States of the Union: The First, Twenty-Second, and Forty-Fourth Presidents’ Addresses

In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama covered topics from unemployment to education to war to immigration to increasing upward mobility. I decided to compare Barack Obama’s SOTU to George Washington’s and Grover Cleveland’s addresses. This way, I could see the similarities in the trials and triumphs during the first, twenty-second, and forty-fourth presidents’ terms.

The three addresses all focused on the same general topics: economics, foreign affairs, war, ingenuity, and the role of citizens in government. The first SOTU address by George Washington was brief. It simply outlined the coming challenges and made some suggestions for their solutions. For example, Washington declared that preparation for war, with a trained army, was imperative to preserve peace. He called for inventions and books and the furtherance of American culture. The American people, he said, must learn how to fill their role in government. Although, at the time, it did not have the same meaning as today, Washington called for a free and equal government. In Obama’s speech, he also made declarations about equality. He wanted equality for women in the workforce, he wanted equal opportunities for students to attend college, and he wanted to lessen the despairingly wide economic gaps between classes. Grover Cleveland spoke of improving the conditions of Chinese Americans. He protested their unfair and sometimes violent treatment because it violated America’s treaty with China. The first, twenty-second, and forty-fourth presidents were all concerned with equality.

In Grover Cleveland’s State of the Union Address, he mentioned trade competition and the excessively high tariff. In Obama’s SOTU, he talked about the high taxes on businesses in America that lead to outsourcing. Both presidents want more American products made in America, so they want to change government regulations to promote a more independent American industrial system. The government in George Washington’s time was not yet in the industrial era, but Washington supported American innovation, as shown by the line “…I can not forbear intimating to you the expediency of giving effectual encouragement as well to the introduction of new and useful inventions from abroad as to the exertions of skill and genius in producing them at home…” He, too, worried about foreign trade relations. Cleveland also mentioned post-war conflict, such as the “settlement of claims of citizens of the United States against Chile for injustices during the war with Peru and Bolivia”. Washington was interested in preventing wars, and Obama is interested in ending one. Obama spoke of the 12-year war, the longest war in American history. He has pulled all of the troops out of Iraq and he is doing his best to empty Afghanistan as well. Both Cleveland and Obama talked about the desire to support other countries weighed against the dangers of doing to.

Foreign affairs were a topic in all three SOTU addresses, including immigration laws. Washington simply spoke of the need for some sort of regulatory law as the country had yet to deal with any significant influx of immigrants. Cleveland was worried about the treatment of Chinese Americans. Obama suggests total reform. It is a difficult subject to make any real progress on because the Democrats and Republicans are on entirely different sides of the issue, but Obama stated simply that something must be done in order to appease both sides. He did go on to say that there should be programs introduced to allow more people to learn the necessary skills to fill the available jobs, thus creating more jobs, but that was more to combat unemployment than to improve the conditions of immigrants. This, I believe, is a common theme in SOTU addresses: tiptoeing around controversial issues. Sometimes this is used as a tool to promote new laws or even new concepts so that they gain support. However, more often than not, this avoidance is simply a political tool to gain favor by not taking either side. Remaining neutral is the safest move for a president, especially one who is in his or her first term and hopes to be re-elected.

From the first president to the twenty-second to the forty-fourth, a lot has happened. Political views have shifted, and cultural concepts have changed dramatically, as they tend to do over the span of over a century. However, the fundamental issues remain the same. However, I believe that our solutions are improving.

Sources:

“Grover Cleveland: Second Annual Message (first Term).” Grover Cleveland: Second Annual Message (first Term). N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Jan. 2014. <http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=29527&gt;.

“President Obama’s 2014 State of the Union Address (FULL TRANSCRIPT).”Mediaite President Obamas 2014 State of the Union Address FULL TRANSCRIPT Comments. N.p., 28 Jan. 2014. Web. 30 Jan. 2014. <http://www.mediaite.com/tv/president-obamas-2014-state-of-the-union-address-full-transcript/&gt;.

“Presidential Key Events Grover Cleveland.” Miller Center. Rector and Visitors of the University of    Virginia, 2013. Web. 31 Jan. 2014. <http://millercenter.org/president/cleveland/key-events&gt;.

“George Washington: First Annual Message to Congress on the State of the Union.”George Washington: First Annual Message to Congress on the State of the Union. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2014. <http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=29431&gt;.

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