20 January 1965
fellow countrymen, on this occasion, the oath I have taken before you
and before God is not mine alone, but ours together. We are one nation
and one people. Our fate as a nation and our future as a people rest
not upon one citizen, but upon all citizens.
This is the majesty
and the meaning of this moment.
For every generation,
there is a destiny. For some, history decides. For this generation,
the choice must be our own.
Even now, a rocket
moves toward Mars. It reminds us that the world will not be the same
for our children, or even for ourselves in a short span of years. The
next man to stand here will look out on a scene different from our own,
because ours is a time of change--rapid and fantastic change bearing
the secrets of nature, multiplying the nations, placing in uncertain
hands new weapons for mastery and destruction, shaking old values, and
uprooting old ways.
Our destiny in the
midst of change will rest on the unchanged character of our people,
and on their faith.
They came here--the
exile and the stranger, brave but frightened--to find a place where
a man could be his own man. They made a covenant with this land. Conceived
in justice, written in liberty, bound in union, it was meant one day
to inspire the hopes of all mankind; and it binds us still. If we keep
its terms, we shall flourish.
First, justice was
the promise that all who made the journey would share in the fruits
of the land.
In a land of great
wealth, families must not live in hopeless poverty.
In a land rich in
harvest, children just must not go hungry.
In a land of healing
miracles, neighbors must not suffer and die unattended.
In a great land of
learning and scholars, young people must be taught to read and write.
For the more than
30 years that I have served this Nation, I have believed that this injustice
to our people, this waste of our resources, was our real enemy. For
30 years or more, with the resources I have had, I have vigilantly fought
against it. I have learned, and I know, that it will not surrender easily.
But change has given
us new weapons. Before this generation of Americans is finished, this
enemy will not only retreat--it will be conquered.
us to remember that when any citizen denies his fellow, saying, "His
color is not mine," or "His beliefs are strange and different," in that
moment he betrays America, though his forebears created this Nation.
Liberty was the second
article of our covenant. It was self-government. It was our Bill of
Rights. But it was more. America would be a place where each man could
be proud to be himself: stretching his talents, rejoicing in his work,
important in the life of his neighbors and his nation.
This has become more
difficult in a world where change and growth seem to tower beyond the
control and even the judgment of men. We must work to provide the knowledge
and the surroundings which can enlarge the possibilities of every citizen.
The American covenant
called on us to help show the way for the liberation of man. And that
is today our goal. Thus, if as a nation there is much outside our control,
as a people no stranger is outside our hope.
Change has brought
new meaning to that old mission. We can never again stand aside, prideful
in isolation. Terrific dangers and troubles that we once called "foreign"
now constantly live among us. If American lives must end, and American
treasure be spilled, in countries we barely know, that is the price
that change has demanded of conviction and of our enduring covenant.
Think of our world
as it looks from the rocket that is heading toward Mars. It is like
a child's globe, hanging in space, the continents stuck to its side
like colored maps. We are all fellow passengers on a dot of earth. And
each of us, in the span of time, has really only a moment among our
How incredible it
is that in this fragile existence, we should hate and destroy one another.
There are possibilities enough for
all who will abandon mastery over others to pursue mastery over nature.
There is world enough for all to seek their happiness in their own way.
Our Nation's course
is abundantly clear. We aspire to nothing that belongs to others. We
seek no dominion over our fellow man, but man's dominion over tyranny
But more is required.
Men want to be a part of a common enterprise--a cause greater than themselves.
Each of us must find a way to advance the purpose of the Nation, thus
finding new purpose for ourselves. Without this, we shall become a nation
The third article
was union. To those who were small and few against the wilderness, the
success of liberty demanded the strength of union. Two centuries of
change have made this true again.
No longer need capitalist
and worker, farmer and clerk, city and countryside, struggle to divide
our bounty. By working shoulder to shoulder, together we can increase
the bounty of all. We have discovered that every child who learns, every
man who finds work, every sick body that is made whole--like a candle
added to an altar--brightens the hope of all the faithful.
So let us reject
any among us who seek to reopen old wounds and to rekindle old hatreds.
They stand in the way of a seeking nation.
Let us now join reason
to faith and action to experience, to transform our unity of interest
into a unity of purpose. For the hour and the day and the time are here
to achieve progress without strife, to achieve change without hatred--not
without difference of opinion, but without the deep and abiding divisions
which scar the union for generations.
Under this covenant
of justice, liberty, and union we have become a nation--prosperous,
great, and mighty. And we have kept our freedom. But we have no promise
from God that our greatness will endure. We have been allowed by Him
to seek greatness with the sweat of our hands and the strength of our
I do not believe
that the Great Society is the ordered, changeless, and sterile battalion
of the ants. It is the excitement of becoming--always becoming, trying,
probing, falling, resting, and trying again--but always trying and always
In each generation,
with toil and tears, we have had to earn our heritage again.
If we fail now, we
shall have forgotten in abundance what we learned in hardship: that
democracy rests on faith, that freedom asks more than it gives, and
that the judgment of God is harshest on those who are most favored.
If we succeed, it
will not be because of what we have, but it will be because of what
we are; not because of what we own, but, rather because of what we believe.
For we are a nation
of believers. Underneath the clamor of building and the rush of our
day's pursuits, we are believers in justice and liberty and union, and
in our own Union. We believe that every man must someday be free. And
we believe in ourselves.
Our enemies have
always made the same mistake. In my lifetime--in depression and in war--they
have awaited our defeat. Each time, from the secret places of the American
heart, came forth the faith they could not see or that they could not
even imagine. It brought us victory. And it will again.
For this is what
America is all about. It is the uncrossed desert and the unclimbed ridge.
It is the star that is not reached and the harvest sleeping in the unplowed
ground. Is our world gone? We say "Farewell." Is a new world coming?
We welcome it--and we will bend it to the hopes of man.
To these trusted
public servants and to my family and those close friends of mine who
have followed me down a long, winding road, and to all the people of
this Union and the world, I will repeat today what I said on that sorrowful
day in November 1963: "I will lead and I will do the best I can."
But you must look
within your own hearts to the old promises and to the old dream. They
will lead you best of all.
For myself, I ask
only, in the words of an ancient leader: "Give me now wisdom and knowledge,
that I may go out and come in before this people: for who can judge
this, thy people, that is so great?"
Addresses of the Presidents of the United States from George Washington
1789 to Richard Milhous Nixon 1969 (Washington, D. C.: U. S. Government
Printing Office, 1969), 271-74. Paragraph numbers have been added, and
the original pagination appears in brackets.