WS>>President Ronald Wilson Reagan's Inaugural Address

carl william spitzer iv cwsiv_2nd at JUNO.COM
Thu Feb 6 14:46:50 MST 2003

          Inaugural Address
          West Front of the U.S. Capitol
          January 20, 1981

          This speech was delivered to the nation when  President
     Reagan was inaugurated to his first term of office.

          Senator  Hatfield,  Mr. Chief Justice,  Mr.  President,
     Vice President Bush, Vice President Mondale, Senator  Baker,
     Speaker O'Neill, Reverend Moomaw, and my fellow citizens.

          To  a  few of us here today this is a solemn  and  most
     momentous occasion, and yet in the history of our nation  it
     is a commonplace occurrence. The orderly transfer of author-
     ity as called for in the Constitution routinely takes place,
     as  it has for almost two centuries, and few of us  stop  to
     think  how unique we really are. In the eyes of many in  the
     world, this every-four-year ceremony we accept as normal  is
     nothing less than a miracle.

          Mr.  President, I want our fellow citizens to know  how
     much  you did to carry on this tradition. By  your  gracious
     cooperation  in  the transition process, you  have  shown  a
     watching world that we are a united people pledged to  main-
     taining  a  political  system  which  guarantees  individual
     liberty to a greater degree than any other, and I thank  you
     and  your people for all your help in maintaining  the  con-
     tinuity  which is the bulwark of our republic. The  business
     of  our  nation goes forward. These United States  are  con-
     fronted with an economic affliction of great proportions. We
     suffer  from  the  longest and one of  the  worst  sustained
     inflations in our national history. It distorts our economic
     decisions,  penalizes  thrift, and  crushes  the  struggling
     young  and the fixed-income elderly alike. It  threatens  to
     shatter the lives of millions of our people.

          Idle  industries have cast workers  into  unemployment,
     human misery, and personal indignity. Those who do work  are
     denied  a fair return for their labor by a tax system  which
     penalizes successful achievement and keeps us from maintain-
     ing full productivity.

          But  great as our tax burden is, it has not  kept  pace
     with public spending. For decades we have piled deficit upon
     deficit, mortgaging our future and our children's future for
     the  temporary convenience of the present. To continue  this
     long  trend  is to guarantee  tremendous  social,  cultural,
     political, and economic upheavals.

          You  and  I, as individuals, can,  by  borrowing,  live
     beyond  our  means, but for only a limited period  of  time.
     Why,  then, should we think that collectively, as a  nation,
     we're  not bound by that same limitation? We must act  today
     in order to preserve tomorrow. And let there be no misunder-
     standing: We are going to begin to act, beginning today.

          The  economic  ills we suffer have come  upon  us  over
     several  decades. They will not go away in days,  weeks,  or
     months, but they will go away. They will go away because  we
     as  Americans  have the capacity now, as we've  had  in  the
     past, to do whatever needs to be done to preserve this  last
     and greatest bastion of freedom.

          In this present crisis, government is not the  solution
     to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time
     we've  been tempted to believe that society has  become  too
     complex  to be managed by self-rule, that government  by  an
     elite  group is superior to government for, by, and  of  the
     people.  Well,  if no one among us is capable  of  governing
     himself,  then  who  among us has  the  capacity  to  govern
     someone else? All of us together, in and out of  government,
     must  bear the burden. The solutions we seek must  be  equi-
     table, with no one group singled out to pay a higher price.

          We  hear  much of special interest  groups.  Well,  our
     concern  must be for a special interest group that has  been
     too  long  neglected. It knows no  sectional  boundaries  or
     ethnic and racial divisions, and it crosses political  party
     lines.  It is made up of men and women who raise  our  food,
     patrol  our streets, man our mines and factories, teach  our
     children,   keep   our  homes,  and  heal  us   when   we're
     sick--professionals,  industrialists,  shopkeepers,  clerks,
     cabbies,  and  truck drivers. They are, in  short,  "we  the
     people," this breed called Americans.

          Well,   this  administration's  objective  will  be   a
     healthy,  vigorous,  growing  economy  that  provides  equal
     opportunities  for all Americans, with no barriers  born  of
     bigotry  or  discrimination. Putting America  back  to  work
     means  putting all Americans back to work. Ending  inflation
     means  freeing  all  Americans from the  terror  of  runaway
     living costs. All must share in the productive work of  this
     "new  beginning,"  and  all must share in the  bounty  of  a
     revived  economy. With the idealism and fair play which  are
     the  core  of  our system and our strength, we  can  have  a
     strong and prosperous America, at peace with itself and  the

          So, as we begin, let us take inventory. We are a nation
     that  has a government--not the other way around.  And  this
     makes us special among the nations of the Earth. Our govern-
     ment  has no power except that granted it by the people.  It
     is time to check and reverse the growth of government, which
     shows  signs of having grown beyond the consent of the  gov-

          It  is my intention to curb the size and  influence  of
     the  federal establishment and to demand recognition of  the
     distinction  between the powers granted to the federal  gov-
     ernment  and those reserved to the states or to the  people.
     All  of us need to be reminded that the  federal  government
     did  not create the states; the states created  the  federal

          Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it's not  my
     intention  to do away with government. It is rather to  make
     it  work--work with us, not over us; to stand by  our  side,
     not ride on our back. Government can and must provide oppor-
     tunity, not smother it; foster productivity, not stifle it.

          If we look to the answer as to why for so many years we
     achieved so much, prospered as no other people on earth,  it
     was  because here in this land we unleashed the  energy  and
     individual  genius of man to a greater extent than has  ever
     been done before. Freedom and the dignity of the  individual

     have been more available and assured here than in any  other
     place on earth. The price for this freedom at times has been
     high, but we have never been unwilling to pay the price.

          It is no coincidence that our present troubles parallel
     and  are proportionate to the intervention and intrusion  in
     our lives that result from unnecessary and excessive  growth
     of  government. It is time for us to realize that we're  too
     great  a  nation to limit ourselves to small  dreams.  We're
     not, as some would have us believe, doomed to an  inevitable
     decline. I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us  no
     matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall  on
     us if we do nothing. So, with all the creative energy at our
     command,  let  us begin an era of national renewal.  Let  us
     renew our determination, our courage, and our strength.  And
     let us renew our faith and our hope.

          We  have every right to dream heroic dreams. Those  who
     say that we're in a time when there are no heroes, they just
     don't know where to look. You can see heroes every day going
     in  and out of factory gates. Others, a handful  in  number,
     produce  enough  food to feed all of us and then  the  world
     beyond.  You  meet heroes across a counter, and  they're  on
     both  sides  of that counter. There are  entrepreneurs  with
     faith  in  themselves and faith in an idea  who  create  new
     jobs,  new wealth and opportunity. They're  individuals  and
     families whose taxes support the government and whose volun-
     tary gifts support church, charity, culture, art, and educa-
     tion.  Their  patriotism is quiet, but  deep.  Their  values
     sustain our national life.

          Now, I have used the words "they" and "their" in speak-
     ing  of these heroes. I could say "you" and "your,"  because
     I'm addressing the heroes of whom I speak--you, the citizens
     of  this blessed land. Your dreams, your hopes,  your  goals
     are going to be the dreams, the hopes, and the goals of this
     administration, so help me God.

          We shall reflect the compassion that is so much a  part
     of your makeup. How can we love our country and not love our
     countrymen;  and  loving them, reach out a  hand  when  they
     fall,  heal them when they're sick, and provide  opportunity
     to  make them self-sufficient so they will be equal in  fact
     and not just in theory?

          Can  we  solve the problems confronting us?  Well,  the
     answer  is an unequivocal and emphatic "yes." To  paraphrase
     Winston  Churchill, I did not take the oath I've just  taken
     with the intention of presiding over the dissolution of  the
     world's strongest economy.

          In  the  days ahead I will propose removing  the  road-
     blocks that have slowed our economy and reduced  productivi-
     ty.  Steps  will  be taken aimed at  restoring  the  balance
     between  the various levels of government. Progress  may  be
     slow,  measured in inches and feet, not miles, but  we  will
     progress.  It is time to reawaken this industrial giant,  to
     get  government  back within its means, and to  lighten  our
     punitive tax burden. And these will be our first priorities,
     and on these principles there will be no compromise.

          On  the eve of our struggle for independence a man  who
     might  have  been  one of the greatest  among  the  Founding
     Fathers,  Dr. Joseph Warren, president of the  Massachusetts
     Congress,  said to his fellow Americans, "Our country is  in
     danger,  but not to be despaired of . . . On you depend  the

     fortunes  of America. You are to decide the important  ques-
     tions  upon  which rests the happiness and  the  liberty  of
     millions  yet  unborn. Act worthy of  yourselves."  Well,  I
     believe we, the Americans of today, are ready to act  worthy
     of ourselves, ready to do what must be done to ensure happi-
     ness and liberty for ourselves, our children, and our child-
     ren's  children. And as we renew ourselves here in  our  own
     land, we will be seen as having greater strength  throughout
     the  world. We will again be the exemplar of freedom  and  a
     beacon of hope for those who do not now have freedom.

          To those neighbors and allies who share our freedom, we
     will  strengthen  our historic ties and assure them  of  our
     support  and  firm commitment. We will  match  loyalty  with
     loyalty.  We will strive for mutually beneficial  relations.
     We will not use our friendship to impose on their sovereign-
     ty,  for  our own sovereignty is not for sale.  As  for  the
     enemies  of  freedom, those who are  potential  adversaries,
     they  will be reminded that peace is the highest  aspiration
     of the American people. We will negotiate for it,  sacrifice
     for it; we will not surrender for it, now or ever.

          Our  forbearance  should never  be  misunderstood.  Our
     reluctance for conflict should not be misjudged as a failure
     of  will. When action is required to preserve  our  national
     security, we will act. We will maintain sufficient  strength
     to prevail if need be, knowing that if we do so we have  the
     best chance of never having to use that strength. Above all,
     we must realize that no arsenal or no weapon in the arsenals
     of the world is so formidable as the will and moral  courage
     of  free  men and women. It is a weapon our  adversaries  in
     today's world do not have. It is a weapon that we as  Ameri-
     cans  do have. Let that be understood by those who  practice
     terrorism and prey upon their neighbors. I'm told that  tens
     of thousands of prayer meetings are being held on this  day,
     and for that I'm deeply grateful. We are a nation under God,
     and  I believe God intended for us to be free. It  would  be
     fitting  and  good,  I think, if on each  Inaugural  Day  in
     future years it should be declared a day of praye!

          This is the first time in our history that this ceremo-
     ny has been held, as you've been told, on the West Front  of
     the  Capitol. Standing here, one faces a magnificent  vista,
     opening up on the city's special beauty and history. At  the
     end  of  this open mall are those shrines to the  giants  on
     whose shoulders we stand.

          Directly  in front of me, the monument to a  monumental
     man,  George  Washington, father of our country.  A  man  of
     humility who came to greatness reluctantly. He led Americans
     out of revolutionary victory into infant nationhood. Off  to
     one  side,  the stately memorial to  Thomas  Jefferson.  The
     Declaration  of Independence flames with his eloquence.  And
     then,  beyond the Reflecting Pool, the dignified columns  of
     the Lincoln Memorial. Whoever would understand in his  heart
     the  meaning of America will find it in the life of  Abraham

          Beyond those monuments to heroism is the Potomac River,
     and on the far shore the sloping hills of Arlington National
     Cemetery,  with  its row upon row of  simple  white  markers
     bearing  crosses  of Stars of David. They add up to  only  a
     tiny fraction of the price that has been paid for our  free-
     dom. Each one of those markers is a monument to the kind  of
     hero I spoke of earlier. Their lives ended in places  called

     Belleau Wood, the Argonne, Omaha Beach, Salerno, and halfway
     around the world on Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Pork Chop Hill, the
     Chosin Reservoir, and in a hundred rice paddies and  jungles
     of a place called Vietnam.

          Under one such marker lies a young man, Martin Treptow,
     who left his job in a small town barbershop in 1917 to go to
     France with the famed Rainbow Division. There, on the  west-
     ern  front, he was killed trying to carry a message  between
     battalions under heavy artillery fire.

          We're  told that on his body was found a diary. On  the
     flyleaf under the heading "My Pledge," he had written  these
     words: "America must win this war. Therefore I will work,  I
     will  save,  I will sacrifice, I will endure, I  will  fight
     cheerfully  and do my utmost, as if the issue of  the  whole
     struggle depended on me alone."

          The  crisis we are facing today does not require of  us
     the kind of sacrifice that Martin Treptow and so many  thou-
     sands  of others were called upon to make. It does  require,
     however,  our best effort and our willingness to believe  in
     ourselves  and to believe in our capacity to  perform  great
     deeds,  to believe that together with God's help we can  and
     will resolve the problems which now confront us.

          And  after all, why shouldn't we believe that?  We  are

          God bless you, and thank you.

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