WASHINGTON, Jan 20: “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect,” said Barack Husain Obama after he took oath as America’s 44th president.
Over two million people watched as Mr Obama, as America’s first African-American president, etched his name on “the hard stone of history”, in the words of Congresswoman Dianne Feinstein who introduced him.
And four miles ahead of Mr Obama — over the heads of the people who had come to see history unfold — shimmered the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
It was on these steps, on Aug 28, 1963, that civil rights leader Martin Luther King had shared his dreams with another generation of Americans for an America free of racism.
And beyond those steps is the memorial for the man — Abraham Lincoln — who abolished slavery.
Mr Obama remembered both. “Our founding fathers faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations,” he said.
And the crowd cheered. Many of the people had spent the night in the open, braving subzero temperature on the green fields of Washington National Mall, which starts from the US Capitol, halts midway for the Washington Memorial and rolls down to the Lincoln Memorial.
They were here all night to listen to Mr Obama. Many cried openly as he came to take oath, others were seen wiping off their tears discreetly. But all seemed happy to welcome a change that they hope will not only change America but also usher in a new era of peace and prosperity to the rest of the world.
“We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers,” said Mr Obama. “We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; united not by religion, race or language but by our freedom.”
While he extended a hand of peace to the Muslim world, he also heralded a warning to the militants.
“To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame their society’s ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy,” he said.
“To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”
He also promised to work with the poor nation help elevate their poverty.
“To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds,” he said.
Mr Obama also had a word of advice for other prosperous nations. “And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders, nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect,” he said. “For the world has changed, and we must change with it.”
Mr Obama also remembered that all was not well either with America or with the rest of the world and that his nation expected him to, first of all, end its economic woes.
“Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms,” he said. “Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly, our schools fail too many, and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.”
He warned: “These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable, but no less profound, is a sapping of confidence across our land; a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights.”
But America’s first black president promised to overcome these problems with the help of his nation.
“Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real, they are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America: They will be met,” he said.
The ceremony began with the arrival of the guests, among them three former presidents, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, followed by the outgoing president George W. Bush.
Some of them, particularly Mr Clinton, received a standing ovation from the crowd but the cheers were not very loud for the two Bushes.
Then came the vice president-elect, Joe Biden and his family followed by Mr Obama’s children and then Michelle Obama in a stunning Isabel Toledo dress.
As they were seated, Congresswoman Feinstein, invited Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, to bless the ceremony.
After a song by Aretha Franklin, who also sang at President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration, Mr Biden was sworn in by Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.
The third musical interlude featured composer John Williams, violinist Itzhak Perlman, cellist Yo-Yo-Ma, pianist Gabriela Montero and clarinetist Anthony McGill.
Then Mr Obama and John Roberts, the US Supreme Court’s Chief Justice, took centre stage. The swearing-in duties were Justice Roberts’ first, making him the 14th chief justice to swear in a president.
Mr Obama, placing his hand on Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural Bible, recited the same oath as his 43 predecessors: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”