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Ronald Reagan
Second Inaugural Address, 1985
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Senator Mathias, Chief Justice Burger, Vice President Bush,
Speaker O'Neill, Senator Dole, Reverend Clergy, members of
my family and friends, and my fellow citizens:

This day has been made brighter with the presence here of
one who, for a time, has been absent?Senator John Stennis.

God bless you and welcome back.

There is, however, one who is not with us today: Representative
Gillis Long of Louisiana left us last night. I wonder if we could all
join in a moment of silent prayer.

Amen.

There are no words adequate to express my thanks for the
great honor that you have bestowed on me. I will do my utmost
to be deserving of your trust.

This is, as Senator Mathias told us, the 50th time that we the
people have celebrated this historic occasion. When the first
President, George Washington, placed his hand upon the Bible,
he stood less than a single day's journey by horseback from
raw, untamed wilderness. There were 4 million Americans in
a union of 13 States. Today we are 60 times as many in a
union of 50 States. We have lighted the world with our
inventions, gone to the aid of mankind wherever in the world
there was a cry for help, journeyed to the Moon and safely
returned. So much has changed. And yet we stand together
as we did two centuries ago.

When I took this oath four years ago, I did so in a time of
economic stress. Voices were raised saying we had to look
to our past for the greatness and glory. But we, the present-day
Americans, are not given to looking backward. In this blessed
land, there is always a better tomorrow.

Four years ago, I spoke to you of a new beginning and we
have accomplished that. But in another sense, our new
beginning is a continuation of that beginning created two
centuries ago when, for the first time in history, government,
the people said, was not our master, it is our servant; its only
power that which we the people allow it to have.

That system has never failed us, but, for a time, we failed the
system. We asked things of government that government was
not equipped to give. We yielded authority to the National
Government that properly belonged to States or to local
governments or to the people themselves. We allowed taxes
and inflation to rob us of our earnings and savings and watched
the great industrial machine that had made us the most
productive people on Earth slow down and the number of
unemployed increase.

By 1980, we knew it was time to renew our faith, to strive
with all our strength toward the ultimate in individual freedom
consistent with an orderly society.

We believed then and now there are no limits to growth
and human progress when men and women are free to follow
their dreams.

And we were right to believe that. Tax rates have been
reduced, inflation cut dramatically, and more people are employed
than ever before in our history.

We are creating a nation once again vibrant, robust, and alive.
But there are many mountains yet to climb. We will not rest
until every American enjoys the fullness of freedom, dignity,
and opportunity as our birthright. It is our birthright as citizens
of this great Republic, and we'll meet this challenge.

These will be years when Americans have restored their
confidence and tradition of progress; when our values of faith,
family, work, and neighborhood were restated for a modern age;
when our economy was finally freed from government's grip;
when we made sincere efforts at meaningful arms reduction,
rebuilding our defenses, our economy, and developing new
technologies, and helped preserve peace in a troubled world;
when Americans courageously supported the struggle for liberty,
self-government, and free enterprise throughout the world, and
turned the tide of history away from totalitarian darkness and
into the warm sunlight of human freedom.

My fellow citizens, our Nation is poised for greatness. We
must do what we know is right and do it with all our might.
Let history say of us, "These were golden years?when the
American Revolution was reborn, when freedom gained new
life, when America reached for her best."

Our two-party system has served us well over the years,
but never better than in those times of great challenge when
we came together not as Democrats or Republicans, but as
Americans united in a common cause.

Two of our Founding Fathers, a Boston lawyer named Adams
and a Virginia planter named Jefferson, members of that
remarkable group who met in Independence Hall and dared
to think they could start the world over again, left us an
important lesson. They had become political rivals in the
Presidential election of 1800. Then years later, when both
were retired, and age had softened their anger, they began
to speak to each other again through letters. A bond was
reestablished between those two who had helped create this
government of ours.

In 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of
Independence, they both died. They died on the same day,
within a few hours of each other, and that day was the Fourth
of July.

In one of those letters exchanged in the sunset of their lives,
Jefferson wrote: "It carries me back to the times when, beset
with difficulties and dangers, we were fellow laborers in the
same cause, struggling for what is most valuable to man, his
right to self-government. Laboring always at the same oar,
with some wave ever ahead threatening to overwhelm us,
and yet passing harmless ... we rode through the storm with
heart and hand."

Well, with heart and hand, let us stand as one today: One
people under God, determined that our future shall be worthy
of our past. As we do, we must not repeat the well-intentioned
errors of our past. We must never again abuse the trust of
working men and women, by sending their earnings on a
futile chase after the spiraling demands of a bloated Federal
Establishment. You elected us in 1980 to end this prescription
for disaster, and I don't believe you reelected us in 1984 to
reverse course.

At the heart of our efforts is one idea vindicated by 25 straight
months of economic growth: Freedom and incentives unleash
the drive and entrepreneurial genius that are the core of human
progress. We have begun to increase the rewards for work,
savings, and investment; reduce the increase in the cost and
size of government and its interference in people's lives.

We must simplify our tax system, make it more fair, and bring
the rates down for all who work and earn. We must think
anew and move with a new boldness, so every American who
seeks work can find work; so the least among us shall have an
equal chance to achieve the greatest things?to be heroes who
heal our sick, feed the hungry, protect peace among nations,
and leave this world a better place.

The time has come for a new American emancipation?a great
national drive to tear down economic barriers and liberate the
spirit of enterprise in the most distressed areas of our country.
My friends, together we can do this, and do it we must, so help
me God.

From new freedom will spring new opportunities for growth,
a more productive, fulfilled and united people, and a stronger
America?an America that will lead the technological revolution,
and also open its mind and heart and soul to the treasures
of literature, music, and poetry, and the values of faith, courage,
and love.

A dynamic economy, with more citizens working and paying
taxes, will be our strongest tool to bring down budget deficits.
But an almost unbroken 50 years of deficit spending has finally
brought us to a time of reckoning. We have come to a turning
point, a moment for hard decisions. I have asked the Cabinet
and my staff a question, and now I put the same question to
all of you: If not us, who? And if not now, when? It must be
done by all of us going forward with a program aimed at
reaching a balanced budget. We can then begin reducing the
national debt.

I will shortly submit a budget to the Congress aimed at
freezing government program spending for the next year.
Beyond that, we must take further steps to permanently
control Government's power to tax and spend. We must
act now to protect future generations from Government's
desire to spend its citizens' money and tax them into
servitude when the bills come due. Let us make it
unconstitutional for the Federal Government to spend
more than the Federal Government takes in.

We have already started returning to the people and to
State and local governments responsibilities better handled
by them. Now, there is a place for the Federal Government
in matters of social compassion. But our fundamental goals
must be to reduce dependency and upgrade the dignity of
those who are infirm or disadvantaged. And here a growing
economy and support from family and community offer our
best chance for a society where compassion is a way of life,
where the old and infirm are cared for, the young and, yes,
the unborn protected, and the unfortunate looked after
and made self-sufficient.

And there is another area where the Federal Government
can play a part. As an older American, I remember a time
when people of different race, creed, or ethnic origin in our
land found hatred and prejudice installed in social custom
and, yes, in law. There is no story more heartening in our
history than the progress that we have made toward the
"brotherhood of man" that God intended for us. Let us resolve
there will be no turning back or hesitation on the road to an
America rich in dignity and abundant with opportunity for all
our citizens.

Let us resolve that we the people will build an American
opportunity society in which all of us?white and black, rich
and poor, young and old?will go forward together arm in arm.
Again, let us remember that though our heritage is one of
blood lines from every corner of the Earth, we are all Americans
pledged to carry on this last, best hope of man on Earth.

I have spoken of our domestic goals and the limitations
which we should put on our National Government. Now let me
turn to a task which is the primary responsibility of National
Government?the safety and security of our people.

Today, we utter no prayer more fervently than the ancient
prayer for peace on Earth. Yet history has shown that peace
will not come, nor will our freedom be preserved, by good will
alone. There are those in the world who scorn our vision of
human dignity and freedom. One nation, the Soviet Union,
has conducted the greatest military buildup in the history of
man, building arsenals of awesome offensive weapons.

We have made progress in restoring our defense capability.
But much remains to be done. There must be no wavering by
us, nor any doubts by others, that America will meet her
responsibilities to remain free, secure, and at peace.

There is only one way safely and legitimately to reduce the
cost of national security, and that is to reduce the need for it.
And this we are trying to do in negotiations with the Soviet
Union. We are not just discussing limits on a further increase
of nuclear weapons. We seek, instead, to reduce their number.
We seek the total elimination one day of nuclear weapons
from the face of the Earth.

Now, for decades, we and the Soviets have lived under the
threat of mutual assured destruction; if either resorted to the
use of nuclear weapons, the other could retaliate and destroy
the one who had started it. Is there either logic or morality in
believing that if one side threatens to kill tens of millions of
our people, our only recourse is to threaten killing tens of
millions of theirs?

I have approved a research program to find, if we can, a
security shield that would destroy nuclear missiles before they
reach their target. It wouldn't kill people, it would destroy
weapons. It wouldn't militarize space, it would help demilitarize
the arsenals of Earth. It would render nuclear weapons obsolete.
We will meet with the Soviets, hoping that we can agree on a
way to rid the world of the threat of nuclear destruction.

We strive for peace and security, heartened by the changes
all around us. Since the turn of the century, the number of
democracies in the world has grown fourfold. Human freedom
is on the march, and nowhere more so than our own hemisphere.
Freedom is one of the deepest and noblest aspirations of the
human spirit. People, worldwide, hunger for the right of
self-determination, for those inalienable rights that make for
human dignity and progress.

America must remain freedom's staunchest friend, for freedom
is our best ally.

And it is the world's only hope, to conquer poverty and
preserve peace. Every blow we inflict against poverty will be
a blow against its dark allies of oppression and war. Every
victory for human freedom will be a victory for world peace.

So we go forward today, a nation still mighty in its youth
and powerful in its purpose. With our alliances strengthened,
with our economy leading the world to a new age of economic
expansion, we look forward to a world rich in possibilities. And
all this because we have worked and acted together, not as
members of political parties, but as Americans.

My friends, we live in a world that is lit by lightning. So much
is changing and will change, but so much endures, and
transcends time.

History is a ribbon, always unfurling; history is a journey.
And as we continue our journey, we think of those who traveled
before us. We stand together again at the steps of this symbol
of our democracy?or we would have been standing at the
steps if it hadn't gotten so cold. Now we are standing inside this
symbol of our democracy. Now we hear again the echoes of our
past: a general falls to his knees in the hard snow of Valley Forge;
a lonely President paces the darkened halls, and ponders his
struggle to preserve the Union; the men of the Alamo call out
encouragement to each other; a settler pushes west and sings
a song, and the song echoes out forever and fills the unknowing
air.

It is the American sound. It is hopeful, big-hearted, idealistic,
daring, decent, and fair. That's our heritage; that is our song.
We sing it still. For all our problems, our differences, we are
together as of old, as we raise our voices to the God who is the
Author of this most tender music. And may He continue to hold
us close as we fill the world with our sound?sound in unity,
affection, and love?one people under God, dedicated to the
dream of freedom that He has placed in the human heart, called
upon now to pass that dream on to a waiting and hopeful world.

God bless you and may God bless America.
 

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