January 20, 2021
Inaugural Address by President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
As prepared for delivery
The United States Capitol
Chief Justice Roberts, Vice-President Harris, Speaker Pelosi, Chairman Schumer, Chairman McConnell, Vice-President Pence, distinguished guests and fellow Americans.
This is America's day.
This is democracy day.
A day full of history and hope.
Of renewal and determination.
America has been retested through a melting pot for the ages and America has risen to the challenge.
Today we are celebrating the triumph not of a candidate but of a cause, the cause of democracy.
The will of the people was heard and the will of the people was obeyed.
We have learned again that democracy is precious.
Democracy is fragile.
And at this hour, my friends, democracy prevailed.
Now, on this sacred ground where violence tried to shake the foundations of this Capitol a few days ago, we come together as one nation under God, indivisible, to carry out the peaceful transfer of power as we have had for more than two centuries.
We look ahead in our uniquely American way – restless, brave, optimistic – and focus on the nation we know we can and must be.
I thank my predecessors from both parties for their presence here.
I thank you with all my heart.
You know the resilience of our constitution and the strength of our nation.
Just like President Carter, with whom I spoke last night but who cannot be with us today but whom we salute for his life.
I just took the sacred oath that each of these patriots took – an oath that George Washington took first.
But American history doesn't depend on any of us, not some of us, but all of us.
About "We the People" who are looking for a more perfect union.
This is a great nation and we are a good people.
Over the centuries we have come so far through storm and strife, in peace and in war. But we still have to go far.
We will move forward with speed and urgency because we have much to do in this winter of danger and opportunity.
Much to fix.
Much to restore.
Much to heal.
Lots to build.
And a lot to gain.
Few periods in our nation's history have been more challenging or difficult than what we are in right now.
A one-off virus silently haunts the country.
It cost as many lives in one year as America lost in all of World War II.
Millions of jobs have been lost.
Hundreds of thousands of businesses closed.
We are moved by a call for racial justice that has existed for around 400 years. The dream of justice for all is no longer postponed.
A cry for survival comes from the planet itself. A cry that cannot be more desperate or clear.
And now a surge in political extremism, white supremacy and domestic terrorism that we must face and defeat.
To overcome these challenges – to restore the soul and secure America's future – it takes more than words.
It requires the elusive of all things in a democracy:
Another January in Washington, on New Year's Day, 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Declaration of Emancipation.
As he put the pen on paper, the President said, "If my name ever goes down, it will be for this act and all of my soul is in it."
My whole soul is in it.
Today, on this January day, my whole soul is in this:
Bring America together.
Our people unite.
And unite our nation.
I ask every American to join me.
Association to fight the common enemies we face:
Anger, resentment, hatred.
Extremism, lawlessness, violence.
Illness, unemployment, hopelessness.
We can do great things with oneness. Important things.
We can correct injustice.
We can get people to work in good jobs.
We can educate our children in safe schools.
We can overcome this deadly virus.
We can reward work, rebuild the middle class, and improve health care
safe for everyone.
We can deliver racial justice.
We can make America the leading force for the good in the world again.
I know that speaking of oneness may sound like a stupid fantasy to some.
I know the forces that separate us are deep and real.
But I also know that they are not new.
Our story has been a constant battle between the American ideal that we are all created equal and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, and demonization have long torn us apart.
The battle lasts for several years.
Victory is never assured.
Through the civil war, the global economic crisis, the world war, September 11th, through struggle, sacrifices and setbacks, our “better angels” have always prevailed.
In each of those moments enough of us came together to move us all forward.
And we can do that now.
History, faith and reason show the way, the way of unity.
We cannot see ourselves as opponents, but as neighbors.
We can treat one another with dignity and respect.
We can band together, stop the screaming, and lower the temperature.
Because without unity there is no peace, only bitterness and anger.
No progress, just exhausting indignation.
Not a nation, just a state of chaos.
This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the way forward.
And we have to hit this moment as the United States of America.
If we do, I guarantee you we will not fail.
We have never failed in America when we have acted together.
Let's start over today, at this time and in this place.
Let's listen to each other.
Hear each other.
Show respect to one another.
Politics doesn't have to be a raging fire that destroys everything on its way.
Any disagreement does not have to be a cause of all-out war.
And we have to reject a culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even produced.
My fellow Americans, we have to be different.
America has to be better.
And I think America is better than that.
Just look around.
Here we stand in the shadow of a Capitol dome that was completed in the middle of the Civil War, when the Union itself was in limbo.
Nevertheless, we persevered and prevailed.
Here we look at the large mall where Dr. King spoke of his dream.
Here we are where, 108 years ago, during another inauguration, thousands of demonstrators tried to prevent brave women from marching for the right to vote.
Today we celebrate the swearing-in of the first woman in American history to be elected to national office – Vice President Kamala Harris.
Don't tell me nothing can change
Here we stand across from the Potomac from Arlington National Cemetery, where heroes who gave the last full measure of devotion rest in eternal peace.
And here we are just days after a seditious mob thought they could use violence to silence the will of the people, stop the work of our democracy, and drive us off this sacred ground.
That didn't happen.
It will never happen.
I am humble to all who have supported our campaign at the trust you have shown in us.
Let me tell everyone who did not support us: listen to me as we move forward. Take a measure of me and my heart.
And if you still disagree, so be it.
That's democracy. This is America. The right to contradict peacefully within the guard rails of our republic is perhaps our nation's greatest strength.
Hear me clearly: differences of opinion must not lead to differences of opinion.
And I promise you that: I will be President for all Americans.
I will fight just as hard for those who did not support me as for those who did.
Many centuries ago, St. Augustine, a saint of my Church, wrote that a people is a multitude defined by the common objects of their love.
What are the common objects that we love and that define us as Americans?
I think i know
And yes, the truth.
The past few weeks and months have taught us a painful lesson.
There is truth and there is lies.
Lies told for power and profit.
And each of us has a duty and responsibility, as citizens, as Americans, and especially as leaders – leaders committed to honoring our Constitution and protecting our nation – to defend the truth and defeat the lies.
I understand that many Americans view the future with some fear and concern.
I understand that they are worried about their jobs, about their families, and what's next.
I get it.
The answer, however, is not to turn inward, to withdraw into competing factions, to distrust or worship those who don't look like you, or not to get their news from the same sources that you do to do.
We have to end this rude war where red versus blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal.
We can do this when we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts.
When we show a little tolerance and humility.
When we are ready to stand in the other person's shoes for a moment.
Because here's the thing about life: there is no explanation of what fate will meet you.
There are days when we need a hand.
There are other days when we are asked to lend one.
That's how we have to be with each other.
And if we are like that, our country will be stronger, more prosperous and more sustainable.
My fellow Americans, we will need each other in the work that lies ahead.
We will need all our strength to survive this dark winter.
We are entering what is possibly the toughest and deadliest phase of the virus.
We have to put politics aside and finally face this pandemic as a nation.
I promise you this: As the Bible says, crying can last a night, but joy comes in the morning.
We'll get through this together
The world is watching today.
Here is my message to those beyond our borders: America has been tested and we came out stronger for it.
We will fix our alliances and deal with the world again.
Not to master yesterday's challenges, but to meet those of today and tomorrow.
We will lead not only by the example of our power, but by the strength of our example.
We will be a strong and trustworthy partner for peace, progress and security.
We have been through so much in this nation.
And in my first term as President, I would ask you to join me in a moment of silent prayer to remember all of those we lost to the pandemic over the past year.
To these 400,000 fellow Americans – mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, friends, neighbors and co-workers.
We will honor them by becoming the people and nation that we know we can and should.
Let us say a silent prayer for those who lost their lives, for those who left them, and for our country.
This is a time of testing.
We are facing an attack on democracy and truth.
A raging virus.
The sting of systemic racism.
A climate in crisis.
America's role in the world.
Any of these would be enough to challenge us in profound ways.
The fact is, however, that we face all of us at once and give this nation the greatest responsibility.
Now we have to improve.
It is a time of boldness because there is so much to do.
And that's for sure.
We are being judged, you and I, as we resolve the cascading crises of our time.
Will we face the opportunity?
Will we master this rare and difficult hour?
Will we live up to our commitments and share a new and better world for our children?
I believe we have to and I believe we will.
And if we do, we will write the next chapter in American history.
It's a story that sounds like a song that means a lot to me.
It's called "American Anthem" and there is one verse that strikes me:
“The work and the prayers
Centuries have brought us to this day
What should our legacy be?
What will our children say? …
Let me know in my heart
When my days are over
I did my best for you. "
Let's add our own work and prayers to our nation's history.
If we do this, it is when our days are through with our children and our children’s children say of us, they did their best.
You did your duty.
You healed a broken land.
My fellow Americans, I take a sacred oath today where I started.
Before God and all of you I give you my word.
I will always measure myself against you.
I will defend the constitution.
I will defend our democracy.
I will defend America.
I will give everything in your service and think not of power but of possibilities.
Not of personal interest, but of the common good.
And together we will write an American story of hope, not fear.
Of unity, not division.
Of light, not of darkness.
An American story of decency and dignity.
Of love and healing.
Of greatness and goodness.
May this be the story that leads us.
The story that inspires us.
The story that tells the ages to come, that we have answered the call of history.
We hit the moment.
That democracy and hope, truth and justice did not die on our watch, but flourished.
That our America at home secured freedom and once again stood as a beacon for the world.
We owe it to our ancestors, to each other and to future generations.
So, with intent and determination, we turn to the tasks of our time.
Supported by faith.
Driven by conviction.
And we love each other and this country with all our hearts.
May God bless America and may God protect our troops.
Thank you America.