I ask you to share with me today the majesty of this moment. In the orderly transfer of power, we celebrate the unity that keeps us free. Each moment in history is a fleeting time, precious and unique. But some stand out as moments of beginning, in which courses are set that shape decades or centuries. This can be such a moment.
When I was much younger, still in school, I was fortunate enough to receive a ticket to a Presidential inauguration. It was a good ticket, allowing me to stand not a hundred yards from the podium where the new president would stand as first he was sworn in, and then as he delivered his inaugural address..
Then, as now, it was a time of uncertainty, with wars both cold and hot raising tensions internationally and inflaming passions at home. The campaign just ended had been divisive, as had the primaries preceding it. There was much to weigh down the shoulders of a new president as he waited to take his oath of office, and many reasons to doubt his ability to deliver on the vision for the future that he would share.
The address that I heard that day was eloquent and high-minded. In it the new President asked:
What kind of nation we will be, what kind of world we will live in, whether we shape the future in the image of our hopes, is ours to determine by our actions and our choices….If we succeed, generations to come will say of us now living that we mastered our moment, that we helped make the world safe for mankind. This is our summons to greatness. I believe the American people are ready to answer this call.
As I recall it, the day was gray, with lowering clouds and a threat of rain, matching the national mood that it would be the new President’s task to lift. Underscoring the uncertainties of the day, platoons of armed National Guards stood at parade rest every fifty yards along the iron fence that surrounded us, as we faced the East Portico of the Capitol, where inaugurations were then held. At the same interval atop every building with a sight line of the podium stood a sharpshooter, scanning the crowd. Above, helicopters criss-crossed the sky.
It was, after all, a time not only a time of war abroad, but of unrest and assassinations at home. The President who spoke that day had promised to "bring us together," and the need to achieve that goal was great, both politically as well as socially. His predecessor had left office with abysmal approval ratings, dragged down by a war that had overshadowed all of the great hopes he had nurtured, and his successes as well. A substantial percentage of the electorate could not wait to witness his departure.
The electorate was, in a word, exhausted, and the need to restore unity great. Addressing this somber truth, this is what he said:
The simple things are the ones most needed today if we are to surmount what divides us, and cement what unites us. To lower our voices would be a simple thing. In these difficult years, America has suffered from a fever of words; from inflated rhetoric that promises more than it can deliver; from angry rhetoric that fans discontents into hatreds; from bombastic rhetoric that postures instead of persuading. We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another—until we speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices.
Then, as now, the contrasts that day were stark – between the opportunity for the new President to achieve grand results, and the certainty that, almost immediately, events and forces as yet unknown would inevitably work to thwart him. Would he be able to rise to the challenge? Would he have within him the force of character, the reserves of strength and dispassionate judgment to hold true to his purpose, and deliver upon the hopes of those that had elected him? Would he even remember those promises, and remain true to those hopes? Or would he allow himself to be distracted and seduced by the trappings of power? This is what he said:
For its part, government will listen. We will strive to listen in new ways—to the voices of quiet anguish, the voices that speak without words, the voices of the heart—to the injured voices, the anxious voices, the voices that have despaired of being heard. Those who have been left out, we will try to bring in. Those left behind, we will help to catch up. For all of our people, we will set as our goal the decent order that makes progress possible and our lives secure.
There was, of course, no way to tell that day whether these promises would be kept. Only the slow, day by day unwinding of a new administration would reveal whether this leader would rise to the challenge, and not succumb to the centripetal forces of politics that would constantly stand in the way of achieving these high ideal. Of course, he promised that he would stand fast:
As we reach toward our hopes, our task is to build on what has gone before—not turning away from the old, but turning toward the new. In this past third of a century, government has passed more laws, spent more money, initiated more programs, than in all our previous history. In pursuing our goals of full employment, better housing, excellence in education; in rebuilding our cities and improving our rural areas; in protecting our environment and enhancing the quality of life—in all these and more, we will and must press urgently forward.
As importantly, I wondered, would he be able to inspire the nation, to gather not only the political support of the electorate but also to recruit its active assistance in doing what needed to be done? Too many Americans had become jaded or cynical, too demoralized to even make their voices heard. To them, he said:
Our greatest need now is to reach beyond government, and to enlist the legions of the concerned and the committed. What has to be done, has to be done by government and people together or it will not be done at all. The lesson of past agony is that without the people we can do nothing; with the people we can do everything.
Of course, in those days, issues of domestic racial and social injustice were even more urgent. Most of the post World War II laws enacted and social programs deployed to address those concerns had either just been created or lay still in the future. The urgency to move forward in these areas was felt palpably by millions of Americans on a daily basis. Of this crisis, he said:
This means black and white together, as one nation, not two. The laws have caught up with our conscience. What remains is to give life to what is in the law: to ensure at last that as all are born equal in dignity before God, all are born equal in dignity before man.
Internationally, it was the age of the "Ugly American." In many quarters, the United States was regarded as arrogant and indifferent, too often concerned only with its own well being and self-interest. In the eyes of many in the first world and third world alike, we were insensitive to the cultures and callous to the concerns of others, unable to recognize or appreciate the realities of those different from ourselves. And locked in the embrace of an enduring Cold War, we viewed every nation not as a potential ally, but as yet another battleground upon which a proxy war for hearts and minds must be won in a global war of ideologies. That day, the new President pledged himself to bring change. He said:
As we learn to go forward together at home, let us also seek to go forward together with all mankind. Let us take as our goal: where peace is unknown, make it welcome; where peace is fragile, make it strong; where peace is temporary, make it permanent. After a period of confrontation, we are entering an era of negotiation. Let all nations know that during this administration our lines of communication will be open. We seek an open world—open to ideas, open to the exchange of goods and people—a world in which no people, great or small, will live in angry isolation. We cannot expect to make everyone our friend, but we can try to make no one our enemy….
All of these concerns, and more, were in the air that inauguration day of so long ago. And all of the hopes of those both present and at home, both in this country and of many abroad, were, for that moment and on that day, invested in the man that stood at the podium, hand on bible, assuming the awesome duties of the U.S. presidency. He closed his inaugural address with these words:
We have endured a long night of the American spirit. But as our eyes catch the dimness of the first rays of dawn, let us not curse the remaining dark. Let us gather the light. Our destiny offers, not the cup of despair, but the chalice of opportunity. So let us seize it, not in fear, but in gladness—and, "riders on the earth together," let us go forward, firm in our faith, steadfast in our purpose, cautious of the dangers; but sustained by our confidence in the will of God and the promise of man.
To me, the inspiring words quoted above sound as if they could have been spoken by Barack Obama. I expect – and indeed hope – that what we hear today will be much the same. Sadly, though, the day that I attended the inauguration was January 20, 1969, exactly 40 years ago today. And the man that gave the speech was Richard M. Nixon, about to begin his first term in the White House.
On that gray and threatening day lay the prospect of both endless promise and depths of danger too awful to contemplate. Had Nixon been true to the vision he shared that day, had he been able to find within himself the strength of character and the clear and selfless vision that the tasks at hand demanded, all could have been so very different.
Like all Americans, as well as many people around the world, I will be listening to the inaugural speech of Barack Obama today with the greatest of anticipation and hope. Four decades ago, everyone hoped that Richard Nixon would succeed, but few that had followed his career were inspired to believe that day that he would succeed.
As then, our times today are dark, and the way ahead is unclear. But unlike those dark days of the 1960s, this is a time of true celebration and genuine inspiration. Not because the times are less troubling, but because the President elect is less troubled. Unlike the paranoid and conflicted Nixon, Barack Obama seems at ease with himself, and projects an ability to selflessly lead. Never before in my lifetime has there been such a wave of hope converging upon a single leader, nor such a confluence of goodwill from all sides.
When the crowds disperse from the Capitol today, the hopes and dreams of millions will be left on the slender shoulders of this largely untested President. He will carry those burdens every day of his presidency, and their weight will be great.
Whether Barack Obama will be able to maintain the clarity of vision and calmness of spirit that elevated him above the other candidates remains to be seen. Many of his most talented predecessors have allowed themselves to be dragged down by events, enmired in crises, or embroiled in scandals. The odds against his success will be great as well.
But there is much about the man that promises well. During the difficult days that are sure to lie ahead, perhaps it will help Mr. Obama if he reads his own inaugural address from time to time. There he may find what it takes to keep his compass true, and his convictions strong.
Like so many others, my hopes and dreams and prayers for his success – and ours – will be with him.
You can hear Nixon take the oath of office here, and deliver his first inaugural address here. A video of Obama’s inaugural speech can be viewed here. The text of both Nixon’s and Obama’s inaugural addresses are reproduced in full below.
For further installments of The Monday Witness click here.
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First Inaugural Address of Richard M. Nixon
January 20, 1969
Senator Dirksen, Mr. Chief Justice, Mr. Vice President, President Johnson, Vice President Humphrey, my fellow Americans–and my fellow citizens of the world community:
I ask you to share with me today the majesty of this moment. In the orderly transfer of power, we celebrate the unity that keeps us free.
Each moment in history is a fleeting time, precious and unique. But some stand out as moments of beginning, in which courses are set that shape decades or centuries.
This can be such a moment.
Forces now are converging that make possible, for the first time, the hope that many of man’s deepest aspirations can at last be realized. The spiraling pace of change allows us to contemplate, within our own lifetime, advances that once would have taken centuries.
In throwing wide the horizons of space, we have discovered new horizons on earth.
For the first time, because the people of the world want peace, and the leaders of the world are afraid of war, the times are on the side of peace.
Eight years from now America will celebrate its 200th anniversary as a nation. Within the lifetime of most people now living, mankind will celebrate that great new year which comes only once in a thousand years–the beginning of the third millennium.
What kind of nation we will be, what kind of world we will live in, whether we shape the future in the image of our hopes, is ours to determine by our actions and our choices.
The greatest honor history can bestow is the title of peacemaker. This honor now beckons America–the chance to help lead the world at last out of the valley of turmoil, and onto that high ground of peace that man has dreamed of since the dawn of civilization.
If we succeed, generations to come will say of us now living that we mastered our moment, that we helped make the world safe for mankind.
This is our summons to greatness.
I believe the American people are ready to answer this call.
The second third of this century has been a time of proud achievement. We have made enormous strides in science and industry and agriculture. We have shared our wealth more broadly than ever. We have learned at last to manage a modern economy to assure its continued growth.
We have given freedom new reach, and we have begun to make its promise real for black as well as for white.
We see the hope of tomorrow in the youth of today. I know America’s youth. I believe in them. We can be proud that they are better educated, more committed, more passionately driven by conscience than any generation in our history.
No people has ever been so close to the achievement of a just and abundant society, or so possessed of the will to achieve it. Because our strengths are so great, we can afford to appraise our weaknesses with candor and to approach them with hope.
Standing in this same place a third of a century ago, Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed a Nation ravaged by depression and gripped in fear. He could say in surveying the Nation’s troubles: "They concern, thank God, only material things."
Our crisis today is the reverse.
We have found ourselves rich in goods, but ragged in spirit; reaching with magnificent precision for the moon, but falling into raucous discord on earth.
We are caught in war, wanting peace. We are torn by division, wanting unity. We see around us empty lives, wanting fulfillment. We see tasks that need doing, waiting for hands to do them.
To a crisis of the spirit, we need an answer of the spirit.
To find that answer, we need only look within ourselves.
When we listen to "the better angels of our nature," we find that they celebrate the simple things, the basic things–such as goodness, decency, love, kindness.
Greatness comes in simple trappings.
The simple things are the ones most needed today if we are to surmount what divides us, and cement what unites us.
To lower our voices would be a simple thing.
In these difficult years, America has suffered from a fever of words; from inflated rhetoric that promises more than it can deliver; from angry rhetoric that fans discontents into hatreds; from bombastic rhetoric that postures instead of persuading.
We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another–until we speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices.
For its part, government will listen. We will strive to listen in new ways–to the voices of quiet anguish, the voices that speak without words, the voices of the heart–to the injured voices, the anxious voices, the voices that have despaired of being heard.
Those who have been left out, we will try to bring in.
Those left behind, we will help to catch up.
For all of our people, we will set as our goal the decent order that makes progress possible and our lives secure.
As we reach toward our hopes, our task is to build on what has gone before–not turning away from the old, but turning toward the new.
In this past third of a century, government has passed more laws, spent more money, initiated more programs, than in all our previous history.
In pursuing our goals of full employment, better housing, excellence in education; in rebuilding our cities and improving our rural areas; in protecting our environment and enhancing the quality of life–in all these and more, we will and must press urgently forward.
We shall plan now for the day when our wealth can be transferred from the destruction of war abroad to the urgent needs of our people at home.
The American dream does not come to those who fall asleep.
But we are approaching the limits of what government alone can do.
Our greatest need now is to reach beyond government, and to enlist the legions of the concerned and the committed.
What has to be done, has to be done by government and people together or it will not be done at all. The lesson of past agony is that without the people we can do nothing; with the people we can do everything.
To match the magnitude of our tasks, we need the energies of our people–enlisted not only in grand enterprises, but more importantly in those small, splendid efforts that make headlines in the neighborhood newspaper instead of the national journal.
With these, we can build a great cathedral of the spirit–each of us raising it one stone at a time, as he reaches out to his neighbor, helping, caring, doing.
I do not offer a life of uninspiring ease. I do not call for a life of grim sacrifice. I ask you to join in a high adventure–one as rich as humanity itself, and as exciting as the times we live in.
The essence of freedom is that each of us shares in the shaping of his own destiny.
Until he has been part of a cause larger than himself, no man is truly whole.
The way to fulfillment is in the use of our talents; we achieve nobility in the spirit that inspires that use.
As we measure what can be done, we shall promise only what we know we can produce, but as we chart our goals we shall be lifted by our dreams.
No man can be fully free while his neighbor is not. To go forward at all is to go forward together.
This means black and white together, as one nation, not two. The laws have caught up with our conscience. What remains is to give life to what is in the law: to ensure at last that as all are born equal in dignity before God, all are born equal in dignity before man.
As we learn to go forward together at home, let us also seek to go forward together with all mankind.
Let us take as our goal: where peace is unknown, make it welcome; where peace is fragile, make it strong; where peace is temporary, make it permanent.
After a period of confrontation, we are entering an era of negotiation.
Let all nations know that during this administration our lines of communication will be open.
We seek an open world–open to ideas, open to the exchange of goods and people–a world in which no people, great or small, will live in angry isolation.
We cannot expect to make everyone our friend, but we can try to make no one our enemy.
Those who would be our adversaries, we invite to a peaceful competition–not in conquering territory or extending dominion, but in enriching the life of man.
As we explore the reaches of space, let us go to the new worlds together–not as new worlds to be conquered, but as a new adventure to be shared.
With those who are willing to join, let us cooperate to reduce the burden of arms, to strengthen the structure of peace, to lift up the poor and the hungry.
But to all those who would be tempted by weakness, let us leave no doubt that we will be as strong as we need to be for as long as we need to be.
Over the past twenty years, since I first came to this Capital as a freshman Congressman, I have visited most of the nations of the world.
I have come to know the leaders of the world, and the great forces, the hatreds, the fears that divide the world.
I know that peace does not come through wishing for it–that there is no substitute for days and even years of patient and prolonged diplomacy.
I also know the people of the world.
I have seen the hunger of a homeless child, the pain of a man wounded in battle, the grief of a mother who has lost her son. I know these have no ideology, no race.
I know America. I know the heart of America is good.
I speak from my own heart, and the heart of my country, the deep concern we have for those who suffer, and those who sorrow.
I have taken an oath today in the presence of God and my countrymen to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. To that oath I now add this sacred commitment: I shall consecrate my office, my energies, and all the wisdom I can summon, to the cause of peace among nations.
Let this message be heard by strong and weak alike:
The peace we seek to win is not victory over any other people, but the peace that comes "with healing in its wings"; with compassion for those who have suffered; with understanding for those who have opposed us; with the opportunity for all the peoples of this earth to choose their own destiny.
Only a few short weeks ago, we shared the glory of man’s first sight of the world as God sees it, as a single sphere reflecting light in the darkness.
As the Apollo astronauts flew over the moon’s gray surface on Christmas Eve, they spoke to us of the beauty of earth–and in that voice so clear across the lunar distance, we heard them invoke God’s blessing on its goodness.
In that moment, their view from the moon moved poet Archibald MacLeish to write:
"To see the earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold–brothers who know now they are truly brothers."
In that moment of surpassing technological triumph, men turned their thoughts toward home and humanity–seeing in that far perspective that man’s destiny on earth is not divisible; telling us that however far we reach into the cosmos, our destiny lies not in the stars but on Earth itself, in our own hands, in our own hearts.
We have endured a long night of the American spirit. But as our eyes catch the dimness of the first rays of dawn, let us not curse the remaining dark. Let us gather the light.
Our destiny offers, not the cup of despair, but the chalice of opportunity. So let us seize it, not in fear, but in gladness–and, "riders on the earth together," let us go forward, firm in our faith, steadfast in our purpose, cautious of the dangers; but sustained by our confidence in the will of God and the promise of man.
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Inaugural Address of Barack Obama
January 20, 2009
My fellow citizens:
I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.
Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we the people have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears, and true to our founding documents.
So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.
That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.
These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land – a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.
Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America – they will be met.
On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.
On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.
We remain a young nation, but in the words of scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted – for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things – some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.
For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.
For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.
For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.
Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.
This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions – that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.
For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act – not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.
Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions – who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.
What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them – that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works – whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account – to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day – because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.
Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control – and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart – not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.
Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.
We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort – even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.
For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.
To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West – know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.
As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment – a moment that will define a generation – it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.
For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.
Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends – hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism – these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility – a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.
This is the price and the promise of citizenship.
This is the source of our confidence – the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.
This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed – why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.
So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood.
At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:
“Let it be told to the future world … that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet (it).”
America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.