JFK's Inaugural Address
January 20, 1961, 12:11 EST
We observe today not a victory of party but a celebration of freedom. . .
symbolizing an end as well as a beginning. . .signifying renewal
as well as change for I have sworn before you and Almighty God
the same solemn oath our forbears prescribed nearly a century
and three-quarters ago.
The world is very different now, for man holds in his mortal hands
the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life.
And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forbears fought
are still at issue around the globe. . .the belief that the rights of man
come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.
We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution.
Let the word go forth from this time and place. . .to friend and foe alike. . .
that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans. . .
born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace,
proud of our ancient heritage. . .and unwilling to witness or permit the slow
undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed,
and to which we are committed today. . .at home and around the world.
Let every nation know. . .whether it wishes us well or ill. . .
that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship,
support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and
the success of liberty. This much we pledge. . .and more.
To those old allies whose cultural and spiritual origins we share:
we pledge the loyalty of faithful friends. United. . .there is
little we cannot do in a host of co-operative ventures.
Divided. . .there is little we can do. . .for we dare not meet
a powerful challenge, at odds, and split asunder.
To those new states whom we welcome to the ranks of the free:
we pledge our word that one form of colonial control shall not
have passed away merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny.
We shall not always expect to find them supporting our view.
But we shall always hope to find them strongly supporting their
own freedom. . .and to remember that. . .in the past. . .those who
foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.
To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe
struggling to break the bonds of mass misery: we pledge our best
efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period
is required. . .not because the Communists may be doing it,
not because we seek their votes, but because it is right.
If a free society cannot help the many who are poor,
it cannot save the few who are rich.
To our sister republics south of our border: we offer a special pledge. . .
to convert our good words into good deeds. . .in a new alliance for progress
. . .to assist free men and free governments in casting off the chains of
poverty. But this peaceful revolution of hope cannot become the prey of
hostile powers. Let all our neighbors know that we shall join with them
to oppose aggression or subversion anywhere in the Americas. . .and let
every other power know that this hemisphere intends to remain the master
of its own house.
To that world assembly of sovereign states: the United Nations. . .
our last best hope in an age where the instruments of war
have far outpaced the instruments of peace, we renew our pledge
of support. . .to prevent it from becoming merely a forum for
invective. . .to strengthen its shield of the new and the weak. . .
and to enlarge the area in which its writ may run.
Finally, to those nations who would make themselves our adversaries,
we offer not a pledge but a request: that both sides begin anew
the quest for peace; before the dark powers of destruction unleashed
by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction.
We dare not tempt them with weakness. For only when our arms are sufficient
beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.
But neither can two great and powerful groups of nations take comfort from
our present course. . .both sides overburdened by the cost of modern weapons,
both rightly alarmed by the steady spread of the deadly atom, yet both racing
to alter that uncertain balance of terror that stays the hand of Mankind's
So let us begin anew. . .remembering on both sides that civility
is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof.
Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.
Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring
those problems which divide us. Let both sides, for the first time,
formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and
control of arms. . .and bring the absolute power to destroy
other nations under the absolute control of all nations.
Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead
of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the
deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage
the arts and commerce. Let both sides unite to heed in all corners
of the earth the command of Isaiah. . .to "undo the heavy burdens. . .
let the oppressed go free..
And if a beachhead of co-operation may push back the jungle of suspicion. . .
let both sides join in creating not a new balance of power. . .
but a new world of law. . .where the strong are just. . .
and the weak secure. . .and the peace preserved. . . .
All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days.
Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days. . .
nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps
in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.
In your hands, my fellow citizens. . .more than mine. . .will rest the
final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded,
each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony
to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered
the call to service surround the globe. Now the trumpet summons us again. . .
not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need. . .not as a call to battle. . .
though embattled we are. . .but a call to bear the burden of a long
twilight struggle. . .year in and year out, rejoicing in hope,
patient in tribulation. . .a struggle against the common enemies of man:
tyranny. . .poverty. . .disease. . .and war itself. Can we forge against
these enemies a grand and global alliance. . .North and South. . .
East and West. . .that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind?
Will you join in that historic effort.
In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted
the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger; I do not shrink
from this responsibility. . .I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us
would exchange places with any other people or any other generation.
The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor
will light our country and all who serve it. . .and the glow from
that fire can truly light the world.
And so, my fellow Americans. . .ask not what your country can
do for you. . .ask what you can do for your country. My fellow
citizens of the world. . .ask not what America will do for you,
but what together we can do for the Freedom of Man.
Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world,
ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice
which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward,
with history the final judge of our deeds; let us go forth to lead
the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that
here on earth God's work must truly be our own.
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