory of our Government majorities rule, but this right is not an arbitrary or unlimited one.  It is a right to be exercised in subordination to the Constitution and in conformity to it.  One great object of the Constitution was to restrain majorities from oppressing minorities or encroaching upon their just rights.  Minorities have a right to appeal to the Constitution as a shield against such oppression.

“That the blessings of liberty which our Constitution secures may be enjoyed alike by minorities and majorities, the Executive has been wisely invested with a qualified veto upon the acts of the Legislature.  It is a negative power, and is conservative in its character.  It arrests for the time hasty, inconsiderate, or unConstitutional legislation, invites reconsideration, and transfers questions at issue between the legislative and executive departments to the tribunal of the people.  Like all other powers, it is subject to be abused.  When judiciously and properly exercised, the Constitution itself may be saved from infraction and the rights of all preserved and protected.

Genius is free to announce its inventions and discoveries, and the hand is free to accomplish whatever the head conceives not incompatible with the rights of a fellow-being.  All distinctions of birth or of rank have been abolished.  All citizens, whether native or adopted, are placed upon terms of precise equality.  All are entitled to equal rights and equal protection.  No union exists between church and state, and perfect freedom of opinion is guaranteed to all sects and creeds.

“[The one who would destroy the Union and form of government we have] would stop the progress of free government and involve his country either in anarchy or despotism.  … If he say that error and wrong are committed in the administration of the Government, let him remember that nothing human can be perfect, and that under no other system of government revealed by Heaven or devised by man has reason been allowed so free and broad a scope to combat error.”

“To preserve [the Union] the compromises which alone enabled our fathers to form a common Constitution for the government and protection of so many States and distinct communities, of such diversified habits, interests, and domestic institutions, must be sacredly and religiously observed.  Any attempt to disturb or destroy these compromises, being terms of the compact of union, can lead to none other than the most ruinous and disastrous consequences.”

With these views of the nature, character, and objects of the Government and the value of the Union, I shall steadily oppose the creation of those institutions and systems which in their nature tend to pervert it from its legitimate purposes and make it the instrument of sections, classes, and individuals.  We need no national banks or other extraneous institutions planted around the Government to control or strengthen it in opposition to the will of its authors.  Experience has taught us how unnecessary they are as auxiliaries of the public authorities–how impotent for good and how powerful for mischief.

“Melancholy is the condition of that people whose government can be sustained only by a system which periodically transfers large amounts from the labor of the many to the coffers of the few.”

“‘Justice and sound policy forbid the Federal Government to foster one branch of industry to the detriment of another, or to cherish the interests of one portion to the injury of another portion of our common country.’ … I have also declared my opinion to be ‘in favor of a tariff for revenue,’ and that ‘in adjusting the details of such a tariff I have sanctioned such moderate discriminating duties as would produce the amount of revenue needed and at the same time afford reasonable incidental protection to our home industry,’ and that I was ‘opposed to a tariff for protection merely, and not for revenue.'”

“In executing this power by levying a tariff of duties for the support of Government, the raising of revenue should be the object and protection the incident.  To reverse this principle and make protection the object and revenue the incident would be to inflict manifest injustice upon all other than the protected interests. … To tax one branch of this home industry for the benefit of another would be unjust.  No one of these interests can rightfully claim an advantage over the others, or to be enriched by impoverishing the others.  … Our patriotic citizens in every part of the Union will readily submit to the payment of such taxes as shall be needed for the support of their Government, whether in peace or in war, if they are so levied as to distribute the burdens as equally as possible among them.”

“Our Union is a confederation of independent States, whose policy is peace with each other and all the world.”

“In the earlier stages of our national existence the opinion prevailed with some that our system of confederated States could not operate successfully over an extended territory, and serious objections have at different times been made to the enlargement of our boundaries.  … Experience has shown that they were not well founded.”

“None can fail to see the danger to our safety and future peace if Texas remains an independent state or becomes an ally or dependency of some foreign nation more powerful than herself.”

“Eighty years ago our population was confined on the west by the ridge of the Alleghanies.  Within that period–within the lifetime, I might say, of some of my hearers–our people, increasing to many millions, have filled the eastern valley of the Mississippi, adventurously ascended the Missouri to its headsprings, and are already engaged in establishing the blessings of self-government in valleys of which the rivers flow to the Pacific.”

“In taking ‘care that the laws be faithfully executed,’ a strict performance of duty will be exacted from all public officers.  From those officers, especially, who are charged with the collection and disbursement of the public revenue will prompt and rigid accountability be required.”

“Although in our country the Chief Magistrate must almost of necessity be chosen by a party and stand pledged to its principles and measures, yet in his official action he should not be the President of a part only, but of the whole people of the United States.”

“I enter upon the discharge of the high duties which have been assigned me by the people, again humbly supplicating that Divine Being who has watched over and protected our beloved country from its infancy to the present hour to continue His gracious benedictions upon us, that we may continue to be a prosperous and happy people.”

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

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