The State of the Union is one of the most important speeches that the U.S. president will present each year. It is one of the few times that the president will address a joint session (both House and Senate) of Congress. More importantly, it will address all political parties, dominated by the Democrats and Republicans, to present the President’s agenda for coming the year.
This address is mandated by Article II, section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, which states 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 [.]”
So, the Constitution requires that the President (Executive) state his or her agenda and policy priorities to the Congress. Notice that there is no requirement that the address be made orally. Thomas Jefferson, who made the first State of the Union Address in 1801, presented his agenda in written form to prevent any appearance of a grand monarchy.
This tradition continued until 1913, when President Woodrow Wilson presented the address as a speech to make the presidency seem more vibrant and alive to the people. His tradition continues to this day.
The following list contains memorable quotes from State of the Union addresses given by past presidents. Each quote has a recognizable historical context or significance and can remind all Americans of the struggles, controversies, and triumphs that this nation has endured. Read on!
President Abraham Lincoln
Date presented: December 1, 1862
"In giving freedom to the slave we assure freedom to the free—honorable alike in what we give and what we preserve. We shall nobly save or meanly lose the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just—a way which if followed the world will forever applaud and God must forever bless."
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Date presented: January 6, 1941
“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.”
President John F. Kennedy
Date presented: January 11, 1962
I issued last March a comprehensive order to guarantee the right to equal employment opportunity in all Federal agencies and contractors. The Vice President's Committee thus created has done much, including the voluntary "Plans for Progress" which, in all sections of the country, are achieving a quiet but striking success in opening up to all races new professional, supervisory, and other job opportunities.
President Lyndon B. Johnson
Date presented: January 8, 1964
Let this session of Congress be known as the session which did more for civil rights than the last hundred sessions combined; as the session which enacted the most far-reaching tax cut of our time; as the session which declared all-out war on human poverty and unemployment in these United States; as the session which finally recognized the health needs of all our older citizens; as the session which reformed our tangled transportation and transit policies; as the session which achieved the most effective, efficient foreign aid program ever; and as the session which helped to build more homes, more schools, more libraries, and more hospitals than any single session of Congress in the history of our Republic.
President Ronald Reagan
Date presented: January 26, 1982
“President Washington began this tradition in 1790 after reminding the Nation that the destiny of self-government and the ‘preservation of the sacred fire of liberty’ is ‘finally staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.’ For our friends in the press, who place a high premium on accuracy, let me say: I did not actually hear George Washington say that.”
Symbol of democracy!
Watch the State of the Union Address. It looks like a “who’s who” on Capitol Hill or an exercise in excessive applause or ill-tempered smirks, depending upon which side of the aisle is visible. It is an important part of the democratic process of openness, transparency, and leadership.