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Ronald Reagan's First Inaugural Address

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Renee Congdon

on 5 April 2017

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Transcript of Ronald Reagan's First Inaugural Address

Methods of Development
"Those who do work are denied a fair return for their labor by a tax system which penalizes successful achievement and keeps us from maintaining full productivity. But great as our tax burden is, it has not kept pace with public spending. For decades we have piled deficit upon deficit, mortgaging our future and our children's future for the temporary convenience of the present.
To continue this long trend is to guarantee tremendous social, cultural, political, and economic upheavals."

Ronald Reagan's First Inaugural Address, 1981
I. Introduction
A. Background

Tone and Mood
This excerpt from the 1981 Inaugural Address provides an excellent example of the overall tone of patriotism and heroism that made this speech so incredibly powerful.
B. Purpose

The purpose of Reagan's address is to inspire the people to revitalize the American government and rebuild the economy. Reagan also emphasizes the importance of returning power to the people, and he motivates the people to take part in improving the economy by calling the everyday working man an "American hero".
Textual Support
"It is time to
reawaken this industrial giant
, to get government back within its means, and to lighten our punitive tax burden. And these will be our first priorities, and on these principles there will be no compromise...I believe we,
the Americans of today, are ready to act worthy of ourselves, ready to do what must be done
to ensure happiness and liberty for ourselves, our children, and our children's children."
C. Argument

Reagan creates the argument that a better future is in the hands of the people, not in the hands of the federal government. He specifies that the people are the everyday heroes that keep the economy alive.
Reagan builds unity and a sense of togetherness in the American people through the use of rhetorical strategies like Kairos, anaphora, and rhetorical questions. He also drives his argument home by directly addressing the people, and by using patriotic undertones.
Textual Support
"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.

Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it's not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to
make it work--work with us, not over us; to stand by our side, not ride on our back
III. Delivery
A. Appearance

Explaining a conclusion by highlighting the individual parts leading up to it
Reagan highlights the specific ways that the tax system has held the people back. With each sentence, he adds another negative result of the tax system, and then finally announces his conclusion, "To continue this long trend is to guarantee tremendous social, cultural, political, and economic upheavals". Reagan employs this method of development in order to emphasize the ways the tax system has failed, and to convince the people that change is necessary.
The impact of using division/analysis with this chunk of the speech is to provide ample evidence for an otherwise possibly controversial claim about the American tax system. Over all, this method of development allows Reagan to put more weight behind his words and be more convincing in his delivery.

Explaining a concept by showing an opposing concept and contrasting the two
I do not believe
in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do.
I do believe
in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing."
This contrast serves to suggest that the fate of the nation is in the hands of the people. It inspires people to act by showing the difference between an inevitable fate and a changeable fate. By placing emphasis on the contrast between acting and doing nothing, Reagan rallies the people to act in order to prevent an undesirable outcome.
The contrast in this passage results in a more emotionally-charged delivery, wherein Reagan is able to tell the American people what will come of America if action is not taken presently. It also highlights the necessary course of action that the people must take.
This portion of the speech also employs the use of
with the repetition of "I do... believe" and "in a fate that will fall on us". This serves to further the
by aligning sentence structures in such a way that the difference between the two becomes obvious- in one the nation is doomed no matter what, in the other there is a way to fix things.
"It [will and moral courage of free men and women] is a weapon our
adversaries in today's world do not have.
It is a weapon that
we as Americans do have.

This passage contrasts the arsenal of America against the arsenal of America's adversaries. Reagan likens free will and courage to a weapon, therefore emphasizing the importance of these qualities in the American people, and creating a more combative and proactive tone. This passage also creates an "us versus them" scenario, which builds unity.
This contrast of America versus its adversaries serves to make a distinction between America and "everyone else", setting America superior. This isolation and glorification of America achieves a powerful effect- it builds nationalism and channels the will of the people to align with Reagan's desired course of action.
also employs the use of
with the repetition of "It is a weapon". By placing emphasis on the word "weapon", Reagan furthers the "us versus them" scenario, and gives greater value to the attributes of free will and moral courage.
Reagan's plan for his presidency included diminishing the role of the government and returning it to the people. He was tasked with fixing the inflation rates and trying to create job opportunities. The US relationship with the Soviets was worsening, we had just lost the Vietnam War, and the hostages in Iran had not been freed. Coincidentally, in support of his ideals of freedom, the hostages were released after 444 days as he was giving his speech.
Reagan's speech took place in a time where televised debates were gaining popularity because everyone could now afford a television. He had to write this speech so that it could be "performed" and come across much more passionately than on any other public platform.
His good looks and past as an actor were also a contributing factor to his success on the TV screen.
Reagan gave his speech on the West side of the Capitol building, the first time a president had ever given a speech there. The new location presented him with the opportunity to reference the past in support of his ideals for the presidency. It allowed him to justify his beliefs and inspire nationalism because he could remind the people of the radical presidents that were immortalized in the statues in front of him.

B. Setting
Ethos- refers to the trustworthiness or credibility of the writer or speaker used to persuade the audience
Putting America back to work

putting all Americans back to work.
Ending inflation means
freeing all Americans from the terror of runaway living costs."
To paraphrase Winston Churchill,
I did not take the oath I've just taken with the intention of presiding over the dissolution of the world's strongest economy."
- to show the audience the meaning of your point, to give its boundaries, and to separate it from other concepts
Reagan and Idiosyncratic Conservatism
Idiosyncratic Conservatism is supreme pride in American history. It is seen as Utopianism, a way to try and create a perfect world run by the people without a centralized government. Reagan believed in this Utopian quote: "We have it in our power to begin the world over again." (Heritage). However, Idiosyncratic Conservatism is less Utopianism and more American Exceptionalism. American Exceptionalism is the idea of the American government based on democracy and individual rights. Reagan was extremely critical of the elite because of this. He passionately argues against the idea that "a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan then ourselves" (Heritage). This led him to critize the federal government as tyrannical and have extreme faith in the common man. This is why Reagan uses the stories of Americans without using their names and states: "Your dreams, your hopes, your goals are going to be the dreams, the hopes, and the goals of this administration."

By mentioning the famous Winston Churchill, Reagan implements sentiments felt for the Prime Minister. This, in turn, gives more credibility to his speech, strengthening the impact.
By utilizing the definition method of development, Reagan sets forth something he is striving for, and then provides an inclusive definition. By specifically stating that putting America to work and ending inflation must be extended to "all Americans", Reagan calls attention to the way it has not been extended to all in the past.
In using definition, Reagan makes the meaning of "putting America back to work" and "ending inflation" more powerful. The definition of each adds weight and credibility to his speech, because it specifies what he intends to do, allowing his claims to hold water instead of being vague or open-ended concepts.

This passage also features
. Reagan states "putting America back to work means putting...ending inflation means freeing". Reagan uses parallel sentence structure and -ing verbs like freeing and ending to give balance to his statement and to give equal weight to ending inflation and putting America back to work.

Reagan’s use of anadiplosis can be seen in how he ends the former of his statement with “the States” and begins the latter of his statement with “the States.” Essentially, Reagan does this to hone in on the power of the states. He addresses how the States are the creators of the Federal government, and uses anadiplosis to creatively exploit the relationship between the States and the Federal government. In this way, Reagan weighs the power between the two, and implies a chain of influence that originates with the American people and descends to the States and eventually to the Federal government.

The anadiplosis in the statement serves as a tool of repetition, which inspires the audience to remember that they the people are the roots of the American government. By starting and beginning his statements with “the States,” Reagan sharpens the audience’s focus on the States, thus compelling them to recognize the significance of their role as citizens of the states. As a result, Reagan fills his audience with patriotism, and reassures them that they are the origins of the American government, and therefore the ones that have the power to change it.

In using ethos to explain his actions and reasons of taking the oath, Reagan associates himself with a leader who possesses the ability to raise a country from its lowest points to victory. It gives the audience hope for the future Reagan has planned.
"Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem."
Reagan, through calls to action, creates a tone of patriotism which inspires determination for the future.

"The government has no power except that granted it by the people."
"It is time for us to realize that we are too great a nation to limit ourselves to small dreams."
"Under one such marker lies a young man,
Martin Treptow
, who
left his job in a small town barbershop
in 1917 to go to France with the famed Rainbow Division. There, on the western front, he was killed trying to carry a message between battalions under heavy artillery fire."

"Chapter 40 - The Resurgence of Conservatism, 1980-1992." Chapter 40. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2015.

"Definition of Progressive Liberalism." EHow. Demand Media, 05 June 2010. Web. 18 Jan. 2015.

"Excerpts From: President Reagan's Inaugural Address - January 20, 1981." YouTube. Reagan Foundation, n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2015.

Shmoop Editorial Team. "The Reagan Era Summary & Analysis." Shmoop.com. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 18 Jan. 2015.

"The Strange Death of Liberal America." Ronald Reagan’s First Inaugural, Setting the Stage ». N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2015.

"Ronald Reagan: Conservative Statesman." The Heritage Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2015.

Martin Treptow is described as a common man; he had a job that required little education, and he lived in a small town. Yet, he goes down as a patriotic American man due to death on the western front. Mentioning Treptow emphasizes the sacrifices that have been made for the freedom of the American people.
Works Cited
Reagan uses unifying diction and direct addresses through pronouns like "we" "you" and "us". This diction creates a sense of unity and inspires nationalism and a willingness to act in the American citizens. In addition, Reagan says "America" "American" and "our nation" frequently throughout the speech. This repetition of patriotic diction contributes to the overall tone and serves to place America on a pedestal, in accordance with Reagan's idiosyncratic conservatism.
The use of ethos in this passage highlights the role of the common man. It creates empathy within those of a similar background to Tremptow (ie that of a common man), eliciting inspiration and support from the audience .

are a nation that has a government
—not the other way around. And
this makes us special
among the nations

of the Earth."

Pathos- appeal to the audience's sympathies and imagination.
This quote highlights the patriotism that is evident throughout the whole speech.
This quote returns the idea of the speech to his purpose of diminishing the power of the federal government.
This excerpt provides an excellent example of the patriotism and direct address that Reagan employs throughout his speech. By stating "we are a nation", Reagan creates unity between himself and the American people, as well as bolstering his speech with a sense of pride in the United States.
By using such patriotic diction, Reagan establishes himself as a proud American, and identifies with the common man instead of separating himself from the people. Because he allies himself with the American citizens, his claims about the Americans being capable of rebuilding the economy hold more weight.
"You have every right to dream heroic dreams."
This once again conveys nationalism and encourages the common man to restore America to its former glory.
"Beyond those monuments to heroism is the Potomac River, and on the far shore the sloping hills of Arlington National Cemetery, with its
row upon row of simple white markers bearing crosses or Stars of David
. They
add up to only a tiny fraction of the price that has been paid for our freedom.
In this passage Reagan emphasizes the lives that have been lost due to war, lives that have been lost in order to ensure the individual rights of the American people. By stating that they add up to "only a fraction of the price that has been paid for our freedom," Reagan further strengthens the emotional appeal of his statement.
"All of us need to be reminded that the Federal Government did not create
the States; the States
created the Federal Government."
the repetition of the last word of one clause or sentence at the beginning of the next
The section creates a sense of solemn patriotism in the audience. It forces the listener to feel a deep sense of pride as to what their forefathers have done for them, coercing thoughts in favor of America.
We have every right to dream heroic dreams
. Those who say that we're in a time when there are not heroes,
they just don't know where to look.
You can see heroes every day going in and out of factory gates. Others, a handful in number,
produce enough food to feed all of us and then the world beyond
. You meet heroes across a counter, and
they're on both sides of that counter.
There are entrepreneurs with faith in themselves and faith in an idea who create new jobs, new wealth and opportunity. They're individuals and families whose taxes support the government and whose voluntary gifts support church, charity, culture, art, and education.
Their patriotism is quiet, but deep. Their values sustain our national life. "
A hero, in essence, is a concept built on an emotion-filled foundation. Using the concept of a hero gives the individual something to look up to, and believe that they are great. And associating the common man with a hero allows the audience to feel important and great. Reagan emphasizes this with the belief that the country is built upon many different types of people (different types of heroes) and the tasks that they undertake.
The audience feels empowered and inspired by this section. They are given praise for the things, their professions/economic class, that they may feel indifferent, or even guilty/self conscious of. It is not unlike a father giving his son praise for something that he has been shamed for before.
Kairos- the opportune time and/or place, the right or appropriate time to say or do the right or appropriate thing.
"We must act today in order to preserve tomorrow "

Reagan suggests that in order to rebuild the economy, Americans must begin setting the foundation for recovery and must start working if the future is to be stabilized.
This call to arms enforces the ideas of patriotism within the audience. Reagan’s use of paradox, seen in the Kairos, creates a contrast between today and tomorrow that induces an atmosphere of urgency, implying that any actions made “today” would certainly affect the circumstances of “tomorrow.” Furthermore, the contrast made between the two emphasizes how the two are different, motivating the reader to recognize that each day is a new canvas for them to continue progressing.

"On the eve of our struggle for independence a man who might have been one of the greatest among the Founding Fathers, Dr. Joseph Warren, president of the Massachusetts Congress, said to his fellow Americans, "Our country is in danger, but not to be despaired of . . .
. On you depend the fortunes of America. You are to decide the important questions upon which rests the happiness and the liberty of millions yet unborn. Act worthy of yourselves"
Reagan once again demonstrates the people's ability to control their fate. It suggests that they have been given an opportunity that must be taken now in order to ensure the the safety and prosperity of their future.
The call to arms associated with Kairos elicits a sense of duty from the audience. They feel compelled to act and change what is around them, and to fix the unstable economy and misguided government.
"To those neighbors and allies who share our freedom,
we will
strengthen our historic ties and assure them of our support and firm commitment.
We will
match loyalty with loyalty.
We will
strive for mutually beneficial relations.
We will
not use our friendship to impose on their sovereignty, for our own sovereignty is not for sale."

Repetition of the same word or group of words at the beginning of successive clauses, sentences, or lines.
Reagan’s use of anaphora becomes apparent in his repetition of “we will” at the beginning of his sentences. Ultimately, the repeated “we will” embodies a call to action, in which he asks the audience to strive for a mutually benefiting relationship with foreign countries.


Connotatively speaking, the phrase “we will” suggests feelings of hope, unity, and confidence. By using anaphora to repeat such an encouraging phrase, Reagan instills motivation in his audience and personally involves them in the rebuilding of ties with foreign governments.
The combination of anaphora and epistrophe: beginning a series of lines, clauses, or sentences with the same word or phrase while simultaneously repeating a different word or phrase at the end of each element in this series.
"We will
for it
, sacrifice
for it
we will
not surrender
for it
, now or ever."


Reagan demonstrates parallelism through the similarities in structure and length of his statements. For example, the latter sentence is divided into two parts by a semicolon, exactly how the former sentence is divided. As a result, both sentences mirror each other in length and structure. Fundamentally, Reagan's use of parallelism aims towards simplifying his belief that the government should cooperate harmoniously with the people.


In terms of parallelism, Reagan's statements carry rhythmic qualities that grab the attention of his audience. In this way, Reagan is able to persuade Americans that the government is not entirely evil, by directing attention to the idea that the goal of the government is to work alongside the people and cooperate with them. As a result, Reagan's use of parallel structure enables him to convey his ideas in a way that is more memorable and captivating.

Placing similar rhythmic structures, words, phrases, or clauses into repetitive sequence
"It is rather to make it work--work with us, not over us
to stand
by our side
, not ride
on our back
. Government can and must provide opportunity, not smother it
foster productivity, not stifle it."

Reagan’s use of parallelism, as marked by the similarities in phrase length, serves to provide the Americans with a call to action - that being, the cooperation of the American people in “negotiat[ing] for,” “sacrific[ing] for,” and “not surrender[ing] for,” the better tomorrow. His repetition of “we will” at the beginning of each phrase, and “for it” at the end of each phrase further emphasize his use of parallel structure, and fit the characteristics of both anaphora and epistrophe. Moreover, the combined use of epistrophe and anaphora manifests Reagan’s statement as a symploce.

Through his use of symploce, Reagan’s words take on the same effect of that of a hammer on a nail. Ultimately, by exercising repetition, Reagan drills his ideas for reconstruction into the heads of his audience, forcing them to remember what is necessary to achieve restabilization of the economy.
Asking a rhetorical question to the reader as a transition or as a thought- provoking tool before proceeding

“It does require, however, our best effort and our willingness to believe in ourselves and to believe in our capacity to perform great deeds, to believe that together with God's help we can and will resolve the problems which now confront us.
And after all, why shouldn't we believe that?

Reagan is emphasizing his belief in the capability of the United States of America to recover from this economic low. He emphasizes the importance of hard work and dedication American’s must commit to this challenge in order for the country to achieve its goal of a stable economy.

Reagan’s use of erotema forces the audience to answer his question themselves. The question makes the audience actively think in his speech instead of absentmindedly listening to his words. The erotema evokes a feeling of determination in the audience because Reagan is questioning each individual American’s own capabilities and beliefs.

the use of symbols to signify ideas and qualities by giving them symbolic meanings that are different from their literal sense

“Above all we must realize that no arsenal or no weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women. It is a
our adversaries in today’s in today’s world do not have. It is a weapon that we as Americans do have.”


In this excerpt, Reagan conveys weapons as symbolic vessels for the “will and moral courage of free men and women.” By comparing confidence and morality to arsenals and weaponry, Reagan manifests his belief that the human spirit is the most powerful substance to exist. In essence, Reagan uses symbolism to creatively harness the power of freedom, and how it enables Americans to use their moral courage in ways that provide advantages - much like how weapons provide advantages in war.


The use of weapons as a symbol for freedom elicits a sense of dominance and patriotism in the audience. This mood causes the listeners to feel inspired and be reminded of the power their freedom gives them.

addressing someone or some personified abstraction that is not physically present

“As for the enemies of freedom, those who are potential adversaries, they will be reminded that
is the highest aspiration of the American people.
We will negotiate for it, sacrifice for it; we will not surrender for it-- now or ever

In this statement Reagan emphasizes the American ideal of peace over any other concept affecting the country. Peace is the "personified abstraction", and the lengths taken by the American people to achieve it show the importance of peace. He reminds the audience that the first step towards economic stability is maintaining harmony within the country, as well as keeping peace with other countries.

The apostrophe in this statement reminds the American audience of the peace that has been present in America; the apostrophe gives the audience hope and evokes passion to preserve the valued harmony in the country. The apostrophe creates determination in Reagan’s tone and rallies the audience.

The use of a word, phrase, or image in a way not intended by its normal signifcance
A change in standard word order or pattern
Full transcript