President George W. Bush's first inauguration speech: Full text

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George Walker Bush became the first president of the new millennium with a shorter transition time than most presidents enjoy.

Bush and outgoing Vice President Al Gore's election had become a legally fraught battle over a recount in Florida -- chock full of hanging chads and a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court. The court ultimately halted the recount effort on December 12, 2000, handing Florida's electoral votes and the presidency to Bush.

Various studies done in the wake of the election have conflicted over whether Bush or Gore would have ultimately won the state of Florida if a full recount had been done, but the legal battle's effect was clear.

Bush had only a month to prepare to become the 43rd president and unite a nation in which many were still divided over the election results. Even on his inauguration day, demonstrators who felt that the Supreme Court's decision had been unfair came to Washington to protest.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Rehnquist, who had been among the five Supreme Court votes that effectively handed Bush the presidency, administered the oath of office, and Bush then launched into a speech focused on civility and unity as he sought to bring the nation together.

Read the full text of the speech below:

Thank you, all. Chief Justice Rehnquist, President Carter, President Bush, President Clinton, distinguished guests, and my fellow citizens. The peaceful transfer of authority is rare in history, yet common in our country. With a simple oath, we affirm old traditions and make new beginnings.

As I begin, I thank President Clinton for his service to our Nation, and I thank Vice President Gore for a contest conducted with spirit and ended with grace.

I am honored and humbled to stand here where so many of America's leaders have come before me, and so many will follow. We have a place, all of us, in a long story, a story we continue but whose end we will not see. It is a story of a new world that became a friend and liberator of the old, the story of a slaveholding society that became a servant of freedom, the story of a power that went into the world to protect but not possess, to defend but not to conquer.

It is the American story, a story of flawed and fallible people united across the generations by grand and enduring ideals. The grandest of these ideals is an unfolding American promise that everyone belongs, that everyone deserves a chance, that no insignificant person was ever born.

Americans are called to enact this promise in our lives and in our laws. And though our Nation has sometimes halted and sometimes delayed, we must follow no other course.

Through much of the last century, America's faith in freedom and democracy was a rock in a raging sea. Now it is a seed upon the wind, taking root in many nations. Our democratic faith is more than the creed of our country. It is the inborn hope of our humanity, an ideal we carry but do not own, a trust we bear and pass along. Even after nearly 225 years, we have a long way yet to travel.

While many of our citizens prosper, others doubt the promise, even the justice of our own country. The ambitions of some Americans are limited by failing schools and hidden prejudice and the circumstances of their birth. And sometimes our differences run so deep, it seems we share a continent but not a country. We do not accept this, and we will not allow it.

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President George W. Bush's inaugurations
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President George W. Bush's inaugurations
George W. Bush (L) is sworn in as the 43rd President of the United States January 20, 2001 by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist (right/foreground). First lady Laura Bush (center/right) looks on, as well as daughters Jenna (C) and Barbara (obscured behind Rehnquist). At center/rear are Vice-President Dick Cheney and his wife Lynne, right/rear.
President George W. Bush delivers his inaugural address on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, January 20, 2001. Bush pledged he would work to build "a single nation of justice and opportunity. 

(Reuters Photographer / Reuters)

Fireworks burst above US Vice President Dick Cheney (L), wife Lynn Cheney, First Lady Laura Bush (3L) and US President George W. Bush (4L) during the 'Celebration of Freedom' inaugural concert on the Ellipse south of the White House in Washington, DC.

(Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images)

Casey Owens, a wounded marine, salutes during the Inaugural speech by U.S. President George W. Bush on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 20, 2005. Bush was sworn in for his second term in office.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Logan Walters, aide to President elect George W. Bush, takes dog Spot from Bush, who is sitting in his limousine, as they arrived to board an Air Force jet to take him and wife Laura to Washington via Midland, Texas, for the presidential inauguration, January 17, 2001. 

(Rick Wilking / Reuters)

President-elect George W. Bush (R) dances with singer Ricky Martin at the opening ceremony of the inauguration at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington January 18, 2001. Bush will be sworn in as the 43rd president on January 20.

(REUTERS/Rick Wilking)

Former U.S. President George H. Bush (R), with his wife Barbara and granddaughters Barbara (rear, L) and Jenna (rear, R) wave as they walk through the Rotunda on Capitol Hill prior to the swearing in of President George W. Bush, January 20, 2005. President George W. Bush was sworn in for a second term on Thursday and pledged to work to heal a country divided by the Iraq war. Bush, who begins his second term with the lowest approval rating of any returning president except Richard Nixon, said in his inaugural address, "We have known divisions, which must be healed to move forward in great purposes, and I will strive in good faith to heal them."

(REUTERS/Robert Sullivan)

The Rockettes perform at the Lincoln Memorial during the opening ceremony for George W. Bush's inauguration January 18, 2001 in Washington. Bush will be sworn in as the next President of the United States on January 20.

(Win McNamee / Reuters)

Secretary of State-designate Colin Powell (L) and Attorney General-designate John Ashcroft arrive at the Inauguration opening ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington January 18, 2001. George W. Bush will be sworn in as the 43rd president of the United States on January 20. 

(Reuters Photographer / Reuters)
A worker cleans windows of a downtown bank January 18, 2001, in preparation for the inauguration of George W. Bush as 43rd president of the United States. Bush will be inaugurated on January 20.

(Shaun Best / Reuters)
 
President George W. Bush (R) is hugged by his daughter Jenna while his wife, first lady Laura Bush (2nd R), daughter Barbara (L) and Vice President Dick Cheney look on, after Bush was sworn in at the U.S. Capitol, January 20, 2001. Bush took the oath of office as the 43rd President of the United States during the Inauguration ceremony and pledged he would work to build "a single nation of justice and opportunity. 

(Reuters Photographer / Reuters)
Carpet layers Timothy Bury (R) and Jason McNamara lay out the carpet U.S. President George W. Bush will walk down to the dias for his swearing-in ceremony as inaugural preparations continue at the U.S. Capitol in Washington January 12, 2005. President Bush will be sworn in for his second term January 20. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn GMH

Would-be president Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., far left, and other members look on as Kerry's competition in the 2004 election, President George W. Bush, delivers his inaugural address after being sworn in for a second term.

(Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)

Former President George Bush (2nd L) shakes hands with President Bill Clinton as he and Barbara Bush (L) arrive at the Presidential Inauguration ceremony at the U.S. Capitol, January 20, 2001. Bush's son, George W. Bush, took the oath of office as the 43rd President of the United States Saturday and pledged he would work to build "a single nation of justice and opportunity." At right of Clinton is U.S. Vice President Al Gore. 

(Reuters Photographer / Reuters)

On a dreary, rain-filled January 20, 2001, George W. Bush is sworn in on the west side of the U.S. Capitol building. In his inaugural speech, Bush pledged he would work to build "a single nation of justice and opportunity. 

(Reuters Photographer / Reuters

U.S. President George W. Bush (2L) and his wife Laura walk down the steps of the Capitol Building with former President Bill Clinton (2R) and his wife Hillary following Bush's inauguration in Washington, January 20, 2001. Bush was sworn in as the 43rd President of the United States. 

(Shaun Best / Reuters)

The White House on May 14, 2002 said the Republican Party was selling copies of photographs of U.S. President George W. Bush on Sept. 11 to raise campaign funds, drawing Democratic charges it was exploiting a tragedy. The photograph was part of a three-photo package, including this file photo of Bush's inauguration, depicting "the defining moments" of Bush's first year in exchange for a minimum donation of $150 to a dinner next month headlined by Bush and sponsored by the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Bush takes the oath of office as the 43rd President of the United States from U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist (R) on January 20, 2001.

(REUTERS/Jim Bourg)

A workman removes bunting from bleachers near the presidential reviewing stand on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington on January 21, 2001. President George W. Bush, sworn into office on January 20, watched the inaugural parade from the stand. PM/jp

President-elect George W. Bush shares a laugh with his wife Laura during the Wyoming State Society reception January 19, 2001 at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington. Bush will be inaugurated as President of the United States in ceremonies January 20. 

(Reuters Photographer / Reuters)

U.S. President George W. Bush's daughters Barbara (L) and Jenna listen to their father while attending an Inauguration Ball at the Washington Hilton, January 20, 2005.

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

U.S. President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush share their first turn on the dance floor at the Ronald Reagan Inaugural Ball January 20, 2001 in Washington, DC. Bush was inaugurated as the 43rd president of the United States earlier in the day. 

(Reuters Photographer / Reuters)

U.S. President George W. Bush (L) and first lady Laura Bush wave as they walk during the inaugural parade, January 20, 2001. Bush took the oath of office today as the 43rd president of the United States and pledged he would work to build a "single nation of justice and opportunity.

(Tim Shaffer / Reuters)

President George W. Bush (L) takes the oath of office as the 43rd President of the United States while his wife, first lady Laura Bush, looks on during the Inauguration ceremony at the U.S. Capitol, January 20, 2001. Bush pledged he would work to build "a single nation of justice and opportunity.

(Reuters Photographer / Reuters)

A snowball melts on the side of a limousine as Vice President Richard Cheney waves during the inaugural parade in Washington, January 20, 2005. Flag-draped coffins and anti-war chants competed with pomp and circumstance on Thursday at the inauguration of President George W. Bush along the snow-dusted, barricaded streets of central Washington.

(REUTERS/Tim Shaffer)

George W. Bush (R) shakes hands with former Vice President Al Gore after Bush took the oath of office as the 43rd President of the United States during the Inauguration ceremony at the U.S. Capitol, January 20, 2001. Bush took the oath of office as the 43rd President of the United States Saturday and pledged he would work to build "a single nation of justice and opportunity. 

(Reuters Photographer / Reuters)
Dick Cheney is sworn in as the 43rd vice president of the United States by Chief Justice William Rehnquist at the U.S. Capitol, January 20, 2001. [George W. Bush took the oath of office today as the 43rd president of the United States and pledged he would work to build a "single nation of justice and oppurtunity." ]

A man walks past the inaugural parade reviewing stand that is under construction in front of the White House, January 4, 2005 in Washington, DC. U.S. President George W. Bush will be sworn in to serve his second term as president on January 20.

(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

President George W. Bush hugs his father, former President George Bush (L) and reaches for his mother Barbara after he was sworn in as the 43rd president of the United States, in Washington January 20, 2001. Bush pledged he would work to build "a single nation of justice and opportunity."
George W. Bush's daughters Jenna (L) and Barbara attend the presidential inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, January 20, 2001. [George W. Bush will be the first president's son to take over the White House since John Quincy Adams in 1825. ]

Fireworks burst over the Washington Monument at the close of the 'Celebration of Freedom' program 19 January 2005 on the Ellipse in Washington, DC. The concert is one in a series of events surrounding the 20 January 2005 second term inauguration of US President George W. Bush.

(STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. President George W. Bush (L) shakes hands with former president Bill Clinton after Bush was sworn in as the 43rd president of the United States, at the U.S. Capitol January 20, 2001. President Bush is the first president's son to take over the White House since John Quincy Adams in 1825.
Workers finish preparations for U.S. President Bush's inauguration outside the Capitol Building, in Washington, January 18, 2005. Preparations are continuing for the January 20 inauguration of President George W. Bush, the first since the 9/11 attacks. Bush is drawing heat over a $40 million splurge on inaugural balls, concerts and candlelight dinners while the country is in a somber mood because of the Iraq war and Asian tsunami. Critics say the lavish celebrations are unseemly when U.S. troops face daily violence in Iraq and Americans are being urged to donate money to alleviate the suffering in Asia, where the Dec. 26 tsunami killed 163,000 people. REUTERS/Jason Reed JIR/GN

President-elect George W. Bush (R) with his wife Laura and Vice President-elect Dick Cheney and his wife Lynn descend the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the start of the inaugural opening ceremonies in Washington January 18, 2001.

(Reuters Photographer / Reuters)

U.S. President George W. Bush (R), first lady Laura Bush (2nd R), Vice President Dick Cheney (L) and Lynne Cheney (2nd L) arrive on stage for "A Celebration of Freedom" on The Ellipse in Washington, D.C., January 19, 2005. Bush will be sworn in for his second term on January 20. REUTERS/Mike Segar REUTERS PJ
U.S. President George W. Bush (L) smiles at first lady Laura Bush (R) as they wait for the Inauguration ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 20, 2005. Behind Bush from left to right are daughters Barbara Bush, Jenna Bush, brother Florida Governor Jeb Bush and father, former President George H. Bush. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque PJ

Florida Governor Jeb Bush takes a photograph as he arrives for the Inauguration of his brother, U.S. President George W. Bush on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 20, 2005.

(REUTERS/Jim Bourg)

U.S. President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush walk in the Inaugural Parade in Washington, January 20, 2005. Bush was sworn in for his second term in office.

(REUTERS/Peter Morgan)

U.S. Vice president Dick Cheney (L) takes the oath for his second term in office from House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R) at inaugural ceremonies in Washington D.C. January 20, 2005. Cheney's wife Lynn (2nd L), daughters Mary (3rd L) and Liz (2nd R) watch. Watching behind is U.S. President George W. Bush (rear R) and Senator Trent Lott (R-MS).

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque PM)

Police line the Inauguration parade route in Washington, DC, January 20, 2005. U.S. President George W. Bush was sworn in for a second term on Thursday and pledged to work to heal a country divided by the Iraq war. Bush, who begins his second term with the lowest approval rating of any returning president except Richard Nixon, said in his inaugural address, "We have known divisions, which must be healed to move forward in great purposes, and I will strive in good faith to heal them." Bush also vowed to advance democracy abroad to "break the reign of hatred and resentment" in his address, delivered on a snowy, wintry day before thousands gathered at the U.S. Capitol and millions watching on television.

(REUTERS/Tim Shaffer)

U.S. President George W. Bush prepares to give his inaugural speech on the steps of Capitol Hill in Washington January 20, 2005. Bush was sworn in for his second term in office.

(REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

U.S. President George W. Bush waves with first lady Laura Bush during the Texas Wyoming Ball in Washington, January 20, 2005. Bush was sworn in for his second term in office earlier today.

(REUTERS/Jason Reed)

U.S. President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush dance on the Presidential Seal at the Commander-in-Chief's Inauguration Ball at the National Building Museum in Washington, January 20, 2005. Pictures of the Year 2005.

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

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Our unity, our Union, is a serious work of leaders and citizens and every generation. And this is my solemn pledge: I will work to build a single nation of justice and opportunity. I know this is in our reach because we are guided by a power larger than ourselves, who creates us equal, in His image, and we are confident in principles that unite and lead us onward.

America has never been united by blood or birth or soil. We are bound by ideals that move us beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interests, and teach us what it means to be citizens. Every child must be taught these principles. Every citizen must uphold them. And every immigrant, by embracing these ideals, makes our country more, not less, American.

Today we affirm a new commitment to live out our Nation's promise through civility, courage, compassion, and character. America at its best matches a commitment to principle with a concern for civility. A civil society demands from each of us good will and respect, fair dealing and forgiveness.

Some seem to believe that our politics can afford to be petty because in a time of peace the stakes of our debates appear small. But the stakes for America are never small. If our country does not lead the cause of freedom, it will not be led. If we do not turn the hearts of children toward knowledge and character, we will lose their gifts and undermine their idealism. If we permit our economy to drift and decline, the vulnerable will suffer most.

We must live up to the calling we share. Civility is not a tactic or a sentiment; it is the determined choice of trust over cynicism, of community over chaos. And this commitment, if we keep it, is a way to shared accomplishment.

America at its best is also courageous. Our national courage has been clear in times of depression and war, when defeating common dangers defined our common good. Now we must choose if the example of our fathers and mothers will inspire us or condemn us. We must show courage in a time of blessing by confronting problems instead of passing them on to future generations.

Together we will reclaim America's schools before ignorance and apathy claim more young lives. We will reform Social Security and Medicare, sparing our children from struggles we have the power to prevent. And we will reduce taxes to recover the momentum of our economy and reward the effort and enterprise of working Americans.

We will build our defenses beyond challenge, lest weakness invite challenge. We will confront weapons of mass destruction, so that a new century is spared new horrors. The enemies of liberty and our country should make no mistake: America remains engaged in the world, by history and by choice, shaping a balance of power that favors freedom.

We will defend our allies and our interests. We will show purpose without arrogance. We will meet aggression and bad faith with resolve and strength. And to all nations, we will speak for the values that gave our Nation birth.

America at its best is compassionate. In the quiet of American conscience, we know that deep, persistent poverty is unworthy of our Nation's promise. And whatever our views of its cause, we can agree that children at risk are not at fault.

Abandonment and abuse are not acts of God; they are failures of love. And the proliferation of prisons, however necessary, is no substitute for hope and order in our souls. Where there is suffering, there is duty. Americans in need are not strangers; they are citizens—not problems but priorities. And all of us are diminished when any are hopeless.

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Jeb and George Bush through the years
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Jeb and George Bush through the years
President George Bush chats with brother Gov. Jeb Bush as they acknowledge cheering supporters at a fundraiser for the Republican Party of Florida at the Contemporary Resort at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, Friday, February 17, 2006. (Photo by Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/MCT via Getty Images)
MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, UNITED STATES: US President George W. Bush (R) reaches out to shake hands with his brother Florida Governor Jeb Bush (L) shortly after Air Force One arrived at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, 09 May 2006. AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
Washington, UNITED STATES: US President George W. Bush (L) looks on as his brother Florida Governor Jeb Bush speaks 19 April, 2006. Governor Bush was among several governors who met with the president after an Easter trip to Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. AFP PHOTO/Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
President George Bush (left) and brother Gov. Jeb Bush acknowledge cheering supporters at a fundraiser for the Republican Party of Florida at the Contemporary Resort at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, Friday, February 17, 2006. (Photo by Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/MCT via Getty Images)
ST. PETERSBURG, FL - OCTOBER 19: U.S. President George W. Bush (L) and his brother Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R) smile while greeting supporters during a campaign rally at Progress Energy Park October 19, 2004 in St. Petersburg, Florida. Recent polls indicate Bush is maintaining a slight lead over his Democratic challenger U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA). (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 22: Jeb Bush is seen at Salt Lake City Airport on January 22, 2015 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by JOCE/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
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Government has great responsibilities for public safety and public health, for civil rights and common schools. Yet, compassion is the work of a nation, not just a government. And some needs and hurts are so deep they will only respond to a mentor's touch or a pastor's prayer. Church and charity, synagogue and mosque lend our communities their humanity, and they will have an honored place in our plans and in our laws.

Many in our country do not know the pain of poverty. But we can listen to those who do. And I can pledge our Nation to a goal: When we see that wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, we will not pass to the other side.

America at its best is a place where personal responsibility is valued and expected. Encouraging responsibility is not a search for scapegoats; it is a call to conscience. And though it requires sacrifice, it brings a deeper fulfillment. We find the fullness of life not only in options but in commitments. And we find that children and community are the commitments that set us free.

Our public interest depends on private character, on civic duty and family bonds and basic fairness, on uncounted, unhonored acts of decency, which give direction to our freedom.

Sometimes in life we're called to do great things. But as a saint of our times has said, "Every day we are called to do small things with great love." The most important tasks of a democracy are done by everyone.

I will live and lead by these principles: to advance my convictions with civility, to serve the public interest with courage, to speak for greater justice and compassion, to call for responsibility and try to live it, as well. In all these ways, I will bring the values of our history to the care of our times.

What you do is as important as anything Government does. I ask you to seek a common good beyond your comfort, to defend needed reforms against easy attacks, to serve your Nation, beginning with your neighbor. I ask you to be citizens: Citizens, not spectators; citizens, not subjects; responsible citizens building communities of service and a nation of character.

Americans are generous and strong and decent, not because we believe in ourselves but because we hold beliefs beyond ourselves. When this spirit of citizenship is missing, no Government program can replace it. When this spirit is present, no wrong can stand against it.

After the Declaration of Independence was signed, Virginia statesman John Page wrote to Thomas Jefferson, "We know the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. Do you not think an angel rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm?"

Much time has passed since Jefferson arrived for his inauguration. The years and changes accumulate, but the themes of this day, he would know: our Nation's grand story of courage and its simple dream of dignity.

We are not this story's author, who fills time and eternity with his purpose. Yet, his purpose is achieved in our duty. And our duty is fulfilled in service to one another. Never tiring, never yielding, never finishing, we renew that purpose today, to make our country more just and generous, to affirm the dignity of our lives and every life. This work continues, the story goes on, and an angel still rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm.

God bless you all, and God bless America.

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