President Carter said last night that the energy crisis offers the nation an opportunity to overcome a growing "crisis of confidence" in its spirit and, promising to act boldly, laid out a series of steps he said would move the country toward energy independence.

In an extraordinarily self-critical speech to a national television audience, Carter announced that he is immediately imposing quotas to hold the level of imported oil to its 1977 level of 8.5 million barrels a day - the highest in history.

The president announced other steps to deal with the energy shortage, including the "most massive peacetime commitment of funds" to develop alternative energy sources, a request to Congress to create an "Engergy Security Corp." that would issue up to $5 billion in bonds for the effort, and a proposal that Congress create an "Energy Mobilization Board" to cut through red tape in approving new projects.

None of the proposals came as a major surprise as Carter detailed his new plan, which was put together during his extraordinary 10-day "domestic summit conference" at Camp David, Md.

Blended into the speech was much of the "anti-Washington" rhetoric that the president used so successfully in his 1976 campaign.

"Washington, D.C., has become an island," he said. "The gap between our citizens and our government has never been so wide."

The speech from the Oval Office of the White House was the most politically crucial of Carter's 2 1/2-year presidency. Almost two-thirds of it amounted to something of a sermon as the president, far more forceful than usual, detailed what he called an "erosion of our confidence in the future" that is "threatening to destroy the social and political fabric of America."

In the course of the speech, Carter candidly admitted his own failings, saying his effort to fulfill 1976 election campaign promises have met only "mixed success."

But clearly trying to overcome his public image as a weak leader - an image that threatens his chances for reelection - the president declared:

"I do not promise a quick way out of our nation's problems - when the truth is that the only way out is an all-out effort. What I do promise you is that I will lead our fight. I will enforce fairness in our struggle. I will ensure honesty and, above all, I will act."

The president struck the tones that come most easily to him - a crusading evangelist exhorting the country to what he described as its traditions of "hard work, strong families, close-knit communities and our faith in God."

Concluding, he sounded pulpit tones in an appeal to "let your voice be heard. Whenever you have a chance, say something good about our country."

The president enumerated a six-point program that he said is designed to meet the "clear and present danger to our nation" of the energy crisis. He said he would:

Restrict consumption of foreign oil to 1977 levels of 8.5 million barrels a day, which were the highest in the nation's history. He called for a halving of aoil imports by the end of the next decade, at a savings he estimated to be 4.5 million barrels a day.

Use his presidential authority to impose oil import quotas to implement the limits this year and next.

Commit the United States to a "massive" program of developing coal, oil shel, gasohol and solar energy sources. The program would be financed by issuing $5 billion in energy bonds in small denominations. The president also proposed creation of a national solar bank to help achieve the goal of deriving 20 percent of all energy from the sun by the year 2000.

Require, through congressional action, that the nation's utility companies cut consumption of oil by 50 percent in the next decade and shift to other fuels, principally coal.

Establish, also by action of Congress, a national energy mobilization board comparable to the World War II War Production Board. This proposal was anticipated by White House domestic counselor Stuart E. Elizenstat in a privately circulated memorandum reported by The Washington Post a week ago.

Creation of a "bold conservation program" that would include standby gasoline rationing authority from Congress, mandatory conservation measures and an extra $10 billion over the next decade to strengthen public transportion.

After the speech, Carter walked out of the Oval Office and across the corridor to the Roosevelt Room, where he was greeted with applause from his Cabinet and senior staff. Then he walked along the corridor past several dozen mid-level aides, who also applauded.

Political aide Tim Kraft ran up and clapped him on the shoulder, saying "Real good, real good." Carter responded with a grin.

When he encountered a reporter in the corridor, the president stopped momentarily to shake the journalist's hand. The reporter said that it appeared he had put a lot of effort into giving the speech. "I did," Carter said, and he moved on down the corridor.

Reaction was mixed to the speech, which was delivered with far more force and seeming conviction than any other Carter address to the nation. Republican presidential candidate John B. Connally said the president's "own inaction" was the cause of the energy problem. But Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) said, "Jimmy Carter was born again last night as president."

The president gave few details about his new energy program, but the cost presumably will run into the tens of billions of dollars. Carter promised to provide more details in a speech he will deliver today to the National Association of Counties annual convention in Kansas City.

Before the speech, White House officials did all they could to heighten the drama that had been building during the president's 11-day stay at Camp David. In a departure from custom, the white House refused to make available a text of the speech before it was delivered.

Presidential press secretary Jody Powell offered no explantion for this decision.

"It will do you good to watch it," he told reporters with a wry smile.

The White House also banned taking any photographs of Carter before, during or after the speech, another departure.

The importance the president attached to the speech was demonstrated by the effort he put into it. He rehearsed it at least twice, including one session that was video taped for him to study.

At the recent ecnomic summit in Tokyo, Carter pledged the United States to an oil import goal of no more than 8.5 million barrels a day throught 1985. Officials said last night that in Kansas City today Carter will announce a new target of no more than 8.2 million barrels a day for 1979.The goal for 1980 would be about the same, the officials said.

The proposals Carter made last night included several that had been urged on him by advisers, but did not include some of the most politically difficulat steps advocated by some in the administration, among them immediate decontrol of gasoline prices.

Most different about the speech were the president's tone and manner, which clearly reflected his private musings at Camp David and the advice he received from more than 100 persons invited to the presidential retreat for the "domestic summit conference."

On July 5, Carter recalled, he had been scheduled to deliver a speech on energy to the nation, the fifth such speech he would have given. His abrupt cancellation of that speech surprised the nation and set the stage for last night's far more dramatic appearance, during which the president offered his first public explanation for the cancellation.

"As I was preparing to speak, I began to ask myself the same question that I know has been troubling many of you: Why have we not been able to get together as a nation to resolve our serious energy problem? It is clear that the true problems of our nation are much deeper - deeper than gasoline lines or energy shortages, deeper even than inflation or recession. And I realized - more than ever - that, as president, I need your help."

Carter identified this deeper problem as "a crisis of confidence . . . that strikes at the very heart, soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation."

In moralistic tones, the president portrayed the country as awash in materialism but suffering from an "emptiness of lives." The symptoms of the crisis, he said, "are all round us" - in general pessimism about the future, declines in voting and productivity, "growing disrespect for government, and for churches, schools, the news media and other institutions."

"This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning," he said.

Carter declared that restoring lost "faith and confidence" is "the true challenge of this generation of Americans," and he said the energy crisis offers the vehicle to accomplish that task.

"Energy will be the immediate test of our ability to unite the nation," he said. "It can also be the standard around which we rally. On the battlefield of energy, we can win for our nation a new confidence - and we can seize control of our common destiny."

Carter devoted a large part of the speech to his consultations at Camp David. Reading from notes he apparently took during the domestic summit, He shared with the nation some of the advice and criticism he had received from visitors to the presedential retreat. Among them:

"Mr. President, you're not leading this nation - you're just mangaging the government."

"You don't see the people enough any more."

"Some of your Cabinet members don't seem loyal. There is not enough discipline among your disciples" - clearly a presidential warning to Cabinet and White House staff of a shakeup the Camp David summit is expected to produce.

"Be bold, Mr President. We may make mistakes, but we are ready to experiment."

Such criticism has been heard since the earliest days of the administration. It was extraordinary for the president to share it with his audience and, implicity, to accept it publicly as valid.

Questions about the president's prolitical future have swirled about him for months as he dropped in the public opinion polls. Those questions reached a peak of intensity when he retreated to the seclusion of Camp David and canceled the original energy speech.

Carter's political future remains much in doubt. But last night, he left no doubt about his intentions or his determination as he nears a campaign for reelection.

Promising to travel the country and hear the people the president declared, "You can help me develop a national agenda for the 1980s. I will listen. And I will act. We will act together." CAPTION: Picture 1, Cigarette-smoking press secretary Jody Powell watches TV commentary on Carter; Picture 2, Barred from taking pictures in Oval Office, photographers watch president on White House press room TV. By Frank Johnston - The Washington post