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Barack Hussein Obama became the 44th president of the United States on Tuesday before a massive crowd reveling in a moment of profound racial significance, and called on Americans to confront together an economic crisis that he said was caused by “our collective failure to make hard choices.”

Obama spoke just after noon to a sea of cheering people, appearing to number well over a million, who packed the National Mall from the Capitol to the Washington Monument and beyond. Four hours later, at the end of the parade route, he left his car and strolled with his wife along Pennsylvania Avenue on the final steps of a long march to the White House, holding hands and waving to cheering crowds.

In his inaugural address, Obama acknowledged the change his presidency represented, describing himself in his inaugural address as a “man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant.” But although the crowd and the podium around him were full of elated African-Americans, Obama, the first black to become president, did not dwell on that in his speech.

He spoke for about 20 minutes, after taking the oath of office on the same Bible used by Abraham Lincoln at his first inaugural in 1861, emphasizing his determination to unite Americans in confronting both the economic challenges facing him and the continuing fight against terrorism.

The problems, he warned, “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.”

Later, during a luncheon with members of Congress, Obama urged lawmakers to come together “with a sense of purpose and civility and urgency.”

“It doesn’t mean we’re going to agree on everything,” he told the lawmakers, who are already at work on major parts of his agenda. “And I assure you our administration will make mistakes.”

The festive luncheon ended on a subdued note after Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who has brain cancer, was stricken with convulsions and had to be taken to a hospital. Friends of Kennedy, the 76-year-old Massachusetts Democrat, said he was conscious and conversing.

With his wife, Michelle, holding the Bible, Obama, the 47-year-old son of a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Africa, was sworn in by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. a few minutes after noon, a little later than planned, and spoke immediately afterward..

Because the ceremony ran slightly long, Obama did not recite the oath of office until just after noon, the moment when he officially became president. And there was an awkward moment during the swearing-in when Roberts and Obama, who is famed for his elocution, mixed up their words slightly.

In his inaugural address, 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,” Obama said.