Madison, 1st Inaugural, 1809

FIRST INAUGURAL ADDRESS

James Madison

March 4, 1809

In this address, President Madison eloquently and humbly expresses his commitment to the office of President and to his country. Although burdened with feelings of inadequacy, Madison finds support in his principles, and thereby confidently expresses his purposes, including that of preserving without the slightest of interferences, the rights of conscience and religion. In closing, President Madison followed the advice he gave to William Bradford 36 years earlier, and publicly expressed his gratitude to Almighty God for the blessings bestowed upon the young nation, as well as its dependence upon Him for a continuation of those blessings.

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Unwilling to depart from examples of the most revered authority, I avail myself of the occasion now presented to express the profound impression made on me by the call of my country to the station to the duties of which I am about to pledge myself by the most solemn of sanctions. So distinguished a mark of confidence, proceeding from the deliberate and tranquil suffrage of a free and virtuous nation, would under any circumstances have commanded my gratitude and devotion, as well as filled me with an awful sense of the trust to be assumed. Under the various circumstances which give peculiar solemnity to the existing period, I feel that both the honor and the responsibility allotted to me are inexpressibly enhanced.

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Assuring myself that under every vicissitude the determined spirit and united councils of the nation will be safeguards to its honor and its essential interests, I repair to the post assigned me with no other discouragement than what springs from my own inadequacy to its high duties. If I do not sink under the weight of this deep conviction it is because I find some support in a consciousness of the purposes and a confidence in the principles which I bring with me into this arduous service.

To cherish peace and friendly intercourse with all nations having correspondent dispositions; to maintain sincere neutrality toward belligerent nations; to prefer in all cases amicable discussion and reasonable accommodation of differences to a decision of them by an appeal to arms; . . . to avoid the slightest interference with the rights of conscience or the functions of religion, so wisely exempted from civil jurisdiction; to preserve in their full energy the other salutary provisions in behalf of private and personal rights, and of the freedom of the press; . . . — as far as sentiments and intentions such as these can aid the fulfillment of my duty, they will be a resource which can not fail me.

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But the source to which I look for the aids which alone can supply my deficiencies is in the well-tried intelligence and virtue of my fellow-citizens, and in the counsels of those representing them in the other departments associated in the care of the national interests. In these my confidence will under every difficulty be best placed, next to that which we have all been encouraged to feel in the guardianship and guidance of that Almighty Being whose power regulates the destiny of nations, whose blessings have been so conspicuously dispensed to this rising Republic, and to whom we are bound to address our devout gratitude for the past, as well as our fervent supplications and best hopes for the future.

James Madison, First Inaugural Address (Mar. 4, 1809), in 8 The Writings of James Madison, 1808-1819, at 47 (Gaillard Hunt ed., 1908).