Joseph Ritner's Inaugural Address

Joseph Ritner's Inaugural Address  (1835) 
by Joseph Ritner

Inaugural Address delivered upon assuming the office of governor of Pennsylvania in 1835.


The people the State have entrusted to me, for the ensuing three years, the performance of the duties of the Executive Department of the Government. I accept the trust, with the profoundest gratitude for the honor conferred, and the most unfeigned diffidence of my ability to fulfil its various and important duties, in such manner as to meet their just and reasonable expectations.

The office of Chief Magistrate of a large and growing community is, at all times, one of much responsibility. Most especially is it so at the present juncture in Pennsylvania. Questions of great moment, many of them novel, and all intimately connected with the feelings and interests of the people, demand his care and attention.

Perhaps a selfish caution would, on those subjects, indicate silence as the safest course for one just entering on the office of Chief Magistrate. But he who assumes that station is called to it, not for the purpose of consulting his own convenience or his own feelings, but the wishes and the prosperity of the whole community. It cannot be supposed that I have entered upon it, without having previously adopted certain leading principles for the regulation of my Executive conduct. To an early knowledge of them, my fellow-citizens have an undoubted right.

And here, before entering upon questions of more immediate interest to us, as citizens of this State, I would desire it distinctly to be understood, that I possess a proper estimate of the importance of Pennsylvania, both as a State and as a member of the great national family. While the rights and feelings of every part of the Union will be scrupulously respected, and its perpeturation and honor cordially promoted, I shall not consent to sacrifice her interests to propitiate power, or conciliate favour, in any quarter, however high and influential.

Among subjects of State policy there is one of most prominent interest. The great system of Internal Improvement, in which we have been for years engaged, has encumbered the resources, and deranged the finances of the Commonwealth; produced new but as yet nearly untried channels for business, and springs to private enterprize; and materially affected the occupations and interests of the people. The cares and duties of those who administer the Legislative and Executive Departments of the Government, are in the same proportion increased. Sound policy demands that operations which have thus shaken the old order of things, and that public works which have cost so much, should, as speedily as possible, be made to answer the great object for which they were originally designed — the public good. To accomplish it, the most vigorous measures and the most rigid economy are absolutely necessary, and will be enforced. Every exertion will be made to give energy and certainty to a system which, as yet, has exhibited little more than a doubtful promise of utility commensurate with the sacrifices made for its accomplishment.

With the vast debt already contracted, before us, prudence would forbid the undertaking of any new, separate, and independent work, until those now in operation and in progress, prove, by actual experience, to be capable of sustaining themselves, and furnish evidence that they will, in a reasonable time, extinguish their original cost, without resort to taxation. — But where further etension of the public works is necessary, to render those already made or in progress, profitable and beneficial, economy and sound policy, and a just regard for the interests of the people, wou;d require such extension to be authorised and completed.

Next in order to the development and care of the physical resources of the commonwealth, though of vastly higher moment in itself, is the cultivation of its mental energies. A system of common-school education has been recently commenced. It will afford me sincere pleasure to co-operate with the Legislature, in the attempt to give it real usefulness, by adapting it to the wants and feelings of the people.

The permanency of a Republic depends on the virtue of its citizens. Whilst they are vitruous and intelligent, the acts of their agents will be restrained and directed to the publi good, which is the only legitimate object of all government. Industry and economy, in all the transactions and conduct of individuals, are the principal promoters of that independence of character, and of that virtue, on which, so far as mere human agency avails, depends the existence of a government, republican not solely in name, but in reality. It is therefore the imperative duty of those in authority, to protect the weak against the powerful, and to foster and encourage the laborious, the industrious, and the economical, in every class of society. To the performance of this duty I pledge the co-operation of the executive branch of the government.

The maintenance of a sound currency is one of the most difficulty but indispensable duties of those who administer the government, in a community possessing such various interests as that to which we belong. Convenience, and that consideration alone, has caused the substitution of paper money for specie. The idea that money was to be made by speculating on the inconvenience of a metalic currency; or that paper money was to be created, merely to enable a few to realize large sums by turning the act of its creation to their own account, never, for a moment, entered the minds of those who first adopted this useful and valuable expedient. Their object was the obtainment of a representative possessing all the utility and value, without any of the inconvenience of the thing represented. In this point of view the increase of the substitute beyond the actual value and amount of its principal, is a fraud upon the public. The man who takes it in payment for his labor, his goods, or his land, is cheated. My object will, therefore be, on the one hand, to confine, as far as in me lies, the amount of paper money within the bounds just stated, while on the other, public accomodation and the demands of business will be consulted.

The exercise of the appointing power is a task of much delicacy. The present constitution has entrusted it to the judgment and discretion of the Chief Magistrate. His object should be the selection of officers who will advance the comfort and prosperity of all, by a faithful, honest, and efficient discharge of their duty. While the power remains in my hands that object will be kept in view.

The supremacy of the laws and the equal rights of the people, whether threatened or assailed by individuals, or by secret, sworn associations, I shall, so far as may be compatible with the consitutional power of the Executive, endeavour to maintain, as well as in complicance with the known will of the people, as from obligations of duty to the commonwealth. In these endeavours I shall entertain no doubt of zealous co-operation by the enlightened and patriotic Legislature of the State. The people have willed the destruction of all secret societies, and that will cannot be disregarded.

In the attempt to render the power of the Laws equal and supreme over all, that certainty in their operation which is so essentially conducive to the prevention of crime, should be also kept in view. In a community possessing a criminal code so proverbially mild, and a mode of trial so fair and open, as that to which we belong, the pardoning power should be rarely and with extreme caution, interposed. I trust I shall be enabled, in the use of it, to listen only to the demands of public justice and the general good. No consideration arising from feelings of mere pity, or from respect of person or station, shall influence my conduct. When punishment is certain, crime decreases, and then only may the severity of the laws with safety be still further mitigated.

I enter upon the discharge of the arduous duties of the office of Governor, with the constitutions which I have just sworn to support, as the guide, and the prosperity of the people of Pennsylvania as the object of my labours; relying upon the Legislature for aid in my endeavours to serve our common constituents, and upon the candour and liberality of my fellow citizens to excuse the unintentional and unavoidable errors that may occur in my administration of the Government. That those errors may not be permanently injurious to my native state, is my sincere prayer to that Being on whom alone sure reliance can be placed, and from Whom cometh that wisdom which cannot err.


Dec. 11, 1835

This work was published before January 1, 1926, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.