The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History Advanced Placement United States History Study Guide

Period 9: 1980-Present

Barack Obama’s First Inaugural Address, 2009

Inaugural Parade. Michelle and Barack Obama watch the parade from the viewiThe inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States in 2009 was a historic moment not only because Obama was the first African American ever sworn into executive office but also because he entered the presidency at a time of incredible adversity. The nation was strained by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the impact of a deepening financial crisis and recession. The election of the first black president was a sign of hope for many that change was on its way.

Obama delivered his inaugural address on January 20, 2009, to the largest crowd ever assembled for a presidential inauguration. The new president called for an end to the divisive spirit of recent politics: “On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.” Obama called on Americans to unite and look toward their common national heritage as a guide for facing the challenges of the future, declaring, “The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.”

A full transcript is available.

EXCERPT

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly, our schools fail too many—and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable, but no less profound, is a sapping of confidence across our land; a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America: They will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics. We remain a young nation. But in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

Barack Obama, Inaugural Address, January 20, 2009

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