'Let's all of us do our part to rebuild this country'

text of speech

January 18, 2009

Text of President-elect Barack Obama's remarks in Baltimore yesterday:

Hello, Baltimore! Thank you, Baltimore!

To Quincy Lucas, thank you for the wonderful introduction. To Governor O'Malley; to Baltimore's own speaker of the House, and partner with the soon-to-be Obama administration, Nancy Pelosi; to members of Maryland congressional delegation; to Maryland state and elected officials, to the best possible vice president-elect anybody could possibly hope for, Joe Biden; and to his even more wonderful wife, Jill Biden; to the people of Maryland and the people of America, thank you.

We began this train trip in Philadelphia earlier today. And it is fitting that we did so - because it was there that our American journey began. It was there that a group of farmers and lawyers, merchants and soldiers gathered to declare their independence and lay claim to a destiny that they were being denied.

It was a risky thing, meeting as they did in that summer of 1776. There was no guarantee that their fragile experiment would find success. More than once in those early years did the odds seem insurmountable. More than once did ordinary men, fishermen, laborers, and craftsmen who called themselves an army, face the prospects of defeat.

And yet, they were willing to put all they were and all they had on the line - their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor - for a set of ideals that continue to light the world. That we are equal. That our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness come not from our laws, but from our maker. And that a government of, by, and for the people can certainly endure. It was these ideals that led us to declare independence, and craft our Constitution, producing documents that were imperfect but with the blood, sweat and tears, had within them, like our nation itself, the capacity to be made more perfect.

A few decades after the framers met in Philadelphia, our new union faced its first true test. The White House was in flames, and the British were advancing on Baltimore. That's when the fate of our nation fell to the troops at Fort McHenry. They were a varied lot, these troops: sailors, militiamen, and even a runaway slave. But on one long and rainy night, they beat back the greatest navy that the world had ever known. And when that night was over, they raised a flag in triumph, inspiring an onlooker to compose a poem that became "The Star-Spangled Banner."

We are here today not simply to pay tribute to those patriots who founded our nation in Philadelphia or defended it in Baltimore, but to take up the cause for which they gave so much. The trials we face are very different now, but they are severe in their own right. Only a handful of times in our history has a generation been confronted with challenges so vast. An economy that's faltering. Two wars, one that needs to be ended responsibly, one that needs to be waged wisely. A planet that's warming - although you can't tell today - from our unsustainable dependence on oil.

And yet while our problems may be new, what is required to overcome them is not new. What's required is the same perseverance and idealism that those first patriots displayed. What's required is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives, our own hearts - from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry and narrow interests - an appeal not to our easy instincts but to our better angels.

That is the reason I launched my campaign for the presidency nearly two years ago. I did so in the belief that the most fundamental American ideal, that a better life is in store for all those willing to work for it, was slipping out of reach. That Washington was serving the interests of the few, not the many. And that our politics had grown too small for the scale of the challenges we faced.

But I also believed in something else. Michelle believed in it. Joe believed in it. Jill believed in it. We believed that our future is our choice, and that if we could just recognize ourselves in one another and bring everyone together - Democrats, Republicans, and independents, north, south, east and west, black, white, Latino, Asian, and Native American, gay, straight, disabled - then not only would we restore opportunity in places that yearned for both, but maybe, just maybe, we might perfect our union in the process.

This is what I believed, Baltimore, but you made this belief real. You proved once more that people who love this country can change it. And as I prepare to leave for Washington on a trip that you made possible, I know that I will not be traveling alone. I will be taking you with me. I'll be taking with me some of the men and women I met along the way, Americans from every corner of this country, whose hopes and heartaches were the core of our cause, whose dreams and struggles have become my own.

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