Inaugural Address, 1989
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Mr. Chief Justice, Mr. President, Vice President Quayle, Senator
Mitchell, Speaker Wright, Senator Dole, Congressman Michel,
and fellow citizens, neighbors, and friends:
There is a man here who has earned a lasting place in our hearts
and in our history. President Reagan, on behalf of our Nation, I
thank you for the wonderful things that you have done for America.
I have just repeated word for word the oath taken by George
Washington 200 years ago, and the Bible on which I placed my
hand is the Bible on which he placed his. It is right that the memory
of Washington be with us today, not only because this is our
Bicentennial Inauguration, but because Washington remains the
Father of our Country. And he would, I think, be gladdened by this
day; for today is the concrete expression of a stunning fact: our
continuity these 200 years since our government began.
We meet on democracy's front porch, a good place to talk as
neighbors and as friends. For this is a day when our nation is made
whole, when our differences, for a moment, are suspended.
And my first act as President is a prayer. I ask you to bow your
Heavenly Father, we bow our heads and thank You for Your love.
Accept our thanks for the peace that yields this day and the shared
faith that makes its continuance likely. Make us strong to do Your
work, willing to heed and hear Your will, and write on our hearts
these words: "Use power to help people." For we are given power
not to advance our own purposes, nor to make a great show in the
world, nor a name. There is but one just use of power, and it is to
serve people. Help us to remember it, Lord. Amen.
I come before you and assume the Presidency at a moment rich
with promise. We live in a peaceful, prosperous time, but we can
make it better. For a new breeze is blowing, and a world refreshed
by freedom seems reborn; for in man's heart, if not in fact, the day
of the dictator is over. The totalitarian era is passing, its old ideas
blown away like leaves from an ancient, lifeless tree. A new breeze
is blowing, and a nation refreshed by freedom stands ready to push
on. There is new ground to be broken, and new action to be taken.
There are times when the future seems thick as a fog; you sit and
wait, hoping the mists will lift and reveal the right path. But this is
a time when the future seems a door you can walk right through
into a room called tomorrow.
Great nations of the world are moving toward democracy through
the door to freedom. Men and women of the world move toward
free markets through the door to prosperity. The people of the
world agitate for free expression and free thought through the
door to the moral and intellectual satisfactions that only liberty
We know what works: Freedom works. We know what's right:
Freedom is right. We know how to secure a more just and
prosperous life for man on Earth: through free markets, free
speech, free elections, and the exercise of free will unhampered
by the state.
For the first time in this century, for the first time in perhaps
all history, man does not have to invent a system by which to
live. We don't have to talk late into the night about which form
of government is better. We don't have to wrest justice from the
kings. We only have to summon it from within ourselves. We must
act on what we know. I take as my guide the hope of a saint: In
crucial things, unity; in important things, diversity; in all things,
America today is a proud, free nation, decent and civil, a place
we cannot help but love. We know in our hearts, not loudly and
proudly, but as a simple fact, that this country has meaning
beyond what we see, and that our strength is a force for good.
But have we changed as a nation even in our time? Are we
enthralled with material things, less appreciative of the nobility
of work and sacrifice?
My friends, we are not the sum of our possessions. They are
not the measure of our lives. In our hearts we know what matters.
We cannot hope only to leave our children a bigger car, a bigger
bank account. We must hope to give them a sense of what it
means to be a loyal friend, a loving parent, a citizen who leaves
his home, his neighborhood and town better than he found it.
What do we want the men and women who work with us to say
when we are no longer there? That we were more driven to
succeed than anyone around us? Or that we stopped to ask if
a sick child had gotten better, and stayed a moment there to
trade a word of friendship?
No President, no government, can teach us to remember
what is best in what we are. But if the man you have chosen to
lead this government can help make a difference; if he can
celebrate the quieter, deeper successes that are made not of
gold and silk, but of better hearts and finer souls; if he can do
these things, then he must.
America is never wholly herself unless she is engaged in high
moral principle. We as a people have such a purpose today.
It is to make kinder the face of the Nation and gentler the face
of the world. My friends, we have work to do. There are the
homeless, lost and roaming. There are the children who have
nothing, no love, no normalcy. There are those who cannot free
themselves of enslavement to whatever addiction?drugs, welfare,
the demoralization that rules the slums. There is crime to be
conquered, the rough crime of the streets. There are young women
to be helped who are about to become mothers of children they
can't care for and might not love. They need our care, our guidance,
and our education, though we bless them for choosing life.
The old solution, the old way, was to think that public money
alone could end these problems. But we have learned that is
not so. And in any case, our funds are low. We have a deficit to
bring down. We have more will than wallet; but will is what we
need. We will make the hard choices, looking at what we have
and perhaps allocating it differently, making our decisions based
on honest need and prudent safety. And then we will do the wisest
thing of all: We will turn to the only resource we have that in times
of need always grows?the goodness and the courage of the
I am speaking of a new engagement in the lives of others, a
new activism, hands-on and involved, that gets the job done.
We must bring in the generations, harnessing the unused talent
of the elderly and the unfocused energy of the young. For not
only leadership is passed from generation to generation, but
so is stewardship. And the generation born after the Second
World War has come of age.
I have spoken of a thousand points of light, of all the community
organizations that are spread like stars throughout the Nation,
doing good. We will work hand in hand, encouraging, sometimes
leading, sometimes being led, rewarding. We will work on this in
the White House, in the Cabinet agencies. I will go to the people
and the programs that are the brighter points of light, and I will
ask every member of my government to become involved. The
old ideas are new again because they are not old, they are timeless:
duty, sacrifice, commitment, and a patriotism that finds its expression
in taking part and pitching in.
We need a new engagement, too, between the Executive and the
Congress. The challenges before us will be thrashed out with the
House and the Senate. We must bring the Federal budget into
balance. And we must ensure that America stands before the world
united, strong, at peace, and fiscally sound. But, of course, things
may be difficult. We need compromise; we have had dissension.
We need harmony; we have had a chorus of discordant voices.
For Congress, too, has changed in our time. There has grown
a certain divisiveness. We have seen the hard looks and heard
the statements in which not each other's ideas are challenged,
but each other's motives. And our great parties have too often
been far apart and untrusting of each other. It has been this
way since Vietnam. That war cleaves us still. But, friends, that
war began in earnest a quarter of a century ago; and surely the
statute of limitations has been reached. This is a fact: The final
lesson of Vietnam is that no great nation can long afford to be
sundered by a memory. A new breeze is blowing, and the old
bipartisanship must be made new again.
To my friends?and yes, I do mean friends?in the loyal
opposition?and yes, I mean loyal: I put out my hand. I am putting
out my hand to you, Mr. Speaker. I am putting out my hand to you,
Mr. Majority Leader. For this is the thing: This is the age of the
offered hand. We can't turn back clocks, and I don't want to. But
when our fathers were young, Mr. Speaker, our differences ended
at the water's edge. And we don't wish to turn back time, but
when our mothers were young, Mr. Majority Leader, the Congress
and the Executive were capable of working together to produce
a budget on which this nation could live. Let us negotiate soon
and hard. But in the end, let us produce. The American people
await action. They didn't send us here to bicker. They ask us to
rise above the merely partisan. "In crucial things, unity"?and this,
my friends, is crucial.
To the world, too, we offer new engagement and a renewed vow:
We will stay strong to protect the peace. The "offered hand" is a
reluctant fist; but once made, strong, and can be used with great
effect. There are today Americans who are held against their will
in foreign lands, and Americans who are unaccounted for.
Assistance can be shown here, and will be long remembered.
Good will begets good will. Good faith can be a spiral that endlessly
Great nations like great men must keep their word. When America
says something, America means it, whether a treaty or an agreement
or a vow made on marble steps. We will always try to speak clearly,
for candor is a compliment, but subtlety, too, is good and has its
place. While keeping our alliances and friendships around the world
strong, ever strong, we will continue the new closeness with the
Soviet Union, consistent both with our security and with progress.
One might say that our new relationship in part reflects the triumph
of hope and strength over experience. But hope is good, and so are
strength and vigilance.
Here today are tens of thousands of our citizens who feel the
understandable satisfaction of those who have taken part in
democracy and seen their hopes fulfilled. But my thoughts have
been turning the past few days to those who would be watching
at home, to an older fellow who will throw a salute by himself when
the flag goes by, and the women who will tell her sons the words
of the battle hymns. I don't mean this to be sentimental. I mean
that on days like this, we remember that we are all part of a
continuum, inescapably connected by the ties that bind.
Our children are watching in schools throughout our great land.
And to them I say, thank you for watching democracy's big day.
For democracy belongs to us all, and freedom is like a beautiful
kite that can go higher and higher with the breeze. And to all I
say: No matter what your circumstances or where you are, you
are part of this day, you are part of the life of our great nation.
A President is neither prince nor pope, and I don't seek a window
on men's souls. In fact, I yearn for a greater tolerance, an
easy-goingness about each other's attitudes and way of life.
There are few clear areas in which we as a society must rise up
united and express our intolerance. The most obvious now is drugs.
And when that first cocaine was smuggled in on a ship, it may as
well have been a deadly bacteria, so much has it hurt the body,
the soul of our country. And there is much to be done and to be
said, but take my word for it: This scourge will stop.
And so, there is much to do; and tomorrow the work begins. I do
not mistrust the future; I do not fear what is ahead. For our
problems are large, but our heart is larger. Our challenges are
great, but our will is greater. And if our flaws are endless, God's
love is truly boundless.
Some see leadership as high drama, and the sound of trumpets
calling, and sometimes it is that. But I see history as a book with
many pages, and each day we fill a page with acts of hopefulness
and meaning. The new breeze blows, a page turns, the story unfolds.
And so today a chapter begins, a small and stately story of unity,
diversity, and generosity?shared, and written, together.
Thank you. God bless you and God bless the United States of America.