First Inaugural Address

Harry S. Truman

January 20, 1949

Mr. Vice President, Mr. Chief Justice, and fellow citizens, I accept
with humility the honor which the American people have conferred upon
me. I accept it with a deep resolve to do all that I can for the
welfare of this Nation and for the peace of the world.

In performing the duties of my office, I need the help and prayers of
every one of you. I ask for your encouragement and your support. The
tasks we face are difficult, and we can accomplish them only if we work
together.

Each period of our national history has had its special challenges.
Those that confront us now are as momentous as any in the past. Today
marks the beginning not only of a new administration, but of a period
that will be eventful, perhaps decisive, for us and for the world.

It may be our lot to experience, and in large measure to bring about, a
major turning point in the long history of the human race. The first
half of this century has been marked by unprecedented and brutal
attacks on the rights of man, and by the two most frightful wars in
history. The supreme need of our time is for men to learn to live
together in peace and harmony.

The peoples of the earth face the future with grave uncertainty,
composed almost equally of great hopes and great fears. In this time of
doubt, they look to the United States as never before for good will,
strength, and wise leadership.

It is fitting, therefore, that we take this occasion to proclaim to the
world the essential principles of the faith by which we live, and to
declare our aims to all peoples.

The American people stand firm in the faith which has inspired this
Nation from the beginning. We believe that all men have a right to
equal justice under law and equal opportunity to share in the common
good. We believe that all men have the right to freedom of thought and
expression. We believe that all men are created equal because they are
created in the image of God.

From this faith we will not be moved.

The American people desire, and are determined to work for, a world in
which all nations and all peoples are free to govern themselves as they
see fit, and to achieve a decent and satisfying life. Above all else,
our people desire, and are determined to work for, peace on earth — a
just and lasting peace — based on genuine agreement freely arrived at
by equals.

In the pursuit of these aims, the United States and other like—minded
nations find themselves directly opposed by a regime with contrary aims
and a totally different concept of life.

That regime adheres to a false philosophy which purports to offer
freedom, security, and greater opportunity to mankind. Misled by this
philosophy, many peoples have sacrificed their liberties only to learn
to their sorrow that deceit and mockery, poverty and tyranny, are their
reward.

That false philosophy is communism.

Communism is based on the belief that man is so weak and inadequate
that he is unable to govern himself, and therefore requires the rule of
strong masters.

Democracy is based on the conviction that man has the moral and
intellectual capacity, as well as the inalienable right, to govern
himself with reason and justice.

Communism subjects the individual to arrest without lawful cause,
punishment without trial, and forced labor as the chattel of the state.
It decrees what information he shall receive, what art he shall
produce, what leaders he shall follow, and what thoughts he shall think.

Democracy maintains that government is established for the benefit of
the individual, and is charged with the responsibility of protecting
the rights of the individual and his freedom in the exercise of his
abilities.

Communism maintains that social wrongs can be corrected only by
violence.

Democracy has proved that social justice can be achieved through
peaceful change.

Communism holds that the world is so deeply divided into opposing
classes that war is inevitable.

Democracy holds that free nations can settle differences justly and
maintain lasting peace.

These differences between communism and democracy do not concern the
United States alone. People everywhere are coming to realize that what
is involved is material well—being, human dignity, and the right to
believe in and worship God.

I state these differences, not to draw issues of belief as such, but
because the actions resulting from the Communist philosophy are a
threat to the efforts of free nations to bring about world recovery and
lasting peace.

Since the end of hostilities, the United States has invested its
substance and its energy in a great constructive effort to restore
peace, stability, and freedom to the world.

We have sought no territory and we have imposed our will on none. We
have asked for no privileges we would not extend to others.

We have constantly and vigorously supported the United Nations and
related agencies as a means of applying democratic principles to
international relations. We have consistently advocated and relied upon
peaceful settlement of disputes among nations.

We have made every effort to secure agreement on effective
international control of our most powerful weapon, and we have worked
steadily for the limitation and control of all armaments.

We have encouraged, by precept and example, the expansion of world
trade on a sound and fair basis.

Almost a year ago, in company with 16 free nations of Europe, we
launched the greatest cooperative economic program in history. The
purpose of that unprecedented effort is to invigorate and strengthen
democracy in Europe, so that the free people of that continent can
resume their rightful place in the forefront of civilization and can
contribute once more to the security and welfare of the world.

Our efforts have brought new hope to all mankind. We have beaten back
despair and defeatism. We have saved a number of countries from losing
their liberty. Hundreds of millions of people all over the world now
agree with us, that we need not have war — that we can have peace.

The initiative is ours.

We are moving on with other nations to build an even stronger structure
of international order and justice. We shall have as our partners
countries which, no longer solely concerned with the problem of
national survival, are now working to improve the standards of living
of all their people. We are ready to undertake new projects to
strengthen the free world.

In the coming years, our program for peace and freedom will emphasize
four major courses of action.

First, we will continue to give unfaltering support to the United
Nations and related agencies, and we will continue to search for ways
to strengthen their authority and increase their effectiveness. We
believe that the United Nations will be strengthened by the new nations
which are being formed in lands now advancing toward self—government
under democratic principles.

Second, we will continue our programs for world economic recovery.

This means, first of all, that we must keep our full weight behind the
European recovery program. We are confident of the success of this
major venture in world recovery. We believe that our partners in this
effort will achieve the status of self—supporting nations once again.

In addition, we must carry out our plans for reducing the barriers to
world trade and increasing its volume. Economic recovery and peace
itself depend on increased world trade.

Third, we will strengthen freedom—loving nations against the dangers of
aggression.

We are now working out with a number of countries a joint agreement
designed to strengthen the security of the North Atlantic area. Such an
agreement would take the form of a collective defense arrangement
within the terms of the United Nations Charter.

We have already established such a defense pact for the Western
Hemisphere by the treaty of Rio de Janeiro.

The primary purpose of these agreements is to provide unmistakable
proof of the joint determination of the free countries to resist armed
attack from any quarter. Each country participating in these
arrangements must contribute all it can to the common defense.

If we can make it sufficiently clear, in advance, that any armed attack
affecting our national security would be met with overwhelming force,
the armed attack might never occur.

I hope soon to send to the Senate a treaty respecting the North
Atlantic security plan.

In addition, we will provide military advice and equipment to free
nations which will cooperate with us in the maintenance of peace and
security.

Fourth, we must embark on a bold new program for making the benefits of
our scientific advances and industrial progress available for the
improvement and growth of underdeveloped areas.

More than half the people of the world are living in conditions
approaching misery. Their food is inadequate. They are victims of
disease. Their economic life is primitive and stagnant. Their poverty
is a handicap and a threat both to them and to more prosperous areas.

For the first time in history, humanity possesses the knowledge and the
skill to relieve the suffering of these people.

The United States is pre—eminent among nations in the development of
industrial and scientific techniques. The material resources which we
can afford to use for the assistance of other peoples are limited. But
our imponderable resources in technical knowledge are constantly
growing and are inexhaustible.

I believe that we should make available to peace—loving peoples the
benefits of our store of technical knowledge in order to help them
realize their aspirations for a better life. And, in cooperation with
other nations, we should foster capital investment in areas needing
development.

Our aim should be to help the free peoples of the world, through their
own efforts, to produce more food, more clothing, more materials for
housing, and more mechanical power to lighten their burdens.

We invite other countries to pool their technological resources in this
undertaking. Their contributions will be warmly welcomed. This should
be a cooperative enterprise in which all nations work together through
the United Nations and its specialized agencies wherever practicable.
It must be a worldwide effort for the achievement of peace, plenty, and
freedom.

With the cooperation of business, private capital, agriculture, and
labor in this country, this program can greatly increase the industrial
activity in other nations and can raise substantially their standards
of living.

Such new economic developments must be devised and controlled to
benefit the peoples of the areas in which they are established.
Guarantees to the investor must be balanced by guarantees in the
interest of the people whose resources and whose labor go into these
developments.

The old imperialism — exploitation for foreign profit — has no place in
our plans. What we envisage is a program of development based on the
concepts of democratic fair—dealing.

All countries, including our own, will greatly benefit from a
constructive program for the better use of the world’s human and
natural resources. Experience shows that our commerce with other
countries expands as they progress industrially and economically.

Greater production is the key to prosperity and peace. And the key to
greater production is a wider and more vigorous application of modern
scientific and technical knowledge.

Only by helping the least fortunate of its members to help themselves
can the human family achieve the decent, satisfying life that is the
right of all people.

Democracy alone can supply the vitalizing force to stir the peoples of
the world into triumphant action, not only against their human
oppressors, but also against their ancient enemies — hunger, misery,
and despair.

On the basis of these four major courses of action we hope to help
create the conditions that will lead eventually to personal freedom and
happiness for all mankind.

If we are to be successful in carrying out these policies, it is clear
that we must have continued prosperity in this country and we must keep
ourselves strong.

Slowly but surely we are weaving a world fabric of international
security and growing prosperity.

We are aided by all who wish to live in freedom from fear — even by
those who live today in fear under their own governments.

We are aided by all who want relief from the lies of propaganda — who
desire truth and sincerity.

We are aided by all who desire self—government and a voice in deciding
their own affairs.

We are aided by all who long for economic security — for the security
and abundance that men in free societies can enjoy.

We are aided by all who desire freedom of speech, freedom of religion,
and freedom to live their own lives for useful ends.

Our allies are the millions who hunger and thirst after righteousness.

In due time, as our stability becomes manifest, as more and more
nations come to know the benefits of democracy and to participate in
growing abundance, I believe that those countries which now oppose us
will abandon their delusions and join with the free nations of the
world in a just settlement of international differences.

Events have brought our American democracy to new influence and new
responsibilities. They will test our courage, our devotion to duty, and
our concept of liberty.

But I say to all men, what we have achieved in liberty, we will surpass
in greater liberty.

Steadfast in our faith in the Almighty, we will advance toward a world
where man’s freedom is secure.

To that end we will devote our strength, our resources, and our
firmness of resolve. With God’s help, the future of mankind will be
assured in a world of justice, harmony, and peace.

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