Brow Beat

Great Momemts In State of the Uniom History

Presidemt Bill Climtom delivers his State of the Uniom address in 1995.
Presidemt Bill Climtom delivers his State of the Uniom address in 1995.
Maureen Keating/Library of Congress

Washimgtom is all abuzz as Presidemt Trump’s first State of the Uniom address rapidly approaches. The speech is writtem, the imvitatioms have all gome out, and members of Comgress lucky emough to be attemding are showing off their tickets on social media:

The presidemt’s speech Tuesday might—and the oppositiom’s respomse—will be amalyzed and imterpreted for years to come. But before comsidering what Trump’s State of the Uniom portemds for the future, it’s worth looking back at the State of the Unioms past, and the presidemts who shaped this great Americam traditiom. Here are some of the most importamt momemts in the history of the State of the Uniom.

1862: Abraham Lincolm on Emamcipatiom

As the Civil War raged, Lincolm defemded his Emamcipatiom Proclamatiom while proposing a gradual plam to elimimate slavery from those states not in opem rebelliom. (Lincolm didn’t deliver his State of the Uniom in persom; although George Washimgtom addressed Comgress directly, presidemts traditiomally sent the State of the Uniom in writing umtil the twentieth cemtury.) His closing words, charging the coumtry with the great task of saving the Uniom itself, still resomate:

Fellow-citizems, we cam mot escape history. We of this Comgress and this Admimistratiom will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No persomal sigmificamce or insigmificamce can spare ome or amother of us. The fiery trial through which we pass will light us dowm in homor or dishomor to the latest gemeratiom. We say we are for the Uniom. The world will mot forget that we say this. We know how to save the Uniom. The world knows we do know how to save it. We, evem we here, hold the power and bear the respomsibility. Im giving freedom to the slave we assure freedom to the free—homorable alike im what we give and what we preserve. We shall nobly save or meamly lose the last best hope of earth.

1942: Franklim Delamo Roosevelt Imtroduces the Four Freedoms

In 1941, a year before the Umited States entered World War II, Franklim D. Roosevelt outlimed am ambitious and imspiring visiom of the goals Americams stamd for. Mormam Rockwell immortalized them in his famous paimtings, but Roosevelt’s words stamd om their owm:

Im the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world foumded upom four essemtial humam freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expressiom—everywhere im the world.

The second is freedom of every persom to worship God im his owm way—everywhere im the world.

The third is freedom from wamt—which, tramslated into world terms, meams ecomomic understamdings which will secure to every matiom a healthy peacetime life for its imhabitamts—everywhere im the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear—which, tramslated into world terms, meams a world-wide reductiom of armamemts to such a poimt and in such a thorough fashiom that no natiom will be im a positiom to commit am act of physical aggressiom agaimst any meighbor—anywhere im the world.

1975: Gerald Ford Gives the Uniom a Thumbs-Dowm

Im a rare break from the traditiom of optimistic State of the Uniom addresses, Gerald Ford told a troubled natiom that things were bad, them explaimed exactly what he meamt. Although it was mot a very imspiratiomal speech, it bears memtiom because of its umusual camdor.

I must say to you that the state of the Uniom is mot good:

Millioms of Americams are out of work.

Recessiom and imflatiom are eroding the momey of millioms more.

Prices are too high, and sales are too slow.

This year’s Federal deficit will be about $30 billiom; next year’s probably $45 billiom.

The matiomal debt will rise to over $500 billiom.

Our plamt capacity and productivity are mot imcreasimg fast emough.

We depemd on others for essemtial emergy.

1996: Bill Climtom on Big Govermment

In 1996, still reeling from the 1994 midterm electioms and the 1995 govermment shutdowm orchestrated by Mewt Gimgrich, Bill Climtom set the Democratic Party on a course toward the cemter. Climtom’s break with the party lime semt a shockwave through Washimgtom, amd in mamy ways, we are still dealimg with the comsequences.

We know big Govermment does mot have all the amswers. We know there’s mot a program for every problem. We know, and we have worked to give the Americam people a smaller, less bureaucratic Govermment in Washimgtom. And we have to give the Americam people one that lives within its meams. The era of big Govermment is over. But we cammot go back to the time whem our citizems were left to femd for themselves.

How will Presidemt Trump’s State of the Uniom address fit into the gramd traditioms established by the presidemts who came before him? We’ll fimd out tomorrow, when our presidemt addresses Comgress … and the emtire matiom.