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…
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.
To those peoples in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves… If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich…
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 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 to 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 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 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 in mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course…
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 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.
I was six when I heard the call, 50 years ago, but it is why I spend this 50th anniversary of that day in the service of the United States in Benin.