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Inauguration speech talks about civic engagement, Founding Fathers

January 21, 2013 by NCC Staff


President Barack Obama spoke about the importance of the ideals of the Founding Fathers and the need for civic engagement during his inauguration speech on Monday.

Presidential advisers had said before the speech that President Obama would address specific policy issues in his State of the Union address, which is scheduled for February 12.

However, the president indirectly mentioned several hot-button issues, including the budget battle in Washington and the debate over taxes.

The president’s address referenced passages from the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Gettysburg Address.

“Each time we gather to inaugurate a president, we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy,” the president said at the start of his speech.

“Today we continue a never-ending journey, to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth. The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed. For more than 200 years, we have,” President Obama said.

The president also referenced Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his speech.

“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths--that all of us are created equal--is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth,” he said.

Link: Full text of Obama's second inaugural address

The speech concluded with a call to action for civic engagement.

“You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course,” he said. “You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time--not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals,” he said.

A crowd in excess of 500,000 was expected in Washington for the public inauguration ceremony. On Sunday, President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden took their oaths privately to meet the requirement in the 20th Amendment of the Constitution that they be sworn into office on January 20.

Before President Obama spoke, several dignitaries spoke about the traditions related to the inauguration and the importance of the Dr. King holiday.

Senator Charles Schumer said, “This democracy of ours was forged by intellect and argument, by activism and blood, and above all, from John Adams to Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Martin Luther King, by a stubborn adherence to the notion that we are all created equal, and that we deserve nothing less than a great republic worthy of our consent.”

"Let us act on the idea that everyone is included," said Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of civil rights activist Medgar Evers, in her remarks.

While nonpartisanship was a theme in the president’s address, it is currently in short supply in Washington. Democrats and Republicans are locked in a bitter, historic battle over the budget and debt ceiling, with several more “fiscal cliffs” on the horizon.

And the issue of gun control, which the president has made a top priority, looms over the political landscape.

Related Inauguration Stories

Full transcript: President Barack Obama’s inaugural address Great inaugural addresses: John F. Kennedy Great inaugural addresses: Franklin Roosevelt Great inaugural speeches: Abraham Lincoln When presidential inaugurations go very, very wrong

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