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MY friends, before I begin the expression of those thoughts that I deem
appropriate to this moment, would you permit me the privilege of
uttering a little private prayer of my own. And I ask that you bow your
Almighty God, as we stand here at this moment my future associates in
the executive branch of government join me in beseeching that Thou will
make full and complete our dedication to the service of the people in
this throng, and their fellow citizens everywhere.
Give us, we pray, the power to discern clearly right from wrong, and
allow all our words and actions to be governed thereby, and by the laws
of this land. Especially we pray that our concern shall be for all the
people regardless of station, race, or calling.
May cooperation be permitted and be the mutual aim of those who, under
the concepts of our Constitution, hold to differing political faiths;
so that all may work for the good of our beloved country and Thy glory.
My fellow citizens:
The world and we have passed the midway point of a century of
continuing challenge. We sense with all our faculties that forces of
good and evil are massed and armed and opposed as rarely before in
This fact defines the meaning of this day. We are summoned by this
honored and historic ceremony to witness more than the act of one
citizen swearing his oath of service, in the presence of God. We are
called as a people to give testimony in the sight of the world to our
faith that the future shall belong to the free.
Since this century’s beginning, a time of tempest has seemed to come
upon the continents of the earth. Masses of Asia have awakened to
strike off shackles of the past. Great nations of Europe have fought
their bloodiest wars. Thrones have toppled and their vast empires have
disappeared. New nations have been born.
For our own country, it has been a time of recurring trial. We have
grown in power and in responsibility. We have passed through the
anxieties of depression and of war to a summit unmatched in man’s
history. Seeking to secure peace in the world, we have had to fight
through the forests of the Argonne, to the shores of Iwo Jima, and to
the cold mountains of Korea.
In the swift rush of great events, we find ourselves groping to know
the full sense and meaning of these times in which we live. In our
quest of understanding, we beseech God’s guidance. We summon all our
knowledge of the past and we scan all signs of the future. We bring all
our wit and all our will to meet the question:
How far have we come in man’s long pilgrimage from darkness toward
light? Are we nearing the light — a day of freedom and of peace for all
mankind? Or are the shadows of another night closing in upon us?
Great as are the preoccupations absorbing us at home, concerned as we
are with matters that deeply affect our livelihood today and our vision
of the future, each of these domestic problems is dwarfed by, and often
even created by, this question that involves all humankind.
This trial comes at a moment when man’s power to achieve good or to
inflict evil surpasses the brightest hopes and the sharpest fears of
all ages. We can turn rivers in their courses, level mountains to the
plains. Oceans and land and sky are avenues for our colossal commerce.
Disease diminishes and life lengthens.
Yet the promise of this life is imperiled by the very genius that has
made it possible. Nations amass wealth. Labor sweats to create — and
turns out devices to level not only mountains but also cities. Science
seems ready to confer upon us, as its final gift, the power to erase
human life from this planet.
At such a time in history, we who are free must proclaim anew our
faith. This faith is the abiding creed of our fathers. It is our faith
in the deathless dignity of man, governed by eternal moral and natural
This faith defines our full view of life. It establishes, beyond
debate, those gifts of the Creator that are man’s inalienable rights,
and that make all men equal in His sight.
In the light of this equality, we know that the virtues most cherished
by free people — love of truth, pride of work, devotion to country —
all are treasures equally precious in the lives of the most humble and
of the most exalted. The men who mine coal and fire furnaces and
balance ledgers and turn lathes and pick cotton and heal the sick and
plant corn — all serve as proudly, and as profitably, for America as
the statesmen who draft treaties and the legislators who enact laws.
This faith rules our whole way of life. It decrees that we, the people,
elect leaders not to rule but to serve. It asserts that we have the
right to choice of our own work and to the reward of our own toil. It
inspires the initiative that makes our productivity the wonder of the
world. And it warns that any man who seeks to deny equality among all
his brothers betrays the spirit of the free and invites the mockery of
It is because we, all of us, hold to these principles that the
political changes accomplished this day do not imply turbulence,
upheaval or disorder. Rather this change expresses a purpose of
strengthening our dedication and devotion to the precepts of our
founding documents, a conscious renewal of faith in our country and in
the watchfulness of a Divine Providence.
The enemies of this faith know no god but force, no devotion but its
use. They tutor men in treason. They feed upon the hunger of others.
Whatever defies them, they torture, especially the truth.
Here, then, is joined no argument between slightly differing
philosophies. This conflict strikes directly at the faith of our
fathers and the lives of our sons. No principle or treasure that we
hold, from the spiritual knowledge of our free schools and churches to
the creative magic of free labor and capital, nothing lies safely
beyond the reach of this struggle.
Freedom is pitted against slavery; lightness against the dark.
The faith we hold belongs not to us alone but to the free of all the
world. This common bond binds the grower of rice in Burma and the
planter of wheat in Iowa, the shepherd in southern Italy and the
mountaineer in the Andes. It confers a common dignity upon the French
soldier who dies in Indo—China, the British soldier killed in Malaya,
the American life given in Korea.
We know, beyond this, that we are linked to all free peoples not merely
by a noble idea but by a simple need. No free people can for long cling
to any privilege or enjoy any safety in economic solitude. For all our
own material might, even we need markets in the world for the surpluses
of our farms and our factories. Equally, we need for these same farms
and factories vital materials and products of distant lands. This basic
law of interdependence, so manifest in the commerce of peace, applies
with thousand-fold intensity in the event of war.
So we are persuaded by necessity and by belief that the strength of all
free peoples lies in unity; their danger, in discord.
To produce this unity, to meet the challenge of our time, destiny has
laid upon our country the responsibility of the free world’s leadership.
So it is proper that we assure our friends once again that, in the
discharge of this responsibility, we Americans know and we observe the
difference between world leadership and imperialism; between firmness
and truculence; between a thoughtfully calculated goal and spasmodic
reaction to the stimulus of emergencies.
We wish our friends the world over to know this above all: we face the
threat — not with dread and confusion — but with confidence and
We feel this moral strength because we know that we are not helpless
prisoners of history. We are free men. We shall remain free, never to
be proven guilty of the one capital offense against freedom, a lack of
In pleading our just cause before the bar of history and in pressing
our labor for world peace, we shall be guided by certain fixed
These principles are:
(1) Abhorring war as a chosen way to balk the purposes of those who
threaten us, we hold it to be the first task of statesmanship to
develop the strength that will deter the forces of aggression and
promote the conditions of peace. For, as it must be the supreme purpose
of all free men, so it must be the dedication of their leaders, to save
humanity from preying upon itself.
In the light of this principle, we stand ready to engage with any and
all others in joint effort to remove the causes of mutual fear and
distrust among nations, so as to make possible drastic reduction of
armaments. The sole requisites for undertaking such effort are that —
in their purpose — they be aimed logically and honestly toward secure
peace for all; and that — in their result — they provide methods by
which every participating nation will prove good faith in carrying out
(2) Realizing that common sense and common decency alike dictate the
futility of appeasement, we shall never try to placate an aggressor by
the false and wicked bargain of trading honor for security. Americans,
indeed all free men, remember that in the final choice a soldier’s pack
is not so heavy a burden as a prisoner’s chains.
(3) Knowing that only a United States that is strong and immensely
productive can help defend freedom in our world, we view our Nation’s
strength and security as a trust upon which rests the hope of free men
everywhere. It is the firm duty of each of our free citizens and of
every free citizen everywhere to place the cause of his country before
the comfort, the convenience of himself.
(4) Honoring the identity and the special heritage of each nation in