President Reagan’s First Inaugural Address, 1981

A primary source by Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan, official White House photograph, 1981 (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)Ronald Reagan’s election to the White House came at a time of great economic and international turmoil for the United States. His first inaugural address on January 20, 1981, highlights many major issues of the day, including rising inflation, unemployment, and the Iran Hostage Crisis, which came to an end just minutes after the speech’s conclusion. Reagan pointed to “economic affliction” as one of the most serious challenges facing the nation, and he asserted a need for the reduction of not just public spending but of the federal government itself: “It is my intention to curb the size and influence of the Federal establishment and to demand recognition of the distinction between the powers granted to the Federal Government and those reserved to the States or to the people. All of us need to be reminded that the Federal Government did not create the States; the States created the Federal Government.”

A full transcript is available.

Excerpt

The business of our nation goes forward. These United States are confronted with an economic affliction of great proportions. We suffer from the longest and one of the worst sustained inflations in our national history. It distorts our economic decisions, penalizes thrift, and crushes the struggling young and the fixed-income elderly alike. It threatens to shatter the lives of millions of our people. . . .

We must act today in order to preserve tomorrow. And let there be no misunderstanding ­we are going to begin to act, beginning today. . . .

In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem.

From time to time, we have been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. But if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else? All of us together, in and out of government, must bear the burden. The solutions we seek must be equitable, with no one group singled out to pay a higher price.

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