Accessibility links

Barack Obama Sworn In As U.S. President, Calls For 'Unity Of Purpose'

  • Heather Maher
  • Andrew Tully

In his inaugural address, U.S. President Barack Obama called for a "new era of responsibility" in America.

In his inaugural address, U.S. President Barack Obama called for a "new era of responsibility" in America.

WASHINGTON -- Barack Obama, sworn in on January 20 as the 44th president of the United States, urged his fellow Americans to cast aside their political and social divisions and instead face the challenges of economic chaos, two difficult wars, and a growing environmental crisis with what he called a "unity of purpose."

The former state and national legislator was sworn in on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, with a crowd estimated at more than 1 million people gathered on the National Mall and an estimated 1 billion others watching on television around the globe.

Barack Obama's left hand rests on the same Bible used by Abraham Lincoln in 1861.
Making history as the first African-American to become president, Obama took the oath of office with his hand on a Bible used by President Abraham Lincoln, also a former U.S. lawmaker from Illinois, at his first inauguration in 1861.

The excitement surrounding Obama's inauguration reached a fever pitch in the nation's capital, as hundreds of thousands came to participate in the celebrations. Even the weather cooperated. Though it was cold, the sun shone brightly on a day that was supposed to have been cloudy.

Among those in the crowd were Marietta and Johnny Aiken, Inuits from Alaska, who were keeping warm in fur-lined, traditional tribal coats.

Marietta said the two had traveled all the way to Washington to "see history being made," and declared the spectacle "awesome."

Another couple who had traveled south was Robyn and Doug Davis, from Vermont. Doug Davis said he hoped Obama would bring the country together to solve some of its most pressing problems.

"We need to just unite the country, get it back together. You know I can't believe he's going to work miracles but I think it's important to get people working on the same page, and kind of working toward the common good, and a common goal," Davis added. "Maybe peace, maybe taking care of those less able to take care of themselves, maybe straighten out the economy. But in any event it's got to be better than the last eight years."

'New Era Of Responsibility'

Obama's speech opened on a note that was far from sunny. With former President George W. Bush sitting nearby, he reminded his fellow citizens that their country faces enormous challenges.

"That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood," Obama said. "Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.

President Barack Obama (right) with outgoing President George W. Bush at the swearing-in ceremony
"Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet."

He called for a "new era of responsibility," and said the time has come for the United States to "renew its spirit" and reaffirm "the promise of this nation."

Obama said the challenges the United States faces "are real, they are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America -- they will be met."

He said he would address the country's economic challenges without delay.

"Our capacity remains undiminished," he said. "But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions -- that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America."

Obama made reference to the historic nature of his assent to the presidency, noting that "a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath."

He praised "that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness."

Turning to international relations, he said, "To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame their society's ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy."

Obama said the country's foreign-policy challenges go far beyond the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He pointed to the almost ubiquitous threat of terrorism and the economic threats of some countries -- which he didn't identify -- who have growing economies and appear to be antagonistic, if not hostile, toward the United States.

The president promised terrorists that they can't break the American spirit, and that "we will defeat you."

He promised an orderly military withdrawal from Iraq, and an eventual peace in Afghanistan. And he promised partnership with traditional U.S. allies to reduce nuclear arms and reverse global climate change.

Tight Security

In attendance at the ceremony on the west side of the Capitol were outgoing President George W. Bush and former Presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter.

Pastor Rick Warren addressed the crowd before Obama's swearing-in, calling the event a "hinge-point of history."

Obama had campaigned by promising to bring tangible change to Washington's domestic and foreign policies. Addressing the vast crowd before Obama took the oath of office, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California said he was prepared to do just that.

"Future generations will mark this morning as the turning point for real and necessary change in our nation," she said. "They will look back and remember that this was the moment when the dream that once echoed across history from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial finally reached the walls of the White House."

The level of security was unprecedented for Washington. Over 100 streets were closed to traffic on the afternoon of January 19, and seven bridges leading from Virginia to Washington were off-limits to virtually all traffic. In the area around the National Mall, where the monuments and Capitol are situated, sharpshooters stood watch on rooftops, and helicopters circled overhead.

More than 5,000 security cameras provided electronic surveillance of the crowds, and groups of police and National Guard could be seen everywhere, ready to offer assistance or spring into action if a threat erupted.

During a full day of inaugural festivities, Obama and his family, along with the family of Vice President Joe Biden, attended a private service at St. John's Episcopal Church, a tradition for incoming presidents.

Also in keeping with tradition, the Obamas and Bidens met with President Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney and their wives at the White House shortly before the inauguration.

Challenges Ahead

Obama's election to the presidency had been greeted with a groundswell of optimism by many Americans, for whom Obama represents a stark change from Bush's two terms. For African-Americans, the inauguration of the son of a black Kenyan father and a white mother from Kansas holds particular historical significance.

More than 1 million people fill the National Mall ahead of the inauguration of Barack Obama.
Obama has stressed that he will quickly get down to work after the inaugural celebrations.

Reuters quoted military officials as saying that the new president would meet with top defense officials on January 21 to discuss speeding up the drawdown of U.S. troops from Iraq, to fulfill his campaign promise for a full withdrawal within 16 months.

He was also expected to discuss sending more troops to Afghanistan, which he has identified as the key front in U.S. efforts against terrorism, with a Pentagon delegation led by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The president was also expected on January 21 to start promoting an $825 billion economic-stimulus plan intended to prevent further recession.

"The Washington Post" reported that another immediate move for Obama would be to name Northern Ireland peace negotiator George Mitchell as his Middle East envoy to deal swiftly with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

After Obama's inaugural address, Bush and his wife, Laura, boarded a military helicopter that had been awaiting them alongside the U.S. Capitol. The craft took them to a nearby plane for a flight to their home state of Texas.

After taking the solemn oath of office on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, the new president and first lady smiled, waved, and danced their way through a long afternoon and evening of celebrations. After lunch, they took part in the inaugural parade, thrilling the crowd as they walked part of the distance from the Capitol to the White House. They then watched the rest of the parade from the reviewing stand with their daughters, Sasha and Malia. Over the course of the night, they attended 10 different inaugural balls. It seemed everyone attending the first ball had a camera out as Beyonce sang and the Obamas danced to the Etta James classic song, "At Last." (Reuters video)





Video
Inauguration Day Highlights

Click To Play

Show comments

XS
SM
MD
LG