Ever the dutiful soldier, John Kerry delivered the most painful speech of his life yesterday, choking back the tears and the bitter aftertaste of defeat as he appealed to fellow Democrats - and his rival George Bush - to work to heal America's divide.
Amid the raw emotions that occasionally overwhelmed him, forcing Mr Kerry to gaze up at the ceiling for composure, the senator apologised to his dejected supporters for coming up short, but said it was time to admit defeat.
He had done so in a brief phone call to President Bush earlier in the morning, praising his opponent, but urging him to heal the divisions in the country.
It was a theme he took up in his concession speech, saying it was imperative to banish the rancour of the past four years - especially while America remained at war.
"In the days ahead, we must find common cause," Mr Kerry said. "We must join in common effort, without remorse or recrimination, without anger or rancour. America is in need of unity and longing for a larger measure of compassion.
"I hope President Bush will advance those values in the coming years."
It was, in many ways, Mr Kerry's finest appearance - the flinty New Englander's feelings on full display for perhaps the first time in his candidacy.
And it was when he spoke directly to his supporters, some tearful, some defiant, all deflated, that his voice choked.
But for all the anguish and agonising, he stressed that the legal challenges that beset the 2000 election had no place here.
"In America, it is vital that every vote counts and that every vote be counted, but the outcome should be decided by voters, not a protracted legal fight," Mr Kerry said.
"I would not have given up this fight if there was a chance we would prevail, but it is now clear that if all the provisional ballots were counted, which they will be, there won't be enough outstanding votes for us to win Ohio, and therefore we can't win the election."
It was the end of an odyssey and the feeling of deflation was palpable. Some spoke wearily of leaving the country, others vowed to stay and maintain the fight.
It was a far cry from the euphoria of a few hours earlier, when Mr Kerry's running mate, John Edwards, had told the crowd in the dark hours of Wednesday morning that they would "continue to fight for every vote".
For several hours, it seemed that this election would be a rerun of the 2000 vote - albeit with a change in venue from Florida to Ohio - with recounts, and legal challenges, and no clear election victory for days to come.
But in the harsh dawn of the day, it was clear that victory was beyond Mr Kerry's grasp. Even the Democrats' 11th-hour scenario of demanding a count of the provisional ballots cast in Ohio would not bring home the votes that Mr Kerry needed.
After studying the returns, and consulting with Republican as well as Democratic politicians in the state, Mr Kerry's aides advised him to surrender.
The concession speech, delivered in the 18th-century splendour of Boston's Faneuil Hall meeting place, was a rare encounter with failure for Mr Kerry.
The product of a privileged New England upbringing, a graduate of Yale, a Vietnam war hero and husband to two heiresses, Mr Kerry has lost just one election in his political career, and that was around 30 years ago.
But in ending the quest that has consumed him for more than half of his lifetime, the Democratic leader found an eloquence, a connection with ordinariness that has some times eluded him. And while he tried to stage a graceful exit from the presidential race, and was full of praise for his campaign staff, and for the support of American voters, there remained an abiding sense of wistfulness.
The Massachusetts senator, who entered this race with a reputation for thoughtfulness and for enjoying a grasp of complex issues, somehow was never able to communicate his strengths to the ordinary American voter.
"I did my best to express my vision and my hopes for America," he said. "I wish things had turned out differently."
Suzanne Goldenberg in Boston Thursday November 4, 2004 The Guardian