Harry S. Truman
Inaugural Address, 1949
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Thursday, January 20, 1949
Mr. Vice President, Mr. Chief Justice, and fellow citizens, I
accept with humility the honor which the American people
have conferred upon me. I accept it with a deep resolve to
do all that I can for the welfare of this Nation and for the peace
of the world.
In performing the duties of my office, I need the help and prayers
of every one of you. I ask for your encouragement and your
support. The tasks we face are difficult, and we can accomplish
them only if we work together.
Each period of our national history has had its special challenges.
Those that confront us now are as momentous as any in the past.
Today marks the beginning not only of a new administration, but
of a period that will be eventful, perhaps decisive, for us and for
It may be our lot to experience, and in large measure to bring
about, a major turning point in the long history of the human race.
The first half of this century has been marked by unprecedented
and brutal attacks on the rights of man, and by the two most
frightful wars in history. The supreme need of our time is for men
to learn to live together in peace and harmony.
The peoples of the earth face the future with grave uncertainty,
composed almost equally of great hopes and great fears. In this
time of doubt, they look to the United States as never before for
good will, strength, and wise leadership.
It is fitting, therefore, that we take this occasion to proclaim
to the world the essential principles of the faith by which we live,
and to declare our aims to all peoples.
The American people stand firm in the faith which has inspired
this Nation from the beginning. We believe that all men have a
right to equal justice under law and equal opportunity to share
in the common good. We believe that all men have the right to
freedom of thought and expression. We believe that all men
are created equal because they are created in the image of God.
From this faith we will not be moved.
The American people desire, and are determined to work for,
a world in which all nations and all peoples are free to govern
themselves as they see fit, and to achieve a decent and satisfying
life. Above all else, our people desire, and are determined to work
for, peace on earth? a just and lasting peace? based on genuine
agreement freely arrived at by equals.
In the pursuit of these aims, the United States and other
like-minded nations find themselves directly opposed by a regime
with contrary aims and a totally different concept of life.
That regime adheres to a false philosophy which purports to
offer freedom, security, and greater opportunity to mankind.
Misled by this philosophy, many peoples have sacrificed their
liberties only to learn to their sorrow that deceit and mockery,
poverty and tyranny, are their reward.
That false philosophy is communism.
Communism is based on the belief that man is so weak and
inadequate that he is unable to govern himself, and therefore
requires the rule of strong masters.
Democracy is based on the conviction that man has the moral
and intellectual capacity, as well as the inalienable right, to
govern himself with reason and justice.
Communism subjects the individual to arrest without lawful
cause, punishment without trial, and forced labor as the chattel
of the state. It decrees what information he shall receive, what
art he shall produce, what leaders he shall follow, and what
thoughts he shall think.
Democracy maintains that government is established for the
benefit of the individual, and is charged with the responsibility
of protecting the rights of the individual and his freedom in the
exercise of his abilities.
Communism maintains that social wrongs can be corrected
only by violence.
Democracy has proved that social justice can be achieved
through peaceful change.
Communism holds that the world is so deeply divided into
opposing classes that war is inevitable.
Democracy holds that free nations can settle differences
justly and maintain lasting peace.
These differences between communism and democracy do
not concern the United States alone. People everywhere are
coming to realize that what is involved is material well-being,
human dignity, and the right to believe in and worship God.
I state these differences, not to draw issues of belief as such,
but because the actions resulting from the Communist philosophy
are a threat to the efforts of free nations to bring about world
recovery and lasting peace.
Since the end of hostilities, the United States has invested its
substance and its energy in a great constructive effort to restore
peace, stability, and freedom to the world.
We have sought no territory and we have imposed our will
on none. We have asked for no privileges we would not extend
We have constantly and vigorously supported the United Nations
and related agencies as a means of applying democratic principles
to international relations. We have consistently advocated and
relied upon peaceful settlement of disputes among nations.
We have made every effort to secure agreement on effective
international control of our most powerful weapon, and we have
worked steadily for the limitation and control of all armaments.
We have encouraged, by precept and example, the expansion
of world trade on a sound and fair basis.
Almost a year ago, in company with sixteen free nations of Europe,
we launched the greatest cooperative economic program in
history. The purpose of that unprecedented effort is to invigorate
and strengthen democracy in Europe, so that the free people of
that continent can resume their rightful place in the forefront of
civilization and can contribute once more to the security and
welfare of the world.
Our efforts have brought new hope to all mankind. We have
beaten back despair and defeatism. We have saved a number
of countries from losing their liberty. Hundreds of millions of
people all over the world now agree with us, that we need not
have war? that we can have peace.
The initiative is ours.
We are moving on with other nations to build an even stronger
structure of international order and justice. We shall have as our
partners countries which, no longer solely concerned with the
problem of national survival, are now working to improve the
standards of living of all their people. We are ready to undertake
new projects to strengthen the free world.
In the coming years, our program for peace and freedom will
emphasize four major courses of action.
First, we will continue to give unfaltering support to the United
Nations and related agencies, and we will continue to search
for ways to strengthen their authority and increase their
effectiveness. We believe that the United Nations will be
strengthened by the new nations which are being formed in
lands now advancing toward self-government under democratic
Second, we will continue our programs for world economic
This means, first of all, that we must keep our full weight
behind the European recovery program. We are confident of
the success of this major venture in world recovery. We believe
that our partners in this effort will achieve the status of
self-supporting nations once again.
In addition, we must carry out our plans for reducing the
barriers to world trade and increasing its volume. Economic
recovery and peace itself depend on increased world trade.
Third, we will strengthen freedom-loving nations against the
dangers of aggression.
We are now working out with a number of countries a joint
agreement designed to strengthen the security of the North
Atlantic area. Such an agreement would take the form of a
collective defense arrangement within the terms of the United
We have already established such a defense pact for the
Western Hemisphere by the treaty of Rio de Janeiro.
The primary purpose of these agreements is to provide
unmistakable proof of the joint determination of the free
countries to resist armed attack from any quarter. Each
country participating in these arrangements must contribute
all it can to the common defense.
If we can make it sufficiently clear, in advance, that any
armed attack affecting our national security would be met
with overwhelming force, the armed attack might never occur.
I hope soon to send to the Senate a treaty respecting the
North Atlantic security plan.
In addition, we will provide military advice and equipment
to free nations which will cooperate with us in the maintenance
of peace and security.
Fourth, we must embark on a bold new program for making
the benefits of our scientific advances and industrial progress
available for the improvement and growth of underdeveloped
More than half the people of the world are living in conditions
approaching misery. Their food is inadequate. They are victims
of disease. Their economic life is primitive and stagnant. Their
poverty is a handicap and a threat both to them and to more
For the first time in history, humanity possesses the knowledge
and the skill to relieve the suffering of these people.
The United States is pre-eminent among nations in the
development of industrial and scientific techniques. The
material resources which we can afford to use for the
assistance of other peoples are limited. But our imponderable
resources in technical knowledge are constantly growing and
I believe that we should make available to peace-loving peoples
the benefits of our store of technical knowledge in order to help
them realize their aspirations for a better life. And, in cooperation
with other nations, we should foster capital investment in areas
Our aim should be to help the free peoples of the world, through
their own efforts, to produce more food, more clothing, more
materials for housing, and more mechanical power to lighten their
We invite other countries to pool their technological resources
in this undertaking. Their contributions will be warmly welcomed.
This should be a cooperative enterprise in which all nations work
together through the United Nations and its specialized agencies
wherever practicable. It must be a worldwide effort for the
achievement of peace, plenty, and freedom.
With the cooperation of business, private capital, agriculture,
and labor in this country, this program can greatly increase the
industrial activity in other nations and can raise substantially
their standards of living.
Such new economic developments must be devised and controlled
to benefit the peoples of the areas in which they are established.
Guarantees to the investor must be balanced by guarantees in the
interest of the people whose resources and whose labor go into
The old imperialism? exploitation for foreign profit? has no place
in our plans. What we envisage is a program of development
based on the concepts of democratic fair-dealing.
All countries, including our own, will greatly benefit from a
constructive program for the better use of the world's human
and natural resources. Experience shows that our commerce
with other countries expands as they progress industrially and
Greater production is the key to prosperity and peace. And the
key to greater production is a wider and more vigorous application
of modern scientific and technical knowledge.
Only by helping the least fortunate of its members to help
themselves can the human family achieve the decent, satisfying
life that is the right of all people.
Democracy alone can supply the vitalizing force to stir the peoples
of the world into triumphant action, not only against their human
oppressors, but also against their ancient enemies? hunger, misery,
On the basis of these four major courses of action we hope to
help create the conditions that will lead eventually to personal
freedom and happiness for all mankind.
If we are to be successful in carrying out these policies, it is
clear that we must have continued prosperity in this country
and we must keep ourselves strong.
Slowly but surely we are weaving a world fabric of international
security and growing prosperity.
We are aided by all who wish to live in freedom from fear? even
by those who live today in fear under their own governments.
We are aided by all who want relief from the lies of propaganda?
who desire truth and sincerity.
We are aided by all who desire self-government and a voice
in deciding their own affairs.
We are aided by all who long for economic security? for the
security and abundance that men in free societies can enjoy.
We are aided by all who desire freedom of speech, freedom
of religion, and freedom to live their own lives for useful ends.
Our allies are the millions who hunger and thirst after
In due time, as our stability becomes manifest, as more and
more nations come to know the benefits of democracy and to
participate in growing abundance, I believe that those countries
which now oppose us will abandon their delusions and join
with the free nations of the world in a just settlement of
Events have brought our American democracy to new influence
and new responsibilities. They will test our courage, our devotion
to duty, and our concept of liberty.
But I say to all men, what we have achieved in liberty, we will
surpass in greater liberty.
Steadfast in our faith in the Almighty, we will advance toward
a world where man's freedom is secure.
To that end we will devote our strength, our resources, and
our firmness of resolve. With God's help, the future of mankind
will be assured in a world of justice, harmony, and peace.