John F. Kennedy
delivered 20 January 1961
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[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio. (2)]
[Taking the oath of Office]
Vice President Johnson, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief
Eisenhower, Vice President Nixon, President Truman, reverend clergy, fellow citizens:
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
This much we pledge -- and more.
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 inside.
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.
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
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?
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.
¹ Isaiah 58:6 (King James Version of the Holy Bible)
² Romans 12:12 (King James Version of the Holy Bible)
Audio Source: The JFK Presidential Presidential Library & Museum
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