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I submitted also to my fellow-citizens, with fulness and frankness, the reasons which led me to this determination. The result authorizes me to believe that they have been approved, and are confided in by a majority of the people of the United States, including those whom they most immediately affect. It now only remains to add, that no bill conflicting with these views can ever receive my constitutional sanction. These opinions have been adopted in the firm belief that they are in accordance with the spirit that actuated the venerated fathers of the republic, and that succeeding experience has proved them to be humane, patriotic, expedient, honorable, and just. If the agitation of this subject was intended to reach the stability of our institutions, enough has occurred to show that it has signally failed; and that in this, as in every other instance, the apprehensions of the timid and the hopes of the wicked for the destruction of our government, are again destined to be disappointed. Here and there, indeed, scenes of dangerous excitement have occurred; terrifying instances of local violence have been witnessed ; and a reckless disregard of the consequences of their conduct has exposed individuals to popular indignation; but neither masses of the people nor sections of the country have swerved from their devotion to the bond of union, and the principles it. has made sacred. It will be ever thus. Such attempts at agitation may periodically return, but with each the object will be better understood. That predominating affection for our political system which prevails throughout our territorial limits, that calm and enlightened judgment which ultimately governs our people as one vast body, will always be at hand to resist and control every effort, foreign or domestic, which aims or would lead to overthrow our institutions.
What can be more gratifying than such a retrospect as this? We look back on obstacles avoided and dangers overcome; on expectations more than realized, and
prosperity perfectly secured. To the hopes of the hostile, the fears of the timid, and the doubts of the anxious, actual experience has given the conclusive reply. We have seen time gradually dispel every unfavorable foreboding, and our constitution surmount every adverse circumstance,
dreaded at the outset as beyond control. Present excitement will, at all times, magnify present dangers; but true philosophy must teach us that none more threatening than the past can remain to be overcome; and we ought, for we have just reason, to entertain an abiding confidence in the stability of our institutions, and an entire conviction that, if administered in the true form, character, and spirit in which they were established, they are abundantly adequate to preserve to us and our children the rich blessings already derived from them; to make our beloved land, for a thousand generations, that chosen spot where happiness springs from a perfect equality of political rights.
For myself, therefore, I desire to declare, that the principle that will govern me in the high duty to which my country calls me, is a strict adherence to the letter and spirit of the constitution, as it was designed by those who framed it. Looking back to it as a sacred instrument, carefully and not easily framed; remembering that it was throughout a work of concession and compromise, viewing it as limited to national objects; regarding it as leaving to the people and the states all power not explicitly parted with, - I shall endeavor to preserve, protect, and defend it, by anxiously referring to its provisions for direction in every action. To matters of domestic concernment which it has intrusted to the federal government, and to such as relate to our intercourse with foreign nations, I shall zealously devote myself; beyond those limits I shall never pass.
To enter, on this occasion, into a further or more minute exposition of my views on the various questions of domestic policy, would be as obtrusive as it is probably unexpected. Before the suffrages of my countrymen were conferred upon me, I submitted to them, with great precision, my opinions on all the most prominent of these subjects. Those opinions I shall endeavor to carry out with the utmost of my ability.
Our course of foreign policy has been so uniform and intelligible, as to constitute a rule of executive conduct which leaves little to my discretion, unless, indeed, I were willing to run counter to the lights of experience, and the known opinions of my constituents. We sedulously cultivate the friendship of all nations, as the condition most compatible with our welfare, and the principles of our government. We decline alliances, as adverse to our peace.
We desire commercial relations on equal terms, being ever willing to give a fair equivalent for advantages received. We endeavor to conduct our intercourse with openness and sincerity; promptly avowing our objects, and seeking to establish that mutual frankness which is as beneficial in the dealings of nations as of men. We have no disposition, and we disclaim all right, to meddle in disputes, whether internal or foreign, that may molest other countries; regarding them in their actual state, as social communities, and preserving a strict neutrality in all their controversies. Well knowing the tried valor of our people, and our exhaustless resources, we neither anticipate nor sear any designed aggression; and in the consciousness of our own just conduct, we feel a security that we shall never be called upon to exert our determination, never to permit an invasion of our rights, without punishment or redress.
In approaching, then, in the presence of my assembled countrymen, to make the solemn promise that yet remains, and to pledge myself that I will faithfully execute the office I am about to fill, I bring with me a settled purpose to maintain the institutions of my country, which, I trust, will atone for the errors I commit.
In receiving from the people the sacred trust twice confided to my illustrious predecessor, and which he has discharged so faithfully and so well, I know that I cannot expect to perform the arduous task with equal ability and
But, united as I have been in his counsels, a daily witness of his exclusive and unsurpassed devotion to his country's welfare, agreeing with him in sentiments which his countrymen have warmly supported, and permitted to partake largely of his confidence, I may hope that somewhat of the same cheering approbation will be found to attend upon my path. For him, I but express, with my own, the wishes of all, that he may yet long live to enjoy the brilliant evening of his well-spent life, and for myself, conscious of but one desire, faithfully to serve my country, I throw myself, without fear, on its justice and kindness. Beyond that, I only look to the gracious
protection of that Divine Being whose strengthening support I humbly solicit, and whom I fervently pray to look down upon us all. May it be among the dispensations of his providence to bless our beloved country with honors and with length of days; may her ways be ways of pleasantness, and all her paths be peace.
VAN BUREN'S FIRST ANNUAL MESSAGE.
DECEMBER 4, 1837. To the Senate
and House of Representatives : We have reason to renew the expression of our devout gratitude to the Giver of all good for his benign protection. Our country presents on every side the evidences of that continued favor under whose auspices it has gradually risen from a few feeble and dependent colonies to a prosperous and powerful confederacy. We are blessed with domestic tranquillity and all the elements of national prosperity. The pestilence which, invading for a time some flourishing portions of the Union, interrupted the general prevalence of unusual health, has happily been limited in extent, and arrested in its fatal career.
The industry and prudence of our citizens are gradually relieving them from the pecuniary embarrassments under which portions of them have labored; judicious legislation, and the natural and boundless resources of the country, have afforded wise and timely aid to private enterprise; and the activity always characteristic of our people has already in a great degree resumed its usual and profitable channels.
The condition of our foreign relations has not materially changed since the last annual message of my predecessor. We remain in peace with all nations; and no efforts on my part, consistent with the preservation of our rights and the honor of our country, shall be spared to maintain a position so consonant to our institutions. We have faithfully sustained the foreign policy with which the United States, under the guidance of their first President, took their stand in the family of nations - that of regulating their intercourse with other powers by the approved principles of private life; asking and according equal rights and equal privileges; rendering and demanding justice in all cases; advancing their own and discussing the pretensions of others, with candor, directness, and sincerity; appealing at all times to reason, but never yielding to force, nor seeking to acquire any thing for themselves by its exercise.
A rigid adherence to this policy has left this government with scarcely a claim upon its justice, for injuries arising from acts committed by its authority. The most imposing and perplexing of those of the United States upon foreign governments for aggressions upon our citizens, were disposed of by my predecessor. Independently of the benefits conferred upon our citizens by restoring to the mercantile community so many millions of which they had been wrongfully divested, a great service was also rendered to his country by the satisfactory adjustment of so many ancient and irritating subjects of contention; and it reflects no ordinary credit on his successful administration of public affairs, that this great object was accomplished without compromising, on any occasion, either the honor or the peace of the nation.
With European powers, no new subjects of difficulty have arisen; and those which were under discussion, although not terminated, do not present a more unfavorable aspect for the future preservation of that good understanding which it has ever been our desire to cultivate.
Of pending questions, the most important is that which exists with the government of Great Britain, in respect to our north-eastern boundary. It is with unfeigned regret that the people of the United States must look back upon the abortive efforts made by the executive, for a period of more than half a century, to determine, what no nation should suffer long to remain in dispute, the true line which divides its possessions from those of other powers. The nature of the settlement on the borders of the United States, and of the neighboring territory, was for a season such, that this, perhaps, was not indispensable to a faithful performance of the duties of the federal government.