Bill Clinton, standing between Hillary Clinton and Chelsea
Clinton, taking the oath of office. Library of Congress.
Here is the video clip of Bill Clinton's First Inaugural
Address. Scroll down for the transcript.
It follows the full text transcript of
Bill Clinton's First Inaugural Address, delivered at
the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. — January 20,
Today we celebrate
the mystery of American renewal.
This ceremony is held in the depth of winter.
But, by the words we speak and the faces we show
the world, we force the spring. A spring reborn
in the world's oldest democracy, that brings
forth the vision and courage to reinvent
When our founders boldly declared America's
independence to the world and our purposes to
the Almighty, they knew that America, to endure,
would have to change. Not change for change's
sake, but change to preserve America's ideals;
life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. Though
we march to the music of our time, our mission
is timeless. Each generation of Americans must
define what it means to be an American.
On behalf of our nation, I salute my
predecessor, President Bush, for his
half-century of service to America. And I thank
the millions of men and women whose
steadfastness and sacrifice triumphed over
Depression, fascism and Communism.
Today, a generation raised in the shadows of the
Cold War assumes new responsibilities in a world
warmed by the sunshine of freedom but threatened
still by ancient hatreds and new plagues.
Raised in unrivaled prosperity, we inherit an
economy that is still the world's strongest, but
is weakened by business failures, stagnant
wages, increasing inequality, and deep divisions
among our people.
When George Washington first took the oath I
have just sworn to uphold, news traveled slowly
across the land by horseback and across the
ocean by boat. Now, the sights and sounds of
this ceremony are broadcast instantaneously to
billions around the world.
Communications and commerce are global;
investment is mobile; technology is almost
magical; and ambition for a better life is now
universal. We earn our livelihood in peaceful
competition with people all across the earth.
Profound and powerful forces are shaking and
remaking our world, and the urgent question of
our time is whether we can make change our
friend and not our enemy.
This new world has already enriched the lives of
millions of Americans who are able to compete
and win in it. But when most people are working
harder for less; when others cannot work at all;
when the cost of health care devastates families
and threatens to bankrupt many of our
enterprises, great and small; when fear of crime
robs law-abiding citizens of their freedom; and
when millions of poor children cannot even
imagine the lives we are calling them to lead,
we have not made change our friend.
We know we have to face hard truths and take
strong steps. But we have not done so. Instead,
we have drifted, and that drifting has eroded
our resources, fractured our economy, and shaken
Though our challenges are fearsome, so are our
strengths. And Americans have ever been a
restless, questing, hopeful people. We must
bring to our task today the vision and will of
those who came before us.
From our revolution, the Civil War, to the Great
Depression to the civil rights movement, our
people have always mustered the determination to
construct from these crises the pillars of our
Thomas Jefferson believed that to preserve the
very foundations of our nation, we would need
dramatic change from time to time. Well, my
fellow citizens, this is our time. Let us
Our democracy must be not only the envy of the
world but the engine of our own renewal. There
is nothing wrong with America that cannot be
cured by what is right with America.
And so today, we pledge an end to the era of
deadlock and drift; a new season of American
renewal has begun. To renew America, we must be
bold. We must do what no generation has had to
do before. We must invest more in our own
people, in their jobs, in their future, and at
the same time cut our massive debt. And we must
do so in a world in which we must compete for
every opportunity. It will not be easy; it will
require sacrifice. But it can be done, and done
fairly, not choosing sacrifice for its own sake,
but for our own sake. We must provide for our
nation the way a family provides for its
Our Founders saw themselves in the light of
posterity. We can do no less. Anyone who has
ever watched a child's eyes wander into sleep
knows what posterity is. Posterity is the world
to come; the world for whom we hold our ideals,
from whom we have borrowed our planet, and to
whom we bear sacred responsibility. We must do
what America does best: offer more opportunity
to all and demand responsibility from all.
It is time to break the bad habit of expecting
something for nothing, from our government or
from each other. Let us all take more
responsibility, not only for ourselves and our
families but for our communities and our
country. To renew America, we must revitalize
This beautiful capital, like every capital since
the dawn of civilization, is often a place of
intrigue and calculation. Powerful people
maneuver for position and worry endlessly about
who is in and who is out, who is up and who is
down, forgetting those people whose toil and
sweat sends us here and pays our way.
Americans deserve better, and in this city
today, there are people who want to do better.
And so I say to all of us here, let us resolve
to reform our politics, so that power and
privilege no longer shout down the voice of the
people. Let us put aside personal advantage so
that we can feel the pain and see the promise of
America. Let us resolve to make our government a
place for what Franklin Roosevelt called "bold,
persistent experimentation," a government for
our tomorrows, not our yesterdays. Let us give
this capital back to the people to whom it
To renew America, we must meet challenges abroad
as well at home. There is no longer division
between what is foreign and what is domestic;
the world economy, the world environment, the
world AIDS crisis, the world arms race; they
affect us all.
Today, as an old order passes, the new world is
more free but less stable. Communism's collapse
has called forth old animosities and new
dangers. Clearly America must continue to lead
the world we did so much to make.
While America rebuilds at home, we will not
shrink from the challenges, nor fail to seize
the opportunities, of this new world. Together
with our friends and allies, we will work to
shape change, lest it engulf us.
When our vital interests are challenged, or the
will and conscience of the international
community is defied, we will act; with peaceful
diplomacy when ever possible, with force when
necessary. The brave Americans serving our
nation today in the Persian Gulf, in Somalia,
and wherever else they stand are testament to
But our greatest strength is the power of our
ideas, which are still new in many lands. Across
the world, we see them embraced, and we rejoice.
Our hopes, our hearts, our hands, are with those
on every continent who are building democracy
and freedom. Their cause is America's cause.
The American people have summoned the change we
celebrate today. You have raised your voices in
an unmistakable chorus. You have cast your votes
in historic numbers. And you have changed the
face of Congress, the presidency and the
political process itself. Yes, you, my fellow
Americans have forced the spring. Now, we must
do the work the season demands.
To that work I now turn, with all the authority
of my office. I ask the Congress to join with
me. But no president, no Congress, no
government, can undertake this mission alone. My
fellow Americans, you, too, must play your part
in our renewal. I challenge a new generation of
young Americans to a season of service; to act
on your idealism by helping troubled children,
keeping company with those in need, reconnecting
our torn communities. There is so much to be
done; enough indeed for millions of others who
are still young in spirit to give of themselves
in service, too.
In serving, we recognize a simple but powerful
truth, we need each other. And we must care for
one another. Today, we do more than celebrate
America; we rededicate ourselves to the very
idea of America.
An idea born in revolution and renewed through
two centuries of challenge. An idea tempered by
the knowledge that, but for fate we, the
fortunate and the unfortunate, might have been
each other. An idea ennobled by the faith that
our nation can summon from its myriad diversity
the deepest measure of unity. An idea infused
with the conviction that America's long heroic
journey must go forever upward.
And so, my fellow Americans, at the edge of the
21st century, let us begin with energy and hope,
with faith and discipline, and let us work until
our work is done. The scripture says, "And let
us not be weary in well-doing, for in due
season, we shall reap, if we faint not."
From this joyful mountaintop of celebration, we
hear a call to service in the valley. We have
heard the trumpets. We have changed the guard.
And now, each in our own way, and with God's
help, we must answer the call.