Ronald Reagan used his first inaugural address to attempt to revive America’s confidence in the Constitution, the Founding Fathers, and the individual; to advocate a revival of self-government by limiting the power of the state. His election came at a time when Americans’ faith in government was at a low ebb and the audience was ripe for this message. The resignation in disgrace of President Nixon followed by the ineffectual Ford and Carter administrations, runaway inflation, gas shortages, and the Iran hostage crisis had left Americans bitter and dissatisfied.
“From time to time,” Reagan said, “we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people.” No, he asserted, the individual must never be subordinate to the state. “Our government,” he said, “has no power except that granted it by the people.” He declared that “it is time to check and reverse the growth of government which shows signs of having grown beyond the consent of the governed.”
Speaking almost in response to Roosevelt’s first inaugural address, which called for an activist government, Reagan railed against what had become of American liberalism. He championed self-reliance, limited government, and individual freedom in this famous sound bite: “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Later that year, his administration introduced the centerpiece of Reaganomics: the largest across-the-board tax cut in American history, which spurred economic growth, led him to re-election in 1984, and fueled support of free markets.