mid-19th Century SotUs
While previous State of the Union addresses were largely free of religious language, the opening paragraph of John Quincey Adams’ SotUs clearly shows the sixth president’s Christian views — almost to the point of declaring a ‘divine right’: “There has, indeed, rarely been a period in the history of civilized man in which the general condition of the Christian nations has been marked so extensively by peace and prosperity.” Yet this is the same man who was so dedicated to the separation of church and state that he refused to take his inaugural oath of office on the bible! His addresses were devoid, for the most part, of the slave issue…though his final address contained an extremely marked warning of things to come: “The people of no one State have ever delegated to their legislature the power of pronouncing an act of Congress unconstitutional, but they have delegated to them powers by the exercise of which the execution of the laws of Congress within the State may be resisted.”
His bitter enemy, Andrew Jackson, quickly shows his rough-and-ready frontier background with a much more casual and friendly but no less facile positive note than his predecessor (he actually refers to the “12,000,000 happy people” living in the US). “Offices were not established to give support to particular men at the public expense,” he writes — almost certainly referring to John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay, who he felt had denied him the 1824 election. Even more egregious are his references to Native Americans (and yet are only a shadow of the horrors that Jackson inflicted upon them): “They have neither the intelligence, the industry, the moral habits, nor the desire of improvement which are essential to any favorable change in their condition. Established in the midst of another and a superior race, and without appreciating the causes of their inferiority or seeking to control them, they must necessarily yield to the force of circumstances and ere long disappear.”
Martin Van Buren seemed certain to continue Jackson’s reign, though mediating the former’s rough, populist, and personal approach with the skill of a master manipulator of political networks (“machines”). When reading his State of the Union addresses, one cannot help but imagine them to be a more elegant draft of Jackson’s own addresses — though doubtless, the same issues applied, and both men took similar approaches in response.