Senator Mathias, Chief Justice Burger, Vice
President Bush, Speaker O'Neill, Senator Dole, Reverend Clergy, members
of my family and friends, and my fellow citizens: This day has been made
brighter with the presence here of one who, for a time, has been
absent—Senator John Stennis.
God bless you and welcome back.
There is, however, one who is not with us today: Representative Gillis
Long of Louisiana left us last night. I wonder if we could all join in a
moment of silent prayer. (Moment of silent prayer.) Amen.
There are no words adequate to express my thanks for the great honor
that you have bestowed on me. I will do my utmost to be deserving of
This is, as Senator Mathias told us, the 50th time that we the people
have celebrated this historic occasion. When the first President, George
Washington, placed his hand upon the Bible, he stood less than a single
day's journey by horseback from raw, untamed wilderness. There were 4
million Americans in a union of 13 States. Today we are 60 times as many
in a union of 50 States. We have lighted the world with our inventions,
gone to the aid of mankind wherever in the world there was a cry for
help, journeyed to the Moon and safely returned. So much has changed.
And yet we stand together as we did two centuries ago.
When I took this oath four years ago, I did so in a time of economic
stress. Voices were raised saying we had to look to our past for the
greatness and glory. But we, the present-day Americans, are not given to
looking backward. In this blessed land, there is always a better
Four years ago, I spoke to you of a new beginning and we have
accomplished that. But in another sense, our new beginning is a
continuation of that beginning created two centuries ago when, for the
first time in history, government, the people said, was not our master,
it is our servant; its only power that which we the people allow it to
That system has never failed us, but, for a time, we failed the system.
We asked things of government that government was not equipped to give.
We yielded authority to the National Government that properly belonged
to States or to local governments or to the people themselves. We
allowed taxes and inflation to rob us of our earnings and savings and
watched the great industrial machine that had made us the most
productive people on Earth slow down and the number of unemployed
By 1980, we knew it was time to renew our faith, to strive with all our
strength toward the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with an
We believed then and now there are no limits to growth and human
progress when men and women are free to follow their dreams.
And we were right to believe that. Tax rates have been reduced,
inflation cut dramatically, and more people are employed than ever
before in our history.
We are creating a nation once again vibrant, robust, and alive. But
there are many mountains yet to climb. We will not rest until every
American enjoys the fullness of freedom, dignity, and opportunity as our
birthright. It is our birthright as citizens of this great Republic, and
we'll meet this challenge.
These will be years when Americans have restored their confidence and
tradition of progress; when our values of faith, family, work, and
neighborhood were restated for a modern age; when our economy was
finally freed from government's grip; when we made sincere efforts at
meaningful arms reduction, rebuilding our defenses, our economy, and
developing new technologies, and helped preserve peace in a troubled
world; when Americans courageously supported the struggle for liberty,
self-government, and free enterprise throughout the world, and turned
the tide of history away from totalitarian darkness and into the warm
sunlight of human freedom.
My fellow citizens, our Nation is poised for greatness. We must do what
we know is right and do it with all our might. Let history say of us,
"These were golden years—when the American Revolution was reborn, when
freedom gained new life, when America reached for her best."
Our two-party system has served us well over the years, but never better
than in those times of great challenge when we came together not as
Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans united in a common cause.
Two of our Founding Fathers, a Boston lawyer named Adams and a Virginia
planter named Jefferson, members of that remarkable group who met in
Independence Hall and dared to think they could start the world over
again, left us an important lesson. They had become political rivals in
the Presidential election of 1800. Then years later, when both were
retired, and age had softened their anger, they began to speak to each
other again through letters. A bond was reestablished between those two
who had helped create this government of ours.
In 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, they
both died. They died on the same day, within a few hours of each other,
and that day was the Fourth of July.
In one of those letters exchanged in the sunset of their lives,
Jefferson wrote: "It carries me back to the times when, beset with
difficulties and dangers, we were fellow laborers in the same cause,
struggling for what is most valuable to man, his right to
self-government. Laboring always at the same oar, with some wave ever
ahead threatening to overwhelm us, and yet passing harmless ... we rode
through the storm with heart and hand."
Well, with heart and hand, let us stand as one today: One people under
God determined that our future shall be worthy of our past. As we do, we
must not repeat the well-intentioned errors of our past. We must never
again abuse the trust of working men and women, by sending their
earnings on a futile chase after the spiraling demands of a bloated
Federal Establishment. You elected us in 1980 to end this prescription
for disaster, and I don't believe you reelected us in 1984 to reverse
At the heart of our efforts is one idea vindicated by 25 straight months
of economic growth: Freedom and incentives unleash the drive and
entrepreneurial genius that are the core of human progress. We have
begun to increase the rewards for work, savings, and investment; reduce
the increase in the cost and size of government and its interference in
We must simplify our tax system, make it more fair, and bring the rates
down for all who work and earn. We must think anew and move with a new
boldness, so every American who seeks work can find work; so the least
among us shall have an equal chance to achieve the greatest things—to be
heroes who heal our sick, feed the hungry, protect peace among nations,
and leave this world a better place.
The time has come for a new American emancipation—a great national drive
to tear down economic barriers and liberate the spirit of enterprise in
the most distressed areas of our country. My friends, together we can do
this, and do it we must, so help me God.
From new freedom will spring new opportunities for growth, a more
productive, fulfilled and united people, and a stronger America—an
America that will lead the technological revolution, and also open its
mind and heart and soul to the treasures of literature, music, and
poetry, and the values of faith, courage, and love.
A dynamic economy, with more citizens working and paying taxes, will be
our strongest tool to bring down budget deficits. But an almost unbroken
50 years of deficit spending has finally brought us to a time of
reckoning. We have come to a turning point, a moment for hard decisions.
I have asked the Cabinet and my staff a question, and now I put the same
question to all of you: If not us, who? And if not now, when? It must be
done by all of us going forward with a program aimed at reaching a
balanced budget. We can then begin reducing the national debt.
I will shortly submit a budget to the Congress aimed at freezing
government program spending for the next year. Beyond that, we must take
further steps to permanently control Government's power to tax and
spend. We must act now to protect future generations from Government's
desire to spend its citizens' money and tax them into servitude when the
bills come due. Let us make it unconstitutional for the Federal
Government to spend more than the Federal Government takes in.
We have already started returning to the people and to State and local
governments responsibilities better handled by them. Now, there is a
place for the Federal Government in matters of social compassion. But
our fundamental goals must be to reduce dependency and upgrade the
dignity of those who are infirm or disadvantaged. And here a growing
economy and support from family and community offer our best chance for
a society where compassion is a way of life, where the old and infirm
are cared for, the young and, yes, the unborn protected, and the
unfortunate looked after and made self-sufficient.
And there is another area where the Federal Government can play a part.
As an older American, I remember a time when people of different race,
creed, or ethnic origin in our land found hatred and prejudice installed
in social custom and, yes, in law. There is no story more heartening in
our history than the progress that we have made toward the "brotherhood
of man" that God intended for us. Let us resolve there will be no
turning back or hesitation on the road to an America rich in dignity and
abundant with opportunity for all our citizens.
Let us resolve that we the people will build an American opportunity
society in which all of us—white and black, rich and poor, young and
old—will go forward together arm in arm. Again, let us remember that
though our heritage is one of blood lines from every corner of the
Earth, we are all Americans pledged to carry on this last, best hope of
man on Earth.
I have spoken of our domestic goals and the limitations which we should
put on our National Government. Now let me turn to a task which is the
primary responsibility of National Government—the safety and security of
Today, we utter no prayer more fervently than the ancient prayer for
peace on Earth. Yet history has shown that peace will not come, nor will
our freedom be preserved, by good will alone. There are those in the
world who scorn our vision of human dignity and freedom. One nation, the
Soviet Union, has conducted the greatest military buildup in the history
of man, building arsenals of awesome offensive weapons.
We have made progress in restoring our defense capability. But much
remains to be done. There must be no wavering by us, nor any doubts by
others, that America will meet her responsibilities to remain free,
secure, and at peace.
There is only one way safely and legitimately to reduce the cost of
national security, and that is to reduce the need for it. And this we
are trying to do in negotiations with the Soviet Union. We are not just
discussing limits on a further increase of nuclear weapons. We seek,
instead, to reduce their number. We seek the total elimination one day
of nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth.
Now, for decades, we and the Soviets have lived under the threat of
mutual assured destruction; if either resorted to the use of nuclear
weapons, the other could retaliate and destroy the one who had started
it. Is there either logic or morality in believing that if one side
threatens to kill tens of millions of our people, our only recourse is
to threaten killing tens of millions of theirs?
I have approved a research program to find, if we can, a security shield
that would destroy nuclear missiles before they reach their target. It
wouldn't kill people, it would destroy weapons. It wouldn't militarize
space, it would help demilitarize the arsenals of Earth. It would render
nuclear weapons obsolete. We will meet with the Soviets, hoping that we
can agree on a way to rid the world of the threat of nuclear
We strive for peace and security, heartened by the changes all around
us. Since the turn of the century, the number of democracies in the
world has grown fourfold. Human freedom is on the march, and nowhere
more so than our own hemisphere. Freedom is one of the deepest and
noblest aspirations of the human spirit. People, worldwide, hunger for
the right of self-determination, for those inalienable rights that make
for human dignity and progress.
America must remain freedom's staunchest friend, for freedom is our best
And it is the world's only hope, to conquer poverty and preserve peace.
Every blow we inflict against poverty will be a blow against its dark
allies of oppression and war. Every victory for human freedom will be a
victory for world peace.
So we go forward today, a nation still mighty in its youth and powerful
in its purpose. With our alliances strengthened, with our economy
leading the world to a new age of economic expansion, we look forward to
a world rich in possibilities. And all this because we have worked and
acted together, not as members of political parties, but as Americans.
My friends, we live in a world that is lit by lightning. So much is
changing and will change, but so much endures, and transcends time.
History is a ribbon, always unfurling; history is a journey. And as we
continue our journey, we think of those who traveled before us. We stand
together again at the steps of this symbol of our democracy—or we would
have been standing at the steps if it hadn't gotten so cold. Now we are
standing inside this symbol of our democracy. Now we hear again the
echoes of our past: a general falls to his knees in the hard snow of
Valley Forge; a lonely President paces the darkened halls, and ponders
his struggle to preserve the Union; the men of the Alamo call out
encouragement to each other; a settler pushes west and sings a song, and
the song echoes out forever and fills the unknowing air.
It is the American sound. It is hopeful, big-hearted, idealistic,
daring, decent, and fair. That's our heritage; that is our song. We sing
it still. For all our problems, our differences, we are together as of
old, as we raise our voices to the God who is the Author of this most
tender music. And may He continue to hold us close as we fill the world
with our sound—sound in unity, affection, and love—one people under God,
dedicated to the dream of freedom that He has placed in the human heart,
called upon now to pass that dream on to a waiting and hopeful world.
God bless you and may God bless America.