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Franklin D. Roosevelt
Third Inaugural Address, 1941
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Monday, January 20, 1941

On each national day of inauguration since 1789, the people
have renewed their sense of dedication to the United States.

In Washington's day the task of the people was to create and
weld together a nation.

In Lincoln's day the task of the people was to preserve that
Nation from disruption from within.

In this day the task of the people is to save that Nation and
its institutions from disruption from without.

To us there has come a time, in the midst of swift happenings,
to pause for a moment and take stock? to recall what our place
in history has been, and to rediscover what we are and what
we may be. If we do not, we risk the real peril of inaction.

Lives of nations are determined not by the count of years,
but by the lifetime of the human spirit. The life of a man is
three-score years and ten: a little more, a little less. The life
of a nation is the fullness of the measure of its will to live.

There are men who doubt this. There are men who believe
that democracy, as a form of Government and a frame of life,
is limited or measured by a kind of mystical and artificial fate
that, for some unexplained reason, tyranny and slavery have
become the surging wave of the future? and that freedom is
an ebbing tide.

But we Americans know that this is not true.

Eight years ago, when the life of this Republic seemed frozen
by a fatalistic terror, we proved that this is not true. We were
in the midst of shock? but we acted. We acted quickly, boldly,
decisively.

These later years have been living years? fruitful years for
the people of this democracy. For they have brought to us
greater security and, I hope, a better understanding that life's
ideals are to be measured in other than material things.

Most vital to our present and our future is this experience
of a democracy which successfully survived crisis at home;
put away many evil things; built new structures on enduring
lines; and, through it all, maintained the fact of its democracy.

For action has been taken within the three-way framework
of the Constitution of the United States. The coordinate branches
of the Government continue freely to function. The Bill of Rights
remains inviolate. The freedom of elections is wholly maintained.
Prophets of the downfall of American democracy have seen their
dire predictions come to naught.

Democracy is not dying.

We know it because we have seen it revive? and grow.

We know it cannot die? because it is built on the unhampered
initiative of individual men and women joined together in a common
enterprise? an enterprise undertaken and carried through by the
free expression of a free majority.

We know it because democracy alone, of all forms of government,
enlists the full force of men's enlightened will.

We know it because democracy alone has constructed an unlimited
civilization capable of infinite progress in the improvement of human
life.

We know it because, if we look below the surface, we sense it still
spreading on every continent? for it is the most humane, the most
advanced, and in the end the most unconquerable of all forms of
human society.

A nation, like a person, has a body? a body that must be fed
and clothed and housed, invigorated and rested, in a manner
that measures up to the objectives of our time.

A nation, like a person, has a mind? a mind that must be kept
informed and alert, that must know itself, that understands the
hopes and the needs of its neighbors? all the other nations that
live within the narrowing circle of the world.

And a nation, like a person, has something deeper, something
more permanent, something larger than the sum of all its parts.
It is that something which matters most to its future? which calls
forth the most sacred guarding of its present.

It is a thing for which we find it difficult? even impossible? to
hit upon a single, simple word.

And yet we all understand what it is? the spirit? the faith of
America. It is the product of centuries. It was born in the multitudes
of those who came from many lands? some of high degree, but
mostly plain people, who sought here, early and late, to find
freedom more freely.

The democratic aspiration is no mere recent phase in human
history. It is human history. It permeated the ancient life of early
peoples. It blazed anew in the middle ages. It was written in
Magna Charta.

In the Americas its impact has been irresistible. America has
been the New World in all tongues, to all peoples, not because
this continent was a new-found land, but because all those
who came here believed they could create upon this continent a
new life? a life that should be new in freedom.

Its vitality was written into our own Mayflower Compact, into
the Declaration of Independence, into the Constitution of the
United States, into the Gettysburg Address.

Those who first came here to carry out the longings of their
spirit, and the millions who followed, and the stock that sprang
from them? all have moved forward constantly and consistently
toward an ideal which in itself has gained stature and clarity
with each generation.

The hopes of the Republic cannot forever tolerate either
undeserved poverty or self-serving wealth.

We know that we still have far to go; that we must more greatly
build the security and the opportunity and the knowledge of every
citizen, in the measure justified by the resources and the capacity
of the land.

But it is not enough to achieve these purposes alone. It is not
enough to clothe and feed the body of this Nation, and instruct
and inform its mind. For there is also the spirit. And of the three,
the greatest is the spirit.

Without the body and the mind, as all men know, the Nation
could not live.

But if the spirit of America were killed, even though the Nation's
body and mind, constricted in an alien world, lived on, the
America we know would have perished.

That spirit? that faith? speaks to us in our daily lives in ways
often unnoticed, because they seem so obvious. It speaks to us
here in the Capital of the Nation. It speaks to us through the
processes of governing in the sovereignties of 48 States. It
speaks to us in our counties, in our cities, in our towns, and
in our villages. It speaks to us from the other nations of the
hemisphere, and from those across the seas? the enslaved,
as well as the free. Sometimes we fail to hear or heed these
voices of freedom because to us the privilege of our freedom
is such an old, old story.

The destiny of America was proclaimed in words of prophecy
spoken by our first President in his first inaugural in 1789?
words almost directed, it would seem, to this year of 1941:
"The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny
of the republican model of government are justly considered...
deeply,... finally, staked on the experiment intrusted to the
hands of the American people."

If we lose that sacred fire? if we let it be smothered with
doubt and fear? then we shall reject the destiny which
Washington strove so valiantly and so triumphantly to establish.
The preservation of the spirit and faith of the Nation does, and
will, furnish the highest justification for every sacrifice that we
may make in the cause of national defense.

In the face of great perils never before encountered, our strong
purpose is to protect and to perpetuate the integrity of democracy.

For this we muster the spirit of America, and the faith of America.

We do not retreat. We are not content to stand still. As Americans,
we go forward, in the service of our country, by the will of God.
 

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