Obama: 'It is now our generation's task to carry on what ... pioneers began'
January 21st, 2013
12:14 PM ET
10 years ago

Obama: 'It is now our generation's task to carry on what ... pioneers began'

(CNN) - President Barack Obama said Monday in his inaugural speech that the nation must come together to meet the challenges of the day, saying: "We are made for this moment, and we will seize it - so long as we seize it together."

A transcript of his remarks, as released by the White House, are below.

Vice President Biden, Mr. Chief Justice, members of the United States Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens:

Each time we gather to inaugurate a President we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names. What makes us exceptional - what makes us American - is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Today we continue a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth. (Applause.) The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.

And for more than two hundred years, we have.

Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free. We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together.

Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce, schools and colleges to train our workers.

Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.

Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.

Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone. Our celebration of initiative and enterprise, our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, these are constants in our character.

But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action. For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias. No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation and one people. (Applause.)

This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience. A decade of war is now ending. (Applause.) An economic recovery has begun. (Applause.) America’s possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention. My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it - so long as we seize it together. (Applause.)

For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it. (Applause.) We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class. We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work; when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship. We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American; she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own. (Applause.)

We understand that outworn programs are inadequate to the needs of our time. So we must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work harder, learn more, reach higher. But while the means will change, our purpose endures: a nation that rewards the effort and determination of every single American. That is what this moment requires. That is what will give real meaning to our creed.

We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future. (Applause.) For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn.

We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us at any time may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative, they strengthen us. (Applause.) They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great. (Applause.)

We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. (Applause.) Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.

The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure - our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow-capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.

We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war. (Applause.) Our brave men and women in uniform, tempered by the flames of battle, are unmatched in skill and courage. (Applause.) Our citizens, seared by the memory of those we have lost, know too well the price that is paid for liberty. The knowledge of their sacrifice will keep us forever vigilant against those who would do us harm. But we are also heirs to those who won the peace and not just the war; who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends - and we must carry those lessons into this time as well.

We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law. We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully –- not because we are naïve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear. (Applause.)

America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe. And we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad, for no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation. We will support democracy from Asia to Africa, from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom. And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice –- not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity, human dignity and justice.

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths –- that all of us are created equal –- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth. (Applause.)

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. (Applause.) Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law –- (applause) - for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. (Applause.) Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. (Applause.) Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity - (applause) - until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. (Applause.) Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia, to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm.

That is our generation’s task - to make these words, these rights, these values of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness real for every American. Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life. It does not mean we all define liberty in exactly the same way or follow the same precise path to happiness. Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time, but it does require us to act in our time. (Applause.)

For now decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. (Applause.) We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years and 40 years and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.

My fellow Americans, the oath I have sworn before you today, like the one recited by others who serve in this Capitol, was an oath to God and country, not party or faction. And we must faithfully execute that pledge during the duration of our service. But the words I spoke today are not so different from the oath that is taken each time a soldier signs up for duty or an immigrant realizes her dream. My oath is not so different from the pledge we all make to the flag that waves above and that fills our hearts with pride.

They are the words of citizens and they represent our greatest hope. You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course. You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time - not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals. (Applause.)

Let us, each of us, now embrace with solemn duty and awesome joy what is our lasting birthright. With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom.

Thank you. God bless you, and may He forever bless these United States of America. (Applause.)

Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (122 Responses)
  1. Amy in Cali

    whenever a socialist uses the word seize it sends chills down my spine...

    January 21, 2013 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  2. jerseydevils76

    "reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few" Is this how you define the rich? The lucky and happy? So money brings happiness and those who have it were lucky? This country offers the PURSUIT of happiness NOT a GUARANTEE. And happiness cannot be bought.

    January 21, 2013 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  3. Citizen

    A very forgettable speech. In many of its aspects it was more of a typical State of the Union Address filled with the usual calls for more government solutions to perceived problems. What was most noticeably missing was any reference to the most serious problem facing the country: Our current and ever increasing national debt.

    January 21, 2013 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  4. Scrappyike

    Blah blah blah. The great divider has spoken. Now let's go forth and do nothing. Want to see who he will blame for the poor economy of the last 4 years?

    January 21, 2013 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  5. Tee manny

    Great Speech Mr. President. Congratulations I love every parts of the speech and I know America will move foward if implemented. But one thhing . GAY!!!! God does not support it. If you truely want God to bless America why not keep away from what he forbid. Think. Twice.

    January 21, 2013 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  6. Mark

    It is so disappointing to see so many naysayers with regards to this president. My political leanings are of no consequence, but let's all, as Americans, hope half of what he says comes to pass as it will mean a better life for ALL AMERICANS, not just Democrats or Republicans or LIbertarians or political agnostics. Put aside your partisanship or racism or cynicism and begin to work towards a common goal of a better USA for all Americans. Is that so hard to do? And if you can't do that, then just be silent in your comments – and stop being a divisive force that keeps the good things from happening to strengthen this great nation. Get involved or hurry up getting out.

    January 21, 2013 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  7. ash

    It says on CNN, "Read the speech", so some people will take the time to read the speech, not just Obama's speech, but a speech from any leader in these days and times. Hilarious. Who are these people who read speeches and show up for inaugurations, unless they work for the government. Yawn...

    January 21, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  8. Howard Beale

    Yet another missed opportunity for him to bring us all together in a united agenda by trying to be inclusive and include those who didn't vote for him but instead we get yet another speech which on the surface sounds nice and certainly panders to his supporters yet at the least rings hollow with its feel good language and at worst implies if you don't agree with his agenda then you are the enemy to be damned.

    I'm still waiting for the President that said he would be post-partisan and post-racial. I guess we will have to await a future President to achieve that. I will try to give him the benefit of the doubt that he wanted to be those things but being the first African-American one it was impossible to achieve. Still I think he could have done much better in his speech and his work or lack thereof in the previous term. Will the next four years be better or worse. Hard to be optimistic.

    Mr. President, please move to the center and focus on reducing the hindrance of the growth of the free market and true economic initiative as these are the best ways of supporting both the old, the young and the poor better than any government program will ever do. If you do that and stop these foolish initiatives you continually propose I will be happy to work with you.

    January 21, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  9. BmrScreamr

    This is an abbreviated version of the final speech. The center section where the President talked about dealing with climate change, renewable energy and gay marriage equality are missing.

    This was an incredibly historical moment today for the LGBT community, not just in America, but worldwide. Thank you Mr. President for publicly recognizing and suporting us.

    January 21, 2013 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  10. Marsha-Puerto Rico

    I live in Puerto Rico even though I was born in Long Island, New York and I have faith in my country (yes, I am an American) I love my flag and what it stands for...I don't have to agree with every single word that comes out of the President's mouth but I know this: If we don't work together we will never get this nation where it's suposed to be...and if I could have voted for Obama I would have....So let's work togethet tokeep this a great nation (oh, and by the way, I go to work everyday & pay my taxes) GOD BLESS AMERICA

    January 21, 2013 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  11. MaryM

    Thank you Mr President. Hopefully all leaders in government can put aside their partisan divide and work together for ALL AMERICANS.

    January 21, 2013 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  12. Alan Polonsky

    My Guess is that most of the comments here could have been written, were written in their minds, before the first word was heard. And no work was heard after that. So sad.

    January 21, 2013 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  13. nomad2003

    what Obama DOES speaks so loudly, one should not listen to what he says!!!

    January 21, 2013 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  14. Tony from Oakland, Ca.

    I choose not fantasize about cynicism in the hope it my condition a Nation to apathy for search of solutions. Because apathy for search of solutions belonging to an entire Nation most certainly benefits the few. And those comfortable few have no business inciting cynism on the struggling many.

    January 21, 2013 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  15. Lisa

    "My fellow Americans, the oath I have sworn before you today, like the one recited by others who serve in this Capitol, was an oath to God and country, not party or faction."

    Bears repeating. Until it starts to sink in. Unfortunately, you actually have to listen for that to happen.

    January 21, 2013 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  16. hoapres

    It is all Bush's fault.

    January 21, 2013 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  17. edgyone

    If you can not accept this speak as an appeal to the better angels of the citizenry, and a reminder of the founding ideals of the nation then you can not look beyond the orator, and your dislike of him. That is the small minded idealogy that has further pushed you and those like you into the minority. And thank God for that.

    January 21, 2013 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  18. RC

    Can't we all just get along? Instead of focusing on the negitive, try a little positive. I think the president did a good job being positive about what the future holds for those of us that believe in working hard and holding true to our American values. It is our rights as citizens! Try a little positive outlook on life. I was out of work during the worst of the recession in 2009 and worked hard to find a job! It took me 7 months but I found work and it wasn't for the same pay I was used to, no it was a lot less. But I kept positive and things slowly got better, just like this country will if we work together to fix it. Stop the hate and love more people!!!

    January 21, 2013 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  19. whip

    Lose all the God crap. This isn't and never was a church state.

    January 21, 2013 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  20. thomas

    Here we go again with everyone all ready to oppose and fight to stop anything that the President will try and do before he even starts. Four years ago it was to make him a one term President no matter what it would take to do it !!! Now what will it be another 4 years of trying to stop everything and anything that this President tries to do and then say he didn't do anything. This is the worst kind of American there is the one that will do anything that they can to stop the President from being successful even if it hurts our country and its people just so they can say see he didn't do what he said he was going to do.

    January 21, 2013 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  21. cgs

    He sounded like a televangelist. Can't stand that sort of phoniness and lies.

    January 21, 2013 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  22. DENNA

    God Bless this wonderful, kind man. He truly cares about America, all of America, not matter what your political stripe. I hope the Congress decides to work with him instead of opposing every little thing he does. The majority of Americans voted for him, so he is doing what America wants him to do. GOP, please get out of the way and let him do his work. If not – you. willl. be. gone. in. 2014. Bet on it.

    January 21, 2013 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
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