Barack Hussein Obama became the 44th president of the United States on Tuesday before a massive crowd reveling in a moment of historical significance, and called on Americans to confront together an economic crisis that he said was caused by “our collective failure to make hard choices.”
Mr. Obama spoke just after noon to a sea of cheering people, appearing to number well over a million, who packed the National Mall from the Capitol to the Washington Monument and beyond. Four hours later, at the end of the parade route, he left his car and strolled with his wife along Pennsylvania Avenue on the final steps of a long march to the White House, holding hands and waving to cheering crowds.
In his inaugural address, Mr. Obama acknowledged the change his presidency represented, describing himself in his inaugural address as a “man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant.” But although the crowd and the podium around him were full of elated African Americans, Mr. Obama, the first black to become president, did not dwell on that in his speech.
He spoke for about 20 minutes, after taking the oath of office on the same Bible used by Abraham Lincoln at his first inaugural in 1861, emphasizing his determination to unite Americans in confronting both the economic challenges facing him and the continuing fight against terrorism.
The problems, he warned, “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.”
Later, during a luncheon with members of Congress, Mr. Obama urged lawmakers to come together “with a sense of purpose and civility and urgency.”
“It doesn’t mean we’re going to agree on everything,” he told the lawmakers, who are already at work on major parts of his agenda. “And I assure you our administration will make mistakes.”
The festive luncheon ended on a subdued note after Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who has brain cancer, was stricken with convulsions. Hours later, the chairman of neurosurgery at the Washington Hospital Center said Mr. Kennedy, the 76-year-old Massachusetts Democrat, had suffered a seizure from “simple fatigue,” but was awake and “feeling well” and would be released in the morning.
With his wife, Michelle, holding the Bible, Mr. Obama, the 47-year-old son of a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Africa, was sworn in by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.a few minutes after noon, a little later than planned, and spoke immediately afterward..
Because the ceremony ran slightly long, Mr. Obama did not recite the oath of office until just after noon, the moment when he officially became president. And there was an awkward moment during the swearing-in when Justice Roberts and Mr. Obama, who is famed for his elocution, mixed up their words slightly.
In his inaugural address, Mr. Obama promised to take ““bold and swift”“ action to restore the economy by creating jobs through public works projects, improving education, promoting alternative energy and relying on new technology.
“Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America,” Mr. Obama said.
Hours later, the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, signed a memorandum sent to agencies and departments to stop all pending regulations until a legal and policy review could be conducted by the Obama administration.
Turning to foreign affairs, the new president made note the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the “far-reaching network of violence and hatred” that seek to harm the country. He used strong language in pledging to confront terrorism, nuclear proliferation and other threats from abroad, saying to the nation’s enemies, “you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.“
But he also signaled a clean break from some of the Bush administration’s policies on national security. “As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals,” he said, adding that the United States is “ready to lead once more.”
The poet Elizabeth Alexander, in a speech following the swearing in, paid tribute to the contributions of working Americans and slaves.
“Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of,” she said.
Former President Bill Clinton, making his way through the Capitol after the ceremony, called the speech thoughtful, weighty and well-delivered.
“It’s obviously historic because President Obama is the first African American president, but it’s more than that,” Mr. Clinton said. “This is a time when we’re clearly making a new beginning. It’s a country of repeated second chances and new beginnings.”
In his speech, Mr. Obama acknowledged that some are skeptical of his ability to fulfill the hope that many have in his ability to move the nation in a new direction.
“What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply,” said Mr. Obama, who in his campaign emphasized a commitment to reduce partisanship. “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.”
After the speech, Mr. Obama escorted Mr. Bush to the East Front of the Capitol, where a helicopter was waiting to take the former president and his wife to Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington for a return trip to Texas.
After seeing Mr. Bush off, Mr. Obama went back inside the Capitol to sign nomination papers for his cabinet choices and to attend a traditional luncheon in Statuary Hall, the original chamber of the House of Representatives.
After lunch, the Senate got back to business, and by unanimous consent confirmed the appointments of seven cabinet secretaries: Steven Chu, secretary of energy; Arne Duncan, secretary of education; Janet Napolitano, for homeland security, Peter Orszag as director of the Office of Management and Budget; Ken Salazar as secretary of the interior; Eric K. Shinseki as secretary of veterans affairs; and Tom Vilsack as secretary of agriculture.
At the same time, Senate Republicans delayed the confirmation of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state for at least a day because of concerns about potential conflicts of interest posed by possible foreign donors to her husband’s foundation..
It was after 3:30 before Mr. Obama made his way down Pennsylvania Avenue to view the parade through sidewalks still packed with people, some of whom had been there for eight hours.
At the peak of the celebration, at least a million people — it was impossible to count — packed the National Mall from the West Front of the Capitol to beyond the Washington Monument, buttoning up against the freezing chill but projecting a palpable sense of hope. It was the largest inaugural crowd in decades, perhaps the largest ever; the throng and the anticipation began building even before the sun rose.
As the crowds gathered, Mr. Obama and his wife — who attended a church earlier in the day — had coffee with President Bush and his wife, Laura, and then rode with them to Capitol Hill for the swearing in.
Even before the sun rose or the mercury rose to the freezing point, people had streamed from all directions to the West Front of the Capitol, making their way on foot and by mass transit, since traffic was barred from a wide area around the grounds and the National Mall for security and to prevent gridlock.
Given the historic nature of Mr. Obama’s election, black Americans appeared to be much more prevalent in the gathering crowd than at inaugurals of the recent past.
The Obamas left Blair House at 8:47 a.m. for the short drive in their new presidential Cadillac limousine to St. John’s Episcopal Church, just a few blocks away, for a prayer service. Mr. Obama wore a dark suit and red tie.
Shortly before 10 a.m., the Obamas arrived at the White House, accompanied by Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden and his wife, Jill. The Obamas were met at the door by the Bushes. The two men shook hands and with their wives posed for a picture before going inside for a traditional coffee and a final few moments for the Bushes in the home they have occupied the past eight years.
Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama left the White House at 10:47 and, pausing only momentarily for photographers, entered the limousine that would take them to the Capitol. They arrived there 10 minutes later.
Inside the Capitol, staffers were scurrying about putting the final touches on the Inaugural Luncheon in Statuary Hall. The corridor leading to the House chamber had been transformed into staging grounds for the caterers, with huge serving tins of beets and green vegetables. Outside the House chamber, were dozens of cases of Korbel Champagne.
The tables were set with large centerpieces of red roses. And a lectern, fashioned from a brass statue of a bald eagle, was positioned behind the dais. Decorators were making final adjustments to the lighting of “View of Yosemite Valley” an 1885 painting by Thomas Hill that was positioned directly behind President Obama’s seat at the center of the dais.
“He is going to be counting on the American people to come together,” Colin Powell, the former military leader and secretary of state, said in an appearance on MSNBC on Tuesday morning. “We all have to do something to help the country move forward under the leadership of this new president.”
As a black American who grew up in a segregated nation, Mr. Powell said the inauguration was looming as a powerful and emotional moment for African Americans. “You almost start tearing up,” he said.
Mr. Obama’s assumption of the presidency caps a remarkable rise for a man first elected to national office in 2004, winning a Senate seat in a year when he also delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in Boston.
After a big Democratic field narrowed to just two, he defeated Senator Clinton of New York in a pitched presidential primary battle and then beat Senator John McCain of Arizona in a general election conducted against the backdrop of a national economic collapse.
Though Mr. Obama did not emphasize his African American heritage as a candidate, the symbolism was evident and was reinforced by the fact that the swearing in was taking place the day following the national holiday to mark the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King. He will take office less than a month before the bicentennial of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, another Illinoisan who took the office at a time of national turmoil and a man whom Mr. Obama clearly looks to as an inspiration for his own presidency.
“Today is about validation of the dream Dr. King enunciated 45 years ago on the steps on the Lincoln Memorial,” said Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina, the No. 3 Democrat in the House and the highest ranking black congressman.