Inaugural Address of Warren G. Harding
March 4, 1921 :
My countrymen :
When one surveys the world about him after the great storm, noting the marks of
destruction and yet rejoicing in the ruggedness of the things which withstood it, if he is
an American he breathes the clarified atmosphere with a strange mingling of regret and new
hope. We have seen a world passion spend its fury, but we contemplate our Republic
unshaken, and hold our civilization secure. Liberty, liberty within the law, and
civilization are inseparable, and though both were threatened we find them now secure; and
there comes to Americans the profound assurance that our representative government is the
highest expression and surest guaranty of both.
Standing in this presence, mindful of the solemnity of this occasion, feeling the
emotions which no one may know until he senses the great weight of responsibility for
himself, I must utter my belief in the divine inspiration of the founding fathers. Surely
there must have been God's intent in the making of this new world Republic. Ours is an
organic law which had but one ambiguity, and we saw that effaced in a baptism of sacrifice
and blood, with union maintained, the Nation supreme, and its concord inspiring. We have
seen the world rivet its hopeful gaze on the great truths on which the founders wrought.
We have seen civil, human, and religious liberty verified and glorified. In the beginning
the Old World scoffed at our experiment; today our foundations of political and social
belief stand unshaken, a precious inheritance to ourselves, an inspiring example of
freedom and civilization to all mankind. Let us express renewed and strengthened devotion,
in grateful reverence for the immortal beginning, and utter our confidence in the supreme
The recorded progress of our Republic, materially and spiritually, in itself proves the
wisdom of the inherited policy of non-involvement in Old World affairs. Confident of our
ability to work out our own destiny, and jealously guarding our right to do so, we seek no
part in directing the destinies of the Old World. We do not mean to be entangled. We will
accept no responsibility except as our own conscience and judgment, in each instance, may
Our eyes never will be blind to a developing menace, our ears never deaf to the call of
civilization. We recognize the new order in the world, with the closer contacts which
progress has wrought. We sense the call of the human heart for fellowship, fraternity, and
cooperation. We crave friendship and harbor no hate. But America, our America, the America
builded on the foundation laid by the inspired fathers, can be a party to no permanent
military alliance. It can enter into no political commitments, nor assume any economic
obligations which will subject our decisions to any other than our own authority.
I am sure our own people will not misunderstand, nor will the world misconstrue. We
have no thought to impede the paths to closer relationship. We wish to promote
understanding. We want to do our part in making offensive warfare so hateful that
Governments and peoples who resort to it must prove the righteousness of their cause or
stand as outlaws before the bar of civilization.
We are ready to associate ourselves with the nations of the world, great and small, for
conference, for counsel; to seek the expressed views of world opinion; to recommend a way
to approximate disarmament and relieve the crushing burdens of military and naval
establishments. We elect to participate in suggesting plans for mediation, conciliation,
and arbitration, and would gladly join in that expressed conscience of progress, which
seeks to clarify and write the laws of international relationship, and establish a world
court for the disposition of such justiciable questions as nations are agreed to submit
thereto. In expressing aspirations, in seeking practical plans, in translating humanity's
new concept of righteousness and justice and its hatred of war into recommended action we
are ready most heartily to unite, but every commitment must be made in the exercise of our
national sovereignty. Since freedom impelled, and independence inspired, and nationality
exalted, a world supergovernment is contrary to everything we cherish and can have no
sanction by our Republic. This is not selfishness, it is sanctity. It is not aloofness, it
is security. It is not suspicion of others, it is patriotic adherence to the things which
made us what we are.
Today, better than ever before, we know the aspirations of humankind, and share them.
We have come to a new realization of our place in the world and a new appraisal of our
Nation by the world. The unselfishness of these United States is a thing proven; our
devotion to peace for ourselves and for the world is well established; our concern for
preserved civilization has had its impassioned and heroic expression. There was no
American failure to resist the attempted reversion of civilization; there will be no
failure today or tomorrow.
The success of our popular government rests wholly upon the correct interpretation of
the deliberate, intelligent, dependable popular will of America. In a deliberate
questioning of a suggested change of national policy, where internationality was to
supersede nationality, we turned to a referendum, to the American people. There was ample
discussion, and there is a public mandate in manifest understanding.
America is ready to encourage, eager to initiate, anxious to participate in any seemly
program likely to lessen the probability of war, and promote that brotherhood of mankind
which must be God's highest conception of human relationship. Because we cherish ideals of
justice and peace, because we appraise international comity and helpful relationship no
less highly than any people of the world, we aspire to a high place in the moral
leadership of civilization, and we hold a maintained America, the proven Republic, the
unshaken temple of representative democracy, to be not only an inspiration and example,
but the highest agency of strengthening good will and promoting accord on both continents.
Mankind needs a world wide benediction of understanding. It is needed among
individuals, among peoples, among governments, and it will inaugurate an era of good
feeling to make the birth of a new order. In such understanding men will strive
confidently for the promotion of their better relationships and nations will promote the
comities so essential to peace.
We must understand that ties of trade bind nations in closest intimacy, and none may
receive except as he gives. We have not strengthened ours in accordance with our resources
or our genius, notably on our own continent, where a galaxy of Republics reflects the
glory of new world democracy, but in the new order of finance and trade we mean to promote
enlarged activities and seek expanded confidence.
Perhaps we can make no more helpful contribution by example than prove a Republic's
capacity to emerge from the wreckage of war. While the world's embittered travail did not
leave us devastated lands nor desolated cities, left no gaping wounds, no breast with
hate, it did involve us in the delirium of expenditure, in expanded currency and credits,
in unbalanced industry, in unspeakable waste, and disturbed relationships. While it
uncovered our portion of hateful selfishness at home, it also revealed the heart of
America as sound and fearless, and beating in confidence unfailing.
Amid it all we have riveted the gaze of all civilization to the unselfishness and the
righteousness of representative democracy, where our freedom never has made offensive
warfare, never has sought territorial aggrandizement through force, never has turned to
the arbitrament of arms until reason has been exhausted. When the Governments of the earth
shall have established a freedom like our own and shall have sanctioned the pursuit of
peace as we have practiced it, I believe the last sorrow and the final sacrifice of
international warfare will have been written.
Let me speak to the maimed and wounded soldiers who are present today, and through them
convey to their comrades the gratitude of the Republic for their sacrifices in its
defense. A generous country will never forget the services you rendered, and you may hope
for a policy under Government that will relieve any maimed successors from taking your
places on another such occasion as this.
Our supreme task is the resumption of our onward, normal way. Reconstruction,
readjustment, restoration all these must follow. I would like to hasten them. If it will
lighten the spirit and add to the resolution with which we take up the task, let me repeat
for our Nation, we shall give no people just cause to make war upon us; we hold no
national prejudices; we entertain no spirit of revenge; we do not hate; we do not covet;
we dream of no conquest, nor boast of armed prowess.
If, despite this attitude, war is again forced upon us, I earnestly hope a way may be
found which will unify our individual and collective strength and consecrate all America,
materially and spiritually, body and soul, to national defense. I can vision the ideal
republic, where every man and woman is called under the flag for assignment to duty for
whatever service, military or civic, the individual is best fitted; where we may call to
universal service every plant, agency, or facility, all in the sublime sacrifice for
country, and not one penny of war profit shall inure to the benefit of private individual,
corporation, or combination, but all above the normal shall flow into the defense chest of
the Nation. There is something inherently wrong, something out of accord with the ideals
of representative democracy, when one portion of our citizenship turns its activities to
private gain amid defensive war while another is fighting, sacrificing, or dying for
Out of such universal service will come a new unity of spirit and purpose, a new
confidence and consecration, which would make our defense impregnable, our triumph
assured. Then we should have little or no disorganization of our economic, industrial, and
commercial systems at home, no staggering war debts, no swollen fortunes to flout the
sacrifices of our soldiers, no excuse for sedition, no pitiable slackerism, no outrage of
treason. Envy and jealousy would have no soil for their menacing development, and
revolution would be without the passion which engenders it.
A regret for the mistakes of yesterday must not, however, blind us to the tasks of
today. War never left such an aftermath. There has been staggering loss of life and
measureless wastage of materials. Nations are still groping for return to stable ways.
Discouraging indebtedness confronts us like all the war torn nations, and these
obligations must be provided for. No civilization can survive repudiation.
We can reduce the abnormal expenditures, and we will. We can strike at war taxation,
and we must. We must face the grim necessity, with full knowledge that the task is to be
solved, and we must proceed with a full realization that no statute enacted by man can
repeal the inexorable laws of nature. Our most dangerous tendency is to expect too much of
government, and at the same time do for it too little. We contemplate the immediate task
of putting our public household in order. We need a rigid and yet sane economy, combined
with fiscal justice, and it must be attended by individual prudence and thrift, which are
so essential to this trying hour and reassuring for the future.
The business world reflects the disturbance of war's reaction. Herein flows the
lifeblood of material existence. The economic mechanism is intricate and its parts
interdependent, and has suffered the shocks and jars incident to abnormal demands, credit
inflations, and price upheavals. The normal balances have been impaired, the channels of
distribution have been clogged, the relations of labor and management have been strained.
We must seek the readjustment with care and courage. Our people must give and take. Prices
must reflect the receding fever of war activities. Perhaps we never shall know the old
levels of wages again, because war invariably readjusts compensations, and the necessaries
of life will show their inseparable relationship, but we must strive for normalcy to reach
stability. All the penalties will not be light, nor evenly distributed. There is no way of
making them so. There is no instant step from disorder to order. We must face a condition
of grim reality, charge off our losses and start afresh. It is the oldest lesson of
civilization. I would like government to do all it can to mitigate; then, in
understanding, in mutuality of interest, in concern for the common good, our tasks will be
solved. No altered system will work a miracle. Any wild experiment will only add to the
confusion. Our best assurance lies in efficient administration of our proven system.
The forward course of the business cycle is unmistakable. Peoples are turning from
destruction to production. Industry has sensed the changed order and our own people are
turning to resume their normal, onward way. The call is for productive America to go on. I
know that Congress and the Administration will favor every wise Government policy to aid
the resumption and encourage continued progress.
I speak for administrative efficiency, for lightened tax burdens, for sound commercial
practices, for adequate credit facilities, for sympathetic concern for all agricultural
problems, for the omission of unnecessary interference of Government with business, for an
end to Government's experiment in business, and for more efficient business in Government
administration. With all of this must attend a mindfulness of the human side of all
activities, so that social, industrial, and economic justice will be squared with the
purposes of a righteous people.
With the nation-wide induction of womanhood into our political life, we may count upon
her intuitions, her refinements, her intelligence, and her influence to exalt the social
order. We count upon her exercise of the full privileges and the performance of the duties
of citizenship to speed the attainment of the highest state.
I wish for an America no less alert in guarding against dangers from within than it is
watchful against enemies from without. Our fundamental law recognizes no class, no group,
no section; there must be none in legislation or administration. The supreme inspiration
is the common weal. Humanity hungers for international peace, and we crave it with all
mankind. My most reverent prayer for America is for industrial peace, with its rewards,
widely and generally distributed, amid the inspirations of equal opportunity. No one
justly may deny the equality of opportunity which made us what we are. We have mistaken
unpreparedness to embrace it to be a challenge of the reality, and due concern for making
all citizens fit for participation will give added strength of citizenship and magnify our
If revolution insists upon overturning established order, let other peoples make the
tragic experiment. There is no place for it in America. When World War threatened
civilization we pledged our resources and our lives to its preservation, and when
revolution threatens we unfurl the flag of law and order and renew our consecration. Ours
is a constitutional freedom where the popular will is the law supreme and minorities are
sacredly protected. Our revisions, reformations, and evolutions reflect a deliberate
judgment and an orderly progress, and we mean to cure our ills, but never destroy or
permit destruction by force.
I had rather submit our industrial controversies to the conference table in advance
than to a settlement table after conflict and suffering. The earth is thirsting for the
cup of good will, understanding is its fountain source. I would like to acclaim an era of
good feeling amid dependable prosperity and all the blessings which attend.
It has been proved again and again that we cannot, while throwing our markets open to
the world, maintain American standards of living and opportunity, and hold our industrial
eminence in such unequal competition. There is a luring fallacy in the theory of banished
barriers of trade, but preserved American standards require our higher production costs to
be reflected in our tariffs on imports. Today, as never before, when peoples are seeking
trade restoration and expansion, we must adjust our tariffs to the new order. We seek
participation in the world's exchanges, because therein lies our way to widened influence
and the triumphs of peace. We know full well we cannot sell where we do not buy, and we
cannot sell successfully where we do not carry. Opportunity is calling not alone for the
restoration, but for a new era in production, transportation and trade. We shall answer it
best by meeting the demand of a surpassing home market, by promoting self reliance in
production, and by bidding enterprise, genius, and efficiency to carry our cargoes in
American bottoms to the marts of the world.
We would not have an America living within and for herself alone, but we would have her
self reliant, independent, and ever nobler, stronger, and richer. Believing in our higher
standards, reared through constitutional liberty and maintained opportunity, we invite the
world to the same heights. But pride in things wrought is no reflex of a completed task.
Common welfare is the goal of our national endeavor. Wealth is not inimical to welfare; it
ought to be its friendliest agency. There never can be equality of rewards or possessions
so long as the human plan contains varied talents and differing degrees of industry and
thrift, but ours ought to be a country free from the great blotches of distressed poverty.
We ought to find a way to guard against the perils and penalties of unemployment. We want
an America of homes, illumined with hope and happiness, where mothers, freed from the
necessity for long hours of toil beyond their own doors, may preside as befits the
hearthstone of American citizenship. We want the cradle of American childhood rocked under
conditions so wholesome and so hopeful that no blight may touch it in its development, and
we want to provide that no selfish interest, no material necessity, no lack of opportunity
shall prevent the gaining of that education so essential to best citizenship.
There is no short cut to the making of these ideals into glad realities. The world has
witnessed again and again the futility and the mischief of ill considered remedies for
social and economic disorders. But we are mindful today as never before of the friction of
modern industrialism, and we must learn its causes and reduce its evil consequences by
sober and tested methods. Where genius has made for great possibilities, justice and
happiness must be reflected in a greater common welfare.
Service is the supreme commitment of life. I would rejoice to acclaim the era of the
Golden Rule and crown it with the autocracy of service. I pledge an administration wherein
all the agencies of Government are called to serve, and ever promote an understanding of
Government purely as an expression of the popular will.
One cannot stand in this presence and be unmindful of the tremendous responsibility.
The world upheaval has added heavily to our tasks. But with the realization comes the
surge of high resolve, and there is reassurance in belief in the God-given destiny of our
Republic. If I felt that there is to be sole responsibility in the Executive for the
America of tomorrow I should shrink from the burden. But here are a hundred millions, with
common concern and shared responsibility, answerable to God and country. The Republic
summons them to their duty, and I invite cooperation.
I accept my part with single mindedness of purpose and humility of spirit, and implore
the favor and guidance of God in His Heaven. With these I am unafraid, and confidently
face the future.
I have taken the solemn oath of office on that passage of Holy Writ wherein it is
asked: What doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy, and
to walk humbly with thy God? This I plight to God and country.
- Warren G. Harding, 1921