Good morning. On Tuesday, the world will be watching as America celebrates a rite that goes to the heart of our greatness as a nation. For the forty-third time, we will execute the peaceful transfer of power from one President to the next.
The first Inauguration took place 220 years ago. Our nation’s capital had yet to be built, so President George Washington took the oath of office in New York City. It was a spring day, just over a decade after the birth of our nation, as Washington assumed the new office that he would do so much to shape, and swore an oath to the Constitution that guides us to this very day.
Since then, Inaugurations have taken place during times of war and peace; in Depression and prosperity. Our democracy has undergone many changes, and our people have taken many steps in pursuit of a more perfect union. What has always endured is this peaceful and orderly transition of power.
For us, it is easy to take this central aspect of our democracy for granted. But we must remember that our nation was founded at a time of Kings and Queens, and even today billions of people around the world cannot imagine their leaders giving up power without strife or bloodshed.
Through the ages, many have struggled for the right to live in a land where power does not belong to one person or party, and many brave Americans have fought and died to help advance that right. Through the long twilight struggle of the Cold War, our transitions from one President to the next provided a stark contrast to the suffocating grip of Soviet Communism. And today, the resilience of our democracy stands in opposition to the extremists who would tear it down.
Here at home, transitions also remind us that what we hold in common as Americans far outweighs our political differences. Throughout the current transition, President Bush and his Administration have extended the hand of cooperation, and provided invaluable assistance to my team as we prepare to hit the ground running on January 20th.
There is much work to be done. But now, all Americans hold within our hands the promise of a new beginning.
That is why the events of the next several days are not simply about the inauguration of an American President – they will be a celebration of the American people. We will carry the voices of ordinary Americans to Washington. We will invite people across the country to work on behalf of a common purpose through a national day of service on Monday. And we will have the most open and accessible Inauguration in history – for those who travel to the capital, and for those who choose one of the many ways to participate in the Inauguration from their own communities and their own homes.
Together, we know that this is a time of great challenge for the American people. Difficult days are upon us, and even more difficult days lie ahead. Our nation is at war. Our economy is in great turmoil. And there is so much work that must be done to restore peace and advance prosperity. But as we approach this time-honored American tradition, we are reminded that our challenges can be met if we summon the spirit that has sustained our democracy since George Washington took the first oath of office.
Addressing the nation that day, Washington explained his decision to serve, saying, “I was called by my country, whose voice I can never hear but with veneration and love.” This Tuesday, we can reaffirm our own veneration and love for our country and our democracy. We can once again provide an example to the world, and move forward with a renewed sense of purpose and progress at home.