Culture History

James Monroe’s Inaugural Address Proves that our Nation has Lost its Way

James Monroe Cabinet
Ken Lambert
Written by Ken Lambert

It is only when the people become ignorant and corrupt, when they degenerate into a populace, that they are incapable of exercising the sovereignty.”   — James Monroe

James Monroe was the 5th President of the United States, and he was the last “Founding Father” to serve as President. He also was the last person that fought in the Revolutionary War to become the leader of the nation. The former Governor of Virginia served as Secretary of State during the War of 1812. Additionally, President Monroe worked within George Washington’s administration.   All told, he was a pillar of the early United States.

Monroe was elected to the first of two terms as President in 1817, taking office on March 4th. The following are selections from his First Inaugural Address that seem very prudent to review and from which to learn:

From the commencement of our Revolution to the present day almost forty years have elapsed, and from the establishment of this Constitution twenty-eight. Through this whole term the Government has been what may emphatically be called self-government. And what has been the effect? To whatever object we turn our attention, whether it relates to our foreign or domestic concerns, we find abundant cause to felicitate ourselves in the excellence of our institutions. During a period fraught with difficulties and marked by very extraordinary events the United States have flourished beyond example. Their citizens individually have been happy and the nation prosperous…

In explaining my sentiments on this subject it may be asked, What raised us to the present happy state? How did we accomplish the Revolution? How remedy the defects of the first instrument of our Union, by infusing into the National Government sufficient power for national purposes, without impairing the just rights of the States or affecting those of individuals? How sustain and pass with glory through the late war? The Government has been in the hands of the people. To the people, therefore, and to the faithful and able depositaries of their trust is the credit due. Had the eople of the United States been educated in different principles had they been less intelligent, less independent, or less virtuous can it be believed that we should have maintained the same steady and consistent career or been blessed with the same success? While, then, the constituent body retains its present sound and healthful state everything will be safe. They will choose competent and faithful representatives for every department. It is only when the people become ignorant and corrupt, when they degenerate into a populace, that they are incapable of exercising the sovereignty. Usurpation is then an easy attainment, and an usurper soon found. The people themselves become the willing instruments of their own debasement and ruin. Let us, then, look to the great cause, and endeavor to preserve it in full force. Let us by all wise and constitutional measures promote intelligence among the people as the best means of preserving our liberties…

James MonroeBut it ought always to be held prominently in view that the safety of these States and of everything dear to a free people must depend in an eminent degree on the militia. Invasions may be made too formidable to be resisted by any land and naval force which it would comport either with the principles of our Government or the circumstances of the United States to maintain. In such cases recourse must be had to the great body of the people, and in a manner to produce the best effect. It is of the highest importance, therefore, that they be so organized and trained as to be prepared for any emergency. The arrangement should be such as to put at the command of the Government the ardent patriotism and youthful vigor of the country. If formed on equal and just principles, it can not be oppressive. It is the crisis which makes the pressure, and not the laws which provide a remedy for it. This arrangement should be formed, too, in time of peace, to be the better prepared for war. With such an organization of such a people the United States have nothing to dread from foreign invasion. At its approach an overwhelming force of gallant men might always be put in motion…

Equally gratifying is it to witness the increased harmony of opinion which pervades our Union. Discord does not belong to our system. Union is recommended as well by the free and benign principles of our Government, extending its blessings to every individual, as by the other eminent advantages attending it. The American people have encountered together great dangers and sustained severe trials with success. They constitute one great family with a common interest. Experience has enlightened us on some questions of essential importance to the country. The progress has been slow, dictated by a just reflection and a faithful regard to every interest connected with it. To promote this harmony in accord with the principles of our republican Government and in a manner to give them the most complete effect, and to advance in all other respects the best interests of our Union, will be the object of my constant and zealous exertions…

Never did a government commence under auspices so favorable, nor ever was success so complete. If we look to the history of other nations, ancient or modern, we find no example of a growth so rapid, so gigantic, of a people so prosperous and happy. In contemplating what we have still to perform, the heart of every citizen must expand with joy when he reflects how near our Government has approached to perfection; that in respect to it we have no essential improvement to make; that the great object is to preserve it in the essential principles and features which characterize it, and that is to be done by preserving the virtue and enlightening the minds of the people; and as a security against foreign dangers to adopt such arrangements as are indispensable to the support of our independence, our rights and liberties. If we persevere in the career in which we have advanced so far and in the path already traced, we can not fail, under the favor of a gracious Providence, to attain the high destiny which seems to await us…

Where does a historian, or political junkie, or any reader, begin in the analysis of this address to the nation nearly 200 years ago? Several items and themes are quite striking:

 

  • It just seems like men of the current era are incapable of giving a speech like this one. Perhaps they do not have the wisdom (or patriotism) of a man that fought to establish this country, and then soon after saw the near-destruction of the nation (War of 1812). But also I think it is true that we just do not speak like this anymore. There is something less “regal” now than the words spoken centuries ago.
  • Look at the optimism and solidarity with which Monroe speaks, when describing the citizens as a whole. When was the last time that the United States felt like that?
  • Even if a President like Obama, W. Bush, or Clinton spoke these exact same words, would it have the same meaning and impact?
  • Monroe clearly supports the 2nd Amendment and the validity and necessity for locally formed militias. More recently, with a stronger and stronger federal government, along with increasingly strong state governments, the militia mentality has been pushed to a footnote of yesteryear.

 

As a country we are looking for our next commander-in-chief. The election will take place in November, with the party nominations taking place this summer. Decisions must be made by the American people as to who will lead us, and how. From reading the Monroe address it is evident that we are far removed from our Founders. We cannot go back in time, but we can still demand a President that is a wise, experienced, and trustworthy Patriot.

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by EagleRising.com


About the author

Ken Lambert

Ken Lambert

Ken Lambert, a history buff from New Hampshire, has written publicly and professionally for numerous secular and religious media, including: The Bottom Line Faith News, The U.S. Independent, and The American Constitutionist (Constitution Party newsletter). He also has co-authored a book on church history, available via https://www.tatepublishing.com/bookstore/book.php?w=9781625633255 .

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