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JFK Inauguration Speech
January 20, 1961

Inaugural Address of the President (Kennedy), January 20, 1961*


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 forebears 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 forebears 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 we]l 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 cooperative 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 

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 cooperation 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 tho 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.

                            -- 30  --

(*) - White House press release dated Jan. 20, 1961 (text as 
printed in the Department of State Bulletin, Feb. 6, 1961, pp. 
175-176); also issued as S. Doc. 9, 87th Cong., and as 
Department of State publication 7137. The President's address 
was delivered from the steps of the west portico of the 
Capitol and carried by the principal radio and television