Johnson, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, President Eisenhower, Vice President
Nixon, President Truman, reverend clergy, fellow citizens, 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 forebears 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 forebears 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, in order to assure the
survival and the success of liberty.
This much we pledge—and
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 cooperative
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 peoples in the
huts and villages across 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
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 adversary, 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
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 final war.
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 … and to let the oppressed go free.”
And if a beachhead of
cooperation may push back the jungle of suspicion, let both sides join in
creating a new endeavor, 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 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000
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 in 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
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
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 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.