Mr. Chief Justice, my friends:
On each national day of inauguration since 1789, the people have
renewed their sense of dedication to the United States.
In Washington's day the task of the people was to create and weld
together a nation.
In Lincoln's day the task of the people was to preserve that Nation
from disruption from within.
In this day the task of the people is to save that Nation and its
institutions from disruption from without.
To us there has come a time, in the midst of swift happenings, to
pause for a moment and take stock--to recall what our place in history
has been, and to rediscover what we are and what we may be. If we do not,
we risk the real peril of isolation, the real peril of inaction.
Lives of nations are determined not by the count of years, but by
the lifetime of the human spirit. The life of a man is three-score years
and ten: a little more, a little less. The life of a nation is the fullness
of the measure of its will to live.
There are men who doubt this. There are men who believe that democracy,
as a form of Government and a frame of life, is limited or measured by
a kind of mystical and artificial fate that, for some unexplained reason,
tyranny and slavery have become the surging wave of the future--and that
freedom is an ebbing tide.
But we Americans know that this is not true.
Eight years ago, when the life of this Republic seemed frozen by
a fatalistic terror, we proved that this is not true. We were in the midst
of shock--but we acted. We acted quickly, boldly, decisively.
These later years have been living years--fruitful years for the
people of this democracy. For they have brought to us greater security
and, I hope, a better understanding that life's ideals are to be measured
in other than material things.
Most vital to our present and to our future is this experience of a
democracy which successfully survived crisis at home; put away many evil
things; built new structures on enduring lines; and, through it all, maintained
the fact of its democracy.
For action has been taken within the three-way framework of the Constitution
of the United States. The coordinate branches of the Government continue
freely to function. The Bill of Rights remains inviolate. The freedom of
elections is wholly maintained. Prophets of the downfall of American democracy
have seen their dire predictions come to naught.
No, democracy is not dying.
We know it because we have seen it revive--and grow.
We know it cannot die--because it is built on the unhampered initiative
of individual men and women joined together in a common enterprise--an
enterprise undertaken and carried through by the free expression of a free
We know it because democracy alone, of all forms of government, enlists
the full force of men's enlightened will.
We know it because democracy alone has constructed an unlimited civilization
capable of infinite progress in the improvement of human life.
We know it because, if we look below the surface, we sense it still
spreading on every continent--for it is the most humane, the most advanced,
and in the end the most unconquerable of all forms of human society.
A nation, like a person, has a body--a body that must be fed and
clothed and housed, invigorated and rested, in a manner that measures up
to the standards of our time.
A nation, like a person, has a mind--a mind that must be kept informed
and alert, that must know itself, that understands the hopes and the needs
of its neighbors--all the other nations that live within the narrowing
circle of the world.
And a nation, like a person, has something deeper, something more
permanent, something larger than the sum of all its parts. It is that something
which matters most to its future--which calls forth the most sacred guarding
of its present.
It is a thing for which we find it difficult--even impossible--to
hit upon a single, simple word.
And yet we all understand what it is--the spirit--the faith of America.
It is the product of centuries. It was born in the multitudes of those
who came from many lands--some of high degree, but mostly plain people,
who sought here, early and late, to find freedom more freely.
The democratic aspiration is no mere recent phase in human history.
It is human history. It permeated the ancient life of early peoples. It
blazed anew in the middle ages. It was written in Magna Carta.
In the Americas its impact has been irresistible. America has been
the New World in all tongues, to all peoples, not because this continent
was a new-found land, but because all those who came here believed they
could create upon this continent a new life--a life that should be new
Its vitality was written into our Mayflower Compact, into the
Declaration of Independence, into the Constitution of the United States,
into the Gettysburg Address.
Those who first came here to carry out the longings of their spirit,
and the millions who followed, and the stock that sprang from them--all
have moved forward constantly and consistently toward an ideal which in
itself has gained stature and clarity with each generation.
The hopes of the Republic cannot forever tolerate either undeserved
poverty or self-serving wealth.
We know that we still have far to go; that we must more greatly build
the security and the opportunity and the knowledge of every citizen, in
the measure justified by the resources and the capacity of the land.
But it is not enough to achieve these purposes alone. It is not enough
to clothe and feed the body of this Nation, to instruct to inform its
mind. For there is also the spirit. And of the three, the greatest is the
Without the body and the mind, as all men know, the Nation could
But if the spirit of America were killed, even though the Nation's
body and mind, constricted in an alien world, lived on, the America we
know would have perished.
That spirit--that faith--speaks to us in our daily lives in ways
often unnoticed, because they seem so obvious. It speaks to us here in
the Capital of the Nation. It speaks to us through the processes of governing
in the sovereignties of 48 States. It speaks to us in our counties, in
our cities, in our towns, and in our villages. It speaks to us from the
other nations of the hemisphere, and from those across the seas--the enslaved,
as well as the free. Sometimes we fail to hear or heed these voices of
freedom because to us the privilege of our freedom is such an old, old
The destiny of America was proclaimed in words of prophecy spoken
by our first President in his first inaugural in 1789--words almost directed,
it would seem, to this year of 1941: "The preservation of the sacred
fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are
justly considered ... deeply, ... finally, staked on the experiment intrusted
to the hands of the American people."
If you and I, if we in this later day, lose that sacred fire--if we let it be smothered with doubt
and fear--then we shall reject the destiny which Washington strove so valiantly
and so triumphantly to establish. The preservation of the spirit and faith
of the Nation does, and will, furnish the highest justification for every
sacrifice that we may make in the cause of national defense.
In the face of great perils never before encountered, our strong
purpose is to protect and to perpetuate the integrity of democracy.
For this we muster the spirit of America, and the faith of America.
We do not retreat. We are not content to stand still. As Americans,
we go forward, in the service of our country, by the will of God.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt - January 20, 1941