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. Steve

    Help me understand this. When he says "so help me God", what religion is he refering to? I didn't hear him say "so help me Budah, or Ala, or Jesus." So, what are the non-religious people upset about? You have to swear to some power greater that president. Who do they think the president is making an oath to? The guy in front of him? If he doesn't make an oath to someone greater than he, what's the point? It would mean nothing.

    January 21, 2013 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  2. Tommy G

    Where are the jobs Obama??? FOUR YEARS and still almost 8% unemployment. The fewest Americans working in decades. Trillion dollar yearly deficits with no end in sight. And the country voted for 4 more years of this. Pure insanity.

    January 21, 2013 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  3. Olga K. Morales

    Baloney as usual. This has been the most dividing and hateful president.

    January 21, 2013 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  4. Jaison max

    words are just words no matter how beautifully articulated.We will seize it Mr President but
    We all know tomorrow's biiter harshness of Our lives would make it shattered,the moment We capture with U.Words are just words ,Mr President.How unfortunate is this One fact only if others put aside, that there is still grave difference between the Rich and Poor of this very crowd who was here to seize the moment.Ur fund raiser and and a homeless.Slains of newtown and cartel of gun manufacturers.life of senator and life of wall mart helper.No Mr President words are just words,No moment can be captured if its soul has been sucked before it creates such "Deja Vu' in front of Our eyes.

    January 21, 2013 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  5. Ken from FL

    Nice that he finally remembered the words to the Declaration of Independence. Not so nice that he still fails to recognize that America has a spending problem - to which he has added enormously - and that entitlements are at the top of the list causing that problem. I am proud we have a system of government that has a peaceful transition of power; not so proud that we have as a president someone who still seeks to divide us between the "haves" and the "have nots." The politics of division and discord will continue as long as he insists on bipartisanship meaning his way or the highway.

    January 21, 2013 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  6. adebo@weRnextgeneration

    Obama said, "We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together" ... give it up, if you are up for this.

    January 21, 2013 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  7. donan54

    I have no idea what he meant with this speech. If he's trying to get his 47% to get out there and work – good luck with that! Maybe he should try not handing them every little penny for doing absolutely nothing. I've worked very hard all my life and just when I'm trying to enjoy the fruits of my long, hard labor – here comes Obama trying to take every bit of it away.

    January 21, 2013 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  8. Orville

    Great speech, good president. I was a rock solid lifelong republican until halfway through Obama's first term. I switched parties because I observed a president who genuinely wants to get things done, and a republican party who will stand in the way just to stand in the way. It's not the leadership in this country that is the problem, it's the followership, if I might be so bold as to coin a new word. Obama has his work cut out for him alright, and the one thing republicans can't stand to see is a democrat winning at something, even if it means everyone wins. America seems to have hope again, and she has the President to thank. Perhaps some of the followership can get on board this time around and help turn some of those hopes into reality.

    January 21, 2013 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  9. Jeff

    Ancient Texan
    Mr. President, the half of the country that is dependent on government for their livlihood is in your camp

    Actually, 9 out of 10 of the states that receive the highest government funding are Republican states. You should hate the members of your own party but hate liberals instead. This is the major flaw of the Republican party, there are two divided groups lumped together into one political party for some strange reason.

    January 21, 2013 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  10. Rod

    Actually, most of the people who are on welfare are from southern states and the poorest of the western states, who are under GOP control. So remember that when you talk about "the takers", remember that they are your people from Republican states.

    January 21, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  11. Kari

    Great speech, but we shall see if anything can truly transpire from it.

    January 21, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  12. Janet Phillips

    My heart overflows with joy. Congratulations to our President and I pray all government officials WILL work together for the good of our country.

    January 21, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  13. cedar rapids

    donan54, not one bit of your post was truthful, except mabe your comment about how hard you worked. I dont know you to call you either way on that one. As for the rest....it was full of nonsense and hyperbole.

    January 21, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  14. bellarue

    As a center-right independent, my views were completely unrepresented by the presidential campaigns. We heard a lot of extreme, inflammatory, at times just plain crazy talk coming from both ends of the political spectrum. Unlike so many of my erstwhile Republican friends, I believe the President is a good man who wants to do the right thing. I certainly do not agree with all of his positions, but that doesn't matter. We only have one president, and rather than undermine him, I suggest we build on those areas where we agree, and seek compromise in the areas where we do not.

    January 21, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  15. Ken from FL

    You know, I'm tired of this liberal lie about most welfare recipients live in Red states. For example, 34% of welfare recipients live in California, and California only has about 12% of the country's population. Moreover, the vast majority of welfare recipients vote for the Democratic Party. Let's stop making up "facts," shall we?

    January 21, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  16. Abbot

    Sad day for the USA

    January 21, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  17. SuperDave

    He still does not get it. Put another way: he still insists upon a socialistic society. That is wrong. That has led to many a civilizations decline. People with money, education, and drive will always do the best, and always create jobs for those not interested in applying themsleves in the manner of those who have that drive. Look at what happened at GM: Obama took money that was earmarked to prop up finacial institutiions, and gave it to a failing car company. The result? Failed products, no change in culture or quality, low stock prices, and it cost taxpayers billions. You will see a big exodus of cash from this country, and new ventures will never be conceived in the US. Why bother? When you do well, this president makes you a target for higher taxes to prop up those who have no interest in working hard.

    January 21, 2013 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  18. elperrazo

    Mr. President, I object to your use of the phrase "we the people" when statistically half of all Americans don't agree with you. You continue to fan the flames of class jealousy and warfare with your concepts of fairness. You talk about expelling engineers and highly educated individuals from America to confuse the immigration issues. It is the Executive Branch that decides whether or not to offer a quick path to citizenship for these hard working, talented individuals. If anyone is to be blamed you only need to look into the mirror.

    We have made progress over the past four years in certain discrete areas such gay rights and diversity. But it seems that the progress we have made in those areas have pushed us back in others, such as tax fairness (I believe it is unfair to require a small percentage of Americans to support 47% who pay no income taxes) and international affairs.

    I voted for you for your first term, but now I yawn in response to the same old speeches without real action or leadership for execution. One piece of major legislation made it through a Democratically controlled Congress, and most who voted for it have never actually read the entire Act to this day. It does nothing than create a new unfunded entitlement and does nothing to solve the health care financial crisis.

    I hope the opposition party shows some real backbone over the next four years or America will continue to slide precariously to the "progressive" left. When I voted for you for a first term I thought I was voting for someone who would make the children in Congress play nice. Instead, all I got was a new bully in the school yard.

    January 21, 2013 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  19. Rick McDaniel

    No where, did it say.......if they don't feel like working, the government will keep them up.

    January 21, 2013 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  20. RoguePlanet

    I support everyone's right to their opinion, and everyone's right to have their say. I recognize that there are many people on these forums and on others who decry the policies of our current President, and I also recognize that many of these people will not listen to an opposing viewpoint. They will always see President Obama as a Socialist, the Devil, a new Hitler, what have you. To those people, I say this:

    A long time ago, I lived in the Portland, Oregon area. At that time, there was a man named James Spagnola – otherwise known as Jim Spagg – who had a TV show he aired on public access cable where he basically danced around nude and told sick jokes and stories, simply because he could. Some people saw him as a champion of free speech, others saw him as a retard in the nude. Either way, he had a right to express his beliefs, even if I personally did not care for what he had to say.

    I'm a self-described liberal, though I tend toward conservatism on fiscal matters. I voted for President Obama in both elections, because I believe that the Republican Party has shifted so far to the right that it is no longer capable of serving my personal interests. However, I am always open to the notion that there are Republicans who would do the job better than some Democrats, but I find myself voting Democrat more and more. The reason for this is that I see so much hate and stupidity coming from the Conservative Right, so much ignorance, and so much blatant hatred of any viewpoint that differs that I can no longer in good conscience support their candidates.

    I voted for Barack Obama, twice, and I am proud. I am not afraid of saying this, nor am I afraid of the kind of people who scream and shout against him and his policies out of hatred, ignorance and stupidity. People like this are like Jim Spagg to me, dancing naked and spewing profanity...because they can.

    People who didn't like what Jim Spagg had to say were encouraged to stop watching his show, or to change the channel.

    This is me, changing the channel.

    January 21, 2013 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  21. Reasonably

    Congress has already vowed to do more nothing than they did last year. I wonder how we'll move forward without them?

    January 21, 2013 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  22. Indyswimmer66

    Well done Mr. President! You make us proud... and hopeful for the future of America!

    January 21, 2013 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  23. Steve

    Well said Mr. President! That speech perfectly exemplifies what it means to be American. To take past lessons and apply them to our current time so that we can shape a better future, is exactly what every American has done for the last 200+ years. We are always improving and always evolving. The moment we stay stagnant, the moment we cling to the status quo is the moment when we fail as a country. Time changes, culture changes, rules change, laws change, security changes, life changes, etc. It is change that moves us forward and therefore we must change with it.

    We MUST stop this infighting and hatred towards our own fellow citizens, those who are gay, those who are non-religious, those who are religious, those who are rich, those who are poor, those who are liberal, and those who are conservative. It is OK to have differing viewpoints, that is the purpose of democracy afterall, but it is NOT OK to accuse and attack someone for the color of their skin, or the person that they love, or the beliefs they have. It is our purpose to work TOGETHER to achieve greatness for the common good.

    For those of you on here who have posted about being vilified for being wealthy you act like you are being oppressed. You have no idea what oppression really is. When have you ever felt the crack of a whip at your back, or been denied marriage to the one you love? No one is vilifying you for being successful as that is the goal of every American. What is being vilified are those who actively find ways to avoid paying their fair share of taxes but putting their wealth in offshore accounts and bankrupting companies just to make more pocket cash. These are the evils being vilified not your hard earned success. So stop acting like the world hates you, because that's just not true. The world and the poor look up to you and envy you and want to be successful as well but when you bankrupt a company to make your easy money you kill that dream for every single one of those employeees you just laid off. So I don't want to hear your whiny rich sob stories.

    This is a GREAT nation when we all put aside our differences and work together as we do in every crisis, such as 9/11 and Katrina and Sandy, and the tornadoes of Alabama. This is how we should be ALL the time, not just during a crisis.

    So thank you Mr. President for striving to bring us together as ONE nation!

    January 21, 2013 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  24. ST

    Coming now from the Inauguration, Oh! boy, the president is a very gifted individual. Republicans can bring: Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, whoever BUT no one, I repeat no one can come closer to talk like our President.You need to talk first before you implement anything. He can do it BUT the other side I regret to say, they can't.

    January 21, 2013 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  25. Rudy NYC

    Nancy wrote:

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

    (usual false talking points: high gas, unemployment,etc)
    How could we dare to put a Republicans in the White House when the last one:

    -turned a $300B annual surplus into a $1.5T annual deficit, which is nearly a $2 trillion turn around
    -began his two terms with 19 million manufacturing jobs and finished with 11 million.
    -began his term with gas that cost $1.25/gallon and finished with it over $5/gallon.
    -saw the stock exchanges lose more thatn 50% of their value, Wall Street bottomed in the 6900's.
    -he even had shoes thrown at his face and the Saudis made him sit in "time out" when he visited them in 2008

    January 21, 2013 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
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