| Second Inaugural Address of William
January 20, 1997
My fellow citizens :
At this last presidential inauguration of the 20th century, let us
lift our eyes toward the challenges that await us in the next century.
It is our great good fortune that time and chance have put us not
only at the edge of a new century, in a new millennium, but on the
edge of a bright new prospect in human affairs, a moment that will
define our course, and our character, for decades to come. We must
keep our old democracy forever young. Guided by the ancient vision
of a promised land, let us set our sights upon a land of new promise.
The promise of America was born in the 18th century out of the bold
conviction that we are all created equal. It was extended and preserved
in the 19th century, when our nation spread across the continent,
saved the union, and abolished the awful scourge of slavery.
Then, in turmoil and triumph, that promise exploded onto the world
stage to make this the American Century.
And what a century it has been. America became the world's mightiest
industrial power; saved the world from tyranny in two world wars and
a long cold war; and time and again, reached out across the globe
to millions who, like us, longed for the blessings of liberty.
Along the way, Americans produced a great middle class and security
in old age; built unrivaled centers of learning and opened public
schools to all; split the atom and explored the heavens; invented
the computer and the microchip; and deepened the wellspring of justice
by making a revolution in civil rights for African Americans and all
minorities, and extending the circle of citizenship, opportunity and
dignity to women.
Now, for the third time, a new century is upon us, and another time
to choose. We began the 19th century with a choice, to spread our
nation from coast to coast. We began the 20th century with a choice,
to harness the Industrial Revolution to our values of free enterprise,
conservation, and human decency. Those choices made all the difference.
At the dawn of the 21st century a free people must now choose to
shape the forces of the Information Age and the global society, to
unleash the limitless potential of all our people, and, yes, to form
a more perfect union.
When last we gathered, our march to this new future seemed less certain
than it does today. We vowed then to set a clear course to renew our
In these four years, we have been touched by tragedy, exhilarated
by challenge, strengthened by achievement. America stands alone as
the world's indispensable nation. Once again, our economy is the strongest
on Earth. Once again, we are building stronger families, thriving
communities, better educational opportunities, a cleaner environment.
Problems that once seemed destined to deepen now bend to our efforts:
our streets are safer and record numbers of our fellow citizens have
moved from welfare to work.
And once again, we have resolved for our time a great debate over
the role of government. Today we can declare: Government is not the
problem, and government is not the solution. We,- the American people,
we are the solution. Our founders understood that well and gave us
a democracy strong enough to endure for centuries, flexible enough
to face our common challenges and advance our common dreams in each
As times change, so government must change. We need a new government
for a new century - humble enough not to try to solve all our problems
for us, but strong enough to give us the tools to solve our problems
for ourselves; a government that is smaller, lives within its means,
and does more with less. Yet where it can stand up for our values
and interests in the world, and where it can give Americans the power
to make a real difference in their everyday lives, government should
do more, not less. The preeminent mission of our new government is
to give all Americans an opportunity,- not a guarantee, but a real
opportunity to build better lives.
Beyond that, my fellow citizens, the future is up to us. Our founders
taught us that the preservation of our liberty and our union depends
upon responsible citizenship. And we need a new sense of responsibility
for a new century. There is work to do, work that government alone
cannot do: teaching children to read; hiring people off welfare rolls;
coming out from behind locked doors and shuttered windows to help
reclaim our streets from drugs and gangs and crime; taking time out
of our own lives to serve others.
Each and every one of us, in our own way, must assume personal responsibility,
not only for ourselves and our families, but for our neighbors and
our nation. Our greatest responsibility is to embrace a new spirit
of community for a new century. For any one of us to succeed, we must
succeed as one America.
The challenge of our past remains the challenge of our future, will
we be one nation, one people, with one common destiny, or not? Will
we all come together, or come apart?
The divide of race has been America's constant curse. And each new
wave of immigrants gives new targets to old prejudices. Prejudice
and contempt, cloaked in the pretense of religious or political conviction
are no different. These forces have nearly destroyed our nation in
the past. They plague us still. They fuel the fanaticism of terror.
And they torment the lives of millions in fractured nations all around
These obsessions cripple both those who hate and, of course, those
who are hated, robbing both of what they might become. We cannot,
we will not, succumb to the dark impulses that lurk in the far regions
of the soul everywhere. We shall overcome them. And we shall replace
them with the generous spirit of a people who feel at home with one
Our rich texture of racial, religious and political diversity will
be a Godsend in the 21st century. Great rewards will come to those
who can live together, learn together, work together, forge new ties
that bind together.
As this new era approaches we can already see its broad outlines.
Ten years ago, the Internet was the mystical province of physicists;
today, it is a commonplace encyclopedia for millions of schoolchildren.
Scientists now are decoding the blueprint of human life. Cures for
our most feared illnesses seem close at hand.
The world is no longer divided into two hostile camps. Instead, now
we are building bonds with nations that once were our adversaries.
Growing connections of commerce and culture give us a chance to lift
the fortunes and spirits of people the world over. And for the very
first time in all of history, more people on this planet live under
democracy than dictatorship.
My fellow Americans, as we look back at this remarkable century,
we may ask, can we hope not just to follow, but even to surpass the
achievements of the 20th century in America and to avoid the awful
bloodshed that stained its legacy? To that question, every American
here and every American in our land today must answer a resounding
This is the heart of our task. With a new vision of government, a
new sense of responsibility, a new spirit of community, we will sustain
America's journey. The promise we sought in a new land we will find
again in a land of new promise.
In this new land, education will be every citizen's most prized possession.
Our schools will have the highest standards in the world, igniting
the spark of possibility in the eyes of every girl and every boy.
And the doors of higher education will be open to all. The knowledge
and power of the Information Age will be within reach not just of
the few, but of every classroom, every library, every child. Parents
and children will have time not only to work, but to read and play
together. And the plans they make at their kitchen table will be those
of a better home, a better job, the certain chance to go to college.
Our streets will echo again with the laughter of our children, because
no one will try to shoot them or sell them drugs anymore. Everyone
who can work, will work, with today's permanent under class part of
tomorrow's growing middle class. New miracles of medicine at last
will reach not only those who can claim care now, but the children
and hardworking families too long denied.
We will stand mighty for peace and freedom, and maintain a strong
defense against terror and destruction. Our children will sleep free
from the threat of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. Ports
and airports, farms and factories will thrive with trade and innovation
and ideas. And the world's greatest democracy will lead a whole world
Our land of new promise will be a nation that meets its obligations,
a nation that balances its budget, but never loses the balance of
its values. A nation where our grandparents have secure retirement
and health care, and their grandchildren know we have made the reforms
necessary to sustain those benefits for their time. A nation that
fortifies the world's most productive economy even as it protects
the great natural bounty of our water, air, and majestic land.
And in this land of new promise, we will have reformed our politics
so that the voice of the people will always speak louder than the
din of narrow interests, regaining the participation and deserving
the trust of all Americans.
Fellow citizens, let us build that America, a nation ever moving
forward toward realizing the full potential of all its citizens. Prosperity
and power, yes, they are important, and we must maintain them. But
let us never forget: The greatest progress we have made, and the greatest
progress we have yet to make, is in the human heart. In the end, all
the world's wealth and a thousand armies are no match for the strength
and decency of the human spirit.
Thirty-four years ago, the man whose life we celebrate today spoke
to us down there, at the other end of this Mall, in words that moved
the conscience of a nation. Like a prophet of old, he told of his
dream that one day America would rise up and treat all its citizens
as equals before the law and in the heart. Martin Luther King's dream
was the American Dream. His quest is our quest: the ceaseless striving
to live out our true creed. Our history has been built on such dreams
and labors. And by our dreams and labors we will redeem the promise
of America in the 21st century.
To that effort I pledge all my strength and every power of my office.
I ask the members of Congress here to join in that pledge. The American
people returned to office a President of one party and a Congress
of another. Surely, they did not do this to advance the politics of
petty bickering and extreme partisanship they plainly deplore. No,
they call on us instead to be repairers of the breach, and to move
on with America's mission.
America demands and deserves big things from us,- and nothing big
ever came from being small. Let us remember the timeless wisdom of
Cardinal Bernardin, when facing the end of his own life. He said,
"It is wrong to waste the precious gift of time, on acrimony
Fellow citizens, we must not waste the precious gift of this time.
For all of us are on that same journey of our lives, and our journey,
too, will come to an end. But the journey of our America must go on.
And so, my fellow Americans, we must be strong, for there is much
to dare. The demands of our time are great and they are different.
Let us meet them with faith and courage, with patience and a grateful
and happy heart. Let us shape the hope of this day into the noblest
chapter in our history. Yes, let us build our bridge. A bridge wide
enough and strong enough for every American to cross over to a blessed
land of new promise.
May those generations whose faces we cannot yet see, whose names
we may never know, say of us here that we led our beloved land into
a new century with the American Dream alive for all her children;
with the American promise of a more perfect union a reality for all
her people; with America's bright flame of freedom spreading throughout
all the world.
From the height of this place and the summit of this century, let
us go forth. May God strengthen our hands for the good work ahead,
and always, always bless our America.