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Chief Justice Rehnquist, President Carter, President Bush, President
Clinton, distinguished guests and my fellow citizens, the peaceful
transfer of authority is rare in history, yet common in our country. With
a simple oath, we affirm old traditions and make new beginnings.

As I begin, I thank President Clinton for his service to our nation.

And I thank Vice President Gore for a contest conducted with spirit and
ended with grace.

I am honored and humbled to stand here, where so many of America's leaders
have come before me, and so many will follow.

We have a place, all of us, in a long story -- a story we continue, but
whose end we will not see. It is the story of a new world that became a
friend and liberator of the old, a story of a slave-holding society that
became a servant of freedom, the story of a power that went into the world
to protect but not possess, to defend but not to conquer.

It is the American story -- a story of flawed and fallible people, united
across the generations by grand and enduring ideals.

The grandest of these ideals is an unfolding American promise that
everyone be
longs, that everyone deserves a chance, that no insignificant person was

Americans are called to enact this promise in our lives and in our laws.
And t
hough our nation has sometimes halted, and sometimes delayed, we must
follow n
o other course.

Through much of the last century, America's faith in freedom and democracy
a rock in a raging sea. Now it is a seed upon the wind, taking root in
many nations.

Our democratic faith is more than the creed of our country, it is the
inborn h
ope of our humanity, an ideal we carry but do not own, a trust we bear and
pass along. And even after nearly 225 years, we have a long way yet to

While many of our citizens prosper, others doubt the promise, even the
justice, of our own country. The ambitions of some Americans are limited
by failing schools and hidden prejudice and the circumstances of their
birth. And sometimes our differences run so deep, it seems we share a
continent, but not a country.

We do not accept this, and we will not allow it. Our unity, our union, is
the serious work of leaders and citizens in every generation. And this is
my solemn pledge: I will work to build a single nation of justice and

I know this is in our reach because we are guided by a power larger than
ourselves who creates us equal in His image.

And we are confident in principles that unite and lead us onward.

America has never been united by blood or birth or soil. We are bound by
ideals that move us beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interests
and teach us what it means to be citizens. Every child must be taught
these principles. E
very citizen must uphold them. And every immigrant, by embracing these
ideals, makes our country more, not less, American.

Today, we affirm a new commitment to live out our nation's promise through
civility, courage, compassion and character.

America, at its best, matches a commitment to principle with a concern for
civility. A civil society demands from each of us good will and respect,
fair dealing and forgiveness.

Some seem to believe that our politics can afford to be petty because, in
a time of peace, the stakes of our debates appear small.

But the stakes for America are never small. If our country does not lead
the cause of freedom, it will not be led. If we do not turn the hearts of
children toward knowledge and character, we will lose their gifts and
undermine their idealism. If we permit our economy to drift and decline,
the vulnerable will su
ffer most.

We must live up to the calling we share. Civility is not a tactic or a
sentime nt. It is the determined choice of trust over cynicism, of
community over chaos. And this commitment, if we keep it, is a way to
shared accomplishment.

America, at its best, is also courageous.

Our national courage has been clear in times of depression and war, when
defending common dangers defined our common good. Now we must choose if
the example of our fathers and mothers will inspire us or condemn us. We
must show courage in a time of blessing by confronting problems instead of
passing them on to
future generations.

Together, we will reclaim America's schools, before ignorance and apathy
claim more young lives.

We will reform Social Security and Medicare, sparing our children from
struggles we have the power to prevent. And we will reduce taxes, to
recover the momentum of our economy and reward the effort and enterprise
of working Americans.

We will build our defenses beyond challenge, lest weakness invite

We will confront weapons of mass destruction, so that a new century is
new horrors.

The enemies of liberty and our country should make no mistake: America
remains engaged in the world by history and by choice, shaping a balance
of power tha
t favors freedom. We will defend our allies and our interests. We will
show purpose without arrogance. We will meet aggression and bad faith with
resolve and strength. And to all nations, we will speak for the values
that gave our nation birth.

America, at its best, is compassionate. In the quiet of American
conscience, we know that deep, persistent poverty is unworthy of our
nation's promise.

And whatever our views of its cause, we can agree that children at risk
are not at fault. Abandonment and abuse are not acts of God, they are
failures of lo

And the proliferation of prisons, however necessary, is no substitute for
hope and order in our souls.

Where there is suffering, there is duty. Americans in need are not
strangers, they are citizens, not problems, but priorities. And all of us
are diminished when any are hopeless.

Government has great responsibilities for public safety and public health,
for civil rights and common schools. Yet compassion is the work of a
nation, not just a government.

And some needs and hurts are so deep they will only respond to a mentor's
touch or a pastor's prayer. Church and charity, synagogue and mosque lend
our communities their humanity, and they will have an honored place in our
plans and in our laws.

Many in our country do not know the pain of poverty, but we can listen to
those who do.

And I can pledge our nation to a goal: When we see that wounded traveler
on the road to Jericho, we will not pass to the other side.

America, at its best, is a place where personal responsibility is valued
and expected.

Encouraging responsibility is not a search for scapegoats, it is a call to
concience. And though it requires sacrifice, it brings a deeper
fulfillment. We find the fullness of life not only in options, but in
commitments. And we find that children and community are the commitments
that set us free.

Our public interest depends on private character, on civic duty and family
bonds and basic fairness, on uncounted, unhonored acts of decency which
give direction to our freedom.

Sometimes in life we are called to do great things. But as a saint of our
times has said, every day we are called to do small things with great
love. The most important tasks of a democracy are done by everyone.

I will live and lead by these principles: to advance my convictions with
civility, to pursue the public interest with courage, to speak for greater
justice and compassion, to call for responsibility and try to live it as

In all these ways, I will bring the values of our history to the care of
our times.

What you do is as important as anything government does. I ask you to seek
a common good beyond your comfort; to defend needed reforms against easy
to serve your nation, beginning with your neighbor. I ask you to be
citizens, not spectators; citizens, not subjects; responsible citizens,
building communities of service and a nation of character.

Americans are generous and strong and decent, not because we believe in
ourselves, but because we hold beliefs beyond ourselves. When this spirit
of citizenship is missing, no government program can replace it. When this
spirit is pre
sent, no wrong can stand against it.

After the Declaration of Independence was signed, Virginia statesman John
Page wrote to Thomas Jefferson: "We know the race is not to the swift nor
the batt
le to the strong. Do you not think an angel rides in the whirlwind and
directs this storm?"

Much time has passed since Jefferson arrived for his inauguration. The
years and changes accumulate. But the themes of this day he would know:
our nation's grand story of courage and its simple dream of dignity.

We are not this story's author, who fills time and eternity with his
Yet his purpose is achieved in our duty, and our duty is fulfilled in
service to one another.

Never tiring, never yielding, never finishing, we renew that purpose
today, to make our country more just and generous, to affirm the dignity
of our lives and every life.

This work continues. This story goes on. And an angel still rides in the
whirl wind and directs this storm.

God bless you all, and God bless America.

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