WASHINGON - Barack Hussein Obama became the 44th president of the United States Tuesday, and called on Americans to join him in confronting what he described as an economic crisis caused by greed but also "our collective failure to make hard choices."
"Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real," Mr. Obama said in his inaugural address minutes after he took the oath of office on the same bible used by Abraham Lincoln at his first inaugural in 1861. "They 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."
Mr. Obama, the first African American to serve as president, spoke to a sea of cheering people, hundreds of thousands of Americans packed on the National Mall from the Capitol to beyond the Washington monument. The multitude was filled with black Americans and Mr. Obama's triumph was a special and emotional moment for them.
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 just after noon, a little later than planned, and spoke immediately thereafter..
In his speech, 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 in a prepared copy of his remarks.
The new president also noted the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the "far-reaching network of violence and hatred" that seeks 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."
He 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 ran for stressing 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."
Hundreds of thousands of people packed the National Mall from the West Front of the Capitol to beyond the Washington monument, buttoned up against the freezing chill but projecting a palpable sense of hope as Mr. Obama becomes the first African American to hold the nation's highest elected office. It was the largest inaugural crowd in decades, perhaps the largest ever; the throng and the anticipation began building even before the sun rose.
After his speech, following a carefully designed script that played out all morning, Mr. Obama was to head inside the Capitol and sign nomination papers for the Cabinet members he chose in the weeks following his Nov. 4 victory. The Senate is to confirm some of those new Cabinet secretaries this afternoon, but Republicans planned to delay the confirmation of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state for at least one day.
Mr. Obama, who attended church earlier in the day, had coffee with President Bush and his wife, Laura, and then rode with them in a motorcade to Capitol Hill, will then join Congressional leaders and other dignitaries at a luncheon in Statuary Hall. That will be followed by a review of the troops - his first as commander-in-chief - before he travels back downtown at the front of the inaugural parade, which he will then watch from the reviewing stand at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
The crowd, before noon, was easily well into the hundreds of thousands.
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.
Earlier in the morning, the Obamas went to church, followed by coffee with President and Mrs. Bush.
They 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. Michelle Obama wore a sparkling golden dress and matching coat.
As the Obamas sat in the center of a front row pew, next to Vice President-elect Joseph Biden Jr. and his wife, Jill, the keynote speaker, Bishop T.D. Jakes of the Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, read a Biblical passage from Daniel 3:19. He then offered some lessons clearly aimed both to brace and hearten the president-elect: "In time of crisis, good men must stand up"; "You cannot change what you will not confront," and "You cannot enjoy the light without enduring the heat."
Shortly before 10 a.m., the Obamas arrived at the White House, accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. Biden. 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.
Aides said Mr. Obama was expected to emphasize personal responsibility in his speech.
"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.
The crowd that stretched down the mall was festive and enthusiastic. They were bundled against the cold, with the temperature just above 20 degrees at 9 a.m., and the forecast calling for it to remain in the low 30s.
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.
To win the presidency, he defeated Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who will become his secretary of state, 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," Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina, the No. 3 Democrat in the House and the highest ranking black lawmaker in Congress, said on Tuesday morning.
Responding to warnings that the huge crowd could cause long waits and security screen checkpoints, people packed Washington's subway trains by 5:30 a.m., filling all the parking lots at the outer stations; the subways had carried more than 400,000 riders by 8 a.m. An accident halted service on one of the main lines around 10 a.m.
Shortly after 7 a.m., as the sun rose above the Capitol dome, there was a glittering burst of flash-bulbs as the teeming crowd collectively snapped thousands of photos of the dramatic moment. Around the Capitol, ticket gates opened for the long lines that were already waiting.
Before long the Mall was packed with people for as far as the eye could see; by 9 a.m the eastern half of the Mall, closer to the Capitol, was completely full. Large crowds continued to stream in on foot from many blocks away, heading to the area near the Washington Monument. On the East Front, where the swearing in of the president used to occur, Marine One was parked in the plaza, ready to be re-designated for the flight taking President Bush and Mrs. Bush to the airport.
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 the President Obama's seat at the center of the dais.