A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

History: 15 Speeches Over 75 Years Reveal A Changing State of the Speech

Maybe it's an odd expectation, but when I watch the State of the Union speech, I expect the President to assure me that "the state of the union is sound" and that's that. There can be gunfire outside my door and bill collectors lurking in the bushes outside, I still like to hear those words so I can sleep at night. Even if I am sleeping in the street. When Mr Obama suggested that we will soon achieve soundness, that we are moving in that general direction, I was rather startled. Was he suggesting that things aren't sound? We all know that things aren't going well, but I wasn't expecting the patented assertion of power and authority in our times to be nuanced and projected.

I went digging in the past and found that America's status has only recently been clear enough to state categorically. There were no short declarative assertions years ago. Here is a sampling from the past 75 years of January speeches. FDR's assertion of the sad state of our affairs in 1937, after years of Depression, is particularly protracted. But they get shorter, I assure you.

Here are the pertient excerpts from fifteen State of the Union speeches from the past 75 years:

Franklin D Roosevelt - 6 Jan 1937

The recovery we sought was not to be merely temporary. It was to be a recovery protected from the causes of previous disasters. With that aim in view—to prevent a future similar crisis-you and I joined in a series of enactments—safe banking and sound currency, the guarantee of bank deposits, protection for the investor in securities, the removal of the threat of agricultural surpluses, insistence on collective bargaining, the outlawing of sweat shops, child labor and unfair trade practices, and the beginnings of security for the aged and the worker.

Nor was the recovery we sought merely a purposeless whirring of machinery. It is important, of course, that every man and woman in the country be able to find work, that every factory run, that business and farming as a whole earn profits. But Government in a democratic Nation does not exist solely, or even primarily, for that purpose.

It is not enough that the wheels turn. They must carry us in the direction of a greater satisfaction in life for the average man. The deeper purpose of democratic government is to assist as many of its citizens as possible, especially those who need it most, to improve their conditions of life, to retain all personal liberty which does not adversely affect their neighbors, and to pursue the happiness which comes with security and an opportunity for recreation and culture.

Even with our present recovery we are far from the goal of that deeper purpose. There are far-reaching problems still with us for which democracy must find solutions if it is to consider itself successful.
For example, many millions of Americans still live in habitations which not only fail to provide the physical benefits of modern civilization but breed disease and impair the health of future generations.

The menace exists not only in the slum areas of the very large cities, but in many smaller cities as well. It exists on tens of thousands of farms, in varying degrees, in every part of the country.

Another example is the prevalence of an un-American type of tenant farming. I do not suggest that every farm family has the capacity to earn a satisfactory living on its own farm. But many thousands of tenant farmers, indeed most of them, with some financial assistance and with some advice and training, can be made self-supporting on land which can eventually belong to them. The Nation would be wise to offer them that chance instead of permitting them to go along as they do now, year after year, with neither future security as tenants nor hope of ownership of their homes nor expectation of bettering the lot of their children.

Another national problem is the intelligent development of our social security system, the broadening of the services it renders, and practical improvement in its operation. In many Nations where such laws are in effect, success in meeting the expectations of the community has come through frequent amendment of the original statute.

And, of course, the most far-reaching and the most inclusive problem of all is that of unemployment and the lack of economic balance of which unemployment is at once the result and the symptom. The immediate question of adequate relief for the needy unemployed who are capable of performing useful work, I shall discuss with the Congress during the coming months. The broader task of preventing unemployment is a matter of long-range evolutionary policy. To that we must continue to give our best thought and effort. We cannot assume that immediate industrial and commercial activity which mitigates present pressures justifies the national Government at this time in placing the unemployment problem in a filing cabinet of finished business.

Fluctuations in employment are tied to all other wasteful fluctuations in our mechanism of production and distribution. One of these wastes is speculation. In securities or commodities, the larger the volume of speculation, the wider become the upward and downward swings and the more certain the result that in the long run there will be more losses than gains in the underlying wealth of the community.

And, as is now well known to all of us, the same net loss to society comes from reckless overproduction and monopolistic underproduction of natural and manufactured commodities.

Overproduction, underproduction and speculation are three evil sisters who distill the troubles of unsound inflation and disastrous deflation. It is to the interest of the Nation to have Government help private enterprise to gain sound general price levels and to protect those levels from wide perilous fluctuations. We know now that if early in 1931 Government had taken the steps which were taken two and three years later, the depression would never have reached the depths of the beginning of 1933.

Franklin D Roosevelt - 6 Jan 1945

In considering the State of the Union, the war and the peace that is to follow are naturally uppermost in the minds of all of us.

This war must be waged—it is being waged—with the greatest and most persistent intensity. Everything we are and have is at stake. Everything we are and have will be given. American men, fighting far from home, have already won victories which the world will never forget.

We have no question of the ultimate victory. We have no question of the cost. Our losses will be heavy.

We and our allies will go on fighting together to ultimate total victory.

Harry Truman - 9 Jan 1952

The United States and the whole free world are passing through a period of grave danger.   . . .

We are moving through a perilous time. Faced with a terrible threat of aggression, our Nation has embarked upon a great effort to help establish the kind of world in which peace shall be secure. Peace is our goal-not peace at any price, but a peace based on freedom and justice. We are now in the midst of our effort to reach that goal. On the whole, we have been doing very well.

Last year, 1951, was a year in which we threw back aggression, added greatly to our military strength, and improved the chances for peace and freedom in many parts of the world.

This year, 1952, is a critical year in the defense effort of the whole free world. If we falter we can lose all the gains we have made. If we drive ahead, with courage and vigor and determination, we can by the end of 1952 be in a position of much greater security. The way will be dangerous for the years ahead, but if we put forth our best efforts this year--and next year--we can be "over the hump" in our effort to build strong defenses

John F Kennedy - 11 Jan 1962

We are all trustees for the American people, custodians of the American heritage. It is my task to report the State of the Union--to improve it is the task of us all.  . . .

We sometimes chafe at the burden of our obligations, the complexity of our decisions, the agony of our choices. But there is no comfort or security for us in evasion, no solution in abdication, no relief in irresponsibility.

A year ago, in assuming the tasks of the Presidency, I said that few generations, in all history, had been granted the role of being the great defender of freedom in its hour of maximum danger. This is our good fortune; and I welcome it now as I did a year ago. For it is the fate of this generation - of you in the Congress and of me as President - to live with a struggle we did not start, in a world we did not make. But the pressures of life are not always distributed by choice.

Lyndon Johnson - 17 Jan 1968

I report to you that our country is challenged, at home and abroad: --that it is our will that is being tried, not our strength; our sense of purpose, not our ability to achieve a better America;

-- that we have the strength to meet our every challenge; the physical strength to hold the course of decency and compassion at home; and the moral strength to support the cause of peace in the world.

And I report to you that I believe, with abiding conviction, that this people--nurtured by their deep faith, tutored by their hard lessons, moved by their high aspirations-have the will to meet the trials that these times impose.

Richard Nixon - 20 Jan 1972

We have been undergoing self-doubts and self-criticism. But these are only the other side of our growing sensitivity to the persistence of want in the midst of plenty, of our impatience with the slowness with which age-old ills are being overcome.

If we were indifferent to the shortcomings of our society, or complacent about our institutions, or blind to the lingering inequities--then we would have lost our way.

But the fact that we have those concerns is evidence that our ideals, deep down, are still strong. Indeed, they remind us that what is really best about America is its compassion. They remind us that in the final analysis, America is great not because it is strong, not because it is rich, but because this is a good country.

Jimmy Carter - 23 Jan 1980

This last few months has not been an easy time for any of us. As we meet tonight, it has never been more clear that the state of our Union depends on the state of the world. And tonight, as throughout our own generation, freedom and peace in the world depend on the state of our Union.

The 1980's have been born in turmoil, strife, and change. This is a time of challenge to our interests and our values and it's a time that tests our wisdom and our skills.

Ronald Reagan - 25 Jan 1984

A rebirth of bipartisan cooperation, of economic growth, and military deterrence, and a growing spirit of unity among our people at home and our allies abroad underline a fundamental and far-reaching change: The United States is safer, stronger, and more secure in 1984 than before.

Ronald Reagan - 25 Jan 1988

Tonight, then, we're strong, prosperous, at peace, and we are free. This is the state of our Union.

George H W Bush - 29 Jan 1992

We are still and ever the freest nation on earth, the kindest nation on earth, the strongest nation on earth.

Bill Clinton - 23 Jan 1996

The state of the Union is strong.

Bill Clinton - 27 Jan 2000

My fellow Americans, the state of our union is the strongest it has ever been.

George W Bush - 24 Jan 2004

In their efforts, their enterprise and their character, the American people are showing that the state of our union is confident and strong.

George W Bush - 28 Jan 2008

And so long as we continue to trust the people, our nation will prosper, our liberty will be secure and the state of our union will remain strong.

Barrack Obama - 24 Jan 2012

The state of our Union is getting stronger. And we've come too far to turn back now.


By the way: I found a site that has a nice compendium of state of the union speeches going way back. I noticed, however, that the name of the President paired with individual speeches was no always accurate. Apparently the website designer didn't realize that some of these speeches were held before Inauguration Day on a year when Administrations were changing. So the 1961 speech was delivered by Ike, not JFK, and JFK delivered the 1963 speech, not LBJ. There are spoof sites out there, too, such as this spoof pretending to be George W Bush's 2004 speech. So, just be careful out there...


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