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Contents > Author > Warren G. Harding > Inaugural Address, 1921 1865- 1923
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Warren G. Harding
Inaugural Address, 1921
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Friday, March 4, 1921

My Countrymen:

When one surveys the world about him after the great storm,
noting the marks of destruction and yet rejoicing in the ruggedness
of the things which withstood it, if he is an American he breathes
the clarified atmosphere with a strange mingling of regret and new
hope. We have seen a world passion spend its fury, but we
contemplate our Republic unshaken, and hold our civilization
secure. Liberty? liberty within the law? and civilization are
inseparable, and though both were threatened we find them now
secure; and there comes to Americans the profound assurance
that our representative government is the highest expression
and surest guaranty of both.

Standing in this presence, mindful of the solemnity of this occasion,
feeling the emotions which no one may know until he senses the
great weight of responsibility for himself, I must utter my belief in
the divine inspiration of the founding fathers. Surely there must
have been God's intent in the making of this new-world Republic.
Ours is an organic law which had but one ambiguity, and we saw
that effaced in a baptism of sacrifice and blood, with union
maintained, the Nation supreme, and its concord inspiring. We
have seen the world rivet its hopeful gaze on the great truths
on which the founders wrought. We have seen civil, human, and
religious liberty verified and glorified. In the beginning the Old
World scoffed at our experiment; today our foundations of political
and social belief stand unshaken, a precious inheritance to
ourselves, an inspiring example of freedom and civilization to all
mankind. Let us express renewed and strengthened devotion, in
grateful reverence for the immortal beginning, and utter our
confidence in the supreme fulfillment.

The recorded progress of our Republic, materially and spiritually,
in itself proves the wisdom of the inherited policy of non-involvement
in Old World affairs. Confident of our ability to work out our own
destiny, and jealously guarding our right to do so, we seek no part
in directing the destinies of the Old World. We do not mean to be
entangled. We will accept no responsibility except as our own
conscience and judgment, in each instance, may determine.

Our eyes never will be blind to a developing menace, our ears
never deaf to the call of civilization. We recognize the new order
in the world, with the closer contacts which progress has wrought.
We sense the call of the human heart for fellowship, fraternity,
and cooperation. We crave friendship and harbor no hate. But
America, our America, the America builded on the foundation laid
by the inspired fathers, can be a party to no permanent military
alliance. It can enter into no political commitments, nor assume
any economic obligations which will subject our decisions to any
other than our own authority.

I am sure our own people will not misunderstand, nor will the
world misconstrue. We have no thought to impede the paths
to closer relationship. We wish to promote understanding. We
want to do our part in making offensive warfare so hateful that
Governments and peoples who resort to it must prove the
righteousness of their cause or stand as outlaws before the
bar of civilization.

We are ready to associate ourselves with the nations of the
world, great and small, for conference, for counsel; to seek the
expressed views of world opinion; to recommend a way to
approximate disarmament and relieve the crushing burdens
of military and naval establishments. We elect to participate
in suggesting plans for mediation, conciliation, and arbitration,
and would gladly join in that expressed conscience of progress,
which seeks to clarify and write the laws of international
relationship, and establish a world court for the disposition of
such justiciable questions as nations are agreed to submit thereto.
In expressing aspirations, in seeking practical plans, in translating
humanity's new concept of righteousness and justice and its hatred
of war into recommended action we are ready most heartily to unite,
but every commitment must be made in the exercise of our national
sovereignty. Since freedom impelled, and independence inspired,
and nationality exalted, a world supergovernment is contrary to
everything we cherish and can have no sanction by our Republic.
This is not selfishness, it is sanctity. It is not aloofness, it is security.
It is not suspicion of others, it is patriotic adherence to the things
which made us what we are.

Today, better than ever before, we know the aspirations of
humankind, and share them. We have come to a new realization
of our place in the world and a new appraisal of our Nation by the
world. The unselfishness of these United States is a thing proven;
our devotion to peace for ourselves and for the world is well
established; our concern for preserved civilization has had its
impassioned and heroic expression. There was no American failure
to resist the attempted reversion of civilization; there will be no
failure today or tomorrow.

The success of our popular government rests wholly upon the
correct interpretation of the deliberate, intelligent, dependable
popular will of America. In a deliberate questioning of a suggested
change of national policy, where internationality was to supersede
nationality, we turned to a referendum, to the American people.
There was ample discussion, and there is a public mandate in
manifest understanding.

America is ready to encourage, eager to initiate, anxious to
participate in any seemly program likely to lessen the probability
of war, and promote that brotherhood of mankind which must be
God's highest conception of human relationship. Because we
cherish ideals of justice and peace, because we appraise
international comity and helpful relationship no less highly than
any people of the world, we aspire to a high place in the moral
leadership of civilization, and we hold a maintained America,
the proven Republic, the unshaken temple of representative
democracy, to be not only an inspiration and example, but the
highest agency of strengthening good will and promoting accord
on both continents.

Mankind needs a world-wide benediction of understanding. It
is needed among individuals, among peoples, among governments,
and it will inaugurate an era of good feeling to make the birth of
a new order. In such understanding men will strive confidently
for the promotion of their better relationships and nations will
promote the comities so essential to peace.

We must understand that ties of trade bind nations in closest
intimacy, and none may receive except as he gives. We have
not strengthened ours in accordance with our resources or our
genius, notably on our own continent, where a galaxy of Republics
reflects the glory of new-world democracy, but in the new order
of finance and trade we mean to promote enlarged activities
and seek expanded confidence.

Perhaps we can make no more helpful contribution by example
than prove a Republic's capacity to emerge from the wreckage
of war. While the world's embittered travail did not leave us
devastated lands nor desolated cities, left no gaping wounds,
no breast with hate, it did involve us in the delirium of expenditure,
in expanded currency and credits, in unbalanced industry, in
unspeakable waste, and disturbed relationships. While it
uncovered our portion of hateful selfishness at home, it also
revealed the heart of America as sound and fearless, and
beating in confidence unfailing.

Amid it all we have riveted the gaze of all civilization to the
unselfishness and the righteousness of representative democracy,
where our freedom never has made offensive warfare, never has
sought territorial aggrandizement through force, never has turned
to the arbitrament of arms until reason has been exhausted.
When the Governments of the earth shall have established a
freedom like our own and shall have sanctioned the pursuit of
peace as we have practiced it, I believe the last sorrow and the
final sacrifice of international warfare will have been written.

Let me speak to the maimed and wounded soldiers who are
present today, and through them convey to their comrades the
gratitude of the Republic for their sacrifices in its defense. A
generous country will never forget the services you rendered,
and you may hope for a policy under Government that will
relieve any maimed successors from taking your places on
another such occasion as this.

Our supreme task is the resumption of our onward, normal
way. Reconstruction, readjustment, restoration all these must
follow. I would like to hasten them. If it will lighten the spirit
and add to the resolution with which we take up the task, let
me repeat for our Nation, we shall give no people just cause to
make war upon us; we hold no national prejudices; we entertain
no spirit of revenge; we do not hate; we do not covet; we dream
of no conquest, nor boast of armed prowess.

If, despite this attitude, war is again forced upon us, I earnestly
hope a way may be found which will unify our individual and
collective strength and consecrate all America, materially and
spiritually, body and soul, to national defense. I can vision the
ideal republic, where every man and woman is called under the
flag for assignment to duty for whatever service, military or civic,
the individual is best fitted; where we may call to universal service
every plant, agency, or facility, all in the sublime sacrifice for country,
and not one penny of war profit shall inure to the benefit of private
individual, corporation, or combination, but all above the normal
shall flow into the defense chest of the Nation. There is something
inherently wrong, something out of accord with the ideals of
representative democracy, when one portion of our citizenship
turns its activities to private gain amid defensive war while
another is fighting, sacrificing, or dying for national preservation.

Out of such universal service will come a new unity of spirit and
purpose, a new confidence and consecration, which would make
our defense impregnable, our triumph assured. Then we should
have little or no disorganization of our economic, industrial, and
commercial systems at home, no staggering war debts, no
swollen fortunes to flout the sacrifices of our soldiers, no excuse
for sedition, no pitiable slackerism, no outrage of treason. Envy
and jealousy would have no soil for their menacing development,
and revolution would be without the passion which engenders it.

A regret for the mistakes of yesterday must not, however, blind
us to the tasks of today. War never left such an aftermath. There
has been staggering loss of life and measureless wastage of
materials. Nations are still groping for return to stable ways.
Discouraging indebtedness confronts us like all the war-torn
nations, and these obligations must be provided for. No
civilization can survive repudiation.

We can reduce the abnormal expenditures, and we will. We can
strike at war taxation, and we must. We must face the grim
necessity, with full knowledge that the task is to be solved, and
we must proceed with a full realization that no statute enacted
by man can repeal the inexorable laws of nature. Our most
dangerous tendency is to expect too much of government, and
at the same time do for it too little. We contemplate the
immediate task of putting our public household in order. We
need a rigid and yet sane economy, combined with fiscal justice,
and it must be attended by individual prudence and thrift, which
are so essential to this trying hour and reassuring for the future.

The business world reflects the disturbance of war's reaction.
Herein flows the lifeblood of material existence. The economic
mechanism is intricate and its parts interdependent, and has
suffered the shocks and jars incident to abnormal demands,
credit inflations, and price upheavals. The normal balances
have been impaired, the channels of distribution have been
clogged, the relations of labor and management have been
strained. We must seek the readjustment with care and courage.
Our people must give and take. Prices must reflect the receding
fever of war activities. Perhaps we never shall know the old
levels of wages again, because war invariably readjusts
compensations, and the necessaries of life will show their
inseparable relationship, but we must strive for normalcy to
reach stability. All the penalties will not be light, nor evenly
distributed. There is no way of making them so. There is no
instant step from disorder to order. We must face a condition
of grim reality, charge off our losses and start afresh. It is the
oldest lesson of civilization. I would like government to do all
it can to mitigate; then, in understanding, in mutuality of interest,
in concern for the common good, our tasks will be solved. No
altered system will work a miracle. Any wild experiment will
only add to the confusion. Our best assurance lies in efficient
administration of our proven system.

The forward course of the business cycle is unmistakable.
Peoples are turning from destruction to production. Industry
has sensed the changed order and our own people are turning
to resume their normal, onward way. The call is for productive
America to go on. I know that Congress and the Administration
will favor every wise Government policy to aid the resumption
and encourage continued progress.

I speak for administrative efficiency, for lightened tax burdens,
for sound commercial practices, for adequate credit facilities,
for sympathetic concern for all agricultural problems, for the
omission of unnecessary interference of Government with
business, for an end to Government's experiment in business,
and for more efficient business in Government administration.
With all of this must attend a mindfulness of the human side
of all activities, so that social, industrial, and economic justice
will be squared with the purposes of a righteous people.

With the nation-wide induction of womanhood into our political
life, we may count upon her intuitions, her refinements, her
intelligence, and her influence to exalt the social order. We
count upon her exercise of the full privileges and the performance
of the duties of citizenship to speed the attainment of the highest

I wish for an America no less alert in guarding against dangers
from within than it is watchful against enemies from without.
Our fundamental law recognizes no class, no group, no section;
there must be none in legislation or administration. The supreme
inspiration is the common weal. Humanity hungers for international
peace, and we crave it with all mankind. My most reverent prayer
for America is for industrial peace, with its rewards, widely and
generally distributed, amid the inspirations of equal opportunity.
No one justly may deny the equality of opportunity which made
us what we are. We have mistaken unpreparedness to embrace
it to be a challenge of the reality, and due concern for making all
citizens fit for participation will give added strength of citizenship
and magnify our achievement.

If revolution insists upon overturning established order, let other
peoples make the tragic experiment. There is no place for it in
America. When World War threatened civilization we pledged
our resources and our lives to its preservation, and when
revolution threatens we unfurl the flag of law and order and
renew our consecration. Ours is a constitutional freedom where
the popular will is the law supreme and minorities are sacredly
protected. Our revisions, reformations, and evolutions reflect a
deliberate judgment and an orderly progress, and we mean to
cure our ills, but never destroy or permit destruction by force.

I had rather submit our industrial controversies to the
conference table in advance than to a settlement table after
conflict and suffering. The earth is thirsting for the cup of good
will, understanding is its fountain source. I would like to acclaim
an era of good feeling amid dependable prosperity and all the
blessings which attend.

It has been proved again and again that we cannot, while
throwing our markets open to the world, maintain American
standards of living and opportunity, and hold our industrial
eminence in such unequal competition. There is a luring fallacy
in the theory of banished barriers of trade, but preserved
American standards require our higher production costs to be
reflected in our tariffs on imports. Today, as never before,
when peoples are seeking trade restoration and expansion,
we must adjust our tariffs to the new order. We seek
participation in the world's exchanges, because therein lies
our way to widened influence and the triumphs of peace.
We know full well we cannot sell where we do not buy, and
we cannot sell successfully where we do not carry. Opportunity
is calling not alone for the restoration, but for a new era in
production, transportation and trade. We shall answer it best
by meeting the demand of a surpassing home market, by
promoting self-reliance in production, and by bidding enterprise,
genius, and efficiency to carry our cargoes in American bottoms
to the marts of the world.

We would not have an America living within and for herself
alone, but we would have her self-reliant, independent, and
ever nobler, stronger, and richer. Believing in our higher
standards, reared through constitutional liberty and maintained
opportunity, we invite the world to the same heights. But pride
in things wrought is no reflex of a completed task. Common
welfare is the goal of our national endeavor. Wealth is not
inimical to welfare; it ought to be its friendliest agency. There
never can be equality of rewards or possessions so long as
the human plan contains varied talents and differing degrees
of industry and thrift, but ours ought to be a country free from
the great blotches of distressed poverty. We ought to find a
way to guard against the perils and penalties of unemployment.
We want an America of homes, illumined with hope and
happiness, where mothers, freed from the necessity for long
hours of toil beyond their own doors, may preside as befits the
hearthstone of American citizenship. We want the cradle of
American childhood rocked under conditions so wholesome
and so hopeful that no blight may touch it in its development,
and we want to provide that no selfish interest, no material
necessity, no lack of opportunity shall prevent the gaining of
that education so essential to best citizenship.

There is no short cut to the making of these ideals into glad
realities. The world has witnessed again and again the futility
and the mischief of ill-considered remedies for social and
economic disorders. But we are mindful today as never before
of the friction of modern industrialism, and we must learn its
causes and reduce its evil consequences by sober and tested
methods. Where genius has made for great possibilities,
justice and happiness must be reflected in a greater common

Service is the supreme commitment of life. I would rejoice
to acclaim the era of the Golden Rule and crown it with the
autocracy of service. I pledge an administration wherein all
the agencies of Government are called to serve, and ever
promote an understanding of Government purely as an
expression of the popular will.

One cannot stand in this presence and be unmindful of the
tremendous responsibility. The world upheaval has added
heavily to our tasks. But with the realization comes the surge
of high resolve, and there is reassurance in belief in the
God-given destiny of our Republic. If I felt that there is to be
sole responsibility in the Executive for the America of tomorrow
I should shrink from the burden. But here are a hundred millions,
with common concern and shared responsibility, answerable to
God and country. The Republic summons them to their duty,
and I invite co-operation.

I accept my part with single-mindedness of purpose and
humility of spirit, and implore the favor and guidance of God
in His Heaven. With these I am unafraid, and confidently
face the future.

I have taken the solemn oath of office on that passage
of Holy Writ wherein it is asked: "What doth the Lord
require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy, and
to walk humbly with thy God?" This I plight to God and

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