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JOHN F. KENNEDY'S INAUGURAL ADDRESS
January 20, 1961
(Department of State Bulletin, February 6, 1961)

Vice-President Johnson, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice,
President Eisenhower, Vice-President Nixon, 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 forbearers 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
forbearers 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 co-operative 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 co-operation 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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