Here is the video clip of Reagan's address. Scroll down for
It follows the full text transcript of
Ronald Reagan's First Inaugural Address, delivered
on the west front of the U.S. Capitol, Washington D.C. -
January 20, 1981.
To a few of us
here today, this is a solemn and most momentous
occasion; and yet, in the history of our Nation,
it is a commonplace occurrence. The orderly
transfer of authority as called for in the
Constitution routinely takes place as it has for
almost two centuries and few of us stop to think
how unique we really are. In the eyes of many in
the world, this every-4-year ceremony we accept
as normal is nothing less than a miracle.
Mr. President, I want our fellow citizens to
know how much you did to carry on this
tradition. By your gracious cooperation in the
transition process, you have shown a watching
world that we are a united people pledged to
maintaining a political system which guarantees
individual liberty to a greater degree than any
other, and I thank you and your people for all
your help in maintaining the continuity which is
the bulwark of our Republic.
The business of our nation goes forward. These
United States are confronted with an economic
affliction of great proportions. We suffer from
the longest and one of the worst sustained
inflations in our national history. It distorts
our economic decisions, penalizes thrift, and
crushes the struggling young and the fixed-
income elderly alike. It threatens to shatter
the lives of millions of our people.
Idle industries have cast workers into
unemployment, causing human misery and personal
indignity. Those who do work are denied a fair
return for their labor by a tax system which
penalizes successful achievement and keeps us
from maintaining full productivity.
But great as our tax burden is, it has not kept
pace with public spending. For decades, we have
piled deficit upon deficit, mortgaging our
future and our children's future for the
temporary convenience of the present. To
continue this long trend is to guarantee
tremendous social, cultural, political, and
You and I, as individuals, can, by borrowing,
live beyond our means, but for only a limited
period of time. Why, then, should we think that
collectively, as a nation, we are not bound by
that same limitation?
We must act today in order to preserve tomorrow.
And let there be no misunderstanding--we are
going to begin to act, beginning today.
The economic ills we suffer have come upon us
over several decades. They will not go away in
days, weeks, or months, but they will go away.
They will go away because we, as Americans, have
the capacity now, as we have had in the past, to
do whatever needs to be done to preserve this
last and greatest bastion of freedom.
In this present crisis, government is not the
solution to our problem; government is the
From time to time, we have been tempted to
believe that society has become too complex to
be managed by self-rule, that government by an
elite group is superior to government for, by,
and of the people. But if no one among us is
capable of governing himself, then who among us
has the capacity to govern someone else? All of
us together, in and out of government, must bear
the burden. The solutions we seek must be
equitable, with no one group singled out to pay
a higher price.
We hear much of special interest groups. Our
concern must be for a special interest group
that has been too long neglected. It knows no
sectional boundaries or ethnic and racial
divisions, and it crosses political party lines.
It is made up of men and women who raise our
food, patrol our streets, man our mines and our
factories, teach our children, keep our homes,
and heal us when we are sick--professionals,
industrialists, shopkeepers, clerks, cabbies,
and truck drivers. They are, in short, "We the
people," this breed called Americans.
Well, this administration's objective will be a
healthy, vigorous, growing economy that provides
equal opportunity for all Americans, with no
barriers born of bigotry or discrimination.
Putting America back to work means putting all
Americans back to work. Ending inflation means
freeing all Americans from the terror of runaway
living costs. All must share in the productive
work of this "new beginning" and all must share
in the bounty of a revived economy. With the
idealism and fair play which are the core of our
system and our strength, we can have a strong
and prosperous America at peace with itself and
So, as we begin, let us take inventory. We are a
nation that has a government--not the other way
around. And this makes us special among the
nations of the Earth. Our Government has no
power except that granted it by the people. It
is time to check and reverse the growth of
government which shows signs of having grown
beyond the consent of the governed.
It is my intention to curb the size and
influence of the Federal establishment and to
demand recognition of the distinction between
the powers granted to the Federal Government and
those reserved to the States or to the people.
All of us need to be reminded that the Federal
Government did not create the States; the States
created the Federal Government.
Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it is
not my intention to do away with government. It
is, rather, to make it work-work with us, not
over us; to stand by our side, not ride on our
back. Government can and must provide
opportunity, not smother it; foster
productivity, not stifle it.
If we look to the answer as to why, for so many
years, we achieved so much, prospered as no
other people on Earth, it was because here, in
this land, we unleashed the energy and
individual genius of man to a greater extent
than has ever been done before. Freedom and the
dignity of the individual have been more
available and assured here than in any other
place on Earth. The price for this freedom at
times has been high, but we have never been
unwilling to pay that price.
It is no coincidence that our present troubles
parallel and are proportionate to the
intervention and intrusion in our lives that
result from unnecessary and excessive growth of
government. It is time for us to realize that we
are too great a nation to limit ourselves to
small dreams. We are not, as some would have us
believe, loomed to an inevitable decline. I do
not believe in a fate that will all on us no
matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that
will fall on us if we do nothing. So, with all
the creative energy at our command, let us begin
an era of national renewal. Let us renew our
determination, our courage, and our strength.
And let us renew; our faith and our hope.
We have every right to dream heroic dreams.
Those who say that we are in a time when there
are no heroes just don't know where to look. You
can see heroes every day going in and out of
factory gates. Others, a handful in number,
produce enough food to feed all of us and then
the world beyond. You meet heroes across a
counter--and they are on both sides of that
counter. There are entrepreneurs with faith in
themselves and faith in an idea who create new
jobs, new wealth and opportunity. They are
individuals and families whose taxes support the
Government and whose voluntary gifts support
church, charity, culture, art, and education.
Their patriotism is quiet but deep. Their values
sustain our national life.
I have used the words "they" and "their" in
speaking of these heroes. I could say "you" and
"your" because I am addressing the heroes of
whom I speak--you, the citizens of this blessed
land. Your dreams, your hopes, your goals are
going to be the dreams, the hopes, and the goals
of this administration, so help me God.
We shall reflect the compassion that is so much
a part of your makeup. How can we love our
country and not love our countrymen, and loving
them, reach out a hand when they fall, heal them
when they are sick, and provide opportunities to
make them self- sufficient so they will be equal
in fact and not just in theory?
Can we solve the problems confronting us? Well,
the answer is an unequivocal and emphatic "yes."
To paraphrase Winston Churchill, I did not take
the oath I have just taken with the intention of
presiding over the dissolution of the world's
In the days ahead I will propose removing the
roadblocks that have slowed our economy and
reduced productivity. Steps will be taken aimed
at restoring the balance between the various
levels of government. Progress may be
slow--measured in inches and feet, not
miles--but we will progress. Is it time to
reawaken this industrial giant, to get
government back within its means, and to lighten
our punitive tax burden. And these will be our
first priorities, and on these principles, there
will be no compromise.
On the eve of our struggle for independence a
man who might have been one of the greatest
among the Founding Fathers, Dr. Joseph Warren,
President of the Massachusetts Congress, said to
his fellow Americans, "Our country is in danger,
but not to be despaired of.... On you depend the
fortunes of America. You are to decide the
important questions upon which rests the
happiness and the liberty of millions yet
unborn. Act worthy of yourselves."
Well, I believe we, the Americans of today, are
ready to act worthy of ourselves, ready to do
what must be done to ensure happiness and
liberty for ourselves, our children and our
And as we renew ourselves here in our own land,
we will be seen as having greater strength
throughout the world. We will again be the
exemplar of freedom and a beacon of hope for
those who do not now have freedom.
To those neighbors and allies who share our
freedom, we will strengthen our historic ties
and assure them of our support and firm
commitment. We will match loyalty with loyalty.
We will strive for mutually beneficial
relations. We will not use our friendship to
impose on their sovereignty, for or own
sovereignty is not for sale.
As for the enemies of freedom, those who are
potential adversaries, they will be reminded
that peace is the highest aspiration of the
American people. We will negotiate for it,
sacrifice for it; we will not surrender for
it--now or ever.
Our forbearance should never be misunderstood.
Our reluctance for conflict should not be
misjudged as a failure of will. When action is
required to preserve our national security, we
will act. We will maintain sufficient strength
to prevail if need be, knowing that if we do so
we have the best chance of never having to use
Above all, we must realize that no arsenal, or
no weapon in the arsenals of the world, is so
formidable as the will and moral courage of free
men and women. It is a weapon our adversaries in
today's world do not have. It is a weapon that
we as Americans do have. Let that be understood
by those who practice terrorism and prey upon
I am told that tens of thousands of prayer
meetings are being held on this day, and for
that I am deeply grateful. We are a nation under
God, and I believe God intended for us to be
free. It would be fitting and good, I think, if
on each Inauguration Day in future years it
should be declared a day of prayer.
This is the first time in history that this
ceremony has been held, as you have been told,
on this West Front of the Capitol. Standing
here, one faces a magnificent vista, opening up
on this city's special beauty and history. At
the end of this open mall are those shrines to
the giants on whose shoulders we stand.
Directly in front of me, the monument to a
monumental man: George Washington, Father of our
country. A man of humility who came to greatness
reluctantly. He led America out of revolutionary
victory into infant nationhood. Off to one side,
the stately memorial to Thomas Jefferson. The
Declaration of Independence flames with his
And then beyond the Reflecting Pool the
dignified columns of the Lincoln Memorial.
Whoever would understand in his heart the
meaning of America will find it in the life of
Beyond those monuments to heroism is the Potomac
River, and on the far shore the sloping hills of
Arlington National Cemetery with its row on row
of simple white markers bearing crosses or Stars
of David. They add up to only a tiny fraction of
the price that has been paid for our freedom.
Each one of those markers is a monument to the
kinds of hero I spoke of earlier. Their lives
ended in places called Belleau Wood, The
Argonne, Omaha Beach, Salerno and halfway around
the world on Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Pork Chop
Hill, the Chosin Reservoir, and in a hundred
rice paddies and jungles of a place called
Under one such marker lies a young man, Martin
Treptow, who left his job in a small town barber
shop in 1917 to go to France with the famed
Rainbow Division. There, on the western front,
he was killed trying to carry a message between
battalions under heavy artillery fire.
We are told that on his body was found a diary.
On the flyleaf under the heading, "My Pledge,"
he had written these words: "America must win
this war. Therefore, I will work, I will save, I
will sacrifice, I will endure, I will fight
cheerfully and do my utmost, as if the issue of
the whole struggle depended on me alone."
The crisis we are facing today does not require
of us the kind of sacrifice that Martin Treptow
and so many thousands of others were called upon
to make. It does require, however, our best
effort, and our willingness to believe in
ourselves and to believe in our capacity to
perform great deeds; to believe that together,
with God's help, we can and will resolve the
problems which now confront us.
And, after all, why shouldn't we believe that?
We are Americans.