Thomas Jefferson Papers
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Address to the Senate, [4 March 1797]

Address to the Senate

[4 Mch. 1797]

Gentlemen of the Senate

Entering on the duties of the office to which I am called, I feel it incumbent on me to apologize to this honourable house for the insufficient manner in which I1 fear they may be discharged. At an earlier period of my life, and through some considerable portion of it, I have been a member of legislative bodies, and not altogether inattentive to the forms of their proceedings; but much time has elapsed since that,2 other duties have occupied my mind, and in a great degree it has lost it’s familiarity with this subject. I fear that the house will have but too frequent occasion to percieve the truth of this acknowledgment. If a diligent attention however will enable me to fulfill the functions now assigned me, I may promise that diligence and attention shall be sedulously3 employed. For one portion of my duty I shall4 engage with more confidence, because it will depend on my will and not on my capacity. The rules which are to govern the proceedings of this house, so far as they shall depend on me for their application, shall be applied with the most rigorous and inflexible impartiality, regarding neither persons, their views or principles, and seeing only the abstract proposition subject to my decision. If in forming that decision I concur with some and differ from others, as must of necessity happen, I shall rely on the liberality and candour of those from whom I differ to believe that I do it on pure motives.

I might here proceed, and with the greatest truth, to declare my zealous attachment to the constitution of the United States, that I consider the Union of these states as the first of blessings, and as the first of duties the preservation of that5 constitution which secures it; but I suppose these declarations not pertinent to the occasion of entering into an office whose6 primary business is merely to preside over the forms of this house, and no one more sincerely prays that no accident may call me to the higher and more important functions which the constitution eventually devolves on this office. These have been justly confided to the eminent character which has preceded me here, whose talents and integrity have been known and revered by me thro’ a long course of years; have been the foundation of a7 cordial and uninterrupted friendship between us; and I devoutly pray he may be long preserved for the government, the happiness, and prosperity of our common country.

MS (photostate in DNA: RG 46, Senate Records, 5th Cong., special sess.; original in Office of Senate Financial Clerk, 1938); entirely in TJ’s hand; with several emendations, the most important of which are noted below; endorsed in clerk’s hand: “The Speech of The Vice President at Commencing the Session of Senate of the UStates 4th. March 1797.”

William Bingham, president pro tempore of the United States Senate, administered the oath of office to TJ during the special, one-day session of Congress on 4 Mch. TJ assumed his duties as president of the Senate by swearing eight new senators into office and then delivering the above address. Upon completion of his speech, the Senate removed to the chamber of the House of Representatives, where the presidential ceremonies began at noon (JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States … to the Termination of the Nineteenth Congress, Washington, D.C., 1828 description ends , i, 233–8). For a description of the events of the day, see Malone, Jefferson description begins Dumas Malone, Jefferson and his Time, Boston, 1948–81, 6 vols. description ends , iii, 296–8.

1Remainder of sentence interlined in place of “may fulfill it’s functions.”

2TJ first wrote “and my mind has in a great degree lost it’s familiarity with the subject” before altering the remainder of the sentence to read as above.

3Preceding word interlined in place of “constantly.”

4Preceding word interlined in place of “may.”

5Preceding word reworked by TJ from “the.”

6TJ here canceled “business is.”

7TJ here canceled “constant.”

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