Barack Obama stood before a hushed nation today, raised his right hand and recited the 39-word oath to make history as the 44th president of the United States and the first African-American to assume the Oval Office.
Obama's historic moment -- and one that is a milestone for the nation -- was witnessed by an estimated 1.9 million throng on the National Mall, which erupted into cheers and a blizzard of American flags as he uttered the words "so help me God" at the conclusion of the oath. A military band launched into "Hail to the Chief" and tears streaked the faces of many in the delighted crowd.
That exuberance pervaded a day of pageantry starting with Obama's inaugural address and continuing through the parade in which hundreds of thousands waved, took pictures and called out to the president with unflagging enthusiasm.
When Obama twice emerged from his presidential limo with a big smile on his face, the cheers surged into a crescendo. The president was joined by his wife Michelle as they strolled a few blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue, waving to the screaming crowds on both sides of the avenue and at times holding hands.
Before taking center stage alone, Obama gave his predecessor, now former President George Bush, a final handshake as the 43rd president and his wife, Laura, boarded a chopper to make their way to their new home in Texas. The Obamas along with Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill waved as the chopper took the Bushes into retirement.
The one moment tinged with sadness occurred when Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass, an instrumental supporter in Obama's election suffered a seizure and collapsed during a celebratory luncheon in Statuary Hall in the Capitol. Kennedy, 76, who was diagnosed with malignant brain cancer in May was taken to a hospital by ambulance.
In addition to Kennedy, Sen. Robert Byrd, 91, of West Virginia was also removed from the hall by wheelchair, apparently distraught over Kennedy's collapse. Kennedy was later reported to be in stable condition.
Obama entered the history books with his hand on a Bible that was held by his wife, Michelle, and was once used by the sixteenth president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.
When taking the oath of office, Obama used his full name, Barack Hussein Obama, including his middle name that was rarely used during the campaign except by his enemies.
Obama's unflappable demeanor showed slight cracks when he failed to suppress a grin in the moments before his swearing in and then when he was briefly tripped up by Chief Justice John Roberts, who flubbed part of the oath he was administering.
The crowd, enduring a cold but sunny day, was thrilled by the changing of the guard and broke into chants of "Obama, Obama." But the 47-year-old president quickly turned serious.
He called the nation to an "era of responsibility" and told an America faced with an economic crisis and two wars, "Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America."
Striking a more dour tone than those of his speeches on the campaign trail, Obama said the country faced a crisis of confidence as much as a crisis of the economy.