Obama: 'America's possibilities are limitless'

President Barack Obama's speech highlighted a busy day of inauguration festivities that also included a parade and glitzy evening balls.

WASHINGTON — Before hundreds of thousands of well-wishers at the National Mall in front of the Capitol and millions more watching on television, Barack Obama was sworn in Monday for his second term as president. "America's possibilities are limitless," he declared in his inauguration speech, urging the nation to set a course toward prosperity and freedom for all its citizens.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath of office on a chilly day steeped in glitz, glamour and tradition.

“I Barack Hussein Obama 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, so help me God,” Obama repeated, his hand on two Bibles.

Obama aimed for an optimistic tone as he delivered an inaugural address to a nation seeking solutions to economic woes at home and conflict overseas. He started the speech by reinvoking the foundational principles of the Republic — and asking people to hear him.

Video: Obama gives his second inauguration speech 

"A decade of war is now ending.  An economic recovery has begun.  America's possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention," Obama declared in his 18-minute address. "My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it  so long as we seize it together."

He closed: "You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time  not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals. 

"Let each of us now embrace, with solemn duty and awesome joy, what is our lasting birthright.  With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom."

Following his swearing-in, Obama headed to the Capitol to sign nominations for several Cabinet members and to attend the traditional luncheon with lawmakers.

Then it was off to the traditional inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. Obama started the carefully choreographed 1.5-mile route between the Capitol and the White House in his presidential limousine.

Boisterous cheers and camera flashes erupted as the president and his wife got out of their vehicle along Pennsylvania Avenue and walked hand in hand, enthusiastically waving to spectators behind barriers on both sides of the street.

Photos from the parade

The Obamas got back into their vehicle, popularly referred to as "The Beast," to continue the route. They got out again near the end of the route and walked the final leg toward the White House, where they sat to watch the parade from a viewing stand.

Vice President Joe Biden also energized the crowd, at times jogging from one section to another to hug youngsters and greet well-wishers along the end of the route.

Two glitzy evening inaugural balls capped the president's day of scheduled festivities.

Related: Obama's inaugural parade is a lively second act

Monday was actually the fourth time Obama took the oath of office. Obama had a private swearing-in on Sunday. At his historic Jan. 20, 2009, inauguration, Roberts flubbed the oath, so Obama was forced to take a "do-over" oath with the chief justice the next day.

Obama's swearing-in came after Biden was sworn in for a second term by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

The inauguration ceremony was a star-studded affair filled with traditional pomp and pageantry. Beyoncé delivered a stirring rendition of the national anthem, James Taylor performed "America the Beautiful" and Kelly Clarkson sang "My Country 'Tis of Thee."

Related: Highlights of Obama's speech

Obama kicked off the day of prayer, pledges and parties for the 57th presidential inauguration by attending a church service. The president and his family, along with Biden, arrived at St. John's Episcopal Church on a crisp and clear morning in the nation's capital. Known as "The Church of the Presidents," St. John's is located just across from the White House on the other side of Lafayette Park.

The mood surrounding Obama's second inaugural was more subdued than it was four years ago, when the swearing-in of the nation's first black president drew 1.8 million people to the Mall. Still, organizers were expecting up to 700,000 to attend Monday's events, which would make it the largest second-term inaugural in history.

Security was tight across Washington, with several streets near the White House and Capitol Hill closed off. Humvees and city buses were being used to block intersections. Volunteers fanned out near the Mall to help direct the crowds.

Related: Full transcript of Obama's speech

David Richardson of Atlanta and his two young children were among the early crowds heading to the National Mall Monday even 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.

Wendy Davis of Rome, Ga., was one of thousands of inaugural attendees who packed Metro trains before sunrise headed for the Capitol and parade route. Davis came four years ago as well but was among the many ticketholders who couldn't get in because of the massive crowds. She was determined to get in this time.

"I thought I was early last time but I obviously wasn't early enough," she said.

Video: Obama sworn in for second term

Monday's oath was purely ceremonial. The president was officially sworn in shortly before noon on Sunday, in keeping with the Constitution's mandate that presidents begin their new term on Jan. 20. But because inaugural ceremonies are historically not held on Sundays, the public celebration was pushed to Monday, coinciding with the birthday of late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

On Sunday, Obama placed his hand on a Bible used for years by Michelle Obama's family. On Monday, he took the oath using two — one owned by King and one by Abraham Lincoln.

Washington largely shelved its partisan fighting for the three days of inaugural celebrations. But pressing matters await Obama as he starts his second term, including three looming fiscal deadlines. He'll also need help from a reluctant Congress if he hopes to fulfill his promise to sign comprehensive immigration reform and tighten gun laws in the wake of last month's school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this story.

 

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