Kerry devoted nearly half his speech, his first as the Democratic Party's official candidate, to matters related to national security and Iraq. Kerry, who voted in October 2002 to authorize force to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, charged that Bush misled the country on the way to war and neglected to plan for post-war circumstances in Iraq.
"As president, I will bring back this nation's time-honored tradition: the United States of America never goes to war because we want to, we only go to war because we have to," Kerry said.
Kerry said one of the first things he would do in office is to reform the intelligence system according to the recommendations of a special commission assembled to examine the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks.
Kerry also reiterated his plan for adding 40,000 active duty troops to strengthen U.S. forces, which he said are "overextended and under pressure" around the world.
On Iraq, Kerry said he would repair ties with allies and persuade them to share the financial and security burdens.
Kerry said in pursuing counterterrorism measures, his administration would be less reliant than the Bush administration on hard power.
"As president, I will fight a smarter, more effective war on terror," Kerry said. "We will deploy every tool in our arsenal: our economic as well as our military might; our principles as well as our firepower."
Kerry echoed four days of criticism from convention participants directed at the Bush administration. In his speech, he referred to an energy task force headed by Vice President Dick Cheney and Attorney General John Ashcroft's efforts -- criticized by some as excessive -- in tracking down terrorists.
"I will be a commander-in-chief who will never mislead us into war," Kerry said. "I will have a vice president who will not conduct secret meetings with polluters to rewrite our environmental laws. I will have a secretary of defense who will listen to the advice of the military leaders. And I will appoint an attorney general who will uphold the constitution of the United States."
Kerry pledged to link energy policy with national security, saying U.S. reliance on Middle East oil is placing its military and economy in danger. His campaign all week has touted plans to develop alternative sources of energy and spur production of more fuel-efficient cars.
"I want an America that relies on its own ingenuity and innovation - not the Saudi royal family," Kerry said.
Americans have been telling pollsters they are waiting for a clearer picture of Kerry to emerge. On 30 July, the senator sought to portray himself as a family man, patriot, and resolute leader.
The final day of the convention was filled with testimonials about Kerry's courage and patriotism, exemplified by his service in the Vietnam War. His two daughters shared anecdotes about his decency and love for America.
Even in sharing aspects of his personal life, Kerry sought to distance himself from Bush. Kerry referred to the president's custom of citing his religious beliefs. Kerry said he preferred to keep his beliefs silent and exercise them through his actions.
"I don't want to claim that God is on our side," Kerry said. "As [former U.S. President] Abraham Lincoln told us, I want to pray humbly that we are on God's side."
Polls conducted before the convention showed Kerry either even or slightly ahead of Bush. Presidential campaigns typically enjoy a boost in polls after conventions. Republicans hold their convention for President George W. Bush at the end of August and he began major campaigning on 30 July.