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James Madison’s First Inaugural Address, Asserting Neutral Rights in Prelude to the War of 1812
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Indulging no passions which trespass on the rights or the repose of other nations, it has been the true glory of the United States to cultivate peace by observing justice, and to entitle themselves to the respect of the nations at war by fulfilling their neutral obligations with the most scrupulous impartiality.

When President Thomas Jefferson followed George Washington’s example and declined to seek a third term, he selected James Madison as his successor. Reflecting challenges within his own party, Madison won the Presidency over fellow Democratic-Republican DeWitt Clinton, who was endorsed by some state Federalist parties, by a narrow margin.

JAMES MADISON. Newspaper. The Repertory, March 14, 1809. Boston, Massachusetts: John & Andrew W. Park. 4 pp., 13¼ x 20¼ in.

Inventory #30001.61       Price: $795

Madison’s first administration was dominated by growing conflict with Great Britain over British impressment of American sailors and attacks on American shipping that culminated in the War of 1812. Although a supporter of a smaller federal government, Madison asked Congress for appropriations to increase the size of the Army and Navy.


The present situation of the world is indeed without a parallel, and that of our own country full of difficulties. The pressure of these, too, is the more severely felt because they have fallen upon us at a moment when the national prosperity being at a height not before attained, the contrast resulting from the change has been rendered the more striking. Under the benign influence of our republican institutions, and the maintenance of peace with all nations whilst so many of them were engaged in bloody and wasteful wars, the fruits of a just policy were enjoyed in an unrivaled growth of our faculties and resources.” (p1/c5)

Indulging no passions which trespass on the rights or the repose of other nations, it has been the true glory of the United States to cultivate peace by observing justice, and to entitle themselves to the respect of the nations at war by fulfilling their neutral obligations with the most scrupulous impartiality. If there be candor in the world, the truth of these assertions will not be questioned; posterity at least will do justice to them.” (p1/c5)

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 exclude foreign intrigues and foreign partialities, so degrading to all countries and so baneful to free ones; to foster a spirit of independence too just to invade the rights of others, too proud to surrender our own, too liberal to indulge unworthy prejudices ourselves and too elevated not to look down upon them in others; to hold the union of the States as the basis of their peace and happiness; to support the Constitution, which is the cement of the Union, as well in its limitations as in its authorities; to respect the rights and authorities reserved to the States and to the people as equally incorporated with and essential to the success of the general system; to avoid the slightest interference with the right 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; to observe economy in public expenditures; to liberate the public resources by an honorable discharge of the public debts; to keep within the requisite limits a standing military force, always remembering that an armed and trained militia is the firmest bulwark of republics—that without standing armies their liberty can never be in danger, nor with large ones safe; to promote by authorized means improvements friendly to agriculture, to manufactures, and to external as well as internal commerce; to favor in like manner the advancement of science and the diffusion of information as the best aliment to true liberty; to carry on the benevolent plans which have been so meritoriously applied to the conversion of our aboriginal neighbors from the degradation and wretchedness of savage life to a participation of the improvements of which the human mind and manners are susceptible in a civilized state—as far as sentiments and intentions such as these can aid the fulfillment of my duty, they will be a resource which cannot fail me.” (p2/c1)

Additional Content

This issue also includes a lengthy address from the Massachusetts legislature to the people in opposition to the embargo system (p1/c1-4, p4/c1-2); a proclamation by lieutenant governor Levi Lincoln (p1/c4-5); an early editorial on the gubernatorial race between Christopher Gore and Levi Lincoln (p2/c2); and a variety of notices and advertisements.

James Madison (1751-1836) was born in Port Conway, Virginia, and graduated from Princeton University in 1771. He entered politics in 1776 and played a major role in the 1787 Constitutional Convention. Later known as the “Father of the Constitution,” he authored the Federalist Papers along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay. Madison helped found Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican party in opposition to Hamilton’s financial proposals. Madison’s served as Jefferson’s Secretary of State (1801-1809), and then succeeded him to the Presidency for two terms (1809-1817). Madison’s administration saw the culmination of Anglo-American tensions that resulted in the War of 1812, which officially began on June 18, 1812, and concluded with the Treaty of Ghent on December 24, 1814. The last years of Madison’s second term saw the transition to the Era of Good Feelings, as the Federalist party declined. When he left office, Madison retired to Montpelier, his tobacco plantation in Virginia. He also assisted Thomas Jefferson in the establishment of the University of Virginia, where Madison succeeded Jefferson as rector when Jefferson died.

The Repertory (1803-1827) was a semiweekly Federalist newspaper first published in Newburyport, Massachusetts, by John Park (1775-1852) as the New-England Repertory. Relocating to Boston in February 1804, it became The Repertory and was published under that name and as The Repertory and General Advertiser until 1827, when it became the Boston Advertiser. Initially published by John Park, his brother Andrew W. Park later joined him as a partner, and they sold the newspaper in 1811 to William W. Clapp, who in 1813 began the Boston Daily Advertiser as Boston’s first daily newspaper, while The Repertory continued as a tri-weekly edition until 1827, when its name changed to the Boston Advertiser.

Complete Transcript of Madison’s First Inaugural Address

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