15. Editorial Note
President Jimmy Carter highlighted the connections among strength, freedom, and responsibility in his inaugural address, delivered on January 20, 1977:
“Our Nation can be strong abroad only if it is strong at home. And we know that the best way to enhance freedom in other lands is to demonstrate here that our democratic system is worthy of emulation.
“To be true to ourselves, we must be true to others. We will not behave in foreign places so as to violate our rules and standards here at home, for we know that the trust which our Nation earns is essential to our strength.
“The world itself is now dominated by a new spirit. Peoples more numerous and more politically aware are craving, and now demanding, their place in the sun—not just for the benefit of their own physical condition, but for basic human rights.
“The passion for freedom is on the rise. Tapping this new spirit, there can be no nobler nor more ambitious task for America to undertake on this day of a new beginning than to help shape a just and peaceful world that is truly humane.
“We are a strong nation, and we will maintain strength so sufficient that it need not be proven in combat—a quiet strength based not merely on the size of an arsenal but on the nobility of ideas.
“We will be ever vigilant and never vulnerable, and we will fight our wars against poverty, ignorance, and injustice, for those are the enemies against which our forces can be honorably marshaled.
“We are a proudly idealistic nation, but let no one confuse our idealism with weakness.[Page 66]
“Because we are free, we can never be indifferent to the fate of freedom elsewhere. Our moral sense dictates a clear-cut preference for those societies which share with us an abiding respect for individual human rights. We do not seek to intimidate, but it is clear that a world which others can dominate with impunity would be inhospitable to decency and a threat to the well-being of all people.
“The world is still engaged in a massive armaments race designed to ensure continuing equivalent strength among potential adversaries. We pledge perseverance and wisdom in our efforts to limit the world’s armaments to those necessary for each nation’s domestic safety. And we will move this year a step toward our ultimate goal—the elimination of all nuclear weapons from this Earth. We urge all other people to join us, for success can mean life instead of death.” (Public Papers: Carter, 1977, Book I, pages 2–3)
President Carter spoke at 12:05 p.m. from the East Front of the Capitol. Immediately before the address Chief Justice of the United States Warren Burger administered the oath of office. The address was broadcast on radio and television. In his personal diary, the President characterized the speech:
“I think the inauguration speech itself, perhaps one of the briefest on record for the first inauguration of a president, was quite compatible with my announcement speech in December 1974, and also with my acceptance speech at the Democratic convention. It accurately expressed some of the major themes of my administration.” (Carter, White House Diary, page 10)
In a separate videotaped address to global audiences, the President reinforced the themes of the inaugural address:
“I have chosen the occasion of my inauguration as President to speak not only to my own countrymen—which is traditional—but also to you, citizens of the world who did not participate in our election but who will nevertheless be affected by my decisions.
“I also believe that as friends you are entitled to know how the power and influence of the United States will be exercised by its new Government.
“I want to assure you that the relations of the United States with the other countries and peoples of the world will be guided during my own administration by our desire to shape a world order that is more responsive to human aspirations. The United States will meet its obligation to help create a stable, just, and peaceful world order.
“We will not seek to dominate nor dictate to others. As we Americans have concluded one chapter in our Nation’s history and are beginning to work on another, we have, I believe, acquired a more mature perspective on the problems of the world. It is a perspective which rec[Page 67]ognizes the fact that we alone do not have all the answers to the world’s problems.
“The United States alone cannot lift from the world the terrifying specter of nuclear destruction. We can and will work with others to do so.
“The United States alone cannot guarantee the basic right of every human being to be free of poverty and hunger and disease and political repression. We can and will cooperate with others in combating these enemies of mankind.
“The United States alone cannot ensure an equitable development of the world resources or the proper safeguarding of the world’s environment. But we can and will join with others in this work.
“The United States can and will take the lead in such efforts.
“In these endeavors we need your help, and we offer ours. We need your experience; we need your wisdom.
“We need your active participation in a joint effort to move the reality of the world closer to the ideals of human freedom and dignity.
“As friends, you can depend on the United States to be in the forefront of the search for world peace. You can depend on the United States to remain steadfast in its commitment to human freedom and liberty. And you can also depend on the United States to be sensitive to your own concerns and aspirations, to welcome your advice, to do its utmost to resolve international differences in a spirit of cooperation.
“The problems of the world will not be easily resolved. Yet the well-being of each and every one of us—indeed our mutual survival—depends on their resolution. As President of the United States I can assure you that we intend to do our part. I ask you to join us in a common effort based on mutual trust and mutual respect.
“Thank you.” (Public Papers: Carter, 1977, Book I, pages 4–5)
The United States Information Agency videotaped Carter’s remarks for broadcast to 26 nations on January 20. Additional documentation on this message is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XXX, Public Diplomacy.