Full Text: President Obama’s Inaugural Address

As Prepared for Delivery –
Vice President Biden, Mr. Chief Justice, Members of
the United States Congress, distinguished guests,
and fellow citizens:
Each time we gather to inaugurate a president, we
bear witness to the enduring strength of our
Constitution. We affirm the promise of our
democracy. We recall that what binds this nation
together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of
our faith or the origins of our names. What makes
us exceptional – what makes us American – is our
allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration
made more than two centuries ago:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all
men are created equal, that they are endowed by
their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that
among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of
Today we continue a never-ending journey, to
bridge the meaning of those words with the
realities of our time. For history tells us that while
these truths may be self-evident, they have never
been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift
from God, it must be secured by His people here on
Earth. The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace
the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or
the rule of a mob. They gave to us a Republic, a
government of, and by, and for the people,
entrusting each generation to keep safe our
founding creed.
For more than two hundred years, we have.
Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by
sword, we learned that no union founded on the
principles of liberty and equality could survive half-
slave and half-free. We made ourselves anew, and
vowed to move forward together.
Together, we determined that a modern economy
requires railroads and highways to speed travel and
commerce; schools and colleges to train our
Together, we discovered that a free market only
thrives when there are rules to ensure competition
and fair play.
Together, we resolved that a great nation must care
for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s
worst hazards and misfortune.
Through it all, we have never relinquished our
skepticism of central authority, nor have we
succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can
be cured through government alone. Our
celebration of initiative and enterprise; our
insistence on hard work and personal responsibility,
are constants in our character.
But we have always understood that when times
change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding
principles requires new responses to new
challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms
ultimately requires collective action. For the
American people can no more meet the demands of
today’s world by acting alone than American
soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or
communism with muskets and militias. No single
person can train all the math and science teachers
we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or
build the roads and networks and research labs that
will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores.
Now, more than ever, we must do these things
together, as one nation, and one people.
This generation of Americans has been tested by
crises that steeled our resolve and proved our
resilience. A decade of war is now ending. An
economic recovery has begun. America’s
possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the
qualities that this world without boundaries
demands: youth and drive; diversity and openness;
an endless capacity for risk and a gift for
reinvention. My fellow Americans, we are made
for this moment, and we will seize it – so long as
we seize it together.
For we, the people, understand that our country
cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well
and a growing many barely make it. We believe
that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad
shoulders of a rising middle class. We know that
America thrives when every person can find
independence and pride in their work; when the
wages of honest labor liberate families from the
brink of hardship. We are true to our creed when a
little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that
she has the same chance to succeed as anybody
else, because she is an American, she is free, and
she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in
our own.
We understand that outworn programs are
inadequate to the needs of our time. We must
harness new ideas and technology to remake our
government, revamp our tax code, reform our
schools, and empower our citizens with the skills
they need to work harder, learn more, and reach
higher. But while the means will change, our
purpose endures: a nation that rewards the effort
and determination of every single American. That
is what this moment requires. That is what will
give real meaning to our creed.
We, the people, still believe that every citizen
deserves a basic measure of security and dignity.
We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost
of health care and the size of our deficit. But we
reject the belief that America must choose between
caring for the generation that built this country and
investing in the generation that will build its future.
For we remember the lessons of our past, when
twilight years were spent in poverty, and parents of
a child with a disability had nowhere to turn. We do
not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved
for the lucky, or happiness for the few. We
recognize that no matter how responsibly we live
our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a
job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away
in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to
each other – through Medicare, and Medicaid, and
Social Security – these things do not sap our
initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us
a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks
that make this country great.
We, the people, still believe that our obligations as
Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all
posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate
change, knowing that the failure to do so would
betray our children and future generations. Some
may still deny the overwhelming judgment of
science, but none can avoid the devastating impact
of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more
powerful storms. The path towards sustainable
energy sources will be long and sometimes
difficult. But America cannot resist this transition;
we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations
the technology that will power new jobs and new
industries – we must claim its promise. That is how
we will maintain our economic vitality and our
national treasure – our forests and waterways; our
croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we
will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by
God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed
our fathers once declared.
We, the people, still believe that enduring security
and lasting peace do not require perpetual war. Our
brave men and women in uniform, tempered by the
flames of battle, are unmatched in skill and
courage. Our citizens, seared by the memory of
those we have lost, know too well the price that is
paid for liberty. The knowledge of their sacrifice
will keep us forever vigilant against those who
would do us harm. But we are also heirs to those
who won the peace and not just the war, who
turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends,
and we must carry those lessons into this time as
We will defend our people and uphold our values
through strength of arms and rule of law. We will
show the courage to try and resolve our differences
with other nations peacefully – not because we are
naïve about the dangers we face, but because
engagement can more durably lift suspicion and
fear. America will remain the anchor of strong
alliances in every corner of the globe; and we will
renew those institutions that extend our capacity to
manage crisis abroad, for no one has a greater
stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful
nation. We will support democracy from Asia to
Africa; from the Americas to the Middle East,
because our interests and our conscience compel us
to act on behalf of those who long for freedom. And
we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick,
the marginalized, the victims of prejudice – not out
of mere charity, but because peace in our time
requires the constant advance of those principles
that our common creed describes: tolerance and
opportunity; human dignity and justice.
We, the people, declare today that the most evident
of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the
star that guides us still; just as it guided our
forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and
Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and
women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along
this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we
cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our
individual freedom is inextricably bound to the
freedom of every soul on Earth

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what
those pioneers began. For our journey is not
complete until our wives, our mothers, and
daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.
Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers
and sisters are treated like anyone else under the
law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely
the love we commit to one another must be equal
as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen
is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to
vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a
better way to welcome the striving, hopeful
immigrants who still see America as a land of
opportunity; until bright young students and
engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than
expelled from our country. Our journey is not
complete until all our children, from the streets of
Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes
of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and
cherished, and always safe from harm.
That is our generation’s task – to make these
words, these rights, these values – of Life, and
Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – real for
every American. Being true to our founding
documents does not require us to agree on every
contour of life; it does not mean we will all define
liberty in exactly the same way, or follow the same
precise path to happiness. Progress does not
compel us to settle centuries-long debates about
the role of government for all time – but it does
require us to act in our time.
For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot
afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for
principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or
treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must
act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We
must act, knowing that today’s victories will be
only partial, and that it will be up to those who
stand here in four years, and forty years, and four
hundred years hence to advance the timeless spirit
once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.
My fellow Americans, the oath I have sworn before
you today, like the one recited by others who serve
in this Capitol, was an oath to God and country, not
party or faction – and we must faithfully execute
that pledge during the duration of our service. But
the words I spoke today are not so different from
the oath that is taken each time a soldier signs up
for duty, or an immigrant realizes her dream. My
oath is not so different from the pledge we all make
to the flag that waves above and that fills our
hearts with pride.
They are the words of citizens, and they represent
our greatest hope.
You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this
country’s course.
You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape
the debates of our time – not only with the votes
we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of
our most ancient values and enduring ideals.
Let each of us now embrace, with solemn duty and
awesome joy, what is our lasting birthright. With
common effort and common purpose, with passion
and dedication, let us answer the call of history,
and carry into an uncertain future that precious light
of freedom.
Thank you, God Bless you, and may He forever
bless these United States of America.


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