• President Barack Obama speaks during his farewell address at McCormick Place in Chicago. (AAP)
US President Barack Obama has delivered a heartfelt and idealistic speech in his final presidential address to the American people.
Kerrie Armstrong

11 Jan - 3:17 PM  UPDATED 11 Jan - 5:10 PM

Outgoing US President Barack Obama avoided any direct shots at his successor Donald Trump and instead called on Americans to uphold their democracy in his final presidential speech.

Speaking from his home town of Chicago, Mr Obama delivered an at time idealistic speech that called on Americans to become more involved in politics and preserve the spirit of the Constitution.

"America is no fragile thing, but the gains of our long journey to freedom are not assured," he said.

"America, we weaken those ties when we allow our political dialogue to become so corrosive that people of good character aren't even willing to enter public service.

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"So coarse with rancour, that Americans with whom we disagree are seen not as misguided but as malevolent.

"We weaken those ties when we define some of us as more American than others, when we write off the whole system as inevitably corrupt, and when we sit back and blame the leaders we elect without examining our own role in electing them."

Mr Obama linked all Americans together in sharing the "most important office in a democracy - citizen".

"That's what our democracy demands. It needs you," he said.

"Not just when there is an election, not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime.

"If you're tired of arguing with strangers on the internet try talking with one of them in real life.

"If something needs fixing, then lace up your shoes and do some organising. 

"If you're disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures and run for office yourself."

In a speech lasting nearly an hour, Mr Obama spoke about the need for bolder action on climate change, for reforms that provided economic equality for all and for all people to broaden their world view in the face of social media and fake news.

"Politics is a battle of ideas. That's how our democracy was designed," he said.

"But without some common baseline of facts, without a willingness to admit new information and concede that your opponent might be making a fair point, and that science and reason matter, then we're going to keep talking past each other and we'll make common ground and compromise impossible."

He also tackled the race relations and that have in recent months threatened the fabric of American society, in one of the few veiled barbs towards the divisive politics against immigrants and Muslims that helped sweep president-elect Mr Trump to victory.

"Social attitudes often times take generations to changes, but if our democracy is to work the way it should in this increasingly diverse nation, then each one of us need to try to heed the advice of a great character in American fiction, Atticus Finch who said, 'You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it'," he said.

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"For white Americans it means acknowledging ... that when minority groups voice discontent, they're not just engaging in reverse racism or practising political correctness. 

"When they wage peaceful protests, they are not demanding special treatment, but the equal treatment that our founders promised.

"For native-born Americans, it means reminding ourselves that the stereotypes about immigrants today were said almost word for word about the Irish and Italians, and Poles - who it was said were going to destroy the fundamental character of America, and as it turned out America wasn't weakened by the presence of these newcomers.

"These newcomers embraced this nation's creed and this nation was strengthened.

"Regardless of the station that we occupy, we all have to try harder.

"We all have to start with the premise that each of our fellow citizens loves this country just as much as we do, that they value hard work and family, just like we do, that their children are just as curious and hopeful and worthy of love as our own."

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Mr Obama called for Americans to work together as the Trump administration takes power, shouting down boos from the crowd as he called for the “peaceful transfer of power from one freely elected president to the next”.

“I committed to President-elect Trump that my administration would ensure the smoothest possible transition, just as President Bush did for me,” he said.

“Because it's up to all of us to make sure our government can help us meet the many challenges we still face. 

“Only if all of us, regardless of party affiliation or particular interests, have restored the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now. Understand, democracy does not require uniformity.”

In closing his speech, Mr Obama thanked his staff and the army of volunteers and supporters who worked for him over the eights years of his presidency for their work and dedication.

He thanked his Vice President Joe Biden for his support and his friendship, and he also thanked his family with heartfelt tributes, first to his wife, Michelle.

"You took on a role you didn't ask for and you made it your own, with grace and with grit and with style and good humour," Mr Obama said.

"You made the White House a place that belongs to everybody. And a new generation sets its sights higher because it has you as a role model.

"Malia and Sasha, under the strangest of circumstances, you have become two amazing young women, you are smart and you are beautiful, but more importantly you are kind and you are thoughtful and you are full of passion.

"And you bore the burden of years in the spotlight so easily. Of all that I have done in my life, I am most proud to be your dad."

In looking to the future, Mr Obama said he would remain dedicated to preserving American democracy and encouraged all Americans to do the same.

"I am asking you to hold fast to that faith written into our founding documents, that ideal whisper by slaves and abolitionists, that spirit sung by immigrants, and those who march for justice, that creed from those who planted flags from foreign battlefields to the surface of the moon, a creed at the core of every American whose story is not yet written: Yes, we can. Yes we did. Yes we can."

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