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Link to MillerCenter.org’s transcript of speech

Summary of speech:

The last President elected before Lincoln, tensions regarding slavery and the strength of the Federal government are front and center.  Additional public works projects are being undertaken, but under the guise of the powers granted for defense rather than for general infrastructure.

Thoughts on Transcript:

Uses Confederacy

Notes on speech:

  1. Announces he will only have a single term Presidency
  2. New states – stance is that slavery status should be determined by vote
  3. Slavery question is estranging citizens from each other
  4. Danger of arriving at value of the Union from the sum of its parts
  5. Corruption in government (Still!)
  6. Desire to limit revenue collection by the government
  7. Squandering money in Treasury and squandering stewardship of public lands
  8. Dangers of Federal Overreach
  9. Uses rationale of defense to build military highway crossing the US and connecting West Coast to rest of US
  10. Non-interventionalist foreign policy, peace and free trade to all
  11. Stretch in justifying acquisitions of territory from Mexico

Phrases I have underlined, starred, or otherwise marked:

“I must humbly invoke the God of our fathers for wisdom and firmness to execute its high and responsible duties in a manner as to restore harmony and ancient friendship among the people of the several States and to preserve our free institutions throughout many generations.”

“Having determined not to become a candidate for reelection, I shall have no motive to influence my conduct in administering the Government except the desire ably and faithfully to serve my country and to live in grateful memory of my countrymen.”

The voice of the majority, speaking in the manner prescribed by the Constitution, was heard, and instant submission followed.  Our own country could alone have exhibited so grand and striking a spectacle of the capacity of man for self-government.

“It is the imperative and indispensable duty of the Government of the United States to secure to every resident inhabitant the free and independent expression of his opinion by his vote.  This sacred right of each individual must be preserved.  That being accomplished, nothing can be fairer than to leave the people of a Territory free from all foreign interference to decide their own destiny for themselves, subject only to the Constitution of the United States.”

“The whole Territorial question being thus settled upon the principle of popular sovereignty–a principle as ancient as free government itself–everything of a practical nature has been decided.”

“Throughout the whole progress of this agitation, which has scarcely known any intermission for more than twenty years, whilst it has been productive of no positive good to any human being it has been the prolific source of great evils to the master, to the slave, and to the whole country.  It has alienated and estranged the people of the sister States from each other, and has even seriously endangered the very existence of the Union.”

“Time is a great corrective.  Political subjects which but a few years ago excited, and exasperated the public mind have passed away and are now nearly forgotten.”

“Let every Union-loving man, therefore, exert his best influence to suppress this agitation, which since the recent legislation of Congress is without any legitimate object.”

“It is an evil omen of the times that men have undertaken to calculate the mere material value of the Union.  Reasoned estimates have been presented of the pecuniary profits and local advantages which would result to different States and sections from its dissolution and of the comparative injuries which such an event would inflict on other States and sections.  Even descending to this low and narrow view of the mighty question, all such calculations are at fault.”

“Next in importance to the maintenance of the Constitution and the Union is the duty of preserving the Government free from the taint or even the suspicion of corruption.  Public virtue is the vital spirit of republics, and history proves that when this has decayed and the love of money has usurped its place, although the forms of free government may remain for a season, the substance has departed forever.”

“Our present financial condition is without a parallel in history.  No nation has ever before been embarrassed from too large a surplus in its treasury.  This almost necessarily gives birth to extravagant legislation.  It produces wild schemes of expenditure and begets a race of speculators and jobbers, whose ingenuity is exerted in contriving and promoting expedients to obtain public money.  The purity of official agents, whether rightfully or wrongfully, is suspected, and the character of the government suffers in the estimation of the people.  This is in itself a very great evil.”

“… a reasonable increase of the Navy, which is at present inadequate to the protection of our vast tonnage afloat, now greater than that of any other nation, as well as to the defense of our extended seacoast.”

“It is beyond all question the true principle that no more revenue ought to be collected from the people than the amount necessary to defray the expenses of a wise, economical, and efficient administration of the Government.”

“But the squandering of the public money sinks into comparative insignificance as a temptation to corruption when compared with the squandering of the public lands.”

In administering this important trust, whilst it may be wise to grant portions of them for the improvement of the remainder, yet we should never forget that it is our cardinal policy to reserve these lands, as much as may be, for actual settlers, and this at moderate prices. … [we] shall secure homes for our children and our children’s children, as well as for those exiles from foreign shores who may seek in this country to improve their condition and to enjoy the blessings of civil and religious liberty.  Such emigrants have done much to promote the growth and prosperity of the country.  They have proved faithful both in peace and in war.  After becoming citizens they are entitled, under the Constitution and laws, to be placed on a perfect equality with native-born citizens, and in this character they should ever be kindly recognized.

The Federal Constitution is a grant from the States to Congress of certain specific powers, and the question whether this grant should be liberally or strictly construed has more or less divided political parties from the beginning.

“Whenever in our past history doubtful powers have been exercised by Congress, these have never failed to produce injurious and unhappy consequences.  Many such instances might be adduced if this were the proper occasion.”

“Whilst deeply convinced of these truths, I yet consider it clear that under the war-making power Congress may appropriate money toward the construction of a military road when this is absolutely necessary for the defense of any State or Territory of the Union against foreign invasion. … how is it possible to afford this protection to California and our Pacific possessions except by means of a military road through the Territories of the United States, over which men and munitions of war may be speedily transported from the Atlantic States to meet and to repel the invader?”

“We ought to cultivate peace, commerce, and friendship with all nations, and this not merely as the best means of promoting our own material interests, but in a spirit of Christian benevolence toward our fellow-men, wherever their lot may be cast.”

“We ought to cherish a sacred regard for the independence of all nations, and never attempt to interfere in the domestic concerns of any unless this shall be imperatively required by the great law of self-preservation.”

“Even our acquisitions from Mexico form no exception.  Unwilling to take advantage of the fortune of war against a sister republic, we purchased these possessions under the treaty of peace for a sum which was considered at the time a fair equivalent.”

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

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