THE PRESIDENT: My fellow citizens:
At this last presidential inauguration of the 20th century,
let us lift our eyes toward the challenges that await us in
the next century. It is our great good fortune that time and
chance have put us not only at the edge of a new century, in
a new millennium, but on the edge of a bright new prospect
in human affairs -- a moment that will define our course,
and our character, for decades to come. We must keep our old
democracy forever young. Guided by the ancient vision of a
promised land, let us set our sights upon a land of new
The promise of America was born in the 18th century out of
the bold conviction that we are all created equal. It was
extended and preserved in the 19th century, when our nation
spread across the continent, saved the union, and abolished
the awful scourge of slavery.
Then, in turmoil and triumph, that promise exploded onto the
world stage to make this the American Century.
And what a century it has been. America became the world's
mightiest industrial power; saved the world from tyranny in
two world wars and a long cold war; and time and again,
reached out across the globe to millions who, like us,
longed for the blessings of liberty.
Along the way, Americans produced a great middle class and
security in old age; built unrivaled centers of learning and
opened public schools to all; split the atom and explored
the heavens; invented the computer and the microchip; and
deepened the wellspring of justice by making a revolution in
civil rights for African Americans and all minorities, and
extending the circle of citizenship, opportunity and dignity
Now, for the third time, a new century is upon us, and
another time to choose. We began the 19th century with a
choice, to spread our nation from coast to coast. We began
the 20th century with a choice, to harness the Industrial
Revolution to our values of free enterprise, conservation,
and human decency. Those choices made all the difference. At
the dawn of the 21st century a free people must now choose
to shape the forces of the Information Age and the global
society, to unleash the limitless potential of all our
people, and, yes, to form a more perfect union.
When last we gathered, our march to this new future seemed
less certain than it does today. We vowed then to set a
clear course to renew our nation.
In these four years, we have been touched by tragedy,
exhilarated by challenge, strengthened by achievement.
America stands alone as the world's indispensable nation.
Once again, our economy is the strongest on Earth. Once
again, we are building stronger families, thriving
communities, better educational opportunities, a cleaner
environment. Problems that once seemed destined to deepen
now bend to our efforts: our streets are safer and record
numbers of our fellow citizens have moved from welfare to
And once again, we have resolved for our time a great debate
over the role of government. Today we can declare:
Government is not the problem, and government is not the
solution. We -- the American people -- we are the solution.
(Applause.) Our founders understood that well and gave us a
democracy strong enough to endure for centuries, flexible
enough to face our common challenges and advance our common
dreams in each new day.
As times change, so government must change. We need a new
government for a new century -- humble enough not to try to
solve all our problems for us, but strong enough to give us
the tools to solve our problems for ourselves; a government
that is smaller, lives within its means, and does more with
less. Yet where it can stand up for our values and interests
in the world, and where it can give Americans the power to
make a real difference in their everyday lives, government
should do more, not less. The preeminent mission of our new
government is to give all Americans an opportunity -- not a
guarantee, but a real opportunity -- to build better lives.
Beyond that, my fellow citizens, the future is up to us. Our
founders taught us that the preservation of our liberty and
our union depends upon responsible citizenship. And we need
a new sense of responsibility for a new century. There is
work to do, work that government alone cannot do: teaching
children to read; hiring people off welfare rolls; coming
out from behind locked doors and shuttered windows to help
reclaim our streets from drugs and gangs and crime; taking
time out of our own lives to serve others.
Each and every one of us, in our own way, must assume
personal responsibility -- not only for ourselves and our
families, but for our neighbors and our nation. (Applause.)
Our greatest responsibility is to embrace a new spirit of
community for a new century. For any one of us to succeed,
we must succeed as one America.
The challenge of our past remains the challenge of our
future -- will we be one nation, one people, with one common
destiny, or not? Will we all come together, or come
The divide of race has been America's constant curse. And
each new wave of immigrants gives new targets to old
prejudices. Prejudice and contempt, cloaked in the pretense
of religious or political conviction are no different.
(Applause.) These forces have nearly destroyed our nation in
the past. They plague us still. They fuel the fanaticism of
terror. And they torment the lives of millions in fractured
nations all around the world.
These obsessions cripple both those who hate and, of course,
those who are hated, robbing both of what they might become.
We cannot, we will not, succumb to the dark impulses that
lurk in the far regions of the soul everywhere. We shall
overcome them. (Applause.) And we shall replace them with
the generous spirit of a people who feel at home with one
Our rich texture of racial, religious and political
diversity will be a Godsend in the 21st century. Great
rewards will come to those who can live together, learn
together, work together, forge new ties that bind
As this new era approaches we can already see its broad
outlines. Ten years ago, the Internet was the mystical
province of physicists; today, it is a commonplace
encyclopedia for millions of schoolchildren. Scientists now
are decoding the blueprint of human life. Cures for our most
feared illnesses seem close at hand.
The world is no longer divided into two hostile camps.
Instead, now we are building bonds with nations that once
were our adversaries. Growing connections of commerce and
culture give us a chance to lift the fortunes and spirits of
people the world over. And for the very first time in all of
history, more people on this planet live under democracy
than dictatorship. (Applause.)
My fellow Americans, as we look back at this remarkable
century, we may ask, can we hope not just to follow, but
even to surpass the achievements of the 20th century in
America and to avoid the awful bloodshed that stained its
legacy? To that question, every American here and every
American in our land today must answer a resounding "Yes."
This is the heart of our task. With a new vision of
government, a new sense of responsibility, a new spirit of
community, we will sustain America's journey. The promise we
sought in a new land we will find again in a land of new
In this new land, education will be every citizen's most
prized possession. Our schools will have the highest
standards in the world, igniting the spark of possibility in
the eyes of every girl and every boy. And the doors of
higher education will be open to all. The knowledge and
power of the Information Age will be within reach not just
of the few, but of every classroom, every library, every
child. Parents and children will have time not only to work,
but to read and play together. And the plans they make at
their kitchen table will be those of a better home, a better
job, the certain chance to go to college.
Our streets will echo again with the laughter of our
children, because no one will try to shoot them or sell them
drugs anymore. Everyone who can work, will work, with
today's permanent under class part of tomorrow's growing
middle class. New miracles of medicine at last will reach
not only those who can claim care now, but the children and
hardworking families too long denied.
We will stand mighty for peace and freedom, and maintain a
strong defense against terror and destruction. Our children
will sleep free from the threat of nuclear, chemical or
biological weapons. Ports and airports, farms and factories
will thrive with trade and innovation and ideas. And the
world's greatest democracy will lead a whole world of
Our land of new promise will be a nation that meets its
obligations -- a nation that balances its budget, but never
loses the balance of its values. (Applause.) A nation where
our grandparents have secure retirement and health care, and
their grandchildren know we have made the reforms necessary
to sustain those benefits for their time. (Applause.) A
nation that fortifies the world's most productive economy
even as it protects the great natural bounty of our water,
air, and majestic land.
And in this land of new promise, we will have reformed our
politics so that the voice of the people will always speak
louder than the din of narrow interests -- regaining the
participation and deserving the trust of all Americans.
Fellow citizens, let us build that America, a nation ever
moving forward toward realizing the full potential of all
its citizens. Prosperity and power -- yes, they are
important, and we must maintain them. But let us never
forget: The greatest progress we have made, and the greatest
progress we have yet to make, is in the human heart. In the
end, all the world's wealth and a thousand armies are no
match for the strength and decency of the human spirit.
Thirty-four years ago, the man whose life we celebrate today
spoke to us down there, at the other end of this Mall, in
words that moved the conscience of a nation. Like a prophet
of old, he told of his dream that one day America would rise
up and treat all its citizens as equals before the law and
in the heart. Martin Luther King's dream was the American
Dream. His quest is our quest: the ceaseless striving to
live out our true creed. Our history has been built on such
dreams and labors. And by our dreams and labors we will
redeem the promise of America in the 21st century.
To that effort I pledge all my strength and every power of
my office. I ask the members of Congress here to join in
that pledge. The American people returned to office a
President of one party and a Congress of another. Surely,
they did not do this to advance the politics of petty
bickering and extreme partisanship they plainly deplore.
(Applause.) No, they call on us instead to be repairers of
the breach, and to move on with America's mission.
America demands and deserves big things from us -- and
nothing big ever came from being small. (Applause.) Let us
remember the timeless wisdom of Cardinal Bernardin, when
facing the end of his own life. He said: "It is wrong to
waste the precious gift of time, on acrimony and
Fellow citizens, we must not waste the precious gift of this
time. For all of us are on that same journey of our lives,
and our journey, too, will come to an end. But the journey
of our America must go on.
And so, my fellow Americans, we must be strong, for there is
much to dare. The demands of our time are great and they are
different. Let us meet them with faith and courage, with
patience and a grateful and happy heart. Let us shape the
hope of this day into the noblest chapter in our history.
Yes, let us build our bridge. (Applause.) A bridge wide
enough and strong enough for every American to cross over to
a blessed land of new promise.
May those generations whose faces we cannot yet see, whose
names we may never know, say of us here that we led our
beloved land into a new century with the American Dream
alive for all her children; with the American promise of a
more perfect union a reality for all her people; with
America's bright flame of freedom spreading throughout all
From the height of this place and the summit of this
century, let us go forth. May God strengthen our hands for
the good work ahead -- and always, always bless our America.