Inauguration of John F. Kennedy

Speaker: John F Kennedy
Delivered On: 1/20/1961
Place: Washington, D.C.
Subject: Presidents — United States —
Inaugural addresses.
Audio/Video Available:

Description: Chief Justice Earl
administered the oath of office. President Kennedy then addressed
the audience from the steps of the Capitol.
Vice President Johnson, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, President Eisenhower, Vice President
, 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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) 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 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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