PHILADELPHIA — Hillary Clinton became the first woman in America’s 240-year history to accept the presidential nomination from a major political party Thursday night, saying that the country is “once again at a moment of reckoning” as she delivered the most important speech of her decades-long political career.
“It is with humility, determination, and boundless confidence in America’s promise that I accept your nomination for president of the United States,” Clinton said.
“Tonight, we’ve reached a milestone in our nation’s march toward a more perfect union,” she added, hitting an optimistic tone. “When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit.”
Sparks flew off the stands on the sides of the stage after she finished her remarks, a pyrotechnic display designed to electrify the crowd of thousands packed into the Wells Fargo Center in south Philadelphia. Then thousands of red, white, and blue balloons slowly floated from the ceiling, marking the traditional end of the convention.
Clinton’s speech capped a week of powerful speeches from some of the biggest names in the Democratic Party. It all built to the moment marking not only a pinnacle for Clinton personally, but a landmark advance for women generally. Less than 100 years ago, women didn’t have the right to vote in the United States, much less compete to lead the nation.
Clinton is used to this kind of attention. She redefined the role of presidential spouse, then became the first first lady to be elected to the Senate. She then went to work for a rival, as President Obama’s secretary of state, after failing to clinch the nomination eight years ago.
She’s never made her path to this moment look easy. A majority of Americans don’t trust her. She’s uncomfortable in front of news cameras. She has been dogged by scandals — including her use of a private e-mail server while she led the State Department. She has acknowledged she lacks the political gifts of her husband and does not naturally connect with an audience.
But she had a packed Wells Fargo Center pulling for her during her acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. Despite the late hour of Clinton’s speech, there were a notable number of children on convention floor brought by their parents to witness the historic event.
Clinton seemed to savor her entrance, waving to supporters sitting close and far, repeatedly placing her hand to her heart. Members of the audience waved thousands of American flags, creating a patriotic backdrop.
In her remarks, Clinton sought to define the stakes of the election.
“Powerful forces are threatening to pull us apart,” Clinton said. “Bonds of trust and respect are fraying. And just as with our Founders there are no guarantees. It truly is up to us. We have to decide whether we’re going to work together so we can all rise together.”
She pitched herself as someone who would focus her well-known work ethic to lift up regular people — even those who might never support her.
“I will be a president for Democrats, Republicans, and independents,” she said. “For the struggling, the striving and the successful. For those who vote for me and those who don’t. For all Americans.”
A smattering of people who supported Senator Bernie Sanders, her chief rival for the nomination, held up small signs supporting Jill Stein, a Lexington, Mass., physician running for president as a Green Party candidate. The sea of waving American flags and “Hillary” placards made them hard to pick out.
Early in the address Clinton reached out to these supporters as the Vermont senator sat stone-faced in the audience. “Bernie, your campaign inspired millions of Americans, particularly the young people who threw their hearts and souls into our primary,” Clinton said. “You’ve put economic and social justice issues front and center, where they belong.”
And she took aim at Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who is running on the idea that he would return America to a time of previous strength.
“Don’t let anyone tell you that our country is weak,” Clinton said. “We’re not. Don’t let anyone tell you we don’t have what it takes. We do. And most of all, don’t believe anyone who says: ‘I alone can fix it.’ ”
“Those were actually Donald Trump’s words in Cleveland,” she said. “And they should set off alarm bells for all of us.”
Clinton also addressed the uncertain times, of repeated terror attacks and gun violence, and contrasted herself with Trump.
“Imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis,’’ she said. “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.”
Trump fired off a series of tweets after the convention ended, saying that Clinton won’t live up to her promise of Wall Street reform, doesn’t understand the threats the nation faces from foreign actors, and would hurt working people.
“Hillary’s vision is a borderless world where working people have no power, no jobs, no safety,” he wrote.
During the speech Clinton, who is known for her self-confidence and pride, described herself as somebody who will “sweat the details of policy,” casting her love of diving into the weeds of legislation as a crucial part of being a leader.
“It’s not just a detail if it’s your kid, if it’s your family,” she said. “It’s a big deal. And it should be a big deal to your president.”
Before Clinton took the stage Katy Perry performed “Rise” and her hit “Roar.” Audience members held up their cellphones with the flashlight on causing the arena to sparkle. It was part of a presentation that included choreography and stagecraft that far surpassed the final night of the Republican National Convention.
Clinton was introduced by her daughter, Chelsea, continuing a theme that the Republicans used last week of highlighting the candidate’s offspring as evidence of strong values. Chelsea relayed some personal anecdotes, trying to offer the human side of her mother that is so often missing.
“I’ve seen her at the low points, like the summer of 1994,” her daughter said. “Several people this week have mentioned her fight for universal health care. I saw it up close. It was bruising and exhausting.”
“I’m voting for a fighter who never, ever gives up and who always believes we can do better, if we come together and work together,” she said.
Chelsea Clinton introduces Hillary Clinton at the 2016 Democratic National Convention
The evening’s program was designed carefully to spotlight Clinton and only Clinton.
She took the stage after a 12-minute video produced by Betsy Beers and prime-time television superstar Shonda Rhimes, who is known for her network dramas focused on strong women. The gauzy film was narrated by Morgan Freeman and included interviews with people who have had touching encounters with Clinton.
Watching from a box on stage left that was constructed overnight was Bill Clinton along with friends including Betsy Ebeling, who has known Hillary Clinton since the two were in sixth grade together.
The energy built particularly as the program turned to the military, which typically isn’t an area Democrats highlight.
Several dozen military leaders stood on stage as retired General John Allen, who led troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, delivered a resounding endorsement of Clinton.
“With her as our commander in chief, our international relations will not be reduced to a business transaction,” said the retired four-star general, as the crowd chanted U-S-A and a giant American flag waved.
“Our armed forces will not become an instrument of torture,” he said, a direct rebuke to Trump, who has proposed restoring enhanced interrogation techniques for terror suspects.
Earlier in the evening, the audience heard from Jennifer Pierotti Lim, director of health policy at the US Chamber of Commerce, one of the most powerful business lobbies in Washington. The group has spent tens of millions in recent cycles to elect Republicans to Congress.
“In Donald Trump’s America, it doesn’t matter what I’ve accomplished as an attorney and policy expert. All that matters is how attractive I am on a scale of one to 10,” said Lim, who in May cofounded a “Republican Women for Hillary” group.
Democratic women in the Senate each took a turn at a podium, with Senator Elizabeth Warren speaking last in the group.
“Hillary Clinton knows how to fight back against dangerous, loudmouth bullies,” Warren said. “For 25 years she’s been on the receiving end of one attack after another. She doesn’t back down, she doesn’t whine.’’
Sanders supporters also offered a visible reminder of their strength. Many wore yellow neon T-shirts that stood out in the sea of Clinton boosters.
But even some of Sanders’ longtime backers acknowledged the significance of Clinton’s moment Thursday.
“As a woman, I fully appreciate what she did regardless of how she did it,” said Oklahoma state Senator Connie Johnson, one of the few superdelegates who supports Sanders. “She pulled it off. I have to give her props for that.”Annie Linskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @annielinskey.