Second Inaugural Address
January 21, 1985
In his second inaugural address, Reagan calls for continued economic growth and tells Americans "Our nation is poised for greatness."
Senator Mathias, Chief Justice Burger, Vice President Bush, Speaker O'Neill, Senator Dole, Reverend Clergy, 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. I wonder if we could all join in a moment of silent prayer. (Moment of silent prayer.) Amen.
There are no words adequate to express my thanks for the great honor that you have bestowed on me. I will 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 have 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 ago.
When I took this oath four years ago, I did so in a time of economic stress. Voices were raised saying 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 we'll 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 reduction, rebuilding our defenses, our economy, and developing new
technologies, and helped preserve peace in a troubled world; when Americans
courageously supported the struggle for 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, when America reached for her best."
Our two-party system has served us 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 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 of ours.
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 to 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
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
have 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 that, 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
And 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 is no story more heartening in our history
than the progress that we have 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
I have spoken of our domestic goals and the limitations which we should put
on our National Government. Now let me turn to a task which is the primary
responsibility of National Government--the safety and security of our
Today, we utter no prayer more fervently than the ancient prayer for peace
on Earth. Yet history has shown that peace will 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 weapons.
We have 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
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 are
trying to do in negotiations with the Soviet Union. We are 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 would 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 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
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 forward to a world rich
in possibilities. And all this because we have worked and acted together,
not as members of political parties, but as Americans.
My friends, we live in a world that is 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
together again at the steps of this symbol of our democracy--or we would
have been standing at the steps if it hadn't gotten so cold. Now we are
standing inside this symbol of our democracy. Now we 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 air.
It is the American sound. It is hopeful, big-hearted, idealistic, daring,
decent, and fair. That's our heritage; that is our song. We sing it still.
For all our problems, our differences, we are together as of old, as 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--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 may God bless America.
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