President Biden pleaded for national unity in his inaugural address Wednesday after he was sworn in as the 46th president. Below is a full transcript of his remarks, with analysis from The Fix team.
Chief Justice Roberts, Vice President Harris. Speaker Pelosi, Leaders Schumer, McConnell, Vice President Pence, my distinguished guests and my fellow Americans, this is America’s day.
This is democracy’s day. A day of history and hope of renewal and resolve through a crucible for the ages. America has been tested anew and America has risen to the challenge. Today, we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate, but of a cause, the cause of democracy. The people, the will of the people, has been heard and the will of the people has been heeded.
We’ve learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile. At this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed1.
1 Throughout the speech, Biden intersperses the idea that democracy and our system of government have triumphed over threats, while acknowledging that victory isn't final. — Aaron Blake
From now, on this hallowed ground, where just a few days ago, violence sought to shake the Capitol’s very foundation, we come together as one nation, under God, indivisible, to carry out the peaceful transfer of power, as we have for more than two centuries.
As we look ahead in our uniquely American way: restless, bold, optimistic, and set our sights on the nation we can be and we must be.
I thank my predecessors of both parties for their presence2 here today. I thank them from the bottom of my heart. And I know, I know the resilience of our Constitution and the strength, the strength of our nation. As does President Carter, who I spoke with last night, who cannot be with us today, but whom we salute for his lifetime of service.
2 Mike Pence, who succeeded Biden as vice president, attended the inauguration, as did former presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. President Trump did not attend, in a major break from the traditional ceremony of transfer of power. — Eugene Scott
I’ve just taken the sacred oath each of those patriots have taken. The oath, first sworn by George Washington. But the American story depends not on any one of us, not on some of us, but on all of us, on we the people who seek a more perfect union.
This is a great nation. We are good people. And over the centuries, through storm and strife, in peace and in war, we've come so far. But we still have far to go. We'll press forward with speed and urgency, for we have much to do in this winter of peril and significant possibilities, much to repair, much to restore, much to heal, much to build, and much to gain.
Few people in our nation’s history have been more challenged or found a time more challenging or difficult than the time we’re in now. A once-in-a-century virus that silently stalks the country. It’s taken as many lives in one year as America lost in all of World War II. Millions of jobs have been lost. Hundreds of thousands of businesses closed. A cry for racial justice, some 400 years in the making, moves us. The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer.
The cry for survival comes from the planet itself, 3a cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear. And now a rise of political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront and we will defeat.
3 The Biden administration has pledged to make climate change a priority in his administration, starting with undoing many of Trump’s environmental decisions via executive order and rejoining the Paris climate accord in his first days in office. — E.S.
To overcome these challenges, to restore the soul and secure the future of America requires so much more than words. It requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy: Unity. Unity.
In another January, on New Year’s Day in 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. When he put pen to paper, the president said, and I quote: “If my name ever goes down into history, it’ll be for this act. And my whole soul is in it.”
My whole soul was in it today. On this January day, my whole soul is in this: Bringing America together, uniting our people, uniting our nation. And I ask every American to join me in this cause.
Uniting to fight the foes we face: anger, resentment, hatred, extremism, lawlessness, violence, disease, joblessness and hopelessness. With unity, we can do great things, important things. We can right wrongs. We can put people to work in good jobs. We can teach our children in safe schools. We can overcome the deadly virus. We can reward, reward work, and rebuild the middle class and make health care secure for all. We can deliver racial justice and we can make America once again the leading force for good in the world.
I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy these days. I know the forces that divide us are deep and they are real, but I also know they are not new. Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we're all created equal and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, demonization have long torn us apart. The battle is perennial and victory is never assured.
Through civil war, the Great Depression, world war, 9/11, through struggle, sacrifice and setbacks, our better angels have always prevailed. In each of these moments, enough of us have come together to carry all of us forward. And we can do that now. History, faith and reason show the way, the way of unity. We can see each other not as adversaries, but as neighbors. We can treat each other with dignity and respect. We can join forces, stop the shouting and lower the temperature. For without unity, there is no peace — only bitterness and fury. No progress — only exhausting outrage. No nation — only a state of chaos.
This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge. And unity is the path forward. And we must meet this moment as the United States of America. If we do that, I guarantee you we will not fail. We have never, ever, ever, ever failed in America when we’ve acted together.4
4 This was Biden's most pronounced appeal to unity. It will be difficult to make it happen, though — not just because of the faction of the Republican Party that remains loyal to Trump, but because of the historically close balance of power in the House and Senate. The Senate is 50-50, and the House is the closest it's been in about two decades. Any legislation will have to run through the political middle, but there are always political incentives to preventing a president from accomplishing things — notably, to argue they failed so your party's nominee might replace them. — A.B.
And so today at this time in this place, let’s start afresh, all of us. Let’s begin to listen to one another again. Hear one another, see one another, show respect to one another. Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire, destroying everything in its path. Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war. And we must reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured.
My fellow Americans, we have to be different than this. America has to be better than this. And I believe America is so much better than this. Just look around. Here we stand in the shadow of the Capitol dome, as was mentioned earlier, completed amid the Civil War, when the Union itself was literally hanging in the balance. Yet we endured, we prevailed.
Here we stand looking out on the great Mall where Dr. King spoke of his dream. Here we stand, where 108 years ago, at another inaugural, thousands of protesters tried to block brave women marching for the right to vote. And today we marked the swearing-in of the first woman in American history elected to national office: Vice President Kamala Harris. Don’t tell me things can’t change.5
5 Biden pledged during his primary campaign to make history with his running mate pick, saying he’d only consider women. He followed through on that by selecting a lawmaker from one of the demographic groups who supported him the most — Black women — and the fastest growing minority group in the United States — Asian Americans. — E.S.
Here we stand across the Potomac from Arlington Cemetery, where heroes who gave the last full measure of devotion rest in eternal peace. And here we stand just days after a riotous mob thought they could use violence to silence the will of the people6, to stop the work of our democracy, to drive us from this sacred ground.
6 Biden won the popular vote by 7 million votes, as well as winning the electoral college. The election results were affirmed repeatedly in courts as not having been marred by any widespread fraud. But the rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 claimed otherwise, and former president Donald Trump never fully acknowledged this was the case. — E.S.
It did not happen. It will never happen. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever. Not ever.
To all those who supported our campaign, I’m humbled by the faith you’ve placed in us. To all those who did not support us, let me say this: Hear me out as we move forward. Take a measure of me and my heart. If you still disagree, so be it. That’s democracy. That’s America. The right to dissent, peaceably, the guardrails of our republic, is perhaps this nation’s greatest strength.
Yet hear me clearly: Disagreement must not lead to disunion. And I pledge this to you: I will be a president for all Americans.7 All Americans. And I promise you I will fight as hard for those who did not support me as for those who did.
7 Biden’s pledge to reach across the aisle on policy and to earn the support of those who did not back him, rather than primarily viewing them as political enemies, was a mainstay of his candidacy, and it was a major theme of his address. — E.S.
Many centuries ago, St. Augustine, a saint in my church, wrote that a people was a multitude defined by the common objects of their love. Defined by the common objects of their love. What are the common objects we as Americans love, that define us as Americans? I think we know. Opportunity, security, liberty, dignity, respect, honor and, yes, the truth.
Recent weeks and months have taught us a painful lesson. There is truth and there are lies, lies told for power and for profit. And each of us has a duty and responsibility, as citizens, as Americans, and especially as leaders, leaders who have pledged to honor our Constitution and protect our nation, to defend the truth and defeat the lies.8
8 This is one of the prominent features of Biden's speech: While calling for unity, an acknowledgment that some of his opponents aren't on the level and that their influence must be dealt with. Biden didn't use his speech to call out individuals who purveyed the theory that his win wasn't legitimate, but he seems to recognize that, without addressing the proliferation of falsehoods, his agenda will be difficult to enact. For a man who emphasizes conciliation, it was certainly a notable choice. — A.B.
Look — I understand that many of my fellow Americans view the future with fear and trepidation. I understand they worry about their jobs. I understand, like my dad, they lay in bed at night, staring at the ceiling, wondering: Can I keep my health care? Can I pay my mortgage? Thinking about their families, about what comes next. I promise you, I get it.
But the answer is not to turn inward, to retreat into competing factions, distrusting those who don’t look like you or worship the way you do, or don’t get their news from the same sources you do. We must end this uncivil war 9that pits red against blue, rural vs. urban, conservative vs. liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts. If we show a little tolerance and humility, and if we’re willing to stand in the other person’s shoes, as my mom would say, just for a moment, stand in their shoes. Because here’s the thing about life: There’s no accounting for what fate will deal you. Some days when you need a hand. There are other days when we’re called to lend a hand. That’s how it has to be. That’s what we do for one another. And if we are this way, our country will be stronger, more prosperous, more ready for the future. And we can still disagree.
9 One of the most memorable lines of the speech — and one that conjures images of the ugliest chapter in American history, which has to have been part of the calculation. It's Obama-esque, but also a realistic description of the nature of our politics. — A.B.
My fellow Americans, in the work ahead of us, we’re going to need each other. We need all our strength to persevere through this dark winter. We’re entering what may be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus. We must set aside politics and finally face this pandemic as one nation. One nation10.
10 The events of the past two months have in many ways papered over the size of the challenge ahead for Biden's administration, especially with regard to the coronavirus pandemic. Calls to "set aside politics" are boilerplate, but Biden acknowledges how much uglier it's likely to get as we refocus on fighting the virus, rather than a threat to our democracy. — A.B.
And I promise you this, as the Bible says: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” We will get through this together. Together.
Look, folks. All my colleagues I served with in the House and the Senate up there, we all understand the world is watching, watching all of us today. So here’s my message to those beyond our borders: 11America has been tested and we’ve come out stronger for it. We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again. Not to meet yesterday’s challenges, but today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. And we’ll lead, not merely by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.
11 Biden signals that the standoffish posture toward allies from the Trump administration is a thing of the past, as the United States' reputation has reached a new low, and that America can be trusted again to abide by its agreements. Biden is set to rejoin the Paris climate accord and the World Health Organization, which Trump pulled out of. A big question is how he handles the Iran deal that Trump left. — A.B.
We’ll be a strong and trusted partner for peace, progress and security. Look — you all know we’ve been through so much in this nation. And my first act as president, I’d like to ask you to join me in a moment of silent prayer to remember all those who we lost this past year to the pandemic. Those 400,000 fellow Americans. Moms, dads, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, friends, neighbors and co-workers. We will honor them by becoming the people and the nation we know we can and should be. So I ask you, let’s say a silent prayer for those who’ve lost their lives, those left behind, and for our country.12
12 An acknowledgement of the biggest task that lies ahead. — A.B.
Folks, this is a time of testing. We face an attack on our democracy and on truth, a raging virus, growing inequity, the sting of systemic racism, a climate in crisis, America’s role in the world. Any one of these will be enough to challenge us in profound ways. But the fact is, we face them all at once, presenting this nation with one of the gravest responsibilities we’ve had. Now we’re going to be tested. Are we going to step up? All of us? It’s time for boldness, for there is so much to do. And this is certain, I promise you: We will be judged, you and I, by how we resolve these cascading crises of our era.
Will we rise to the occasion is the question. Will we master this rare and difficult hour? Will we meet our obligations and pass along a new and better world to our children? I believe we must. I’m sure you do as well. I believe we will. And when we do, we’ll write the next great chapter in the history of the United States of America. The American story. A story that might sound something like a song that means a lot to me. It’s called “American Anthem.” There’s one verse that stands out, at least for me, and it goes like this:
The work and prayers of a century have brought us to this day.
What shall be our legacy? What will our children say?
Let me know in my heart when my days are through.
America, America, I gave my best to you.
Let's add. Let us add our own work and prayers to the unfolding story of our great nation. If we do this, then when our days are through, our children and our children's children will say of us: They gave their best, they did their duty, they healed a broken land.
My fellow Americans, I close the day where I began, with a sacred oath before God and all of you. I give you my word, I will always level with you. I will defend the Constitution. I’ll defend our democracy. I’ll defend America and I will give all, all of you. Keep everything I do in your service, thinking not of power, but of possibilities, not of personal interest, but the public good. And together we shall write an American story of hope, not fear. Of unity, not division. Of light, not darkness. A story of decency and dignity, love and healing, greatness and goodness. May this be the story that guides us. The story that inspires us and the story that tells ages yet to come that we answered the call of history. We met the moment. Democracy and hope, truth and justice did not die on our watch, but thrived. That America secured liberty at home and stood once again as a beacon to the world. That is what we owe our forebears, one another and generations to follow.
So, with purpose and resolve, we turn to those tasks of our time. Sustained by faith, driven by conviction, devoted to one another and the country we love with all our hearts. May God bless America and may God protect our troops. Thank you, America.