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. Sueb

    Congratulations, Mr. President! Great speech, keep up the good work!

    January 21, 2013 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  2. JD

    Great speech! My favorite line: "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." Translation for members of Congress: DO YOUR JOB FOR ONCE!

    January 21, 2013 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  3. cedar rapids

    'Steve....You have to swear to some power greater that president.'

    yes Steve, its called the people.

    January 21, 2013 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  4. Josh

    I love that the White House released a transcript that includes breaks for (Applause). Classy.

    January 21, 2013 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  5. Tearful?

    It never ceases to amaze me how supporters of a president can be so moved by a simple collection of words. But, after seeing the way the media and its followers fell for the phantom girlfriend story at Notre Dame, I guess anything can happen. Obama could have gotten a lot more sleep last night if he simply Googled for some other inauguration speech and used it.

    January 21, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  6. Booger

    Well done!

    January 21, 2013 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  7. Tony

    Bad news people... at least for those that want a job. Almost 8% unemployment will be the new "norm". Higher and higher taxes to pay for more andmore government spending will be the new norm. Obamacare, aka "Affordable Healthcare Act", has sent healthcare skyrocketing for most, except for those that now get it "free" from you the taxpayer. The government prints money 24×7 to pay the bills so soon your money and any savings will be worth less and less and eventually nothing if this insanity continues. When this house of cards comes crashing down, nobody will be spared. Remember America, you voted for it when you re-elected Obama. Of course, every one else will be blamed which is standard for the left when they destroy countries.

    January 21, 2013 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  8. CJ

    "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness..." unless you're the evil rich.

    People complain that "the rich" (such an arbitrary term) put their money in the Cayman Islands or some other offshore accounts, but our tax code incents them to do just that. The more you make, the more we'll tax you (to get your "fair share"), so why NOT move it out of the country? And if you DO invest (i.e., the stock market), we tax the crap out of your earnings from that! Why not give tax breaks for the more you invest in companies in this country, so that there's an incentive to keep the money and build the economy here? I just don't understand why we penalize people the more successful they are. And since I only make about $30K a year, trust me, this is not coming from one of the "evil rich" saying this.

    January 21, 2013 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  9. darryl doe

    Who wrote the president's speach? Surely he didn't write that himself. It makes me wonder what is going on behind the scenes of the presidency when for example people reported that when they selected another candidate besides B.Hussein bOmama that only bomama came up on the screen? It also reminds me of the scene from some movie where character a said to character b "why don't you book a conference room, maybe you can talk him to..." The american presidency has long been considered a joke among foreignors, but it's not just the presidents themselves that suck but also all the other members of the government, the incompetant power seekers

    January 21, 2013 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  10. Joann

    Very Honest and inspiring speech! One of the best i've heard, all inclusive of what truly represents the U.S.A

    January 21, 2013 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  11. Namenelo

    Congratulations mr president

    January 21, 2013 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  12. Donna

    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.

    California has the highest number of people on welfare or government assistatance. It has been Democrat owned and controlled for decades. The state is going bankrupt as well. Got anymore lies that need debunking?

    January 21, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  13. Woman In California

    Congratulations America. The world is thankful you made the right decision.

    January 21, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  14. eclairer

    All politicians are little more than salesmen of possibilities and potential. Words rarely become reality.
    The best of them must wind up pretty disillusioned after finding themselves mired in the tangled swamp of democracy.
    At least this guy can turn a pretty phrase.
    Not all smart people are eloquent. But most eloquent people are pretty smart.
    Intelligence and good intention is the most we can hope for in a president.
    Those of you who claim Barack has neither are not objective.

    January 21, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  15. darryl doe

    and what's with all the glass protecting the teleprompters? are the pupet masters protecting there speech? The glass didn't protect against a head shot

    January 21, 2013 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  16. Matthew

    Sorry Ken from FL, but that is a fact. The top 10 states in terms of receipt of government handouts, e.g. welfare, most are in Republican dominated states, most are in the South, and most are related to defense spending, or welfare of the corporate type. Hence the reason the GOP who agreed to sequester substantial amounts of defense money (because they thought it would never come true) are now tucking tail & trying to dodge the cuts as those cuts would drastically hurt those same states.

    January 21, 2013 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  17. Unity? yeah, right

    I love all these comments about how we should all suddenly work together as one, blah blah blah, after hearing yet another inauguration smoke+mirrors speech. How about we collectively open our WALLETS as one, and agree to help pay down the debt TOGETHER that we have helped build through tax credits and other government stimulii? That's where the "unity" always breaks down. Everyone wants unity so long as it doesn't affect their bank account.

    January 21, 2013 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  18. Wes

    Well, one things for certain, he will be inheriting the worst economy ever. God help us.

    January 21, 2013 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  19. Jim

    16.4 trillion and going up 3 billion plus per day. Hope moves to cope and cope moves toward financial dispair. Wages in the middle class will not be able to keep pace with continued devaluation of our currency. We will have a new president in four years and the problem will be the same only worse.

    January 21, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  20. Daniel

    Words, words, words.....
    Nothing but empty words.....

    January 21, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  21. CAWinMD

    elperrazo - whether you agree or disagree with the President, we are all still We the People.

    January 21, 2013 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  22. Steve

    Usually the politician spends his entire time in office taking away what he most says he believes in. I don't know why this is, but it is true almost always, and almost everywhere. For example, GWB was obsessed with freedom, and to give us that he gave us two hour waits in airports, full body scans, and the most invasive national security protocol ever. Obama talks of unity, he will do whatever he can to take it away. And, maybe he really wants that for us, but it isn't what he will do.

    I think when a person focuses on a problem they inadvertently join in the problem and increase it. The woman who is concerned her husband is lacking confidence without knowing it usually sabotages his confidence at every turn. The Dad who wants his son to work harder usually ends up accomplishing the exact opposite. And, those watching the debacle can see the Father sapping his sons energy at every turn.

    January 21, 2013 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  23. DaveinIL

    Much ado about nothing. This is the only thing Obama is good at, making speeches.

    January 21, 2013 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  24. Harman S

    good speach Mr. President, time to deliver on your promises. yes you can ...

    January 21, 2013 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  25. ajam

    Is it Obama's 2nd or George Bush's 4th?

    January 21, 2013 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
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