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Warren G. Harding
Inaugural Address
Friday, March 4, 1921

My Countrymen:

WHEN one surveys the world about him after the great storm, noting the
marks of destruction and yet rejoicing in the ruggedness of the things
which withstood it, if he is an American he breathes the clarified
atmosphere with a strange mingling of regret and new hope. We have seen
a world passion spend its fury, but we contemplate our Republic
unshaken, and hold our civilization secure. Liberty--liberty within the
law--and civilization are inseparable, and though both were threatened
we find them now secure; and there comes to Americans the profound
assurance that our representative government is the highest expression
and surest guaranty of both.

Standing in this presence, mindful of the solemnity of this occasion,
feeling the emotions which no one may know until he senses the great
weight of responsibility for himself, I must utter my belief in the
divine inspiration of the founding fathers. Surely there must have been
God's intent in the making of this new-world Republic. Ours is an
organic law which had but one ambiguity, and we saw that effaced in a
baptism of sacrifice and blood, with union maintained, the Nation
supreme, and its concord inspiring. We have seen the world rivet its
hopeful gaze on the great truths on which the founders wrought. We have
seen civil, human, and religious liberty verified and glorified. In the
beginning the Old World scoffed at our experiment; today our foundations
of political and social belief stand unshaken, a precious inheritance to
ourselves, an inspiring example of freedom and civilization to all
mankind. Let us express renewed and strengthened devotion, in grateful
reverence for the immortal beginning, and utter our confidence in the
supreme fulfillment.

The recorded progress of our Republic, materially and spiritually, in
itself proves the wisdom of the inherited policy of noninvolvement in
Old World affairs. Confident of our ability to work out our own destiny,
and jealously guarding our right to do so, we seek no part in directing
the destinies of the Old World. We do not mean to be entangled. We will
accept no responsibility except as our own conscience and judgment, in
each instance, may determine.

Our eyes never will be blind to a developing menace, our ears never deaf
to the call of civilization. We recognize the new order in the world,
with the closer contacts which progress has wrought. We sense the call
of the human heart for fellowship, fraternity, and cooperation. We crave
friendship and harbor no hate. But America, our America, the America
builded on the foundation laid by the inspired fathers, can be a party
to no permanent military alliance. It can enter into no political
commitments, nor assume any economic obligations which will subject our
decisions to any other than our own authority.

I am sure our own people will not misunderstand, nor will the world
misconstrue. We have no thought to impede the paths to closer
relationship. We wish to promote understanding. We want to do our part
in making offensive warfare so hateful that Governments and peoples who
resort to it must prove the righteousness of their cause or stand as
outlaws before the bar of civilization.

We are ready to associate ourselves with the nations of the world, great
and small, for conference, for counsel; to seek the expressed views of
world opinion; to recommend a way to approximate disarmament and relieve
the crushing burdens of military and naval establishments. We elect to
participate in suggesting plans for mediation, conciliation, and
arbitration, and would gladly join in that expressed conscience of
progress, which seeks to clarify and write the laws of international
relationship, and establish a world court for the disposition of such
justiciable questions as nations are agreed to submit thereto. In
expressing aspirations, in seeking practical plans, in translating
humanity's new concept of righteousness and justice and its hatred of
war into recommended action we are ready most heartily to unite, but
every commitment must be made in the exercise of our national
sovereignty. Since freedom impelled, and independence inspired, and
nationality exalted, a world supergovernment is contrary to everything
we cherish and can have no sanction by our Republic. This is not
selfishness, it is sanctity. It is not aloofness, it is security. It is
not suspicion of others, it is patriotic adherence to the things which
made us what we are.

Today, better than ever before, we know the aspirations of humankind,
and share them. We have come to a new realization of our place in the
world and a new appraisal of our Nation by the world. The unselfishness
of these United States is a thing proven; our devotion to peace for
ourselves and for the world is well established; our concern for
preserved civilization has had its impassioned and heroic expression.
There was no American failure to resist the attempted reversion of
civilization; there will be no failure today or tomorrow.

The success of our popular government rests wholly upon the correct
interpretation of the deliberate, intelligent, dependable popular will
of America. In a deliberate questioning of a suggested change of
national policy, where internationality was to supersede nationality, we
turned to a referendum, to the American people. There was ample
discussion, and there is a public mandate in manifest understanding.

America is ready to encourage, eager to initiate, anxious to participate
in any seemly program likely to lessen the probability of war, and
promote that brotherhood of mankind which must be God's highest
conception of human relationship. Because we cherish ideals of justice
and peace, because we appraise international comity and helpful
relationship no less highly than any people of the world, we aspire to a
high place in the moral leadership of civilization, and we hold a
maintained America, the proven Republic, the unshaken temple of
representative democracy, to be not only an inspiration and example, but
the highest agency of strengthening good will and promoting accord on
both continents.

Mankind needs a world-wide benediction of understanding. It is needed
among individuals, among peoples, among governments, and it will
inaugurate an era of good feeling to make the birth of a new order. In
such understanding men will strive confidently for the promotion of
their better relationships and nations will promote the comities so
essential to peace.

We must understand that ties of trade bind nations in closest intimacy,
and none may receive except as he gives. We have not strengthened ours
in accordance with our resources or our genius, notably on our own
continent, where a galaxy of Republics reflects the glory of new-world
democracy, but in the new order of finance and trade we mean to promote
enlarged activities and seek expanded confidence.

Perhaps we can make no more helpful contribution by example than prove a
Republic's capacity to emerge from the wreckage of war. While the
world's embittered travail did not leave us devastated lands nor
desolated cities, left no gaping wounds, no breast with hate, it did
involve us in the delirium of expenditure, in expanded currency and
credits, in unbalanced industry, in unspeakable waste, and disturbed
relationships. While it uncovered our portion of hateful selfishness at
home, it also revealed the heart of America as sound and fearless, and
beating in confidence unfailing.

Amid it all we have riveted the gaze of all civilization to the
unselfishness and the righteousness of representative democracy, where
our freedom never has made offensive warfare, never has sought
territorial aggrandizement through force, never has turned to the
arbitrament of arms until reason has been exhausted. When the
Governments of the earth shall have established a freedom like our own
and shall have sanctioned the pursuit of peace as we have practiced it,
I believe the last sorrow and the final sacrifice of international
warfare will have been written.

Let me speak to the maimed and wounded soldiers who are present today,
and through them convey to their comrades the gratitude of the Republic
for their sacrifices in its defense. A generous country will never
forget the services you rendered, and you may hope for a policy under
Government that will relieve any maimed successors from taking your
places on another such occasion as this.

Our supreme task is the resumption of our onward, normal way.
Reconstruction, readjustment, restoration all these must follow. I would
like to hasten them. If it will lighten the spirit and add to the
resolution with which we take up the task, let me repeat for our Nation,
we shall give no people just cause to make war upon us; we hold no
national prejudices; we entertain no spirit of revenge; we do not hate;
we do not covet; we dream of no conquest, nor boast of armed prowess.

If, despite this attitude, war is again forced upon us, I earnestly hope
a way may be found which will unify our individual and collective
strength and consecrate all America, materially and spiritually, body
and soul, to national defense. I can vision the ideal republic, where
every man and woman is called under the flag for assignment to duty for
whatever service, military or civic, the individual is best fitted;
where we may call to universal service every plant, agency, or facility,
all in the sublime sacrifice for country, and not one penny of war
profit shall inure to the benefit of private individual, corporation, or
combination, but all above the normal shall flow into the defense chest
of the Nation. There is something inherently wrong, something out of
accord with the ideals of representative democracy, when one portion of
our citizenship turns its activities to private gain amid defensive war
while another is fighting, sacrificing, or dying for national

Out of such universal service will come a new unity of spirit and
purpose, a new confidence and consecration, which would make our defense
impregnable, our triumph assured. Then we should have little or no
disorganization of our economic, industrial, and commercial systems at
home, no staggering war debts, no swollen fortunes to flout the
sacrifices of our soldiers, no excuse for sedition, no pitiable
slackerism, no outrage of treason. Envy and jealousy would have no soil
for their menacing development, and revolution would be without the
passion which engenders it.

A regret for the mistakes of yesterday must not, however, blind us to
the tasks of today. War never left such an aftermath. There has been
staggering loss of life and measureless wastage of materials. Nations
are still groping for return to stable ways. Discouraging indebtedness
confronts us like all the war-torn nations, and these obligations must
be provided for. No civilization can survive repudiation.

We can reduce the abnormal expenditures, and we will. We can strike at
war taxation, and we must. We must face the grim necessity, with full
knowledge that the task is to be solved, and we must proceed with a full
realization that no statute enacted by man can repeal the inexorable
laws of nature. Our most dangerous tendency is to expect too much of
government, and at the same time do for it too little. We contemplate
the immediate task of putting our public household in order. We need a
rigid and yet sane economy, combined with fiscal justice, and it must be
attended by individual prudence and thrift, which are so essential to
this trying hour and reassuring for the future.

The business world reflects the disturbance of war's reaction. Herein
flows the lifeblood of material existence. The economic mechanism is
intricate and its parts interdependent, and has suffered the shocks and
jars incident to abnormal demands, credit inflations, and price
upheavals. The normal balances have been impaired, the channels of
distribution have been clogged, the relations of labor and management
have been strained. We must seek the readjustment with care and courage.
Our people must give and take. Prices must reflect the receding fever of
war activities. Perhaps we never shall know the old levels of wages
again, because war invariably readjusts compensations, and the
necessaries of life will show their inseparable relationship, but we
must strive for normalcy to reach stability. All the penalties will not
be light, nor evenly distributed. There is no way of making them so.
There is no instant step from disorder to order. We must face a
condition of grim reality, charge off our losses and start afresh. It is
the oldest lesson of civilization. I would like government to do all it
can to mitigate; then, in understanding, in mutuality of interest, in
concern for the common good, our tasks will be solved. No altered system
will work a miracle. Any wild experiment will only add to the confusion.
Our best assurance lies in efficient administration of our proven

The forward course of the business cycle is unmistakable. Peoples are
turning from destruction to production. Industry has sensed the changed
order and our own people are turning to resume their normal, onward way.
The call is for productive America to go on. I know that Congress and
the Administration will favor every wise Government policy to aid the
resumption and encourage continued progress.

I speak for administrative efficiency, for lightened tax burdens, for
sound commercial practices, for adequate credit facilities, for
sympathetic concern for all agricultural problems, for the omission of
unnecessary interference of Government with business, for an end to
Government's experiment in business, and for more efficient business in
Government administration. With all of this must attend a mindfulness of
the human side of all activities, so that social, industrial, and
economic justice will be squared with the purposes of a righteous

With the nation-wide induction of womanhood into our political life, we
may count upon her intuitions, her refinements, her intelligence, and
her influence to exalt the social order. We count upon her exercise of
the full privileges and the performance of the duties of citizenship to
speed the attainment of the highest state.

I wish for an America no less alert in guarding against dangers from
within than it is watchful against enemies from without. Our fundamental
law recognizes no class, no group, no section; there must be none in
legislation or administration. The supreme inspiration is the common
weal. Humanity hungers for international peace, and we crave it with all
mankind. My most reverent prayer for America is for industrial peace,
with its rewards, widely and generally distributed, amid the
inspirations of equal opportunity. No one justly may deny the equality
of opportunity which made us what we are. We have mistaken
unpreparedness to embrace it to be a challenge of the reality, and due
concern for making all citizens fit for participation will give added
strength of citizenship and magnify our achievement.

If revolution insists upon overturning established order, let other
peoples make the tragic experiment. There is no place for it in America.
When World War threatened civilization we pledged our resources and our
lives to its preservation, and when revolution threatens we unfurl the
flag of law and order and renew our consecration. Ours is a
constitutional freedom where the popular will is the law supreme and
minorities are sacredly protected. Our revisions, reformations, and
evolutions reflect a deliberate judgment and an orderly progress, and we
mean to cure our ills, but never destroy or permit destruction by force.

I had rather submit our industrial controversies to the conference table
in advance than to a settlement table after conflict and suffering. The
earth is thirsting for the cup of good will, understanding is its
fountain source. I would like to acclaim an era of good feeling amid
dependable prosperity and all the blessings which attend.

It has been proved again and again that we cannot, while throwing our
markets open to the world, maintain American standards of living and
opportunity, and hold our industrial eminence in such unequal
competition. There is a luring fallacy in the theory of banished
barriers of trade, but preserved American standards require our higher
production costs to be reflected in our tariffs on imports. Today, as
never before, when peoples are seeking trade restoration and expansion,
we must adjust our tariffs to the new order. We seek participation in
the world's exchanges, because therein lies our way to widened influence
and the triumphs of peace. We know full well we cannot sell where we do
not buy, and we cannot sell successfully where we do not carry.
Opportunity is calling not alone for the restoration, but for a new era
in production, transportation and trade. We shall answer it best by
meeting the demand of a surpassing home market, by promoting
self-reliance in production, and by bidding enterprise, genius, and
efficiency to carry our cargoes in American bottoms to the marts of the

We would not have an America living within and for herself alone, but we
would have her self-reliant, independent, and ever nobler, stronger, and
richer. Believing in our higher standards, reared through constitutional
liberty and maintained opportunity, we invite the world to the same
heights. But pride in things wrought is no reflex of a completed task.
Common welfare is the goal of our national endeavor. Wealth is not
inimical to welfare; it ought to be its friendliest agency. There never
can be equality of rewards or possessions so long as the human plan
contains varied talents and differing degrees of industry and thrift,
but ours ought to be a country free from the great blotches of
distressed poverty. We ought to find a way to guard against the perils
and penalties of unemployment. We want an America of homes, illumined
with hope and happiness, where mothers, freed from the necessity for
long hours of toil beyond their own doors, may preside as befits the
hearthstone of American citizenship. We want the cradle of American
childhood rocked under conditions so wholesome and so hopeful that no
blight may touch it in its development, and we want to provide that no
selfish interest, no material necessity, no lack of opportunity shall
prevent the gaining of that education so essential to best citizenship.

There is no short cut to the making of these ideals into glad realities.
The world has witnessed again and again the futility and the mischief of
ill-considered remedies for social and economic disorders. But we are
mindful today as never before of the friction of modern industrialism,
and we must learn its causes and reduce its evil consequences by sober
and tested methods. Where genius has made for great possibilities,
justice and happiness must be reflected in a greater common welfare.

Service is the supreme commitment of life. I would rejoice to acclaim
the era of the Golden Rule and crown it with the autocracy of service. I
pledge an administration wherein all the agencies of Government are
called to serve, and ever promote an understanding of Government purely
as an expression of the popular will.

One cannot stand in this presence and be unmindful of the tremendous
responsibility. The world upheaval has added heavily to our tasks. But
with the realization comes the surge of high resolve, and there is
reassurance in belief in the God-given destiny of our Republic. If I
felt that there is to be sole responsibility in the Executive for the
America of tomorrow I should shrink from the burden. But here are a
hundred millions, with common concern and shared responsibility,
answerable to God and country. The Republic summons them to their duty,
and I invite co-operation.

I accept my part with single-mindedness of purpose and humility of
spirit, and implore the favor and guidance of God in His Heaven. With
these I am unafraid, and confidently face the future.

I have taken the solemn oath of office on that passage of Holy Writ
wherein it is asked: "What doth the Lord require of thee but to do
justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" This I
plight to God and country.

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