Senator Dirksen, Mr. Chief Justice, Mr. Vice President, President Johnson, Vice President Humphrey, my fellow Americans--and my fellow citizens of the world community:
I ask you to share with me today the majesty of this moment. In the orderly transfer of power, we celebrate the unity that keeps us free.
Each moment in history is a fleeting time, precious and unique. But some stand out as moments of beginning, in which courses are set that shape decades or centuries.
This can be such a moment.
Forces now are converging that make possible, for the first time, the hope that many of man's deepest aspirations can at last be realized. The spiraling pace of change allows us to contemplate, within our own lifetime, advances that once would have taken centuries.
In throwing wide the horizons of space, we have discovered new horizons on earth.
For the first time, because the people of the world want peace, and the leaders of the world are afraid of war, the times are on the side of peace.
Eight years from now America will celebrate its 200th anniversary as a nation. Within the lifetime of most people now living, mankind will celebrate that great new year which comes only once in a thousand years -- the beginning of the third millennium.
What kind of nation we will be, what kind of world we will live in, whether we shape the future in the image of our hopes, is ours to determine by our actions and our choices.
The greatest honor history can bestow is the title of peacemaker. This honor now beckons America -- the chance to help lead the world at last out of the valley of turmoil, and onto that high ground of peace that man has dreamed of since the dawn of civilization.
If we succeed, generations to come will say of us now living that we mastered our moment, that we helped make the world safe for mankind.
This is our summons to greatness.
I believe the American people are ready to answer this call.
The second third of this century has been a time of proud achievement. We have made enormous strides in science and industry and agriculture. We have shared our wealth more broadly than ever. We have learned at last to manage a modern economy to assure its continued growth.
We have given freedom new reach, and we have begun to make its promise real for black as well as for white.
We see the hope of tomorrow in the youth of today. I know America's youth. I believe in them. We can be proud that they are better educated, more committed, more passionately driven by conscience than any generation in our history.
No people has ever been so close to the achievement of a just and abundant society, or so possessed of the will to achieve it. Because our strengths are so great, we can afford to appraise our weaknesses with candor and to approach them with hope.
Standing in this same place a third of a century ago, Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed a Nation ravaged by depression and gripped in fear. He could say in surveying the Nation's troubles: "They concern, thank God, only material things."
Our crisis today is the reverse.
We have found ourselves rich in goods, but ragged in spirit; reaching with magnificent precision for the moon, but falling into raucous discord on earth.
We are caught in war, wanting peace. We are torn by division, wanting unity. We see around us empty lives, wanting fulfillment. We see tasks that need doing, waiting for hands to do them.
To a crisis of the spirit, we need an answer of the spirit.
To find that answer, we need only look within ourselves.
When we listen to "the better angels of our nature," we find that they celebrate the simple things, the basic things -- such as goodness, decency, love, kindness.
Greatness comes in simple trappings.
The simple things are the ones most needed today if we are to surmount what divides us, and cement what unites us.
To lower our voices would be a simple thing.
In these difficult years, America has suffered from a fever of words; from inflated rhetoric that promises more than it can deliver; from angry rhetoric that fans discontents into hatreds; from bombastic rhetoric that postures instead of persuading.
We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another -- until we speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices.
For its part, government will listen. We will strive to listen in new ways -- to the voices of quiet anguish, the voices that speak without words, the voices of the heart--to the injured voices, the anxious voices, the voices that have despaired of being heard.
Those who have been left out, we will try to bring in.
Those left behind, we will help to catch up.
For all of our people, we will set as our goal the decent order that makes progress possible and our lives secure.
As we reach toward our hopes, our task is to build on what has gone before -- not turning away from the old, but turning toward the new.
In this past third of a century, government has passed more laws, spent more money, initiated more programs, than in all our previous history.
In pursuing our goals of full employment, better housing, excellence in education; in rebuilding our cities and improving our rural areas; in protecting our environment and enhancing the quality of life -- in all these and more, we will and must pres urgently forward.
We shall plan now for the day when our wealth can be transferred from the destruction of war abroad to the urgent needs of our people at home.
The American dream does not come to those who fall asleep.
But we are approaching the limits of what government alone can do.
Our greatest need now is to reach beyond government, and to enlist the legions of the concerned and the committed.
What has to be done, has to be done by government and people together or it will not be done at all. The lesson of past agony is that without the people we can do nothing; with the people we can do everything.
To match the magnitude of our tasks, we need the energies of our people -- enlisted not only in grand enterprises, but more importantly in those small, splendid efforts that make headlines in the neighborhood newspaper instead of the national journal.
With these, we can build a great cathedral of the spirit -- each of us raising it one stone at a time, as he reaches out to his neighbor, helping, caring, doing.
I do not offer a life of uninspiring ease. I do not call for a life of grim sacrifice. I ask you to join in a high adventure -- one as rich as humanity itself, and as exciting as the times we live in.
The essence of freedom is that each of us shares in the shaping of his own destiny.
Until he has been part of a cause larger than himself, no man is truly whole.
The way to fulfillment is in the use of our talents; we achieve nobility in the spirit that inspires that use.
As we measure what can be done, we shall promise only what we know we can produce, but as we chart our goals we shall be lifted by our dreams.
No man can be fully free while his neighbor is not. To go forward at all is to go forward together.
This means black and white together, as one nation, not two. The laws have caught up with our conscience. What remains is to give life to what is in the law: to ensure at last that as all are born equal in dignity before God, all are born equal in dignity before man.
As we learn to go forward together at home, let us also seek to go forward together with all mankind.
Let us take as our goal: where peace is unknown, make it welcome; where peace is fragile, make it strong; where peace is temporary, make it permanent.
After a period of confrontation, we are entering an era of negotiation.
Let all nations know that during this administration our lines of communication will be open.
We seek an open world -- open to ideas, open to the exchange of goods and people -- a world in which no people, great or small, will live in angry isolation.
We cannot expect to make everyone our friend, but we can try to make no one our enemy.
Those who would be our adversaries, we invite to a peaceful competition -- not in conquering territory or extending dominion, but in enriching the life of man.
As we explore the reaches of space, let us go to the new worlds together -- not as new worlds to be conquered, but as a new adventure to be shared.
With those who are willing to join, let us cooperate to reduce the burden of arms, to strengthen the structure of peace, to lift up the poor and the hungry.
But to all those who would be tempted by weakness, let us leave no doubt that we will be as strong as we need to be for as long as we need to be.
Over the past twenty years, since I first came to this Capital as a freshman Congressman, I have visited most of the nations of the world.
I have come to know the leaders of the world, and the great forces, the hatreds, the fears that divide the world.
I know that peace does not come through wishing for it -- that there is no substitute for days and even years of patient and prolonged diplomacy.
I also know the people of the world.
I have seen the hunger of a homeless child, the pain of a man wounded in battle, the grief of a mother who has lost her son. I know these have no ideology, no race.
I know America. I know the heart of America is good.
I speak from my own heart, and the heart of my country, the deep concern we have for those who suffer, and those who sorrow.
I have taken an oath today in the presence of God and my countrymen to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. To that oath I now add this sacred commitment: I shall consecrate my office, my energies, and all the wisdom I can summon, to the cause of peace among nations.
Let this message be heard by strong and weak alike:
The peace we seek to win is not victory over any other people, but the peace that comes "with healing in its wings"; with compassion for those who have suffered; with understanding for those who have opposed us; with the opportunity for all the peoples of this earth to choose their own destiny.
Only a few short weeks ago, we shared the glory of man's first sight of the world as God sees it, as a single sphere reflecting light in the darkness.
As the Apollo astronauts flew over the moon's gray surface on Christmas Eve, they spoke to us of the beauty of earth -- and in that voice so clear across the lunar distance, we heard them invoke God's blessing on its goodness.
In that moment, their view from the moon moved poet Archibald MacLeish to write:
"To see the earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold -- brothers who know now they are truly brothers."
In that moment of surpassing technological triumph, men turned their thoughts toward home and humanity -- seeing in that far perspective that man's destiny on earth is not divisible; telling us that however far we reach into the cosmos, our destiny lies not in the stars but on Earth itself, in our own hands, in our own hearts.
We have endured a long night of the American spirit. But as our eyes catch the dimness of the first rays of dawn, let us not curse the remaining dark. Let us gather the light.
Our destiny offers, not the cup of despair, but the chalice of opportunity. So let us seize it, not in fear, but in gladness -- and, "riders on the earth together," let us go forward, firm in our faith, steadfast in our purpose, cautious of the dangers; but sustained by our confidence in the will of God and the promise of man.
Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, Senator Cook, Mrs. Eisenhower, and my fellow citizens of this great and good country we share together:
When we met here four years ago, America was bleak in spirit, depressed by the prospect of seemingly endless war abroad and of destructive conflict at home.
As we meet here today, we stand on the threshold of a new era of peace in the world.
The central question before us is: How shall we use that peace? Let us resolve that this era we are about to enter will not be what other postwar periods have so often been: a time of retreat and isolation that leads to stagnation at home and invites new danger abroad.
Let us resolve that this will be what it can become: a time of great responsibilities greatly borne, in which we renew the spirit and the promise of America as we enter our third century as a nation.
This past year saw far-reaching results from our new policies for peace. By continuing to revitalize our traditional friendships, and by our missions to Peking and to Moscow, we were able to establish the base for a new and more durable pattern of relationships among the nations of the world. Because of America's bold initiatives, 1972 will be long remembered as the year of the greatest progress since the end of World War II toward a lasting peace in the world.
The peace we seek in the world is not the flimsy peace which is merely an interlude between wars, but a peace which can endure for generations to come.
It is important that we understand both the necessity and the limitations of America's role in maintaining that peace.
Unless we in America work to preserve the peace, there will be no peace.
Unless we in America work to preserve freedom, there will be no freedom.
But let us clearly understand the new nature of America's role, as a result of the new policies we have adopted over these past four years.
We shall respect our treaty commitments.
We shall support vigorously the principle that no country has the right to impose its will or rule on another by force.
We shall continue, in this era of negotiation, to work for the limitation of nuclear arms, and to reduce the danger of confrontation between the great powers.
We shall do our share in defending peace and freedom in the world. But we shall expect others to do their share.
The time has passed when America will make every other nation's conflict our own, or make every other nation's future our responsibility, or presume to tell the people of other nations how to manage their own affairs.
Just as we respect the right of each nation to determine its own future, we also recognize the responsibility of each nation to secure its own future.
Just as America's role is indispensable in preserving the world's peace, so is each nation's role indispensable in preserving its own peace.
Together with the rest of the world, let us resolve to move forward from the beginnings we have made. Let us continue to bring down the walls of hostility which have divided the world for too long, and to build in their place bridges of understanding -- so that despite profound differences between systems of government, the people of the world can be friends.
Let us build a structure of peace in the world in which the weak are as safe as the strong -- in which each respects the right of the other to live by a different system -- in which those who would influence others will do so by the strength of their ideas, and not by the force of their arms.
Let us accept that high responsibility not as a burden, but gladly -- gladly because the chance to build such a peace is the noblest endeavor in which a nation can engage; gladly, also, because only if we act greatly in meeting our responsibilities abroad will we remain a great Nation, and only if we remain a great Nation will we act greatly in meeting our challenges at home.
We have the chance today to do more than ever before in our history to make life better in America -- to ensure better education, better health, better housing, better transportation, a cleaner environment -- to restore respect for law, to make our communities more livable -- and to insure the God-given right of every American to full and equal opportunity.
Because the range of our needs is so great -- because the reach of our opportunities is so great -- let us be bold in our determination to meet those needs in new ways.
Just as building a structure of peace abroad has required turning away from old policies that failed, so building a new era of progress at home requires turning away from old policies that have failed.
Abroad, the shift from old policies to new has not been a retreat from our responsibilities, but a better way to peace.
And at home, the shift from old policies to new will not be a retreat from our responsibilities, but a better way to progress.
Abroad and at home, the key to those new responsibilities lies in the placing and the division of responsibility. We have lived too long with the consequences of attempting to gather all power and responsibility in Washington.
Abroad and at home, the time has come to turn away from the condescending policies of paternalism -- of "Washington knows best."
A person can be expected to act responsibly only if he has responsibility. This is human nature. So let us encourage individuals at home and nations abroad to do more for themselves, to decide more for themselves. Let us locate responsibility in more places. Let us measure what we will do for others by what they will do for themselves.
That is why today I offer no promise of a purely governmental solution for every problem. We have lived too long with that false promise. In trusting too much in government, we have asked of it more than it can deliver. This leads only to inflated expectations, to reduced individual effort, and to a disappointment and frustration that erode confidence both in what government can do and in what people can do.
Government must learn to take less from people so that people an do more for themselves.
Let us remember that America was built not by government, but by people -- not by welfare, but by work -- not by shirking responsibility, but by seeking responsibility.
In our own lives, let each of us ask -- not just what will government do for me, but what can I do for myself?
In the challenges we face together, let each of us ask -- not just how can government help, but how can I help?
Your National Government has a great and vital role to play. And I pledge to you that where this Government should act, we will act boldly and we will lead boldly. But just as important is the role that each and every one of us must play, as an individual and as a member of his own community.
From this day forward, let each of us make a solemn commitment in his own heart: to bear his responsibility, to do his part, to live his ideals -- so that together, we can see the dawn of a new age of progress for America, and together, as we celebrate our 200th anniversary as a nation, we can do so proud in the fulfillment of our promise to ourselves and to the world.
As America's longest and most difficult war comes to an end, let us again learn to debate our differences with civility and decency. And let each of us reach out for that one precious quality government cannot provide -- a new level of respect for the rights and feelings of one another, a new level of respect for the individual human dignity which is the cherished birthright of every American.
Above all else, the time has come for us to renew our faith in ourselves and in America.
In recent years, that faith has been challenged.
Our children have been taught to be ashamed of their country, ashamed of their parents, ashamed of America's record at home and of its role in the world.
At every turn, we have been beset by those who find everything wrong with America and little that is right. But I am confident that this will not be the judgment of history on these remarkable times in which we are privileged to live.
America's record in this century has been unparalleled in the world's history for its responsibility, for its generosity, for its creativity and for its progress.
Let us be proud that our system has produced and provided more freedom and more abundance, more widely shared, than any other system in the history of the world.
Let us be proud that in each of the four wars in which we have been engaged in this century, including the one we are now bringing to an end, we have fought not for our selfish advantage, but to help others resist aggression.
Let us be proud that by our bold, new initiatives, and by our steadfastness for peace with honor, we have made a break-through toward creating in the world what the world has not known before -- a structure of peace that can last, not merely for our time, but for generations to come.
We are embarking here today on an era that presents challenges great as those any nation, or any generation, has ever faced.
We shall answer to God, to history, and to our conscience for the way in which we use these years.
As I stand in this place, so hallowed by history, I think of others who have stood here before me. I think of the dreams they had for America, and I think of how each recognized that he needed help far beyond himself in order to make those dreams come true.
Today, I ask your prayers that in the years ahead I may have God's help in making decisions that are right for America, and I pray for your help so that together we may be worthy of our challenge.
Let us pledge together to make these next four years the best four years in America's history, so that on its 200th birthday America will be as young and as vital as when it began, and as bright a beacon of hope for all the world.
Let us go forward from here confident in hope, strong in our faith in one another, sustained by our faith in God who created us, and striving always to serve His purpose.Back to top of Richard Nixon Inauguration Page