January 21st, 2009
Friends, Americans, and all who listen --
We, the people, have come to this place, as our ancestors did, to begin anew the American adventure. To renew her covenants, to restore her honor, to rebuild her cities, towns, and farms, to re-establish her credit, and to reshape her future. Last November we had an American revolution; it is now our task to enact an American restoration.
We are setting aside an old age, ending its actions, abolishing its decrees, and turning, once and for all, a heavy page of history. We will not forget the fallen, those who died in duty, in our defense, or in the old era's disasters. We have not forsaken our friends, forsworn our debts, or forgone our burdens. But we will not repeat the mistakes that have cost so many so much.
America has awakened and found itself in a new day, which we must now seize. We have passed through a long, turbulent night of the American soul, and the light that pours in now shows us a world, and an America, that are not what we wish them to be. The policies of borrow and squander block our growth, blacken our reputation, and burden our people. We will no longer pare down our reserves, but instead prepare for such reverses as may come. America will lose no more cities to casual negligence and manifest incompetence.
Where we were promised prosperity, we find perdition. Where we were promised rebuilding, we find wreckage. Where we were promised victory and valor, we find instead ruin and reaction. Where we were promised unity, we find instead usury.
Let us vow, then, to set ourselves to the task of making this America, our America. Let us no longer have the living work for the dead, nor the present for the past. We realize that we will not find vindication in violence, nor build peace on others' poverty. America's fortune is not a treasure that can be hoarded, because freedom is the one thing that grows more valuable the more people possess it. Jefferson reminded us that the tree of liberty is watered by the blood of patriots. But also by their sweat and tears.
This administration has been given the privilege to lead America forth into a new day, and a decent respect for the mandate of the people requires that it should announce its course of action plainly, and before the waiting world. It is our goal to mend old fences, end old enmities, and restore our defenses. We shall deliberate openly, decide openly, and act openly. It is our intent to set ourselves by that higher standard that our Founding Fathers called us to, and that our great heroes have held us to. We know that we must be judged by the content of our character, by the ends of our actions, and by results and not rationalizations. This new America will not offer excuses, it will not accept excuses, and it shall not any longer need excuses.
It is our first task to right the imbalances left to us by the past - in our economy, in our society, and in our polity. Some are recent; others have accumulated over the decades, products of inattention as much as ill intention. But we will not let the age of injustice be an excuse for our inaction. This will require dramatic deeds, but born of common consent, and molded by due deliberation. It is given in the Constitution for the citizens of the United States, in Congress assembled, to shape the mighty course of our efforts towards our ends. It is given in our Constitution for our President to execute our will toward our wishes.
And the people have spoken plainly on this one point above all: we must end this terrible war, entered without evidence, pursued without profit, and prolonged without purpose. If there is a penance to pay for the past, we shall embrace it. If there is a price, we shall pay it. And we shall act to end the wars that have not yet begun and threaten to consume us. But let no would-be despot believe that we will consent to his designs to plunder the peace for his own profits, nor will we leave uncontested the denigrations of the human spirit. Wherever and whenever people struggle for renewal, let us be there. Wherever and whenever people are stricken with misfortune, let us be there. Let us not set one rule for the rich, and another for the wretched, nor let there be one law for the privileged and another for the populace.
It is our second task to rebuild, both in body and in spirit, that which was left to disrepair and decay. America will, again, be the shining city on a hill, for we are still rich in resource. But we will never again allow ourselves to be blinded by the glare of shinging spires or glittering promises.
It is our third task to end the indecency of an economy of extraction, which seeks to strip-mine our country, its credit, its cities and its citizens for only passing gain. We will again reward work and not windfalls, effort and not ease. It is the will of the people that we leave behind a better America, one that can sustain its growth, and act on that scale which is required to bring peace to a troubled world. For we may only say we have what we can keep, and we may only say we own what we have earned, and not merely borrowed from those who come after us.
It is our final task for this time, to begin anew the great work set forth in our Declaration, that all are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights. Because it is in inequity that terror breeds, weaning whole generations on warfare and violence. Because it is in alienation that fury churns, until it is a storm that sweeps aside whole cities. Because where we deny life and liberty, we dissolve the political bands that bind us together.
We do this because we look over the world and see that nothing is more surely writ in the book of fate than that all the world's peoples will be free. We must end, in our lifetimes and through our exertions, the long and sorry history of human bondage. Whether to country or corporation, whether by law or custom. Whether through debt or indenture. Whether held by force, or fear, or fraud. Whether in naked day, or in night and fog. Whether bound by chains of iron or of ignorance. For whether in the name of God or the name of Gold, there is no good in it. And it is time for bondage and all its works to perish into history and be remembered only as a word in old books and children's rhymes.
We will do this by having a democratic society. Which means, not merely democratic balloting, but democracy in all of our public life. In the manner which we govern ourselves, run our firms, and order our society.
These tasks will be neither simple nor soon to fruition. They will come at a cost, and loss of some petty comforts, and demand that greater courage and sacrifice which comes from faith in the foundations of our nation, however much they may need repair and reinforcement. Faith that they shall never be washed away, hewn as they are from the great truths of the spirit.
These tasks are not burdens, but the laying down of burdens. They will not hinder our success, but instead insure it. The will not limit our liberties, nor reduce our freedoms. Instead, relieved of the weight of the past, we give to our posterity - to our children, and to theirs - a new heaven and a new earth.
But we will not reach them by turning away. We will not open the world by closing our doors. We will not open new vistas by closing our eyes. We will not open our future by closing our hearts. We have seen the costs of a closed America, closed in spirit, governed in close collusion. In the end, such an America is not even open for business.
For it is only with open minds and open actions that our endeavors will pour forth to a waiting world, eager to join with us to heal an earth that is wounded by that century of war that we now end.
Let this day be the charter of liberties, and let us, by dedicating this change of government, dedicate ourselves to change, not only in government. It was some three score and sixteen years ago that an American President came to office and saw one third of America ill housed, ill clothed and ill fed. We now see a world one third of which is ill housed, ill clothed, and ill fed. We will not lift them up by sapping our own strength, nor give them hope by cries of guilt - any more than greed will grant us the heart to embark on the long day's journey into right that we now undertake.
Let them say, when in the future they speak of their age, that it began here, in this place, at this hour. Appointed by law, but anointed of the people, by the people, and for the people, and hallowed by the fruits of our labors.
For just as dawn might be delayed, but never denied, this new light shall flood the world, into this land and every other. Let us arise, go forth - to help, to heal, to hold - awakening all in this restoration, which is never to slumber again.