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State of the Union Addresses

Current Events | By The Top 13 on January 28, 2010

Last night, President Obama delivered his first state of the union address, setting forth his plans to fix the economy and urging Americans not to give up on his ambitious social platform. And while Obama's speech received high approval ratings in polls conducted last night, it wasn't a particularly groundbreaking speech, and that got us thinking about those state of the union addresses that were. Accordingly, here are the Top 13 State of the Union Addresses.

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Abraham Lincoln

1

Abraham Lincoln

December 1, 1862

Delivered in the midst of the Civil War, this state of the union address takes the top spot based on a single society-transforming statement Lincoln made - he told the nation that he wanted to end slavery once and for all. One month later, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed thousands of slaves immediately and set the groundwork for the complete elimination of slavery in the United States.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

2

Franklin D. Roosevelt

January 6, 1941

In this groundbreaking state of the union address, commonly referred to as the Four Freedoms speech, Roosevelt proposed four fundamental basic freedoms that he believed everyone had a right to: freedom of speech and expression, religion, want, and fear. An impassioned Roosevelt noted: "That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb."

James Monroe

3

James Monroe

December 2, 1823

In what would become a defining moment in United States foreign policy, Monroe unveiled the policies underlying the Monroe Doctrine in this state of the union address. The Monroe Doctrine provided that any further efforts by European countries to colonize the Western Hemisphere would be viewed by the U.S. as acts of aggression to which the U.S. would be forced to respond. Though the country was still in its infancy, Monroe offered a bold quid pro quo by pledging that the U.S. would not interfere in European disputes or affairs.

William J. Clinton

4

William J. Clinton

January 27, 1998

In the midst of the worst presidential scandal since Watergate, Clinton delivered one of the most highly anticipated state of the union addresses in history. Less than ten days after the Monica Lewinsky story exploded, Clinton spoke for nearly an hour and 15 minutes - and never so much as mentioned the allegations. Instead, he spoke assuredly about domestic issues such as Social Security, education, and health care. Despite the scandal, Clinton's poll numbers rose after the speech to the highest point during his presidency.

Harry S. Truman

5

Harry S. Truman

January 6, 1947

Though not a particularly significant presidential address in terms of the content, Truman's 1947 address was important for being the first state of the union to be televised. Indeed, the New York Times coverage of the speech included discussion of the fact that it was televised, noting that the picture was clear enough to see the president's smile. Truman, whose speech came at a time of peace and relative prosperity, began the address with a one-liner about the fact that Republicans had gained a majority in both chambers: "It looks like a good many of you have moved over to the left since I was last here."

George W. Bush

6

George W. Bush

January 29, 2002

In 2002, Bush delivered the first State of the Union address of his presidency on the heels of the 9/11 attacks, and accused Iraq, Iran, and North Korea by name of developing weapons of mass destruction. He said: "States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world." The speech was widely viewed as setting the groundwork for future military actions the Bush administration was contemplating.

Lyndon B. Johnson

7

Lyndon B. Johnson

January 4, 1965

This state of the union was the first to be delivered and broadcast on television in primetime. And Johnson used the occasion to unveil his landmark Great Society proposal, which consisted of a series of sweeping socials programs aimed at eliminating poverty and racial injustice. Johnson explained: "The Great Society asks not how much, but how good; not only how to create wealth but how to use it; not only how fast we are going, but where we are headed."

Grover Cleveland

8

Grover Cleveland

December 3, 1888

On his way out of office after the first of his two non-consecutive terms, Cleveland delivered a state of the union filled with statements that, at the time, were considered to be radical. Cleveland went after big business, calling for increased regulation to prevent corporate abuse at the expense of the people. He told Congress: "Corporations, which should be the carefully restrained creatures of the law and the servants of the people, are fast becoming the people's masters."

Franklin D. Roosevelt

9

Franklin D. Roosevelt

January 6, 1945

This was Roosevelt's eleventh and final state of the union address, and came shortly after the Battle of the Bulge, in which more than 19,000 Americans died. With that backdrop, Roosevelt delivered an emotional speech about the importance and costs of victory, stating: "This war must be waged - it is being waged - with the greatest and most persistent intensity. . . . We have no question of the ultimate victory. We have no question of the cost. Our losses will be heavy." Roosevelt died in office little more than four months later as Allied forces were closing in on Berlin.

George W. Bush

10

George W. Bush

January 28, 2003

The second entry on The Top 13 from the younger Bush once again shows the president working to justify military action. A year after he first identified the Axis of Evil, Bush had Iraq squarely in his sights, claiming: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." When former Ambassador Joseph Wilson wrote a newspaper column challenging Bush's allegations, his wife's identity as a CIA operative was leaked to the press, creating a scandal that reached as high as former Vice President Cheney. The Bush administration later admitted that Bush's claim about Iraq cannot be substantiated.

George Washington

11

George Washington

January 8, 1790

On January 8, 1790, George Washington delivered the first state of the union address, speaking to both houses of Congress in New York, which was the country's provisional capital at the time. Washington's decision to address Congress was based on a requirement in the Constitution that the president "shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient." Though Washington's speech was only 1,089 words long, its legacy is great; there has been a state of the union address every year since.

Woodrow Wilson

12

Woodrow Wilson

December 2, 1913

In 1801, Thomas Jefferson decided that the process of delivering a speech to a joint session of Congress seemed a tad "kingly" for the new republic and, therefore, sent his state of the union to the House and Senate in written form. It took more than a century for another such address to be delivered in spoken form, when Wilson made the controversial decision in 1913 to do so. Credit Wilson with the fact that just about every state of the union since has taken the form of an address to a joint session of Congress.

Gerald R. Ford

13

Gerald R. Ford

January 15, 1975

In his first state of the union since ascending to the presidency after Richard Nixon's resignation in 1974, Ford recounted his first days in the House 26 years earlier, when he was present as Harry Truman used the state of the union to report to Congress that "the state of the Union is good." Ford stated: "Today, that freshman Member from Michigan stands where Mr. Truman stood, and I must say to you that the state of the union is not good." Ford went on to deliver a sobering assessment of the country's economy and proposed a series of aggressive initiative aimed at revitalizing it.

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Comments Leave a comment

jasun 

I thought Obama's was horrible save for the hour or so when I forgot he was black.

12:24 PM   Jan 28, 2010

KungFuJay ★★

But he speaks so well!

12:25 PM   Jan 28, 2010

stillathreat ★★

Wow, I learned some stuff on the internet today. But what about other presidential speeches, like "tear this wall down" or "the only think we have to fear..."?

2:36 PM   Jan 28, 2010

jasun 

Neither were during State of the Union Addresses.

7:39 PM   Jan 28, 2010

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