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. LIP

    From a Republican....God Bless America and God bless President Barack Obama.
    May all of President Obama's dreams come true and may both houses of Congress and the Judicial branch as well, work in harmony to further his work. Let this be the greatest moment of all that people can look back on and say "Well done".

    January 21, 2013 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  2. Ancient Texan

    Mr. President, the half of the country that is dependent on government for their livlihood is in your camp, but the half that you demonize because they achieve something with their opportunity and you chose to belittle and ridicule probably doesn't feel included. Try to be leader for ALL of the folks.

    January 21, 2013 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  3. Anonymous

    His actions do not support his words, therefore this was a meaningless speech.

    January 21, 2013 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  4. Gary

    I am white and prosperous too and don't feel at all insulted by the President. I feel challenged and hopeful. I can see beyond my narrow self interest and ego and see that I need to focus out wards, to help keep my country great.

    January 21, 2013 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  5. independant jim

    our pioneer past was not full of hate as the godless right wing of the GOP now is

    January 21, 2013 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  6. Jason Davis

    Speeches mean nothing, how about he put together a workable budget proposal, something he didn't do his first term, you know, actually do his job. How about putting together some good economic policies.

    January 21, 2013 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  7. Joe

    I hear you Gary. I also, have worked thirty years. I also, am conservative. But my grandparents and parents have earned their government benefits by working too. I agree with you Gary, that defending our view may not be understood by others. But if we can get conservatives be they Democrat, Republican, white, black or whatever to lead the way, we can make America better. Stay strong Gary

    January 21, 2013 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  8. Andrew

    I honestly can't believe one word that comes out of his mouth. I

    January 21, 2013 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  9. smdoginlife

    Great speech, and very powerful to me, even as a citizen listening and coming from an Independent political ideology.

    I'm moved that he was able to make a small set of controversial topics sound so blatantly simple and idealogically necessary: medicare/medicaid/social security, gay rights, poverty, immigration. I certainly hope we, as a unified nation, can move in the direction of which the President has spoken.

    January 21, 2013 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  10. charlieblu

    God Bless our president, our Vice President, their families and all the American people.
    Well done Mr. President Obama. My heart is bursting the pride and joy.

    January 21, 2013 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  11. Rural South

    Future generations will hold President Obama's words in high regard. He will be praised for calling for an end to discrimination against Gays, for saying that the children of illegal immigrants should not be deported, but should be able to help build this Great Nation, and for warning that clilmate change is real. Future generations of Hispanics will remember that this President stood up for their ancestors. Those who continue to call for discrimination against Gays will be not be held in high regard by future generations, and those who deny climate change will be cursed by future generations.

    January 21, 2013 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  12. marsally

    I voted for President Obama twice. The first time it was with great hope, and I have been disappointed in his leadership. The second time is was only because I didn't think the alternative was better. I feared that Romney had been raised with such privilege that he could not begin to identify with those of us who were not. I read this speech an I hope an pray that it is not just more words well strung together, but words that have behind them some kind of moral force. I still waiting for President Obama to be the kind of strong leader that the world needs him to be.

    January 21, 2013 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  13. rienik

    He's got a great writer, I'll give him that.

    January 21, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  14. Donna

    47% of the pioneers weren't on the government dole or riding in the wagon while 53% pulled it. And the ONLY thing being seized is our hard earned money and freedoms by Obama and his out of control government.

    January 21, 2013 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  15. just sayin

    what ever he said, he will do the exact opposite. he's got a 4 year track record of it. obama's words mean nothing when his actions do not back them up.

    January 21, 2013 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  16. joe

    How about 'So I am going to stop playing the race card and try and create some jobs and make it less tempting for people to stay unemployed and live off the backs of tax payers'? Probably too hard...

    January 21, 2013 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  17. Mike

    As the late Rodney King once asked , " Can we all just get along?" .. for once.

    January 21, 2013 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  18. Nancy

    How can we possibly be optimistic with this President when his first term gave us:

    Skyrocketing Health Care and Energy Costs.
    Higher Inflation
    Hasn't Passed a Budget since he took office
    Out of control Debt
    No Good Jobs Recovery

    January 21, 2013 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  19. Rudy NYC

    Tim wrote:

    I didn't realize that the "pioneers" wanted a country where the population was dependent on government and the successful where vilified. My mistake.
    Your mistake, then. Look up slave master. They had populations of slaves totally dependent and at their mercy. Slave masters were later villified for the practice of slavery.

    January 21, 2013 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  20. organically

    Thank you Mr. President for making the planet one of the top five issues of your second term. Our president knows that the increasing and intensifying disease outbreaks, storms, droughts, floods, and wildfires worldwide are all a major indicators of climate change, which is directly being caused by human fossil fuel use. In spite of the overwhelming scientific proof of human induced planetary warming, some people are in denial. There are three reasons for this (1) the belief that the rapid change in our climate over the last 50 years is part of a cycle although these cycles take thousands of years, (2) the occasional negative news story or stat on the science of climate change, and (3) rightist conservative radical or tea party ignorant philosophy that climate change is a "hoax." There are deniers in every scientific fact. Climate change deniers threaten humanity. We agree that reversing climate change is impossible due to the international thirst for fossil fuels and our overall society living standard, and this won't change. So, rather than talking about the validity of climate change, let’s ignore the utopian deniers and continue our presidential dialogue on how to adapt and stop dwelling on environmentally and socially damaging energy topics like Solyndra and the keystone pipeline.

    January 21, 2013 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  21. Water into beer

    In George Washington's inaugural address, he mentions God exactly ZERO times. Obama invokes the great, unseen skyjocky FIVE times. If he seeks to tread on the foundations of this country, he should realize that religion, at least in the years when this country was founded, took a backseat in the buggy to logic and reason. The Founding Fathers here primarily Deists, Masons, Agnostics and out and out Atheists.

    January 21, 2013 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  22. elearningcafe

    Thank you President Obama for your leadership. Hopefully your words will inspire a commitment to unity.

    January 21, 2013 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  23. Ken from FL

    Nice that he finally got the words right to the Declaration of Independence. Not so nice that he still doesn't recognize that this country has a spending problem and that entitlements are at the top of the list of that problem.

    January 21, 2013 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  24. Monah

    The president's inaugural address was about equality and human rights... human dignity for the vast of America. I am simply surprise at how politicized CNN reporters have made the president's address. Per CNN reporters, the speech for the most part has been limited to "gay rights" which was truly vocally mentioned twice during the address. Seriously people, you have the obligation as journalist to present the whole truth and not simply bias views of personal agenda.

    January 21, 2013 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  25. Phil in KC

    I did not get to watch the inauguration. I wish I had, though. Just reading the words, I can tell it was a great speech. His approach was aspirational, not political. Let's hope the people sitting behind him were listening.

    January 21, 2013 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
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