PRESIDENT’S ANNUAL MESSAGE TO CONGRESS

 

December 3, 1877

Washington D.C.

 

Fellow-Citizens of the Senate and House of Representatives: 

 

With great gratitude to the bountiful Giver of all good, I congratulate you at the beginning of your first regular session.  You find our country blessed with wealth and peace and abundant harvests, and with encouraging prospects of an early return to general prosperity.  The pacification of the country continues to be, and until it is fully accomplished, must remain the most important of all our National interests.  The earnest purpose of good citizens generally to unite their efforts in those endeavors is evident.  It found a decided expression in the resolutions announced in 1876 by the National Conventions of the leading political parties of the country.  There was a widespread apprehension that the momentous results in our progress as a Nation, marked by the recent amendments to the Constitution, were in imminent jeopardy; that the good understanding which prompted their adoption in the interest of a loyal devotion to the general welfare might prove a barren truce, and that the sections of the country once engaged in civil strife might be again almost as widely severed and disunited as they were when arrayed in arms against each other.  The course to be pursued, in my judgment, which seems wisest in the presence of this emergency, was plainly indicated in my inaugural address.  It pointed to the time which all our people desire to see, when a genuine love of our whole country and of all that concerns its true welfare shall supplant the destructive force of mutual animosity of races and of sectional hostility.  Opinions have differed widely as to the measures best calculated to secure this great end.  This was to be expected.  The measures adopted by the Administration have been subjected to severe and varied criticisms.  Any course whatever which might have been entered upon would certainly have encountered distrust and opposition.  These measures were, in my judgment, such as were most in harmony with the Constitution, and with the genius of our people, and best adapted under all circumstances to attain the end in view.  The beneficent results already apparent prove that these endeavors are not to be regarded as a mere experiment, and should sustain and encourage us in our efforts.  Already in the brief period which has elapsed, the immediate effectiveness, no less than the justice of the course pursued, is demonstrated, and I have an abiding faith that time will furnish its ample vindication in the minds of the great majority of my fellow-citizens. 

 

SOUTHERN POLICY

 

The discontinuance of the use of the army for the purpose of upholding local governments in two States of the Union was no less a constitutional duty and requirement under the circumstances existing at the time than it was a needed measure for the restoration of local self-government and the promotion of National harmony.  The withdrawal of the troops from such employment was effected diligently and with solicitous care for the peace and good order of society, the protection of property and persons, and of every right of all classes of citizens.  The results that have followed are indeed significant and encouraging.  All apprehension of danger from remitting those States to local self-government is dispelled, and the most salutary change in the minds of the people has begun and is in progress in every part of that section of the country, once the theater of unhappy civil strife, substituting for suspicion, distrust and aversion, concord, friendship and patriotic attachment to the Union.  No unprejudiced mind will deny that the fatal collisions, which for several years have been of frequent occurrence, and have alarmed the public mind, have almost entirely ceased, and that a spirit of mutual forbearance and hearty National interest has succeeded.  There has been a general re-establishment of order and of the orderly administration of justice.  Instances of remaining lawlessness have become of rare occurrence; political turmoil and turbulence have disappeared; useful industries have been resumed; public credit in the Southern States has been greatly strengthened, and the encouraging benefits of a revival of commerce between the sections of the country lately embroiled in civil war are fully enjoyed.  Such are some of the results already attained, upon which the country is to be congratulated.  They are of such importance that we may with confidence patiently await the desired consummation that will surely come with the natural progress of events. 

 

It may not be improper here to say that it should be our fixed and unalterable determination to protect, by all available and proper means under the Constitution and the laws, the lately emancipated race in the experiment of their rights and privileges, and I urge upon those to whom heretofore the colored people have sustained the relation of the bondsmen, the wisdom and justice of humane and liberal local legislation with respect to their educational and general welfare, a firm adherence to the laws, both National and State, as to the civil and political rights of the colored people, now advanced to full and equal citizenship.  The immediate repression and sure punishment by the National and local authorities within their respective jurisdictions of every instance of lawlessness and violence toward them is required for the security alike of both races, and is justly for the security alike of both races, and is justly demanded by the public opinion of the country and the age.  In this way the restoration of harmony and good will and the complete protection of every citizen in the full enjoyment of every constitutional right will surely be attained.  Whatever authority rests with me to this end I shall not hesitate to put forth.  Whatever belongs to the power of Congress and the jurisdiction of the Courts of the Union, they may confidently be relied upon to provide and to perform; and to the Legislatures, the Courts, and the Executive authorities of the several States I earnestly appeal to secure, by adequate appropriate and seasonable means, within their borders these common and uniform rights of the united people which love, liberty, abhors oppression and reveres justice. 

 

These objects are very dear to my heart.  I shall most earnestly strive for their attainment.  The cordial cooperation of all classes, of all sections of the country and of both races is required for this purpose, and with their blessings assured and not otherwise we may safely hope to hand down the free institutions of our Government unimpaired to the generations that will succeed us.

 

SPECIES RESUMPTION

 

Among the other subjects of great and general importance to the people of this country I cannot be mistaken.  I think, in regarding as preeminent the policy and measure which are designed to secure the restoration of the currency to that normal and healthful condition in which by the resumption of specie payments our internal trade and foreign commerce may be brought into harmony with the system of exchanges which is based upon the precious metals as the intrinsic money of the world.  In the public judgment, that this end should be sought and compassed as speedily and as securely as the resources of the people and the wisdom of their representatives can accomplish, there is much greater degree of unanimity than is found to concur in the specific measures which will bring the country to this desired end, or the rapidity of the steps by which it can be safely reached.  Upon a most anxious and deliberate examination, which I have felt it my duty to give the subject, I am but more confirmed in the opinion which I expressed in accepting the nomination for the Presidency, and again upon my inauguration, that the policy of resumption should be pursued by every suitable means, and that no legislation would be wise that should disparage the importance or retard the attainment of that result.  I have no disposition and certainly no right to question the sincerity or the integrity of opposing opinions, and would neither conceal nor undervalue the considerable difficulties, and even occasional distresses, which may attend the progress of the Nation toward this primary condition to its general and permanent prosperity.  I must, however, adhere to my most earnest conviction that any wavering of purpose or unsteadiness in methods, so far from avoiding or reducing the inconvenience inseparable from transition from an irredeemable to a redeemable paper currency would only tend to increased and prolonged disturbance in values, and, unless relieved, must end in serious disorder, dishonor, and disaster in the financial affairs of the Government and of the people.  The mischief which I apprehend and urgently deprecate, is confined to no class of the people, indeed, but seems to me most certainly to threaten the industrious masses, whether their occupation is of skilled or common labor.  To them it seems to me it is of prime importance that their labor should be compensated in money which is in itself fixed in exchangeable value by being irrevocably measured by the labor necessary to its production.  This permanent equality of the money of the people is sought for and can only be gained by the resumption of specie payment.  The rich, the speculative, the operating and the money dealing classes may not always feel the mischief of, or may find casual profits in, a variable currency, but the misfortunes of such a currency to those who are paid salaries or wages are inevitable and remediless.

 

READJUSTMENT OF THE COINAGE

 

Closely connected with this general subject of the resumption of specie payments is one subordinate, but still of grave importance.  I mean the readjustment of our coinage system by the renewal of the silver dollar as an element of our specie currency, endowed by the legislation with the qualities of legal-tender to a greater or less extent, as there is no doubt of the power of Congress, under the Constitution, to coin money and regulate the value thereof, and as this power covers the whole range of authority applicable to the metal, the rated value and the legal-tender quality which shall be adopted for the coinage, and the considerations which should induce or discourage a particular measure connected with the coinage belong clearly to the province of legislation a direction and of public expediency.  Without intruding upon this province of legislation in the least, I have thought the subject of such critical importance in the actual condition of our affairs as to preset an occasion for the exercise of the duty imposed by the Constitution on the President, of recommending to the consideration of Congress such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient, holding the opinion as I do, that neither the interest of the Government nor of the people of the United States would be promoted by disparaging silver as one of the second precious metals in the world, and that legislation, which looks to maintaining a volume of intrinsic money to as full a measure of both metals as their relative commercial values will permit, would be commercial values will permit, would be neither unjust nor inexpedient.  I must ask your indulgence to a brief and definite statement of certain essential features in any such legislative measures which I feel in my duty to recommend.  I do not propose to enter the debate represented on both sides by such able disputants in Congress and before the people and in the press as to the extent to which the legislation of any one Nation can control this question, even within its own borders, against the laws of trade or the positive laws of other Governments.  The wisdom of Congress in shaping any particular law that may be presented for my approval may wholly supersede the necessity of my entering into the reconsiderations, and I willingly avoid either vague or intricate inquiries.  It is only certain plain and practical tra(?) of such legislation that I desire to recommit (?) your attention.  In any legislation providing (?)r a silver coinage, regulating its value and impa(?)ing to it the quality of legal tender, it seems to be of great importance that Congress should not lose sight of its action by operating in a two fold capacity, and in two distinct directions.  If the United States Government were free from a public, debt its legislative dealing with the question of silver coinage would be purely sovereign and governmental, under no restraints but those of Constitutional power.  The public good as affected by the proposed legislation, but in the actual circumstances of the Nation, with a vast public debt distributed very widely among our own citizens, and held in great amounts also abroad, the nature of the silver coinage measures as affecting this relation of the Government to the holders of the public debt, becomes, in any proposed legislation, of the highest concern.  The obligation of the public faith transcends all questions of profit or public advantage, otherwise its unquestionable maintenance is the di(?)e, as well as the highest expediency, as of the most necessary duty, and will be carefully guarded by Congress and the people alike.

 

PUBLIC DEBT—HOW IT SHOULD BE PAID

 

The public debt of the United States, (?) the amount of $729,000,000 bears interest at the rate of six per cent, and $708,000,000 at the rate of five per cent, and the only way in which the country can be relieved from the payment of these high rates of interest is by advantageously refunding the indebtedness.  Whether the debt is ultimately paid in gold or in silver coin is of but little moment compared with the possible reduction of the interest one-third by refunding it as such reduced rates. If the United States had the unquestionable right to pay its bonds in silver coin, the little benefit from that process would be greatly overbalanced by the injurious effect of such payment if made or proposed against the honest conviction of the public credit.  All the bonds that have been issued since February 12, 1873, when gold became the only unlimited legal-tender—the metallic currency of the country—are justly payable in gold coin, or in coin of equal value.  During the time of these issues the only dollar that could be or war received by the Government in exchange for bonds was the gold dollar.  To require the public creditors to take in repayment any dollar of less commercial value would be regarded by them as a repudiation of the full obligation assumed.  The bonds issued prior to 1873 were issued at a time when the gold dollar was the only coin in circulation, or contemplated by either the Government or the holders of the bonds as the coin which they were to be paid.  It is far better to pay these bonds in that coin than to seem to take advantage of the unforeseen fall of silver bullion in a new issue of silver coin that made it so much less valuable.  The power of the United States to coin money, and to regulate the value thereof, ought never to be exercised for the purpose of enabling the Government to pay its obligations in a coin of less value than that contemplated by the parties when the bonds were issued.  Any attempt to pay the National indebtedness in a coinage of a less commercial value than the money of the world would involve a violation of the public faith, and work irreparable injury to the public credit.  It was the great merit of the act of March, 1869, in strengthening the public credit that it removed all doubt as to the purpose of the United States to pay their bonded debt in coin.  That act was accepted as a pledge of the public faith.  The Government has derived great benefit from it in the progress thus far made in refunding the public debt, as the low rates of interest are in adherence to the wise and just policy of an exact observance of the public faith.  It will enable the Government rapidly to reduce the burden of interest on the National debt to an amount exceeding $20,000,000 per annum, and affect an aggregate saving to the United States of more than $300,000,000 before the bonds can be fully paid.  In adopting the new silver coinage to the ordinary uses of the currency in the everyday transactions of life, and preserving the the quality of legal tender to be assigned to it, a consideration of the first importance should be so to adjust the ratio between the silver and the gold coin which now constitutes our specie currency as to accomplish the desired end of maintaining the circulation of the two metallic currencies, and keeping up the volume of the two precious metals as our intrinsic money. 

 

GOLD AND SILVER

 

It is a mixed question for scientific reasoning and historical experience to determine how far and by what methods a practicable equilibrium can be maintained, which will keep both metals in circulation in their appropriate spheres of common use.  An absolute equality of commercial value, free from disturbing fluctuations, is hardly attainable, and without it an untried legal-tender for private transactions assigned to both metals, would tend to drive out of circulation the dearest coinage, and disappoint the principal object proposed by the legislation in view.  I apprehend, therefore, that the two conditions of a near approach to equality of commercial value between gold and silver coin of the same denomination, and of a limitation of the amounts for which the silver coinage is to be a legal tender, are essential to maintaining both in the circulation.  If these conditions can be observed the issue from the mint of silver dollars would afford material assistance to the community in transition to redeemable paper money, and would facilitate the resumption of specie payment and its permanent establishment.  Without these conditions I fear that only mischief and misfortune would follow from a coinage of silver dollars with the quality of unlimited legal tender, even in private transactions.  Any expectation of temporary ease from an issue of silver coinage to pass as a legal tender, at a rate materially above its commercial value is, I am persuaded, a delusion; nor can I think that there is any substantial distinction between an original issue of silver dollars at a nominal value material above their commercial value and the restoration of the silver dollar at a rate which once was, but has ceased to be, its commercial value.  Certainly the issue of our gold coinage, reduced in weight materially below its legal-tender value, would not be any the less a present debasement of the coinage by reason of its equaling or even exceeding in weight a gold coin age which at some past time had been commercially equal to the legal-tender value assigned to the new issue.  In recommending that the regulation of any silver coinage which may be authorized by Congress should observe these conditions of commercial value and limited legal tender, I am governed by the feeling that every possible increase should be given to the volume of metallic money which can be kept in circulation, and thereby every possible aid afforded to the people in the process of resuming specie payments.  It is because of my conviction that a disregard of these conditions would frustrate the good results which are desired from the proposed coinage, and embarrass with new elements of confusion and uncertainty the business of the country, that I urge upon your attention these considerations.  I respectfully recommend to Congress that in any legislation providing for a silver coinage and imparting to it the quality of legal tender, there be impressed on the measure a firm provision exempting the public debt heretofore issued and now outstanding, from payment, either of principal or interest, in any coinage of lass value than that of the present gold coinage of the country.

 

CIVIL SERVICE

 

The organization of the civil service of the country has for a number of years attracted more and more of public attention.  So general has become the opinion that the methods of admission to it, and the conditions of remaining in it are unsound, that both the great political parties have agreed in the most explicit declaration of the necessity of reform, and in the most empathetic demands for it.  I have fully considered these declarations and demands to be the expressions of the sincere conviction of the intelligent masses of the people upon the subject, and that they should be recognized and followed by earnest and prompt action on the part of the legislative and executive departments of the Government.  In pursuance of the purpose indicated before my accession to office, I endeavored to have my own views distinctly understood, and upon my inauguration my accord with the public opinion was stated in terms believed to be plain and unambiguous.  My experience in the Executive duties has strongly confirmed my belief in the great advantage the country would find in observing strictly the plan of the Constitution, which imposes upon the Executive the sole duty and responsibility of the selection of those Federal officers who, by law, are appointed, not elected, and which, in like manner, assigns to the Senate the complete right to advise and consent to or to reject the nominations so made, while the House of Representatives stands as the public censor of the performance of official duties, with the prerogative of investigation and punishing all cases of dereliction.  The blemishes and imperfections in the civil service, may, as I think, be traced in most cases to a practical confusion of the duties assigned to the several departments of the Government.  My purpose in this respect has been to return to the system established by the fundamental law, and to do this with the heartiest cooperation and most cordial understanding with the Senate and House of Representatives.  The practical difficulties in selecting the numerous officers for posts of widely varying responsibilities and duties are acknowledged to be very great.  No system can be expected to secure absolute freedom from mistakes, and the beginning of an attempted change of custom is quite likely to be more embarrassed in this respect than any subsequent period.  It is here that the Constitution seems to most prove its claim to the great wisdom accorded to it.  It gives to the Executive the assistance of the knowledge and experience of the Senate which, when acting upon nominations as nearly as possible impersonal, in the sense of being free from mere caprice or favor in these directions and in those offices in which special training is of greatly increased value.  I claim such a rule as to the tenure of office should obtain as may induce men with proper qualifications to apply themselves industriously to the task of becoming proficient.  Bearing these things in mind, I have endeavored to reduce the number of changes in subordinate places usually made upon the change of the general Administration, and shall most cheerfully cooperate with Congress in better systemizing by such modes and rules of admission the public service and of promotion within it as may promise to be the most successful in making thorough competency, efficiency and character, the decisive tests in these matters.  I ask renewed attention of Congress to what has already been done by the Civil Service Commission, appointed in pursuance of an act of Congress by my predecessor, to prepare and revise the civil service rules.  In regard to much of the departmental service, especially at Washington, it may be difficult to organize a better system than that which has thus been provided and which has thus been provided and is now being used to a considerable extent under my direction.  The Commission has a still legal existence, although for several years no appropriation has been made for defraying its expenses.  Believing that this Commission has rendered valuable service, and will be a most useful agency in improving the administration of the civil service, I respectfully recommend that a suitable appropriation be immediately made to enable it to continue its services.  It is my purpse to transmit to Congress as earely as practicable the report by the chairman of the Commission, and to ask your attention to such measures on this subject as in my opinion will further promote the improvement of the civil service.

 

FOREIGN RELATIONS

 

During the past year the United States have continued to maintain peaceful relations with foreign Powers.  The outbreak of the war between Russia and Turkey, though at one time attended with grave apprehension as to its effect upon other European Nations, has had no tendency to disturb the amicable relations existing between the United States and each of the two contending Powers.  An attitude of just and impartial neutrality has been preserved, and I am gratified to state that in the midst of their hostilities both the Russian and Turkish Governments have shown an earnest desire to adhere to the obligations of all treaties with the United States, and give due regard to the rights of American citizens.

 

By the terms of the treaty defining the rights, immunities and privileges of Consuls, between Italy and the United States, made in 1868, either Government, after the lapse of ten years, may terminate the existence of the treaty by giving twelve months’ notice of its intention.  The Government of Italy, availing itself of this fact, has now given the required notice, and the treaty will accordingly end on the 17th of September, 1878.  it is understood, however, that the Italian Government wishes to renew it in its general scope, desiring only certain modifications in some of its articles.  In this disposition I concur, and shall hope that no serious obstacles may intervene to prevent or delay the negotiation of a satisfactory treaty. 

 

Numerous questions in regard to passports, naturalization and exemption from military service have continued to arise.  In cases of emigrants from Germany who have returned to their country, the provision of the treaty of February 22, 1868, however, have proved to be so ample and so judicious that the Legation of the United States at Berlin has been able to adjust all claims arising under it, not only without detriment to the amicable relations existing between the two Governments, but it is believed without injury or injustice to duly naturalized American citizens.  It is desirable that the treaty originally made with the North German Union in 1867 should now be extended so as to apply equally to all the States of the Empire of Germany.

 

PARIS EXPOSITION

 

The invitation of the Government of France to participate in the exposition of the products, agriculture, industry and the fine arts, to be held at Paris during the coming year, was submitted for your consideration at the extra session.  It is not doubted that its acceptance by the United States, and a well selected exhibition of the products of American industry on that occasion will tend to stimulate international commerce and immigration, as well as to promote the traditional friendship between the two countries.

 

A question arose some time since as to the proper meaning of the extradition articles of the treaty of 1842, between the United States and Great Britain.  Both Governments, however, are now in accord in the belief that the question is not one that should be allowed to frustrate the ends of justice, or to disturb the friendship between the two Nations.  No serious difficulty has arisen in accomplishing the extradition of criminals when necessary.  It is probable that the points of disagreement will in due time be settled, and if need be more explicit declaration be made in a new treaty.

 

The Fishery Commission, under Articles 18 to 26 of the Treaty of Washington, has concluded its session. 

 

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