From Woody to Barack: A Comparison of two Americas

100 is a really nice number. It’s even, it’s a perfect square, it’s divisible by both 5 and 10 (also really great numbers), and it’s also the record number of points scored in one NBA game by a single player (Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia Warriors, March 2, 1962).

It’s also the amount of years in a century, and if you really think about it, a century is a long time. I mean, in the grand scheme of things, a hundred years is nothing, but in context to our insignificant human lives, a hundred years is pretty long. With industrialization in the 19th and 20th centuries and the continuous growth of technology today, a lot can change within a century in the modern world (modern meaning the past few hundred years). 1914 was a vastly different world from 2014, and 1814 was even more different. Let’s not get started on 1714, because it was boring, and who cares about the Battle of Gangut? (Sorry, Russians).

As much as I would like to talk more about the wonders of 100 (it’s also the sum of the first 9 prime numbers), this is a history blog, not a math blog, so let’s talk about some State of the Union addresses and how they reflect America’s growth over a hundred years.

First off, it’s clear that these two Presidents were concerned about very different issues, which reflect on the Americas that they lived in. Both men wanted to build a stronger economy, but Wilson desired a stronger nation with more global outreach, while Obama wants to help the middle class and fight unemployment. Obama thinks green energy is the future; Wilson didn’t even mention “oil” or “natural gas.” Wilson claims that “we are at peace with all the world,” and a hundred years later, Obama has to deal with Al Qaeda, the Syrian war, and every significant world conflict, basically.

So we’ve established that the two SOTUs are different. That should make sense, considering the time gap between them. I would be a little bit concerned if both addresses talked about the same problems, because that questions whether or not our great nation had made any progress within this century.

I mean, hopefully we’ve made progress. Would Wilson think that America had grown from then until now?

To shorten his words a little bit (only a little bit), Wilson wanted a better navy. I think we’re doing well in that department. He wanted “adequate provision for the survey and charting of our coasts,” putting importance on the “immense coastline of Alaska.” Well, this is pretty neat, isn’t it? 

One interesting similarity between the two speeches was the relation between America and the Philippines. Wilson supported a bill that gave more self-government to the people of the Philippines, and show them democracy. Obama mentioned how our government successfully extended help to the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan. I think Wilson would have been impressed by our lasting friendship, not only with the Philippines but with the rest of the world.

Apart from those specific issues, I think Wilson (and any person at the time, really) would have been awed by the US today. Within a century, we have come from traffic cones, fortune cookies, and Lincoln Logs to virtual-reality headsets and commercial space jets.

Jokes aside, the United States of America has become great. Our education has improved greatly. Our population has become more diverse and more culturally rich. America is a poster child for human rights, and I think Wilson, a previous leader of the Progressive movement, would have been happy about that.

Of course, America still has problems today. Our economy has gotten better, pointed out by our own President Obama in the most recent SOTU, but it’s still pretty bad. He didn’t mention a single thing about NSA, and he used “security” 11 times during his speech, which was a little amusing to me. But I think we can be optimistic and hope that the President of 2114 can say in his SOTU that today’s problems don’t need to be worried about anymore.


Barack Obama: “Address Before a Joint Session of Congress on the State of the Union,” January 28, 2014. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.

Woodrow Wilson: “Second Annual Message,” December 8, 1914. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.

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