Declaring "our journey is not complete," President Barack Obama took the oath of office for his second term before a crowd of hundreds of thousands Monday, urging the nation to set an unwavering course toward prosperity and freedom for all its citizens and protect the social safety net that has sheltered the poor, elderly and needy.
"Our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it," Obama said in his relatively brief, 18-minute address. "We believe that America's prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class," he added, echoing his calls from the presidential campaign.
The president declared that a decade of war is ending, as is the economic recession that consumed much of his first term.
The inaugural fanfare spread across the capital Monday, with a joyful parade down Pennsylvania Avenue and two glitzy inaugural balls in the evening.
Before diving into the afternoon celebrations, Obama previewed an ambitious second-term agenda, devoting several sentences in his address to the threat of global climate change and saying that failure to confront it "would betray our children and future generations."
In an era of looming budget cuts, he said the nation has a commitment to costly programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. "These things do not sap our initiative, they strengthen us," he said.
Sandwiched between the presidential campaign and fiscal fights, Monday's inaugural celebrations marked a brief respite from the partisan gridlock that has consumed the past two years. Perhaps seeking a fresh start, Obama invited several lawmakers to the White House for coffee before his speech.
Among then was the Senate's top Republican, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. In a statement following Obama's swearing-in, McConnell said the president's second term represents "a fresh start when it comes to dealing with the great challenges of our day."
Obama implored Congress to find common ground over the next four years. And seeking to build on the public support that sent him to the White House twice, the president said the public has "the obligation to shape the debates of our time."
Obama soaked in the history on a day full of traditions. Gazing over the crowd, he said, "I want to take a look, one more time. I'm not going to see this again."
Once the celebrations subside, Obama will be confronted with an array of pressing priorities: an economy still struggling to fully recover, fiscal fights with a divided Congress, and new threats of terrorism in North Africa. The president has also pledged to tackle immigration reform and stricter gun laws
Asserting "America's possibilities are limitless," he declared at the Capitol: "My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it, so long as we seize it together."
"We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit," he said. "But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future."
Obama's second inaugural lacked the electric enthusiasm of his first, when 1.8 million people crammed onto the National Mall to witness the swearing-in of the nation's first black president. But the crowd still stretched from the Capitol to the Washington Monument.
Security was tight across Washington, with streets closed off for blocks around the White House and Capitol Hill.
David Richardson of Atlanta and his two young children were among the early-goers who headed to the Mall before sunrise.
"We wanted to see history, I think, and also for the children to witness that anything is possible through hard work," Richardson said.
By 8 a.m., thousands of people were waiting in lines that stretched a block to gain access to the spots along the parade route that were accessible to the general public without a special ticket.
The cold weather was easily tolerated by Marie-France Lemaine of Montreal, who received the trip to the inaugural as a birthday present from her husband.
"The American president affects the rest of the world," she said.