Inaugural Address of Warren G. Harding
FRIDAY, MARCH 4, 1921
When one surveys the world about him after the great storm, noting the
marks of destruction and yet rejoicing in the ruggedness of the things
which withstood it, if he is an American he breathes the clarified atmosphere
with a strange mingling of regret and new hope. We have seen a world passion
spend its fury, but we contemplate our Republic unshaken, and hold our
civilization secure. Liberty--liberty within the law--and civilization
are inseparable, and though both were threatened we find them now secure;
and there comes to Americans the profound assurance that our representative
government is the highest expression and surest guaranty of both.
Standing in this presence, mindful of the solemnity of this occasion,
feeling the emotions which no one may know until he senses the great weight
of responsibility for himself, I must utter my belief in the divine inspiration
of the founding fathers. Surely there must have been God's intent in the
making of this new-world Republic. Ours is an organic law which had but
one ambiguity, and we saw that effaced in a baptism of sacrifice and blood,
with union maintained, the Nation supreme, and its concord inspiring. We
have seen the world rivet its hopeful gaze on the great truths on which
the founders wrought. We have seen civil, human, and religious liberty
verified and glorified. In the beginning the Old World scoffed at our experiment;
today our foundations of political and social belief stand unshaken, a
precious inheritance to ourselves, an inspiring example of freedom and
civilization to all mankind. Let us express renewed and strengthened devotion,
in grateful reverence for the immortal beginning, and utter our confidence
in the supreme fulfillment.
The recorded progress of our Republic, materially and spiritually, in
itself proves the wisdom of the inherited policy of noninvolvement in Old
World affairs. Confident of our ability to work out our own destiny, and
jealously guarding our right to do so, we seek no part in directing the
destinies of the Old World. We do not mean to be entangled. We will accept
no responsibility except as our own conscience and judgment, in each instance,
Our eyes never will be blind to a developing menace, our ears never
deaf to the call of civilization. We recognize the new order in the world,
with the closer contacts which progress has wrought. We sense the call
of the human heart for fellowship, fraternity, and cooperation. We crave
friendship and harbor no hate. But America, our America, the America builded
on the foundation laid by the inspired fathers, can be a party to no permanent
military alliance. It can enter into no political commitments, nor assume
any economic obligations which will subject our decisions to any other
than our own authority.
I am sure our own people will not misunderstand, nor will the world
misconstrue. We have no thought to impede the paths to closer relationship.
We wish to promote understanding. We want to do our part in making offensive
warfare so hateful that Governments and peoples who resort to it must prove
the righteousness of their cause or stand as outlaws before the bar of
We are ready to associate ourselves with the nations of the world, great
and small, for conference, for counsel; to seek the expressed views of
world opinion; to recommend a way to approximate disarmament and relieve
the crushing burdens of military and naval establishments. We elect to
participate in suggesting plans for mediation, conciliation, and arbitration,
and would gladly join in that expressed conscience of progress, which seeks
to clarify and write the laws of international relationship, and establish
a world court for the disposition of such justiciable questions as nations
are agreed to submit thereto. In expressing aspirations, in seeking practical
plans, in translating humanity's new concept of righteousness and justice
and its hatred of war into recommended action we are ready most heartily
to unite, but every commitment must be made in the exercise of our national
sovereignty. Since freedom impelled, and independence inspired, and nationality
exalted, a world supergovernment is contrary to everything we cherish and
can have no sanction by our Republic. This is not selfishness, it is sanctity.
It is not aloofness, it is security. It is not suspicion of others, it
is patriotic adherence to the things which made us what we are.
Today, better than ever before, we know the aspirations of humankind,
and share them. We have come to a new realization of our place in the world
and a new appraisal of our Nation by the world. The unselfishness of these
United States is a thing proven; our devotion to peace for ourselves and
for the world is well established; our concern for preserved civilization
has had its impassioned and heroic expression. There was no American failure
to resist the attempted reversion of civilization; there will be no failure
today or tomorrow.
The success of our popular government rests wholly upon the correct
interpretation of the deliberate, intelligent, dependable popular will
of America. In a deliberate questioning of a suggested change of national
policy, where internationality was to supersede nationality, we turned
to a referendum, to the American people. There was ample discussion, and
there is a public mandate in manifest understanding.
America is ready to encourage, eager to initiate, anxious to participate
in any seemly program likely to lessen the probability of war, and promote
that brotherhood of mankind which must be God's highest conception of human
relationship. Because we cherish ideals of justice and peace, because we
appraise international comity and helpful relationship no less highly than
any people of the world, we aspire to a high place in the moral leadership
of civilization, and we hold a maintained America, the proven Republic,
the unshaken temple of representative democracy, to be not only an inspiration
and example, but the highest agency of strengthening good will and promoting
accord on both continents.
Mankind needs a world-wide benediction of understanding. It is needed
among individuals, among peoples, among governments, and it will inaugurate
an era of good feeling to make the birth of a new order. In such understanding
men will strive confidently for the promotion of their better relationships
and nations will promote the comities so essential to peace.
We must understand that ties of trade bind nations in closest intimacy,
and none may receive except as he gives. We have not strengthened ours
in accordance with our resources or our genius, notably on our own continent,
where a galaxy of Republics reflects the glory of new-world democracy,
but in the new order of finance and trade we mean to promote enlarged activities
and seek expanded confidence.
Perhaps we can make no more helpful contribution by example than prove
a Republic's capacity to emerge from the wreckage of war. While the world's
embittered travail did not leave us devastated lands nor desolated cities,
left no gaping wounds, no breast with hate, it did involve us in the delirium
of expenditure, in expanded currency and credits, in unbalanced industry,
in unspeakable waste, and disturbed relationships. While it uncovered our
portion of hateful selfishness at home, it also revealed the heart of America
as sound and fearless, and beating in confidence unfailing.
Amid it all we have riveted the gaze of all civilization to the unselfishness
and the righteousness of representative democracy, where our freedom never
has made offensive warfare, never has sought territorial aggrandizement
through force, never has turned to the arbitrament of arms until reason
has been exhausted. When the Governments of the earth shall have established
a freedom like our own and shall have sanctioned the pursuit of peace as
we have practiced it, I believe the last sorrow and the final sacrifice
of international warfare will have been written.
Let me speak to the maimed and wounded soldiers who are present today,
and through them convey to their comrades the gratitude of the Republic
for their sacrifices in its defense. A generous country will never forget
the services you rendered, and you may hope for a policy under Government
that will relieve any maimed successors from taking your places on another
such occasion as this.
Our supreme task is the resumption of our onward, normal way. Reconstruction,
readjustment, restoration all these must follow. I would like to hasten
them. If it will lighten the spirit and add to the resolution with which
we take up the task, let me repeat for our Nation, we shall give no people
just cause to make war upon us; we hold no national prejudices; we entertain
no spirit of revenge; we do not hate; we do not covet; we dream of no conquest,
nor boast of armed prowess.
If, despite this attitude, war is again forced upon us, I earnestly
hope a way may be found which will unify our individual and collective
strength and consecrate all America, materially and spiritually, body and
soul, to national defense. I can vision the ideal republic, where every
man and woman is called under the flag for assignment to duty for whatever
service, military or civic, the individual is best fitted; where we may
call to universal service every plant, agency, or facility, all in the
sublime sacrifice for country, and not one penny of war profit shall inure
to the benefit of private individual, corporation, or combination, but
all above the normal shall flow into the defense chest of the Nation. There
is something inherently wrong, something out of accord with the ideals
of representative democracy, when one portion of our citizenship turns
its activities to private gain amid defensive war while another is fighting,
sacrificing, or dying for national preservation.
Out of such universal service will come a new unity of spirit and purpose,
a new confidence and consecration, which would make our defense impregnable,
our triumph assured. Then we should have little or no disorganization of
our economic, industrial, and commercial systems at home, no staggering
war debts, no swollen fortunes to flout the sacrifices of our soldiers,
no excuse for sedition, no pitiable slackerism, no outrage of treason.
Envy and jealousy would have no soil for their menacing development, and
revolution would be without the passion which engenders it.
A regret for the mistakes of yesterday must not, however, blind us to
the tasks of today. War never left such an aftermath. There has been staggering
loss of life and measureless wastage of materials. Nations are still groping
for return to stable ways. Discouraging indebtedness confronts us like
all the war-torn nations, and these obligations must be provided for. No
civilization can survive repudiation.
We can reduce the abnormal expenditures, and we will. We can strike
at war taxation, and we must. We must face the grim necessity, with full
knowledge that the task is to be solved, and we must proceed with a full
realization that no statute enacted by man can repeal the inexorable laws
of nature. Our most dangerous tendency is to expect too much of government,
and at the same time do for it too little. We contemplate the immediate
task of putting our public household in order. We need a rigid and yet
sane economy, combined with fiscal justice, and it must be attended by
individual prudence and thrift, which are so essential to this trying hour
and reassuring for the future.
The business world reflects the disturbance of war's reaction. Herein
flows the lifeblood of material existence. The economic mechanism is intricate
and its parts interdependent, and has suffered the shocks and jars incident
to abnormal demands, credit inflations, and price upheavals. The normal
balances have been impaired, the channels of distribution have been clogged,
the relations of labor and management have been strained. We must seek
the readjustment with care and courage. Our people must give and take.
Prices must reflect the receding fever of war activities. Perhaps we never
shall know the old levels of wages again, because war invariably readjusts
compensations, and the necessaries of life will show their inseparable
relationship, but we must strive for normalcy to reach stability. All the
penalties will not be light, nor evenly distributed. There is no way of
making them so. There is no instant step from disorder to order. We must
face a condition of grim reality, charge off our losses and start afresh.
It is the oldest lesson of civilization. I would like government to do
all it can to mitigate; then, in understanding, in mutuality of interest,
in concern for the common good, our tasks will be solved. No altered system
will work a miracle. Any wild experiment will only add to the confusion.
Our best assurance lies in efficient administration of our proven system.
The forward course of the business cycle is unmistakable. Peoples are
turning from destruction to production. Industry has sensed the changed
order and our own people are turning to resume their normal, onward way.
The call is for productive America to go on. I know that Congress and the
Administration will favor every wise Government policy to aid the resumption
and encourage continued progress.
I speak for administrative efficiency, for lightened tax burdens, for
sound commercial practices, for adequate credit facilities, for sympathetic
concern for all agricultural problems, for the omission of unnecessary
interference of Government with business, for an end to Government's experiment
in business, and for more efficient business in Government administration.
With all of this must attend a mindfulness of the human side of all activities,
so that social, industrial, and economic justice will be squared with the
purposes of a righteous people.
With the nation-wide induction of womanhood into our political life,
we may count upon her intuitions, her refinements, her intelligence, and
her influence to exalt the social order. We count upon her exercise of
the full privileges and the performance of the duties of citizenship to
speed the attainment of the highest state.
I wish for an America no less alert in guarding against dangers from
within than it is watchful against enemies from without. Our fundamental
law recognizes no class, no group, no section; there must be none in legislation
or administration. The supreme inspiration is the common weal. Humanity
hungers for international peace, and we crave it with all mankind. My most
reverent prayer for America is for industrial peace, with its rewards,
widely and generally distributed, amid the inspirations of equal opportunity.
No one justly may deny the equality of opportunity which made us what we
are. We have mistaken unpreparedness to embrace it to be a challenge of
the reality, and due concern for making all citizens fit for participation
will give added strength of citizenship and magnify our achievement.
If revolution insists upon overturning established order, let other
peoples make the tragic experiment. There is no place for it in America.
When World War threatened civilization we pledged our resources and our
lives to its preservation, and when revolution threatens we unfurl the
flag of law and order and renew our consecration. Ours is a constitutional
freedom where the popular will is the law supreme and minorities are sacredly
protected. Our revisions, reformations, and evolutions reflect a deliberate
judgment and an orderly progress, and we mean to cure our ills, but never
destroy or permit destruction by force.
I had rather submit our industrial controversies to the conference table
in advance than to a settlement table after conflict and suffering. The
earth is thirsting for the cup of good will, understanding is its fountain
source. I would like to acclaim an era of good feeling amid dependable
prosperity and all the blessings which attend.
It has been proved again and again that we cannot, while throwing our
markets open to the world, maintain American standards of living and opportunity,
and hold our industrial eminence in such unequal competition. There is
a luring fallacy in the theory of banished barriers of trade, but preserved
American standards require our higher production costs to be reflected
in our tariffs on imports. Today, as never before, when peoples are seeking
trade restoration and expansion, we must adjust our tariffs to the new
order. We seek participation in the world's exchanges, because therein
lies our way to widened influence and the triumphs of peace. We know full
well we cannot sell where we do not buy, and we cannot sell successfully
where we do not carry. Opportunity is calling not alone for the restoration,
but for a new era in production, transportation and trade. We shall answer
it best by meeting the demand of a surpassing home market, by promoting
self- reliance in production, and by bidding enterprise, genius, and efficiency
to carry our cargoes in American bottoms to the marts of the world.
We would not have an America living within and for herself alone, but
we would have her self-reliant, independent, and ever nobler, stronger,
and richer. Believing in our higher standards, reared through constitutional
liberty and maintained opportunity, we invite the world to the same heights.
But pride in things wrought is no reflex of a completed task. Common welfare
is the goal of our national endeavor. Wealth is not inimical to welfare;
it ought to be its friendliest agency. There never can be equality of rewards
or possessions so long as the human plan contains varied talents and differing
degrees of industry and thrift, but ours ought to be a country free from
the great blotches of distressed poverty. We ought to find a way to guard
against the perils and penalties of unemployment. We want an America of
homes, illumined with hope and happiness, where mothers, freed from the
necessity for long hours of toil beyond their own doors, may preside as
befits the hearthstone of American citizenship. We want the cradle of American
childhood rocked under conditions so wholesome and so hopeful that no blight
may touch it in its development, and we want to provide that no selfish
interest, no material necessity, no lack of opportunity shall prevent the
gaining of that education so essential to best citizenship.
There is no short cut to the making of these ideals into glad realities.
The world has witnessed again and again the futility and the mischief of
ill-considered remedies for social and economic disorders. But we are mindful
today as never before of the friction of modern industrialism, and we must
learn its causes and reduce its evil consequences by sober and tested methods.
Where genius has made for great possibilities, justice and happiness must
be reflected in a greater common welfare.
Service is the supreme commitment of life. I would rejoice to acclaim
the era of the Golden Rule and crown it with the autocracy of service.
I pledge an administration wherein all the agencies of Government are called
to serve, and ever promote an understanding of Government purely as an
expression of the popular will.
One cannot stand in this presence and be unmindful of the tremendous
responsibility. The world upheaval has added heavily to our tasks. But
with the realization comes the surge of high resolve, and there is reassurance
in belief in the God-given destiny of our Republic. If I felt that there
is to be sole responsibility in the Executive for the America of tomorrow
I should shrink from the burden. But here are a hundred millions, with
common concern and shared responsibility, answerable to God and country.
The Republic summons them to their duty, and I invite co-operation.
I accept my part with single-mindedness of purpose and humility of spirit,
and implore the favor and guidance of God in His Heaven. With these I am
unafraid, and confidently face the future.
I have taken the solemn oath of office on that passage of Holy Writ
wherein it is asked: "What doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly,
and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" This I plight to God