Inaugural Address, 1977
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For myself and for our Nation, I want to thank my predecessor
for all he has done to heal our land.
In this outward and physical ceremony we attest once again
to the inner and spiritual strength of our Nation. As my high
school teacher, Miss Julia Coleman, used to say: "We must
adjust to changing times and still hold to unchanging principles."
Here before me is the Bible used in the inauguration of our
first President, in 1789, and I have just taken the oath of office
on the Bible my mother gave me a few years ago, opened to
a timeless admonition from the ancient prophet Micah:
"He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth
the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with thy God." (Micah 6:8)
This inauguration ceremony marks a new beginning, a new
dedication within our Government, and a new spirit among us
all. A President may sense and proclaim that new spirit, but
only a people can provide it.
Two centuries ago our Nation's birth was a milestone in the
long quest for freedom, but the bold and brilliant dream which
excited the founders of this Nation still awaits its consummation.
I have no new dream to set forth today, but rather urge a fresh
faith in the old dream.
Ours was the first society openly to define itself in terms
of both spirituality and of human liberty. It is that unique
self-definition which has given us an exceptional appeal, but it
also imposes on us a special obligation, to take on those moral
duties which, when assumed, seem invariably to be in our own
You have given me a great responsibility?to stay close to you,
to be worthy of you, and to exemplify what you are. Let us
create together a new national spirit of unity and trust. Your
strength can compensate for my weakness, and your wisdom
can help to minimize my mistakes.
Let us learn together and laugh together and work together
and pray together, confident that in the end we will triumph
together in the right.
The American dream endures. We must once again have full
faith in our country?and in one another. I believe America
can be better. We can be even stronger than before.
Let our recent mistakes bring a resurgent commitment to
the basic principles of our Nation, for we know that if we
despise our own government we have no future. We recall
in special times when we have stood briefly, but magnificently,
united. In those times no prize was beyond our grasp.
But we cannot dwell upon remembered glory. We cannot
afford to drift. We reject the prospect of failure or mediocrity
or an inferior quality of life for any person. Our Government
must at the same time be both competent and compassionate.
We have already found a high degree of personal liberty,
and we are now struggling to enhance equality of opportunity.
Our commitment to human rights must be absolute, our laws
fair, our natural beauty preserved; the powerful must not
persecute the weak, and human dignity must be enhanced.
We have learned that "more" is not necessarily "better,"
that even our great Nation has its recognized limits, and that
we can neither answer all questions nor solve all problems.
We cannot afford to do everything, nor can we afford to lack
boldness as we meet the future. So, together, in a spirit of
individual sacrifice for the common good, we must simply do
Our Nation can be strong abroad only if it is strong at home.
And we know that the best way to enhance freedom in other
lands is to demonstrate here that our democratic system is
worthy of emulation.
To be true to ourselves, we must be true to others. We will
not behave in foreign places so as to violate our rules and
standards here at home, for we know that the trust which
our Nation earns is essential to our strength.
The world itself is now dominated by a new spirit. Peoples
more numerous and more politically aware are craving and
now demanding their place in the sun?not just for the benefit
of their own physical condition, but for basic human rights.
The passion for freedom is on the rise. Tapping this new
spirit, there can be no nobler nor more ambitious task for
America to undertake on this day of a new beginning than
to help shape a just and peaceful world that is truly humane.
We are a strong nation, and we will maintain strength so
sufficient that it need not be proven in combat?a quiet strength
based not merely on the size of an arsenal, but on the nobility
We will be ever vigilant and never vulnerable, and we will fight
our wars against poverty, ignorance, and injustice?for those
are the enemies against which our forces can be honorably
We are a purely idealistic Nation, but let no one confuse our
idealism with weakness.
Because we are free we can never be indifferent to the fate
of freedom elsewhere. Our moral sense dictates a clearcut
preference for these societies which share with us an abiding
respect for individual human rights. We do not seek to intimidate,
but it is clear that a world which others can dominate with
impunity would be inhospitable to decency and a threat to the
well-being of all people.
The world is still engaged in a massive armaments race
designed to ensure continuing equivalent strength among
potential adversaries. We pledge perseverance and wisdom in
our efforts to limit the world's armaments to those necessary for
each nation's own domestic safety. And we will move this year
a step toward ultimate goal?the elimination of all nuclear
weapons from this Earth. We urge all other people to join us,
for success can mean life instead of death.
Within us, the people of the United States, there is evident
a serious and purposeful rekindling of confidence. And I join in
the hope that when my time as your President has ended,
people might say this about our Nation:
?that we had remembered the words of Micah and renewed
our search for humility, mercy, and justice;
?that we had torn down the barriers that separated those
of different race and region and religion, and where there had
been mistrust, built unity, with a respect for diversity;
?that we had found productive work for those able to
?that we had strengthened the American family, which is
the basis of our society;
?that we had ensured respect for the law, and equal treatment
under the law, for the weak and the powerful, for the rich and
?and that we had enabled our people to be proud of their
own Government once again.
I would hope that the nations of the world might say that we
had built a lasting peace, built not on weapons of war but on
international policies which reflect our own most precious values.
These are not just my goals, and they will not be my
accomplishments, but the affirmation of our Nation's continuing
moral strength and our belief in an undiminished, ever-expanding