WASHINGTON — Turning the page on years of war and recession, President Barack Obama summoned a divided nation Monday to act with "passion and dedication" to broaden equality and prosperity at home, nurture democracy around the world and combat global warming for generations to come as he embarked on a second term before a vast and cheering crowd that spilled down the historic National Mall.
"America's possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands," the 44th president declared in a second inaugural address that broke new ground by assigning gay rights a prominent place in the wider struggle for equality for all.
In a unity plea to politicians and the nation at large, he called for "collective action" to confront challenges and said, "Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time — but it does require us to act in our time."
Elected four years ago as America's first black president, Obama spoke from specially constructed flag-bedecked stands outside the Capitol after reciting oath of office that all presidents have uttered since the nation's founding.
The events highlighted a day replete with all the fanfare that a security-minded capital could muster — from white-gloved Marine trumpeters who heralded the arrival of dignitaries on the inaugural stands to the mid-winter orange flowers that graced the tables at a traditional lunch with lawmakers inside the Capitol.
The weather was relatively warm, in the mid-40s, and while the crowd was not as large as on Inauguration Day four years ago, it was counted in the hundreds of thousands.
Big enough that he turned around as he was leaving the inaugural stands to savor the view one final time.
"I'm not going to see this again," said the man whose political career has been meteoric — from the Illinois Legislature to the U.S. Senate and the White House before marking his 48th birthday.
On a day of renewal for democracy, everyone seemed to have an opinion, and many seemed eager to share it.
"I'm just thankful that we've got another four years of democracy that everyone can grow in," said Wilbur Cole, 52, a postman from suburban Memphis, Tenn., who spent part of the day visiting the civil rights museum there at the site where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. The inauguration this year shared the day with King's birthday holiday.
Less upbeat, Frank Pinto, 62, watched on television at a bar in Hartford, Conn., as the president was sworn in and spoke. An unemployed construction contractor, he said that because of Obama's policies, "My grandkids will be in debt and their kids will be in debt."
The tone was less overtly political in the nation's capital, where bipartisanship was on the menu in the speechmaking and at the congressional lunch.
"Congratulations and Godspeed," House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, said to Obama and Vice President Joe Biden as he presented them with flags that had flown atop the Capitol.