note: An almost-winner of the 1960 election, and a close winner of the 1968
election, the former Vice President and California Senator and Congressman had
defeated the Democratic Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, and the American
Independent Party candidate, George Wallace. Chief Justice Earl Warren administered
the oath of office for the fifth time. The President addressed the large crowd
from a pavilion on the East Front of the Capitol. The address was televised by
satellite around the world.]
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
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
This is our summons to greatness.
I believe the American people are ready to answer this
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
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
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 press 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
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
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
After a period of confrontation, we are entering an era
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
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
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
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
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
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.
note: President Johnson had first taken the oath of office on board Air Force
One on November 22, 1963, the day President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.
The election of 1964 was a landslide victory for the Democratic Party. Mrs.
Johnson joined the President on the platform on the East Front of the Capitol;
she was the first wife to stand with her husband as he took the oath of office.
The oath was administered by Chief Justice Earl Warren. Leontyne Price sang at
My fellow countrymen, on this occasion, the oath I have
taken before you and before God is not mine alone, but ours together. We are
one nation and one people. Our fate as a nation and our future as a people rest
not upon one citizen, but upon all citizens.
This is the majesty and the meaning of this moment.
For every generation, there is a destiny. For some,
history decides. For this generation, the choice must be our own.
Even now, a rocket moves toward Mars. It reminds us that
the world will not be the same for our children, or even for ourselves in a
short span of years. The next man to stand here will look out on a scene
different from our own, because ours is a time of change—rapid and fantastic
change bearing the secrets of nature, multiplying the nations, placing in
uncertain hands new weapons for mastery and destruction, shaking old values,
and uprooting old ways.
Our destiny in the midst of change will rest on the
unchanged character of our people, and on their faith.
They came here—the exile and the stranger, brave but
frightened—to find a place where a man could be his own man. They made a
covenant with this land. Conceived in justice, written in liberty, bound in
union, it was meant one day to inspire the hopes of all mankind; and it binds
us still. If we keep its terms, we shall flourish.
First, justice was the promise that all who made the
journey would share in the fruits of the land.
In a land of great wealth, families must not live in
hopeless poverty. In a land rich in harvest, children just must not go hungry.
In a land of healing miracles, neighbors must not suffer and die unattended. In
a great land of learning and scholars, young people must be taught to read and
For the more than 30 years that I have served this
Nation, I have believed that this injustice to our people, this waste of our
resources, was our real enemy. For 30 years or more, with the resources I have
had, I have vigilantly fought against it. I have learned, and I know, that it
will not surrender easily.
But change has given us new weapons. Before this
generation of Americans is finished, this enemy will not only retreat—it will
Justice requires us to remember that when any citizen
denies his fellow, saying, "His color is not mine," or "His
beliefs are strange and different," in that moment he betrays America,
though his forebears created this Nation.
Liberty was the second article of our covenant. It was
self-government. It was our Bill of Rights. But it was more. America would be a
place where each man could be proud to be himself: stretching his talents,
rejoicing in his work, important in the life of his neighbors and his nation.
This has become more difficult in a world where change
and growth seem to tower beyond the control and even the judgment of men. We
must work to provide the knowledge and the surroundings which can enlarge the
possibilities of every citizen.
The American covenant called on us to help show the way
for the liberation of man. And that is today our goal. Thus, if as a nation
there is much outside our control, as a people no stranger is outside our hope.
Change has brought new meaning to that old mission. We can
never again stand aside, prideful in isolation. Terrific dangers and troubles
that we once called "foreign" now constantly live among us. If
American lives must end, and American treasure be spilled, in countries we
barely know, that is the price that change has demanded of conviction and of
our enduring covenant.
Think of our world as it looks from the rocket that is
heading toward Mars. It is like a child's globe, hanging in space, the
continents stuck to its side like colored maps. We are all fellow passengers on
a dot of earth. And each of us, in the span of time, has really only a moment
among our companions.
How incredible it is that in this fragile existence, we
should hate and destroy one another. There are possibilities enough for all who
will abandon mastery over others to pursue mastery over nature. There is world
enough for all to seek their happiness in their own way.
Our Nation's course is abundantly clear. We aspire to
nothing that belongs to others. We seek no dominion over our fellow man, but
man's dominion over tyranny and misery.
But more is required. Men want to be a part of a common
enterprise—a cause greater than themselves. Each of us must find a way to
advance the purpose of the Nation, thus finding new purpose for ourselves. Without
this, we shall become a nation of strangers.
The third article was union. To those who were small and
few against the wilderness, the success of liberty demanded the strength of
union. Two centuries of change have made this true again.
No longer need capitalist and worker, farmer and clerk,
city and countryside, struggle to divide our bounty. By working shoulder to
shoulder, together we can increase the bounty of all. We have discovered that
every child who learns, every man who finds work, every sick body that is made
whole—like a candle added to an altar—brightens the hope of all the faithful.
So let us reject any among us who seek to reopen old
wounds and to rekindle old hatreds. They stand in the way of a seeking nation.
Let us now join reason to faith and action to experience,
to transform our unity of interest into a unity of purpose. For the hour and
the day and the time are here to achieve progress without strife, to achieve
change without hatred—not without difference of opinion, but without the deep
and abiding divisions which scar the union for generations.
Under this covenant of justice, liberty, and union we
have become a nation—prosperous, great, and mighty. And we have kept our
freedom. But we have no promise from God that our greatness will endure. We
have been allowed by Him to seek greatness with the sweat of our hands and the
strength of our spirit.
I do not believe that the Great Society is the ordered,
changeless, and sterile battalion of the ants. It is the excitement of
becoming—always becoming, trying, probing, falling, resting, and trying
again—but always trying and always gaining.
In each generation, with toil and tears, we have had to
earn our heritage again.
If we fail now, we shall have forgotten in abundance what
we learned in hardship: that democracy rests on faith, that freedom asks more
than it gives, and that the judgment of God is harshest on those who are most
If we succeed, it will not be because of what we have,
but it will be because of what we are; not because of what we own, but, rather
because of what we believe.
For we are a nation of believers. Underneath the clamor
of building and the rush of our day's pursuits, we are believers in justice and
liberty and union, and in our own Union. We believe that every man must someday
be free. And we believe in ourselves.
Our enemies have always made the same mistake. In my
lifetime—in depression and in war—they have awaited our defeat. Each time, from
the secret places of the American heart, came forth the faith they could not
see or that they could not even imagine. It brought us victory. And it will
For this is what America is all about. It is the
uncrossed desert and the unclimbed ridge. It is the star that is not reached
and the harvest sleeping in the unplowed ground. Is our world gone? We say
"Farewell." Is a new world coming? We welcome it—and we will bend it
to the hopes of man.
To these trusted public servants and to my family and
those close friends of mine who have followed me down a long, winding road, and
to all the people of this Union and the world, I will repeat today what I said
on that sorrowful day in November 1963: "I will lead and I will do the
best I can."
But you must look within your own hearts to the old
promises and to the old dream. They will lead you best of all.
For myself, I ask only, in the words of an ancient
leader: "Give me now wisdom and knowledge, that I may go out and come in
before this people: for who can judge this thy people, that is so great?"
note: Heavy snow fell the night before the inauguration, but thoughts about
cancelling the plans were overruled. The election of 1960 had been close, and
the Democratic Senator from Massachusetts was eager to gather support for his
agenda. He attended Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown that morning
before joining President Eisenhower to travel to the Capitol. The Congress had
extended the East Front, and the inaugural platform spanned the new addition.
The oath of office was administered by Chief Justice Earl Warren. Robert Frost
read one of his poems at the ceremony.]
Vice President Johnson, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice,
President Eisenhower, Vice President Nixon, President Truman, reverend clergy,
fellow citizens, we observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of
freedom—symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning—signifying renewal, as well
as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath
our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three quarters ago.
The world is very different now. For man holds in his
mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of
human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears
fought are still at issue around the globe—the belief that the rights of man
come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.
We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that
first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and
foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born
in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud
of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of
those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which
we are committed today at home and around the world.
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill,
that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any
friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of
This much we pledge—and more.
To those old allies whose cultural and spiritual origins
we share, we pledge the loyalty of faithful friends. United, there is little we
cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided, there is little we can
do—for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.
To those new States whom we welcome to the ranks of the
free, we pledge our word that one form of colonial control shall not have
passed away merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny. We shall not
always expect to find them supporting our view. But we shall always hope to
find them strongly supporting their own freedom—and to remember that, in the
past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up
To those peoples in the huts and villages across the
globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts
to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required—not because the
Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is
right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the
few who are rich.
To our sister republics south of our border, we offer a
special pledge—to convert our good words into good deeds—in a new alliance for
progress—to assist free men and free governments in casting off the chains of
poverty. But this peaceful revolution of hope cannot become the prey of hostile
powers. Let all our neighbors know that we shall join with them to oppose
aggression or subversion anywhere in the Americas. And let every other power
know that this Hemisphere intends to remain the master of its own house.
To that world assembly of sovereign states, the United
Nations, our last best hope in an age where the instruments of war have far
outpaced the instruments of peace, we renew our pledge of support—to prevent it
from becoming merely a forum for invective—to strengthen its shield of the new
and the weak—and to enlarge the area in which its writ may run.
Finally, to those nations who would make themselves our
adversary, we offer not a pledge but a request: that both sides begin anew the
quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science
engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction.
We dare not tempt them with weakness. For only when our
arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will
never be employed.
But neither can two great and powerful groups of nations
take comfort from our present course—both sides overburdened by the cost of
modern weapons, both rightly alarmed by the steady spread of the deadly atom,
yet both racing to alter that uncertain balance of terror that stays the hand
of mankind's final war.
So let us begin anew—remembering on both sides that
civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof.
Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.
Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of
belaboring those problems which divide us.
Let both sides, for the first time, formulate serious and
precise proposals for the inspection and control of arms—and bring the absolute
power to destroy other nations under the absolute control of all nations.
Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science
instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts,
eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.
Let both sides unite to heed in all corners of the earth
the command of Isaiah—to "undo the heavy burdens...and to let the
oppressed go free."
And if a beachhead of cooperation may push back the
jungle of suspicion, let both sides join in creating a new endeavor, not a new
balance of power, but a new world of law, where the strong are just and the
weak secure and the peace preserved.
All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor
will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this
Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.
In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than in mine,
will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was
founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to
its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to
service surround the globe.
Now the trumpet summons us again—not as a call to bear
arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are—but
a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out,
"rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation"—a struggle against the
common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.
Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global
alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life
for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?
In the long history of the world, only a few generations
have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger.
I do not shrink from this responsibility—I welcome it. I do not believe that
any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation.
The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light
our country and all who serve it—and the glow from that fire can truly light
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country
can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.
My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America
will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.
Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens
of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which
we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the
final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His
blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be