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History Book: 'Fresh faith in an old dream'

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WORLD Radio - History Book: 'Fresh faith in an old dream'

Over forty years ago, key speeches from Jimmy Carter’s presidency


President Jimmy Carter, pictured on television he spoke to the nation from the Oval Office in Washington on July 15, 1979, as he asks the country to “join hands” to solve the nation’s energy problems. Associated Press Photo

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, February 27th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Next up, the WORLD History Book. Last week, the Carter Center announced that former US President Jimmy Carter had entered hospice care. At 98, Carter has lived longer after leaving the White House than any former president in U.S. history. Today we’ll hear highlights from a handful of his speeches given during his presidency. Here’s Paul Butler.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: James Earl Carter Jr. was a Naval officer, peanut farmer, democrat Georgia state senator and governor before narrowly winning election against incumbent President Gerald Ford in 1976. Carter served as the 39th president of the United States from 1977 to 1981.

Our first speech excerpt comes from January 20th, 1977. It was a very cold, clear day as the newly inaugurated president addressed the nation:

CARTER: Here before me is the Bible used in the inauguration of our first President, in 1789, and I have just taken the oath of office on the Bible my mother gave me a few years ago, opened to a timeless admonition from the ancient prophet Micah: "He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God." (Micah 6:8)...

Taking a page from Franklin D. Roosevelt, Carter hosted his first Fireside Chat broadcast on February 2nd, 1977—just days after taking office. The top agenda item was the energy crisis that would define his presidency.

CARTER: I would like to tell you now about one of the things that I have already learned in my brief time in office. I have learned that there are many things that a President cannot do. There is no energy policy that we can develop that would do more good than voluntary conservation. There is no economic policy that will do as much as shared faith in hard work, efficiency, and in the future of our system…

We will always be a nation of differences…but with faith and confidence in each other our differences can be a source of personal fullness and national strength, rather than a cause of weakness and division.

During his presidency Jimmy Carter oversaw the creation of the United States Department of Energy and the Department of Education. He signed The Camp David Accords—normalizing relations between Israel and Egypt. He also signed a treaty that promised to hand over control of the Panama Canal to Panama. And he entered into a nuclear arms reduction treaty with the USSR. But domestically, his administration was plagued with rising inflation and economic recession.

On July 15th, 1979, President Carter was going to speak to the nation for the fifth time on the energy crisis, but gave this speech instead on the crisis of confidence facing the nation.

CARTER: I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy. I do not mean our political and civil liberties. They will endure. And I do not refer to the outward strength of America, a nation that is at peace tonight everywhere in the world, with unmatched economic power and military might.

The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our Nation…

Our people are losing that faith, not only in government itself but in the ability as citizens to serve as the ultimate rulers and shapers of our democracy. As a people we know our past and we are proud of it. Our progress has been part of the living history of America, even the world. We always believed that we were part of a great movement of humanity itself called democracy, involved in the search for freedom, and that belief has always strengthened us in our purpose. But just as we are losing our confidence in the future, we are also beginning to close the door on our past…

The last year of President Carter’s term was overshadowed by the Iran hostage crisis which lasted 444 days…Ronald Reagan soundly defeated Carter in the 1980 election. The hostages were released the day Reagan was inaugurated.

One week before leaving office, Jimmy Carter gave his farewell address…January 14th, 1981:

CARTER: America did not invent human rights. In a very real sense, it's the other way around. Human rights invented America. Ours was the first nation in the history of the world to be founded explicitly on such an idea. Our social and political progress has been based on one fundamental principle: the value and importance of the individual.

Remember these words: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

This vision still grips the imagination of the world. But we know that democracy is always an unfinished creation. Each generation must renew its foundations. Each generation must rediscover the meaning of this hallowed vision in the light of its own modern challenges.

That’s this week’s WORLD History Book. I’m Paul Butler.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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