Second Inaugural Address
January 21, 1985
Senator Mathias, Chief Justice
Burger, Vice President Bush, Speaker O'Neill, Senator Dole,
reverend clergy, and members of my family and friends and
my fellow citizens:
This day has been made brighter with the presence here
of one who, for a time, has been absent. Senator John Stennis,
God bless you and welcome back.
There is, however, one who is not with us today. Representative
Gillis Long of Louisiana left us last night. And I wonder
if we could all join in a moment of silent prayer.
[The President resumed speaking after a moment of silence.]
There are no words adequate to express my thanks for the
great honor that you've bestowed on me. I'll do my utmost
to be deserving of your trust.
This is, as Senator Mathias told us, the 50th time that
we, the people, have celebrated this historic occasion.
When the first President, George Washington, placed his
hand upon the Bible, he stood less than a single day's
journey by horseback from raw, untamed wilderness. There
were 4 million Americans in a union of 13 States. Today,
we are 60 times as many in a union of 50 States. We've
lighted the world with our inventions, gone to the aid
of mankind wherever in the world there was a cry for help,
journeyed to the Moon and safely returned. So much has
changed, and yet we stand together as we did two centuries
When I took this oath 4 years ago, I did so in a time
of economic stress. Voices were raised saying that we had
to look to our past for the greatness and glory. But we,
the present-day Americans, are not given to looking backward.
In this blessed land, there is always a better tomorrow.
Four years ago, I spoke to you of a New Beginning, and
we have accomplished that. But in another sense, our New
Beginning is a continuation of that beginning created two
centuries ago when, for the first time in history, government,
the people said, was not our master, it is our servant;
its only power that which we the people allow it to have.
That system has never failed us, but for a time we failed
the system. We asked things of government that government
was not equipped to give. We yielded authority to the National
Government that properly belonged to States or to local
governments or to the people themselves. We allowed taxes
and inflation to rob us of our earnings and savings and
watched the great industrial machine that had made us the
most productive people on Earth slow down and the number
of unemployed increase.
By 1980 we knew it was time to renew our faith, to strive
with all our strength toward the ultimate in individual
freedom, consistent with an orderly society.
We believed then and now: There are no limits to growth
and human progress when men and women are free to follow
their dreams. And we were right to believe that. Tax rates
have been reduced, inflation cut dramatically, and more
people are employed than ever before in our history.
We are creating a nation once again vibrant, robust, and
alive. But there are many mountains yet to climb. We will
not rest until every American enjoys the fullness of freedom,
dignity, and opportunity as our birthright. It is our birthright
as citizens of this great Republic.
And if we meet this challenge, these will be years when
Americans have restored their confidence and tradition
of progress; when our values of faith, family, work, and
neighborhood were restated for a modern age; when our economy
was finally freed from government's grip; when we made
sincere efforts at meaningful arms reductions and by rebuilding
our defenses, our economy, and developing new technologies,
helped preserve peace in a troubled world; when America
courageously supported the struggle for individual liberty,
self-government, and free enterprise throughout the world
and turned the tide of history away from totalitarian darkness
and into the warm sunlight of human freedom.
My fellow citizens, our nation is poised for greatness.
We must do what we know is right, and do it with all our
might. Let history say of us: ``These were golden years
-- when the American Revolution was reborn, when freedom
gained new life, and America reached for her best.
Our two-party system has solved us -- served us, I should
say, well over the years, but never better than in those
times of great challenge when we came together not as Democrats
or Republicans, but as Americans united in a common cause.
Two of our Founding Fathers, a Boston lawyer named Adams
and a Virginia planter named Jefferson, members of that
remarkable group who met in Independence Hall and dared
to think they could start the world over again, left us
an important lesson. They had become, in the years then
in government, bitter political rivals in the Presidential
election of 1800. Then, years later, when both were retired
and age had softened their anger, they began to speak to
each other again through letters. A bond was reestablished
between those two who had helped create this government
In 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence,
they both died. They died on the same day, within a few
hours of each other, and that day was the Fourth of July.
In one of those letters exchanged in the sunset of their
lives, Jefferson wrote: ``It carries me back to the times
when, beset with difficulties and dangers, we were fellow
laborers in the same cause, struggling for what is most
valuable to man, his right of self-government. Laboring
always at the same oar, with some wave ever ahead threatening
to overwhelm us, and yet passing harmless . . . we rode
through the storm with heart and hand.''
Well, with heart and hand let us stand as one today --
one people under God, determined that our future shall
be worthy of our past. As we do, we must not repeat the
well-intentioned errors of our past. We must never again
abuse the trust of working men and women by sending their
earnings on a futile chase after the spiraling demands
of a bloated Federal Establishment. You elected us in 1980
to end this prescription for disaster, and I don't believe
you reelected us in 1984 to reverse course.
At the heart of our efforts is one idea vindicated by
25 straight months of economic growth: Freedom and incentives
unleash the drive and entrepreneurial genius that are the
core of human progress. We have begun to increase the rewards
for work, savings, and investment; reduce the increase
in the cost and size of government and its interference
in people's lives.
We must simplify our tax system, make it more fair and
bring the rates down for all who work and earn. We must
think anew and move with a new boldness, so every American
who seeks work can find work, so the least among us shall
have an equal chance to achieve the greatest things --
to be heroes who heal our sick, feed the hungry, protect
peace among nations, and leave this world a better place.
The time has come for a new American emancipation -- a
great national drive to tear down economic barriers and
liberate the spirit of enterprise in the most distressed
areas of our country. My friends, together we can do this,
and do it we must, so help me God.
From new freedom will spring new opportunities for growth,
a more productive, fulfilled, and united people, and a
stronger America -- an America that will lead the technological
revolution and also open its mind and heart and soul to
the treasures of literature, music, and poetry, and the
values of faith, courage, and love.
A dynamic economy, with more citizens working and paying
taxes, will be our strongest tool to bring down budget
deficits. But an almost unbroken 50 years of deficit spending
has finally brought us to a time of reckoning. We've come
to a turning point, a moment for hard decisions. I have
asked the Cabinet and my staff a question and now I put
the same question to all of you. If not us, who? And if
not now, when? It must be done by all of us going forward
with a program aimed at reaching a balanced budget. We
can then begin reducing the national debt.
I will shortly submit a budget to the Congress aimed at
freezing government program spending for the next year.
Beyond this, we must take further steps to permanently
control government's power to tax and spend. We must act
now to protect future generations from government's desire
to spend its citizens' money and tax them into servitude
when the bills come due. Let us make it unconstitutional
for the Federal Government to spend more than the Federal
Government takes in.
We have already started returning to the people and to
State and local governments responsibilities better handled
by them. Now, there is a place for the Federal Government
in matters of social compassion. But our fundamental goals
must be to reduce dependency and upgrade the dignity of
those who are infirm or disadvantaged. And here, a growing
economy and support from family and community offer our
best chance for a society where compassion is a way of
life, where the old and infirm are cared for, the young
and, yes, the unborn protected, and the unfortunate looked
after and made self-sufficient.
Now, there is another area where the Federal Government
can play a part. As an older American, I remember a time
when people of different race, creed, or ethnic origin
in our land found hatred and prejudice installed in social
custom and, yes, in law. There's no story more heartening
in our history than the progress that we've made toward
the brotherhood of man that God intended for us. Let us
resolve there will be no turning back or hesitation on
the road to an America rich in dignity and abundant with
opportunity for all our citizens.
Let us resolve that we, the people, will build an American
opportunity society in which all of us -- white and black,
rich and poor, young and old -- will go forward together,
arm in arm. Again, let us remember that though our heritage
is one of blood lines from every corner of the Earth, we
are all Americans, pledged to carry on this last, best
hope of man on Earth.
I've spoken of our domestic goals and the limitations
we should put on our National Government. Now let me turn
to a task that is the primary responsibility of National
Government -- the safety and security of our people.
Today, we utter no prayer more fervently than the ancient
prayer for peace on Earth. Yet history has shown that peace
does not come, nor will our freedom be preserved, by good
will alone. There are those in the world who scorn our
vision of human dignity and freedom. One nation, the Soviet
Union, has conducted the greatest military buildup in the
history of man, building arsenals of awesome offensive
We've made progress in restoring our defense capability.
But much remains to be done. There must be no wavering
by us, nor any doubts by others, that America will meet
her responsibilities to remain free, secure, and at peace.
There is only one way safely and legitimately to reduce
the cost of national security, and that is to reduce the
need for it. And this we're trying to do in negotiations
with the Soviet Union. We're not just discussing limits
on a further increase of nuclear weapons; we seek, instead,
to reduce their number. We seek the total elimination one
day of nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth.
Now, for decades, we and the Soviets have lived under
the threat of mutual assured destruction -- if either resorted
to the use of nuclear weapons, the other could retaliate
and destroy the one who had started it. Is there either
logic or morality in believing that if one side threatens
to kill tens of millions of our people our only recourse
is to threaten killing tens of millions of theirs?
I have approved a research program to find, if we can,
a security shield that will destroy nuclear missiles before
they reach their target. It wouldn't kill people; it would
destroy weapons. It wouldn't militarize space; it would
help demilitarize the arsenals of Earth. It would render
nuclear weapons obsolete. We will meet with the Soviets,
hoping that we can agree on a way to rid the world of the
threat of nuclear destruction.
We strive for peace and security, heartened by the changes
all around us. Since the turn of the century, the number
of democracies in the world has grown fourfold. Human freedom
is on the march, and nowhere more so than in our own hemisphere.
Freedom is one of the deepest and noblest aspirations of
the human spirit. People, worldwide, hunger for the right
of self-determination, for those inalienable rights that
make for human dignity and progress.
America must remain freedom's staunchest friend, for freedom
is our best ally and it is the world's only hope to conquer
poverty and preserve peace. Every blow we inflict against
poverty will be a blow against its dark allies of oppression
and war. Every victory for human freedom will be a victory
for world peace.
So, we go forward today, a nation still mighty in its
youth and powerful in its purpose. With our alliances strengthened,
with our economy leading the world to a new age of economic
expansion, we look to a future rich in possibilities. And
all of this is because we worked and acted together, not
as members of political parties but as Americans.
My friends, we live in a world that's lit by lightning.
So much is changing and will change, but so much endures
and transcends time.
History is a ribbon, always unfurling. History is a journey.
And as we continue our journey, we think of those who traveled
before us. We stand again at the steps of this symbol of
our democracy -- well, we would have been standing at the
steps if it hadn't gotten so cold. [Laughter] Now we're
standing inside this symbol of our democracy, and we see
and hear again the echoes of our past: a general falls
to his knees in the hard snow of Valley Forge; a lonely
President paces the darkened halls and ponders his struggle
to preserve the Union; the men of the Alamo call out encouragement
to each other; a settler pushes west and sings a song,
and the song echoes out forever and fills the unknowing
It is the American sound. It is hopeful, big-hearted,
idealistic, daring, decent, and fair. That's our heritage,
that's our song. We sing it still. For all our problems,
our differences, we are together as of old. We raise our
voices to the God who is the Author of this most tender
music. And may He continue to hold us close as we fill
the world with our sound -- in unity, affection, and love
-- one people under God, dedicated to the dream of freedom
that He has placed in the human heart, called upon now
to pass that dream on to a waiting and hopeful world.
God bless you, and God bless America.