President Barack Obama urged Americans to "answer the call of history" and unite as one nation to rid their country of inequality, as he was sworn in for a second term in the White House.
Hailing America's founding principle that all men are created equal as the "star that guides us still", Mr Obama called for the tearing down of barriers to opportunity based on wealth, gender and sexuality.
"For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it."
In a robust 19-minute speech to hundreds of thousands gathered before him in a chilly Washington, the president invoked the country's founders and civil rights pioneers in an effort to inspire a recovery from a recession the ravages of which endure more than three years on.
Insisting that "America's possibilities are limitless" despite its present struggles, Mr Obama demanded "a nation that rewards the effort and determination of every single American" rather than where "freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few".
He repeatedly prefaced his statements with "we the people" – the opening to the US constitution's preamble – in an attempt to inspire unity and to tie his pledges to the hallowed founding document, which Republicans accuse him of disrespecting.
Four years after a notably moderate first inaugural address, Mr Obama struck a sharper political tone, criticising opponents who "substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate".
The president even gestured towards notorious remarks by Mitt Romney, his defeated rival in last November's election, that "47pc" of Americans were government-dependent "victims".
The "commitments" Americans make to paying benefits to the elderly and the poor "do not make us a nation of takers. They free us to take the risks that make this country great", he said.
"We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations," he said, having failed to keep a promise of action in his first term.
Soon after unveiling divisive proposals for a sweeping overhaul of the country's gun laws, Mr Obama said America must ensure the safety of "all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia, to the quiet lanes of Newtown", the Connecticut town where 20 school pupils were massacred last month.
Returning to his demand for equality in opportunity for all Americans, the president reiterated his support for same-sex marriage in uncompromising terms not typically heard in the US capital.
"Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law. For if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well." He went on to repeat his commitment to equal rights for women.
Amid expectations that he will attempt to reform America's chaotic immigration system during his second term, Mr Obama pledged to "find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity". Acknowledging the sharp partisan divide that has gridlocked Washington, Mr Obama declared to his colleagues that "we must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect". Four years after calling in vain for "unity of purpose", he again urged "common effort and common purpose" in the capital.
Speaking on Martin Luther King Day, 50 years after the March On Washington, Mr Obama urged Americans to embody the civil rights hero's credo – "that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth". (© Daily Telegraph, London)