First Inaugural Address of Dwight D. Eisenhower
TUESDAY, JANUARY 20, 1953
My friends, before I begin the expression of those thoughts that I deem
appropriate to this moment, would you permit me the privilege of uttering
a little private prayer of my own. And I ask that you bow your heads:
Almighty God, as we stand here at this moment my future associates in
the executive branch of government join me in beseeching that Thou will
make full and complete our dedication to the service of the people in this
throng, and their fellow citizens everywhere.
Give us, we pray, the power to discern clearly right from wrong, and
allow all our words and actions to be governed thereby, and by the laws
of this land. Especially we pray that our concern shall be for all the
people regardless of station, race, or calling.
May cooperation be permitted and be the mutual aim of those who, under
the concepts of our Constitution, hold to differing political faiths; so
that all may work for the good of our beloved country and Thy glory. Amen.
My fellow citizens:
The world and we have passed the midway point of a century of continuing
challenge. We sense with all our faculties that forces of good and evil
are massed and armed and opposed as rarely before in history.
This fact defines the meaning of this day. We are summoned by this honored
and historic ceremony to witness more than the act of one citizen swearing
his oath of service, in the presence of God. We are called as a people
to give testimony in the sight of the world to our faith that the future
shall belong to the free.
Since this century's beginning, a time of tempest has seemed to come
upon the continents of the earth. Masses of Asia have awakened to strike
off shackles of the past. Great nations of Europe have fought their bloodiest
wars. Thrones have toppled and their vast empires have disappeared. New
nations have been born.
For our own country, it has been a time of recurring trial. We have
grown in power and in responsibility. We have passed through the anxieties
of depression and of war to a summit unmatched in man's history. Seeking
to secure peace in the world, we have had to fight through the forests
of the Argonne, to the shores of Iwo Jima, and to the cold mountains of
In the swift rush of great events, we find ourselves groping to know
the full sense and meaning of these times in which we live. In our quest
of understanding, we beseech God's guidance. We summon all our knowledge
of the past and we scan all signs of the future. We bring all our wit and
all our will to meet the question:
How far have we come in man's long pilgrimage from darkness toward light?
Are we nearing the light--a day of freedom and of peace for all mankind?
Or are the shadows of another night closing in upon us?
Great as are the preoccupations absorbing us at home, concerned as we
are with matters that deeply affect our livelihood today and our vision
of the future, each of these domestic problems is dwarfed by, and often
even created by, this question that involves all humankind.
This trial comes at a moment when man's power to achieve good or to
inflict evil surpasses the brightest hopes and the sharpest fears of all
ages. We can turn rivers in their courses, level mountains to the plains.
Oceans and land and sky are avenues for our colossal commerce. Disease
diminishes and life lengthens.
Yet the promise of this life is imperiled by the very genius that has
made it possible. Nations amass wealth. Labor sweats to create--and turns
out devices to level not only mountains but also cities. Science seems
ready to confer upon us, as its final gift, the power to erase human life
from this planet.
At such a time in history, we who are free must proclaim anew our faith.
This faith is the abiding creed of our fathers. It is our faith in the
deathless dignity of man, governed by eternal moral and natural laws.
This faith defines our full view of life. It establishes, beyond debate,
those gifts of the Creator that are man's inalienable rights, and that
make all men equal in His sight.
In the light of this equality, we know that the virtues most cherished
by free people--love of truth, pride of work, devotion to country--all
are treasures equally precious in the lives of the most humble and of the
most exalted. The men who mine coal and fire furnaces and balance ledgers
and turn lathes and pick cotton and heal the sick and plant corn--all serve
as proudly, and as profitably, for America as the statesmen who draft treaties
and the legislators who enact laws.
This faith rules our whole way of life. It decrees that we, the people,
elect leaders not to rule but to serve. It asserts that we have the right
to choice of our own work and to the reward of our own toil. It inspires
the initiative that makes our productivity the wonder of the world. And
it warns that any man who seeks to deny equality among all his brothers
betrays the spirit of the free and invites the mockery of the tyrant.
It is because we, all of us, hold to these principles that the political
changes accomplished this day do not imply turbulence, upheaval or disorder.
Rather this change expresses a purpose of strengthening our dedication
and devotion to the precepts of our founding documents, a conscious renewal
of faith in our country and in the watchfulness of a Divine Providence.
The enemies of this faith know no god but force, no devotion but its
use. They tutor men in treason. They feed upon the hunger of others. Whatever
defies them, they torture, especially the truth.
Here, then, is joined no argument between slightly differing philosophies.
This conflict strikes directly at the faith of our fathers and the lives
of our sons. No principle or treasure that we hold, from the spiritual
knowledge of our free schools and churches to the creative magic of free
labor and capital, nothing lies safely beyond the reach of this struggle.
Freedom is pitted against slavery; lightness against the dark.
The faith we hold belongs not to us alone but to the free of all the
world. This common bond binds the grower of rice in Burma and the planter
of wheat in Iowa, the shepherd in southern Italy and the mountaineer in
the Andes. It confers a common dignity upon the French soldier who dies
in Indo-China, the British soldier killed in Malaya, the American life
given in Korea.
We know, beyond this, that we are linked to all free peoples not merely
by a noble idea but by a simple need. No free people can for long cling
to any privilege or enjoy any safety in economic solitude. For all our
own material might, even we need markets in the world for the surpluses
of our farms and our factories. Equally, we need for these same farms and
factories vital materials and products of distant lands. This basic law
of interdependence, so manifest in the commerce of peace, applies with
thousand-fold intensity in the event of war.
So we are persuaded by necessity and by belief that the strength of
all free peoples lies in unity; their danger, in discord.
To produce this unity, to meet the challenge of our time, destiny has
laid upon our country the responsibility of the free world's leadership.
So it is proper that we assure our friends once again that, in the discharge
of this responsibility, we Americans know and we observe the difference
between world leadership and imperialism; between firmness and truculence;
between a thoughtfully calculated goal and spasmodic reaction to the stimulus
We wish our friends the world over to know this above all: we face the
threat--not with dread and confusion--but with confidence and conviction.
We feel this moral strength because we know that we are not helpless
prisoners of history. We are free men. We shall remain free, never to be
proven guilty of the one capital offense against freedom, a lack of stanch
In pleading our just cause before the bar of history and in pressing
our labor for world peace, we shall be guided by certain fixed principles.
These principles are:
(1) Abhorring war as a chosen way to balk the purposes of those who
threaten us, we hold it to be the first task of statesmanship to develop
the strength that will deter the forces of aggression and promote the conditions
of peace. For, as it must be the supreme purpose of all free men, so it
must be the dedication of their leaders, to save humanity from preying
In the light of this principle, we stand ready to engage with any and
all others in joint effort to remove the causes of mutual fear and distrust
among nations, so as to make possible drastic reduction of armaments. The
sole requisites for undertaking such effort are that--in their purpose--they
be aimed logically and honestly toward secure peace for all; and that--in
their result-- they provide methods by which every participating nation
will prove good faith in carrying out its pledge.
(2) Realizing that common sense and common decency alike dictate the
futility of appeasement, we shall never try to placate an aggressor by
the false and wicked bargain of trading honor for security. Americans,
indeed all free men, remember that in the final choice a soldier's pack
is not so heavy a burden as a prisoner's chains.
(3) Knowing that only a United States that is strong and immensely productive
can help defend freedom in our world, we view our Nation's strength and
security as a trust upon which rests the hope of free men everywhere. It
is the firm duty of each of our free citizens and of every free citizen
everywhere to place the cause of his country before the comfort, the convenience
(4) Honoring the identity and the special heritage of each nation in
the world, we shall never use our strength to try to impress upon another
people our own cherished political and economic institutions.
(5) Assessing realistically the needs and capacities of proven friends
of freedom, we shall strive to help them to achieve their own security
and well-being. Likewise, we shall count upon them to assume, within the
limits of their resources, their full and just burdens in the common defense
(6) Recognizing economic health as an indispensable basis of military
strength and the free world's peace, we shall strive to foster everywhere,
and to practice ourselves, policies that encourage productivity and profitable
trade. For the impoverishment of any single people in the world means danger
to the well-being of all other peoples.
(7) Appreciating that economic need, military security and political
wisdom combine to suggest regional groupings of free peoples, we hope,
within the framework of the United Nations, to help strengthen such special
bonds the world over. The nature of these ties must vary with the different
problems of different areas.
In the Western Hemisphere, we enthusiastically join with all our neighbors
in the work of perfecting a community of fraternal trust and common purpose.
In Europe, we ask that enlightened and inspired leaders of the Western
nations strive with renewed vigor to make the unity of their peoples a
reality. Only as free Europe unitedly marshals its strength can it effectively
safeguard, even with our help, its spiritual and cultural heritage.
(8) Conceiving the defense of freedom, like freedom itself, to be one
and indivisible, we hold all continents and peoples in equal regard and
honor. We reject any insinuation that one race or another, one people or
another, is in any sense inferior or expendable.
(9) Respecting the United Nations as the living sign of all people's
hope for peace, we shall strive to make it not merely an eloquent symbol
but an effective force. And in our quest for an honorable peace, we shall
neither compromise, nor tire, nor ever cease.
By these rules of conduct, we hope to be known to all peoples.
By their observance, an earth of peace may become not a vision but a
This hope--this supreme aspiration--must rule the way we live.
We must be ready to dare all for our country. For history does not long
entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid. We must acquire proficiency
in defense and display stamina in purpose.
We must be willing, individually and as a Nation, to accept whatever
sacrifices may be required of us. A people that values its privileges above
its principles soon loses both.
These basic precepts are not lofty abstractions, far removed from matters
of daily living. They are laws of spiritual strength that generate and
define our material strength. Patriotism means equipped forces and a prepared
citizenry. Moral stamina means more energy and more productivity, on the
farm and in the factory. Love of liberty means the guarding of every resource
that makes freedom possible--from the sanctity of our families and the
wealth of our soil to the genius of our scientists.
And so each citizen plays an indispensable role. The productivity of
our heads, our hands, and our hearts is the source of all the strength
we can command, for both the enrichment of our lives and the winning of
No person, no home, no community can be beyond the reach of this call.
We are summoned to act in wisdom and in conscience, to work with industry,
to teach with persuasion, to preach with conviction, to weigh our every
deed with care and with compassion. For this truth must be clear before
us: whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must first come
to pass in the heart of America.
The peace we seek, then, is nothing less than the practice and fulfillment
of our whole faith among ourselves and in our dealings with others. This
signifies more than the stilling of guns, easing the sorrow of war. More
than escape from death, it is a way of life. More than a haven for the
weary, it is a hope for the brave.
This is the hope that beckons us onward in this century of trial. This
is the work that awaits us all, to be done with bravery, with charity,
and with prayer to Almighty God.