William Jefferson Clinton's First Inaugural Address

The text of William Jefferson Clinton's first inaugural address, given on January 20, 1993.
8 |
9 |
10 |
 Given on January 20, 1993.

My fellow citizens, today we celebrate the mystery of American renewal.

This ceremony is held in the depth of winter. But, by the words we speakand the faces we show the world, we force the spring. A spring reborn inthe world's oldest democracy, that brings forth the vision and courage toreinvent America. 

When our founders boldly declared America's independence to the world andour purposes to the Almighty, they knew that America, to endure, wouldhave to change.

Not change for change's sake, but change to preserve American's ideals --life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. Though we march to the music ofour time, our mission is timeless. Each generation of Americans mustdefine what it means to be an American.

On behalf of our nation, I salute my predecessor, President Bush, for hishalf-century of service to America.

And I thank the millions of men and women whose steadfastness andsacrifice triumphed over depression, fascism and communism.

Today, a generation raised in the shadows of the Cold War assumes newresponsibilities in a world warmed by the sunshine of freedom butthreatened by still ancient hatreds and new plagues.

Raised in unrivaled prosperity, we inherit an economy that is still theworld's strongest, but is weakened by business failures, stagnant wages,increasing inequality, and deep divisions.

When George Washington first took the oath I have just sworn to uphold,news traveled slowly. Now, the sights and sounds of this ceremony arebroadcast instantaneously to billions around the world.

Communications and commerce are global; technology is almost magical; andambition for a better life is almost universal. We earn our livelihood inpeaceful competition with people all across the Earth.

Profound and powerful forces are shaking and remaking our world, and theurgent question of our time is whether we can make change our friend andnot our enemy.

This new world has enriched the lives of millions of Americans who areable to compete and win in it. But when people are working harder forless; when others cannot work at all; when the cost of health caredevastates families and threatens to bankrupt enterprises, great andsmall; when fear of crime robs law-abiding citizens of their freeedom;and when millions of poor children cannot even imagine the lives we arecalling them to lead -- we have not made change our friend.

We know we have to face hard truths and take strong steps. But we havenot done so. Instead, we have drifted, and that drifting has eroded ourresources, fractured our economy, and shaken our confidence.

Though our challenges are fearsome, so are our strengths. And Americanshave ever been a restless, questing, hopeful people. We must bring to ourtask today the vision and the will of those who came before us.

From our Revolution, Civil War, to the Great Depression, to the CivilRights Movement, our people have mustered the determination to constructfrom crises the pillars of our history.

Thomas Jefferson believed that to preserve the very foundations of ournation, we would need dramatic change from time to time. Well, my fellowcitizens, this is our time. Let us embarce it.

Our democracy must not only be the envy of the world but the engine ofour own renewal. There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be fixedby what is right with America.

And so today, we pledge an end to the era of deadlock and drift -- a newseason 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 morein our own people, in their jobs, in their future, and at the same timecut our massive debt. We must do so in a world in which we must competefor every opportunity.

It will not be easy; it will require sacrifice. But it can be done, anddone fairly, not choosing the sacrifice for it's own sake, but for ourown sake, but for our own sake. We must provide for our nation the way afamily provides for it's children.

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 whatposterity is. Posterity is the world to come -- the world for whom wehold our ideals, from whom we have borrowed our planet, and to whom webear sacred responsibility.

We must do what America does best; offer more opportunity to all anddemand more responsibility of 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 moreresponsibility, not only for ourselves and for our families but for ourcommunities and for our country.

To renew America, we must revitalize our democracy.

This beautiful capital, like every capital since the dawn ofcivilization, is often a place of intrigue and calculation. Powerfulpeople maneuver for position and worry endlessly about who is in and whois out, who is up and who is down, forgetting those whose toil and sweatsends us here and pays our way.

Americans deserve better, and in this city today, there are people whowant to do better. Let us resolve to reform our politics, so that powerand privilege no longer shout down the voice of the people. Let us putaside personal advantage so that we can feel the pain and see the promiseof America.

Let us resolve to make our government a place for what Franklin Rooseveltcalled "bold, persistent experimentation", a government of our tomorrows,not our yesterdays. Let us give this capital back to the people to whomit belongs.

To renew America, we must meet challenges abroad as well as at home.There is no longer division between what is foreign and domestic. Theworld economy, 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 lessstable. Communism's collapse has called forth old animosities and newdangers. Clearly, America must continue to lead the world we did so muchto 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 ourfriends and allies, we will work to shape change, lest it engulf us.

When our vital interests are challenged, or the will and conscience ofthe international community defied, we will act -- with peacefuldiplomacy whenever possible, with force when necessary. The braveAmericans serving our nation today in the Persian Gulf, in Somalia, andwherever else they stand are testament to our resolve.

But our greatest strength is the power of our ideas, which are still newin many lands. Across the world, we see them embraced -- and we rejoice.Our hopes, our hearts, our hands, are with those on every continent whoare building democracy and freedom. Their cause is America's cause.

The American people have summoned the change we celebrate today. You haveraised your voices in an unmistakable chorus. You have cast your votes inhistoric numbers. You have changed the face of Congress, the Presidency,the political process itself. Yes, you, my fellow Americans, have forcedthe spring. Now, we must do the work that the season demands.

To that work I now trun, with the authority of my office. I ask theCongress to join with me. But no President, no Congress, no government,can undertake this mission alone. My fellow Americans, you, too, mustplay your part. I challenge a new generation of young Americans to aseason of service -- to act on your idealism by helping troubledchildren, keeping company with those in need, and reconnecting our torncommunities. There is so much to be done, enough for millions of otherswho are young in spirit to give of themselves in service, too.

In serving, we recognize a simple but powerful truth -- we need eachother. And we must care for one another. Today, we do more than celebrateAmerica; we rededicate ourselves to the idea of America.

An idea born in Revolution and renewed through two centuries ofchallenge. An idea. An idea tempered by the knowledge that, but for fate,we -- the fortunate and the unforunate -- might have been each other. Anidea enobled by the faith that our nation can summon from it's myriaddiversity the deepest measure of measure of unity. An idea infused withthe conviction that America's long heroic journey must go forever upward.

And so, my fellow Americans, at the edge of the 21st Century, let usbegin with energy and hope, with faith and discipline, and let us workuntil the work is done. The scripture says, "And let us not be weary inwell-doing, for in due season, we shall reap, if we faint not."

From this joyful mountaintop of celebration, we hear a call to service inthe valley. We have heard the trumpets. We have changed the guard. Andnow, each in our own way, and with God's help, we must answer the call.

Thank you and God bless you all.

Biography of William Jefferson Clinton.

Return to U.S. Presidency Resources.

loading gif