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. Rudy NYC

    .....enthusiastic cheers and ovations followed.

    January 21, 2013 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  2. anonoymous

    Well spoken Mr President....God bless America!

    January 21, 2013 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  3. Goutham

    Amazing Speech!!!
    God Bless America and Give strength to Obama to be a Good President of USA

    January 21, 2013 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  4. Gary

    I voted for Obama in 2008 with high hopes and a warm heart, but, If there ever was a hypocrisy between what is in a speech and what is demonstrated by a person's actions and words, this is surely a stellar example. I have gone from a willing supporter, and a generous person who grew up poor but have achieved some prosperity after 30 years of hard work, to one of the people according to this guy "who don't pay their fair share" and whom "revenge" should be sought against, and whose views are to be belittled and spat upon because they are not liberal and are against huge deficit spending on entitlements,and because I am white, prosperous, and conservative, the same kind of person by the way that were the pioneers of whom he speaks. Just sad now, and hoping that I can at least endure this presidency without being further insulted and denigrated for my conservative views, right to free thinking and free speech.

    January 21, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  5. Geezer

    All Americans should get restaurant vouchers for steak and lobster, not just the inaugural crowd.

    January 21, 2013 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  6. Mark

    Great words for a tough time in our country's history........may everyone involved in our law-making bodies come together for the GOOD OF AMERICA and not just for their political party or for the patronage of their political donors.... we need to all work together to deal with many grave issues our country faces. Good Luck Mr. President..........good luck Congress.........because we the people, deserve your absolute best effort.

    January 21, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  7. MollyBee

    Oh, my God....I love this country! One hundred and fifty years ago, a great President declared the emancipation of American slaves. Today, we have another great President who happens to be of African heritage. He is smart, he is humble and he wants us to mend our divisions. He said, "We can seize this moment divided or we can seize this moment together". Let's do it TOGETHER. America is on the mend.....in MANY ways... because of this man. If you hold ill will towards the President, you need to search your soul. He is as American as an American can possibly be. He loves this country and he loves every single citizen of this country. Don't let pettiness and racism govern your opinions any longer. America has moved beyond bigoty and fear. Obama's speech was incredibly smart and totally American. If you didn't listen...do it.

    January 21, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  8. Stanton deForest Allaben

    A great speech, a great message. The question is, will the words be heard, and the message taken to heart by those in Washington who make our laws?

    January 21, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  9. MacV

    Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happ9iness, as long as they are defined by Democrats. Obama's words are just hat -words. He only believes his words when accompanied by liberal translation into liberal action.

    January 21, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |

    Wow!! What an amazing speech on this day of remembrance. Mr. President I wish you well in your second term! I believe that you care deeply for the ills that face us. I believe that you will do your best to leave the Country in a better state four years from now. I believe in your humanity and judgement, and I stand with you! As do the many millions of Americans that put you in office the 1st and 2nd time!! Thank you for all you do and who you are as a human being.

    January 21, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  11. plain&simple

    When a person of vision comes up against people with only a yearning for the comforting memory of the way it "used" to be ...we get exactly what we now have. Obama is asking for the help from all the people with a vision towards the future of our country. With God's help and the determined effort of the people who are unafraid of the future we will progress.

    January 21, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  12. abmri60

    Great job Mr President.

    January 21, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  13. Valerie

    God Bless the United States of America and President Obama and his family.

    January 21, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  14. Polymathicguy

    "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." .... No, they certainly did not, but that is exactly what we have had for a long time. Pandora's box was opened just after the turn of the twentieth century and, although there are those who believe this shattered dream "can be fixed", we simply cannot go back. Politics and politicians have been the ruin of many a country and our tenure will be looked upon as short in historical perspective.

    January 21, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  15. Tim

    I didn't realize that the "pioneers" wanted a country where the population was dependent on government and the successful where vilified. My mistake.

    January 21, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  16. jerseydevils76

    "economic recovery"?

    January 21, 2013 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  17. staticphear

    We, the people, want you. Mr. President, to get our jobs back that have been outsourced.

    January 21, 2013 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  18. vidal808

    Well spoken Mr. President! Congratulation and God speed for the next 4 years....

    January 21, 2013 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  19. ga.democrat

    Great speech from a great President. I am so proud to be an American. May God bless President Obama and his family and I look forward to the next four years!

    January 21, 2013 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  20. Gary

    I hope somehow Obama and this horrible congress (both sides) can work together to solve the many problems this country has. However I am tired of being called a racist because I don't agree with a lot of his policies. I didn't agree with some of the policies of the last several presidents, and wasn't called a racist for that.

    January 21, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  21. Anthony in California

    I didn't realize that the "pioneers" wanted a country where the population was dependent on government and the successful where vilified. My mistake.

    I didnt realize the pioneers wanted a country where the "haves" trample on the rights of the "have-nots".
    But keep in mind, the pioneers also wanted slavery, no rights for women, and every civilian to have a musket.

    But go ahead, overlook the fact that corporations get bigger handouts and pay less taxes then you and I.
    And if you are from a Red State, you are doing far more taking then giving.
    And while most of the Righties try and convince themselves that the Democrats and the Prez are "Dividers".. they conveniently overlook the civil war currently taking place in their own party.

    My Mistake.

    January 21, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  22. rufus

    What a steaming crock. When all is said and done, a whole lot more is said than done. Our teleprompter reader in chief makes impressive speeches. Then he hunkers down with his minions and sets about to dismantle America to remake it to fit his communistic vision.

    January 21, 2013 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  23. mohammad hossain

    GOD BLESS AMERICA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! lets go MR. President and make United States Of America the best country of the world..................... We know you can do it.

    January 21, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  24. Mark Gleason

    The Presidents tone of we–we the people now must do the needed tasks to correct our problems. Not small groups or small minds but we all need to raise to the job.
    Thank you Mr President for reminding us that it is truly "WE"

    January 21, 2013 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  25. Woman In California

    Mr. President that was the most powerful speech you've made this far. You seemed in complete command and control and you also seemed to be greatly aware of the challenges you face, as well as having the good of the American people on your heart and mind. Those who chose not to attend were not missed and will go DOWN in history as ugly, mean and examples of what we NEVER want to repeat.

    I enjoyed this inaugration far more today than the one in 2008, and the First Family was stunning. First Lady Michelle Obama looked beautiful, stylish and together and so did the girls. Mrs. Evers-Williams is such a beautiful woman with grace and style considering all she's been through. I only hope I can be that beautiful in my 60's or 70's. She was a fantistic speaker as well.

    I am so proud of this country and all the people who participated in the voting process.
    Thank you and may God Bless America.

    January 21, 2013 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
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