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Ronald Reagan
First Inaugural Address
Tuesday, January 20, 1981

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 authority 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-4-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 maintaining 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 continuity which is the
bulwark of our Republic.

The business of our nation goes forward. These United States are
confronted 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, causing 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 maintaining 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 are not bound by that same limitation?

We must act today in order to preserve tomorrow. And let there be no
misunderstanding--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 have
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.

From time to time, we have 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. But 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
equitable, with no one group singled out to pay a higher price.

We hear much of special interest groups. 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 our factories, teach our
children, keep our homes, and heal us when we are sick--professionals,
industrialists, shopkeepers, clerks, cabbies, and truckdrivers. 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 opportunity 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 world.

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 Government 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
governed.

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 Government 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
Government.

Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it is 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 opportunity, 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 that 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 are too great a nation to limit ourselves to small
dreams. We are 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 are in
a time when there are no heroes 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 are 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 are individuals and families whose taxes support the Government and
whose voluntary gifts support church, charity, culture, art, and
education. Their patriotism is quiet but deep. Their values sustain our
national life.

I have used the words "they" and "their" in speaking of these heroes. I
could say "you" and "your" because I am 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 are sick, and
provide opportunities 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 have 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 roadblocks that have
slowed our economy and reduced productivity. 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. Is it 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 questions 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 happiness and liberty
for ourselves, our children and our children'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
sovereignty, 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 Americans do have. Let that be understood by
those who practice terrorism and prey upon their neighbors.

I am told that tens of thousands of prayer meetings are being held on
this day, and for that I am 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 Inauguration Day in future years it should be
declared a day of prayer.

This is the first time in history that this ceremony has been held, as
you have been told, on this West Front of the Capitol. Standing here,
one faces a magnificent vista, opening up on this 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 America 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 Lincoln.

Beyond those monuments to heroism is the Potomac River, and on the far
shore the sloping hills of Arlington National Cemetery with its row on
row of simple white markers bearing crosses or Stars of David. They add
up to only a tiny fraction of the price that has been paid for our
freedom.

Each one of those markers is a monument to the kinds 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 barber shop in 1917 to go to France with the famed
Rainbow Division. There, on the western front, he was killed trying to
carry a message between battalions under heavy artillery fire.

We are 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 thousands 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 Americans. God
bless you, and thank you.


***

Ronald Reagan
Second Inaugural Address
Monday, January 21, 1985

Senator Mathias, Chief Justice Burger, Vice President Bush, Speaker
O'Neill, Senator Dole, Reverend Clergy, members of my family and
friends, and my fellow citizens:

This day has been made brighter with the presence here of one who, for a
time, has been absent--Senator John Stennis.

God bless you and welcome back.

There is, however, one who is not with us today: Representative Gillis
Long of Louisiana left us last night. I wonder if we could all join in a
moment of silent prayer. (Moment of silent prayer.) Amen.

There are no words adequate to express my thanks for the great honor
that you have bestowed on me. I will do my utmost to be deserving of
your trust.

This is, as Senator Mathias told us, the 50th time that we the people
have celebrated this historic occasion. When the first President, George
Washington, placed his hand upon the Bible, he stood less than a single
day's journey by horseback from raw, untamed wilderness. There were 4
million Americans in a union of 13 States. Today we are 60 times as many
in a union of 50 States. We have lighted the world with our inventions,
gone to the aid of mankind wherever in the world there was a cry for
help, journeyed to the Moon and safely returned. So much has changed.
And yet we stand together as we did two centuries ago.

When I took this oath four years ago, I did so in a time of economic
stress. Voices were raised saying we had to look to our past for the
greatness and glory. But we, the present-day Americans, are not given to
looking backward. In this blessed land, there is always a better
tomorrow.

Four years ago, I spoke to you of a new beginning and we have
accomplished that. But in another sense, our new beginning is a
continuation of that beginning created two centuries ago when, for the
first time in history, government, the people said, was not our master,
it is our servant; its only power that which we the people allow it to
have.

That system has never failed us, but, for a time, we failed the system.
We asked things of government that government was not equipped to give.
We yielded authority to the National Government that properly belonged
to States or to local governments or to the people themselves. We
allowed taxes and inflation to rob us of our earnings and savings and
watched the great industrial machine that had made us the most
productive people on Earth slow down and the number of unemployed
increase.

By 1980, we knew it was time to renew our faith, to strive with all our
strength toward the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with an
orderly society.

We believed then and now there are no limits to growth and human
progress when men and women are free to follow their dreams.

And we were right to believe that. Tax rates have been reduced,
inflation cut dramatically, and more people are employed than ever
before in our history.

We are creating a nation once again vibrant, robust, and alive. But
there are many mountains yet to climb. We will not rest until every
American enjoys the fullness of freedom, dignity, and opportunity as our
birthright. It is our birthright as citizens of this great Republic, and
we'll meet this challenge.

These will be years when Americans have restored their confidence and
tradition of progress; when our values of faith, family, work, and
neighborhood were restated for a modern age; when our economy was
finally freed from government's grip; when we made sincere efforts at
meaningful arms reduction, rebuilding our defenses, our economy, and
developing new technologies, and helped preserve peace in a troubled
world; when Americans courageously supported the struggle for liberty,
self-government, and free enterprise throughout the world, and turned
the tide of history away from totalitarian darkness and into the warm
sunlight of human freedom.

My fellow citizens, our Nation is poised for greatness. We must do what
we know is right and do it with all our might. Let history say of us,
"These were golden years--when the American Revolution was reborn, when
freedom gained new life, when America reached for her best."

Our two-party system has served us well over the years, but never better
than in those times of great challenge when we came together not as
Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans united in a common cause.

Two of our Founding Fathers, a Boston lawyer named Adams and a Virginia
planter named Jefferson, members of that remarkable group who met in
Independence Hall and dared to think they could start the world over
again, left us an important lesson. They had become political rivals in
the Presidential election of 1800. Then years later, when both were
retired, and age had softened their anger, they began to speak to each
other again through letters. A bond was reestablished between those two
who had helped create this government of ours.

In 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, they
both died. They died on the same day, within a few hours of each other,
and that day was the Fourth of July.

In one of those letters exchanged in the sunset of their lives,
Jefferson wrote: "It carries me back to the times when, beset with
difficulties and dangers, we were fellow laborers in the same cause,
struggling for what is most valuable to man, his right to
self-government. Laboring always at the same oar, with some wave ever
ahead threatening to overwhelm us, and yet passing harmless. . .we rode
through the storm with heart and hand."

Well, with heart and hand, let us stand as one today: One people under
God determined that our future shall be worthy of our past. As we do, we
must not repeat the well-intentioned errors of our past. We must never
again abuse the trust of working men and women, by sending their
earnings on a futile chase after the spiraling demands of a bloated
Federal Establishment. You elected us in 1980 to end this prescription
for disaster, and I don't believe you reelected us in 1984 to reverse
course.

At the heart of our efforts is one idea vindicated by 25 straight months
of economic growth: Freedom and incentives unleash the drive and
entrepreneurial genius that are the core of human progress. We have
begun to increase the rewards for work, savings, and investment; reduce
the increase in the cost and size of government and its interference in
people's lives.

We must simplify our tax system, make it more fair, and bring the rates
down for all who work and earn. We must think anew and move with a new
boldness, so every American who seeks work can find work; so the least
among us shall have an equal chance to achieve the greatest things--to
be heroes who heal our sick, feed the hungry, protect peace among
nations, and leave this world a better place.

The time has come for a new American emancipation--a great national
drive to tear down economic barriers and liberate the spirit of
enterprise in the most distressed areas of our country. My friends,
together we can do this, and do it we must, so help me God.

From new freedom will spring new opportunities for growth, a more
productive, fulfilled and united people, and a stronger America--an
America that will lead the technological revolution, and also open its
mind and heart and soul to the treasures of literature, music, and
poetry, and the values of faith, courage, and love.

A dynamic economy, with more citizens working and paying taxes, will be
our strongest tool to bring down budget deficits. But an almost unbroken
50 years of deficit spending has finally brought us to a time of
reckoning. We have come to a turning point, a moment for hard decisions.
I have asked the Cabinet and my staff a question, and now I put the same
question to all of you: If not us, who? And if not now, when? It must be
done by all of us going forward with a program aimed at reaching a
balanced budget. We can then begin reducing the national debt.

I will shortly submit a budget to the Congress aimed at freezing
government program spending for the next year. Beyond that, we must take
further steps to permanently control Government's power to tax and
spend. We must act now to protect future generations from Government's
desire to spend its citizens' money and tax them into servitude when the
bills come due. Let us make it unconstitutional for the Federal
Government to spend more than the Federal Government takes in.

We have already started returning to the people and to State and local
governments responsibilities better handled by them. Now, there is a
place for the Federal Government in matters of social compassion. But
our fundamental goals must be to reduce dependency and upgrade the
dignity of those who are infirm or disadvantaged. And here a growing
economy and support from family and community offer our best chance for
a society where compassion is a way of life, where the old and infirm
are cared for, the young and, yes, the unborn protected, and the
unfortunate looked after and made self-sufficient.

And there is another area where the Federal Government can play a part.
As an older American, I remember a time when people of different race,
creed, or ethnic origin in our land found hatred and prejudice installed
in social custom and, yes, in law. There is no story more heartening in
our history than the progress that we have made toward the "brotherhood
of man" that God intended for us. Let us resolve there will be no
turning back or hesitation on the road to an America rich in dignity and
abundant with opportunity for all our citizens.

Let us resolve that we the people will build an American opportunity
society in which all of us--white and black, rich and poor, young and
old--will go forward together arm in arm. Again, let us remember that
though our heritage is one of blood lines from every corner of the
Earth, we are all Americans pledged to carry on this last, best hope of
man on Earth.

I have spoken of our domestic goals and the limitations which we should
put on our National Government. Now let me turn to a task which is the
primary responsibility of National Government--the safety and security
of our people.

Today, we utter no prayer more fervently than the ancient prayer for
peace on Earth. Yet history has shown that peace will not come, nor will
our freedom be preserved, by good will alone. There are those in the
world who scorn our vision of human dignity and freedom. One nation, the
Soviet Union, has conducted the greatest military buildup in the history
of man, building arsenals of awesome offensive weapons.

We have made progress in restoring our defense capability. But much
remains to be done. There must be no wavering by us, nor any doubts by
others, that America will meet her responsibilities to remain free,
secure, and at peace.

There is only one way safely and legitimately to reduce the cost of
national security, and that is to reduce the need for it. And this we
are trying to do in negotiations with the Soviet Union. We are not just
discussing limits on a further increase of nuclear weapons. We seek,
instead, to reduce their number. We seek the total elimination one day
of nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth.

Now, for decades, we and the Soviets have lived under the threat of
mutual assured destruction; if either resorted to the use of nuclear
weapons, the other could retaliate and destroy the one who had started
it. Is there either logic or morality in believing that if one side
threatens to kill tens of millions of our people, our only recourse is
to threaten killing tens of millions of theirs?

I have approved a research program to find, if we can, a security shield
that would destroy nuclear missiles before they reach their target. It
wouldn't kill people, it would destroy weapons. It wouldn't militarize
space, it would help demilitarize the arsenals of Earth. It would render
nuclear weapons obsolete. We will meet with the Soviets, hoping that we
can agree on a way to rid the world of the threat of nuclear
destruction.

We strive for peace and security, heartened by the changes all around
us. Since the turn of the century, the number of democracies in the
world has grown fourfold. Human freedom is on the march, and nowhere
more so than our own hemisphere. Freedom is one of the deepest and
noblest aspirations of the human spirit. People, worldwide, hunger for
the right of self-determination, for those inalienable rights that make
for human dignity and progress.

America must remain freedom's staunchest friend, for freedom is our best
ally.

And it is the world's only hope, to conquer poverty and preserve peace.
Every blow we inflict against poverty will be a blow against its dark
allies of oppression and war. Every victory for human freedom will be a
victory for world peace.

So we go forward today, a nation still mighty in its youth and powerful
in its purpose. With our alliances strengthened, with our economy
leading the world to a new age of economic expansion, we look forward to
a world rich in possibilities. And all this because we have worked and
acted together, not as members of political parties, but as Americans.

My friends, we live in a world that is lit by lightning. So much is
changing and will change, but so much endures, and transcends time.

History is a ribbon, always unfurling; history is a journey. And as we
continue our journey, we think of those who traveled before us. We stand
together again at the steps of this symbol of our democracy--or we would
have been standing at the steps if it hadn't gotten so cold. Now we are
standing inside this symbol of our democracy. Now we hear again the
echoes of our past: a general falls to his knees in the hard snow of
Valley Forge; a lonely President paces the darkened halls, and ponders
his struggle to preserve the Union; the men of the Alamo call out
encouragement to each other; a settler pushes west and sings a song, and
the song echoes out forever and fills the unknowing air.

It is the American sound. It is hopeful, big-hearted, idealistic,
daring, decent, and fair. That's our heritage; that is our song. We sing
it still. For all our problems, our differences, we are together as of
old, as we raise our voices to the God who is the Author of this most
tender music. And may He continue to hold us close as we fill the world
with our sound--sound in unity, affection, and love--one people under
God, dedicated to the dream of freedom that He has placed in the human
heart, called upon now to pass that dream on to a waiting and hopeful
world.

God bless you and may God bless America.



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