Senator Hatfield, Mr. Chief Justice, Mr. President, Vice President
Bush, Vice President Mondale, Senator Baker, Speaker O'Neill, Reverend
Moomaw, and my fellow citizens: To a few of us here today, this is
a solemn and most momentous occasion; and yet, in the history of our
Nation, it is a commonplace occurrence. The orderly transfer of authority
as called for in the Constitution routinely takes place as it has
for almost two centuries and few of us stop to think how unique we
really are. In the eyes of many in the world, this every-4-year ceremony
we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle.
Mr. President, I want our fellow citizens to know how much you
did to carry on this tradition. By your gracious cooperation in
the transition process, you have shown a watching world that we
are a united people pledged to maintaining a political system which
guarantees individual liberty to a greater degree than any other,
and I thank you and your people for all your help in maintaining
the continuity which is the bulwark of our Republic.
The business of our nation goes forward. These United States are
confronted with an economic affliction of great proportions. We
suffer from the longest and one of the worst sustained inflations
in our national history. It distorts our economic decisions, penalizes
thrift, and crushes the struggling young and the fixed- income elderly
alike. It threatens to shatter the lives of millions of our people.
Idle industries have cast workers into unemployment, causing human
misery and personal indignity. Those who do work are denied a fair
return for their labor by a tax system which penalizes successful
achievement and keeps us from maintaining full productivity.
But great as our tax burden is, it has not kept pace with public
spending. For decades, we have piled deficit upon deficit, mortgaging
our future and our children's future for the temporary convenience
of the present. To continue this long trend is to guarantee tremendous
social, cultural, political, and economic upheavals.
You and I, as individuals, can, by borrowing, live beyond our means,
but for only a limited period of time. Why, then, should we think
that collectively, as a nation, we are not bound by that same limitation?
We must act today in order to preserve tomorrow. And let there
be no misunderstanding--we are going to begin to act, beginning
The economic ills we suffer have come upon us over several decades.
They will not go away in days, weeks, or months, but they will go
away. They will go away because we, as Americans, have the capacity
now, as we have had in the past, to do whatever needs to be done
to preserve this last and greatest bastion of freedom.
In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our
problem; government is the problem.
From time to time, we have been tempted to believe that society
has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government
by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the
people. But if no one among us is capable of governing himself,
then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else? All of
us together, in and out of government, must bear the burden. The
solutions we seek must be equitable, with no one group singled out
to pay a higher price.
We hear much of special interest groups. Our concern must be for
a special interest group that has been too long neglected. It knows
no sectional boundaries or ethnic and racial divisions, and it crosses
political party lines. It is made up of men and women who raise
our food, patrol our streets, man our mines and our factories, teach
our children, keep our homes, and heal us when we are sick--professionals,
industrialists, shopkeepers, clerks, cabbies, and truckdrivers.
They are, in short, "We the people," this breed called
Well, this administration's objective will be a healthy, vigorous,
growing economy that provides equal opportunity for all Americans,
with no barriers born of bigotry or discrimination. Putting America
back to work means putting all Americans back to work. Ending inflation
means freeing all Americans from the terror of runaway living costs.
All must share in the productive work of this "new beginning"
and all must share in the bounty of a revived economy. With the
idealism and fair play which are the core of our system and our
strength, we can have a strong and prosperous America at peace with
itself and the world.
So, as we begin, let us take inventory. We are a nation that has
a government--not the other way around. And this makes us special
among the nations of the Earth. Our Government has no power except
that granted it by the people. It is time to check and reverse the
growth of government which shows signs of having grown beyond the
consent of the governed.
It is my intention to curb the size and influence of the Federal
establishment and to demand recognition of the distinction between
the powers granted to the Federal Government and those reserved
to the States or to the people. All of us need to be reminded that
the Federal Government did not create the States; the States created
the Federal Government.
Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it is not my intention
to do away with government. It is, rather, to make it work-work
with us, not over us; to stand by our side, not ride on our back.
Government can and must provide opportunity, not smother it; foster
productivity, not stifle it.
If we look to the answer as to why, for so many years, we achieved
so much, prospered as no other people on Earth, it was because here,
in this land, we unleashed the energy and individual genius of man
to a greater extent than has ever been done before. Freedom and
the dignity of the individual have been more available and assured
here than in any other place on Earth. The price for this freedom
at times has been high, but we have never been unwilling to pay
It is no coincidence that our present troubles parallel and are
proportionate to the intervention and intrusion in our lives that
result from unnecessary and excessive growth of government. It is
time for us to realize that we are too great a nation to limit ourselves
to small dreams. We are not, as some would have us believe, loomed
to an inevitable decline. I do not believe in a fate that will all
on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall
on us if we do nothing. So, with all the creative energy at our
command, let us begin an era of national renewal. Let us renew our
determination, our courage, and our strength. And let us renew;
our faith and our hope.
We have every right to dream heroic dreams. Those who say that
we are in a time when there are no heroes just don't know where
to look. You can see heroes every day going in and out of factory
gates. Others, a handful in number, produce enough food to feed
all of us and then the world beyond. You meet heroes across a counter--and
they are on both sides of that counter. There are entrepreneurs
with faith in themselves and faith in an idea who create new jobs,
new wealth and opportunity. They are individuals and families whose
taxes support the Government and whose voluntary gifts support church,
charity, culture, art, and education. Their patriotism is quiet
but deep. Their values sustain our national life.
I have used the words "they" and "their" in
speaking of these heroes. I could say "you" and "your"
because I am addressing the heroes of whom I speak--you, the citizens
of this blessed land. Your dreams, your hopes, your goals are going
to be the dreams, the hopes, and the goals of this administration,
so help me God.
We shall reflect the compassion that is so much a part of your
makeup. How can we love our country and not love our countrymen,
and loving them, reach out a hand when they fall, heal them when
they are sick, and provide opportunities to make them self- sufficient
so they will be equal in fact and not just in theory?
Can we solve the problems confronting us? Well, the answer is an
unequivocal and emphatic "yes." To paraphrase Winston
Churchill, I did not take the oath I have just taken with the intention
of presiding over the dissolution of the world's strongest economy.
In the days ahead I will propose removing the roadblocks that have
slowed our economy and reduced productivity. Steps will be taken
aimed at restoring the balance between the various levels of government.
Progress may be slow--measured in inches and feet, not miles--but
we will progress. Is it time to reawaken this industrial giant,
to get government back within its means, and to lighten our punitive
tax burden. And these will be our first priorities, and on these
principles, there will be no compromise.
On the eve of our struggle for independence a man who might have
been one of the greatest among the Founding Fathers, Dr. Joseph
Warren, President of the Massachusetts Congress, said to his fellow
Americans, "Our country is in danger, but not to be despaired
of.... On you depend the fortunes of America. You are to decide
the important questions upon which rests the happiness and the liberty
of millions yet unborn. Act worthy of yourselves."
Well, I believe we, the Americans of today, are ready to act worthy
of ourselves, ready to do what must be done to ensure happiness
and liberty for ourselves, our children and our children's children.
And as we renew ourselves here in our own land, we will be seen
as having greater strength throughout the world. We will again be
the exemplar of freedom and a beacon of hope for those who do not
now have freedom.
To those neighbors and allies who share our freedom, we will strengthen
our historic ties and assure them of our support and firm commitment.
We will match loyalty with loyalty. We will strive for mutually
beneficial relations. We will not use our friendship to impose on
their sovereignty, for or own sovereignty is not for sale.
As for the enemies of freedom, those who are potential adversaries,
they will be reminded that peace is the highest aspiration of the
American people. We will negotiate for it, sacrifice for it; we
will not surrender for it--now or ever.
Our forbearance should never be misunderstood. Our reluctance for
conflict should not be misjudged as a failure of will. When action
is required to preserve our national security, we will act. We will
maintain sufficient strength to prevail if need be, knowing that
if we do so we have the best chance of never having to use that
Above all, we must realize that no arsenal, or no weapon in the
arsenals of the world, is so formidable as the will and moral courage
of free men and women. It is a weapon our adversaries in today's
world do not have. It is a weapon that we as Americans do have.
Let that be understood by those who practice terrorism and prey
upon their neighbors.
I am told that tens of thousands of prayer meetings are being held
on this day, and for that I am deeply grateful. We are a nation
under God, and I believe God intended for us to be free. It would
be fitting and good, I think, if on each Inauguration Day in future
years it should be declared a day of prayer.
This is the first time in history that this ceremony has been held,
as you have been told, on this West Front of the Capitol. Standing
here, one faces a magnificent vista, opening up on this city's special
beauty and history. At the end of this open mall are those shrines
to the giants on whose shoulders we stand.
Directly in front of me, the monument to a monumental man: George
Washington, Father of our country. A man of humility who came to
greatness reluctantly. He led America out of revolutionary victory
into infant nationhood. Off to one side, the stately memorial to
Thomas Jefferson. The Declaration of Independence flames with his
And then beyond the Reflecting Pool the dignified columns of the
Lincoln Memorial. Whoever would understand in his heart the meaning
of America will find it in the life of Abraham Lincoln.
Beyond those monuments to heroism is the Potomac River, and on
the far shore the sloping hills of Arlington National Cemetery with
its row on row of simple white markers bearing crosses or Stars
of David. They add up to only a tiny fraction of the price that
has been paid for our freedom.
Each one of those markers is a monument to the kinds of hero I
spoke of earlier. Their lives ended in places called Belleau Wood,
The Argonne, Omaha Beach, Salerno and halfway around the world on
Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Pork Chop Hill, the Chosin Reservoir, and in
a hundred rice paddies and jungles of a place called Vietnam.
Under one such marker lies a young man--Martin Treptow--who left
his job in a small town barber shop in 1917 to go to France with
the famed Rainbow Division. There, on the western front, he was
killed trying to carry a message between battalions under heavy
We are told that on his body was found a diary. On the flyleaf
under the heading, "My Pledge," he had written these words:
"America must win this war. Therefore, I will work, I will
save, I will sacrifice, I will endure, I will fight cheerfully and
do my utmost, as if the issue of the whole struggle depended on
The crisis we are facing today does not require of us the kind
of sacrifice that Martin Treptow and so many thousands of others
were called upon to make. It does require, however, our best effort,
and our willingness to believe in ourselves and to believe in our
capacity to perform great deeds; to believe that together, with
God's help, we can and will resolve the problems which now confront
And, after all, why shouldn't we believe that? We are Americans.
God bless you, and thank you.