Early 19th Century SotU’s

The State of the Union message is influenced by many factors often only remotely related to politics, but always conscious of public opinion. Like women’s fashion, there are signs of contemporary fads that permeate the speech. Mention of mink coats may be verboten today due to animal rights advocacy. Just as technology created the cubic zirconia crystals that adorn modern cz ring designs, the advent of the automobile society created the culture that not only supports but advocates on behalf of the fossil fuel industries of the past decades. And like the cz rings, the internet culture of today could not have been an influence on the sotu without the technological advances that enabled it. Look closely at the speakers of past addresses and see the often obvious, but sometime hinted at social forces that color the language, the topics and the emphasis of the times.

The close of Jefferson’s presidency saw his State of the Union becoming far more detailed and pointed in his language (less flower, more power?). He seemed less reluctant to keep a ‘defensive militia’ available at all times, and chided some states for dropping the ball on security. Perhaps most interesting was his subtle self-congratulatory reference to the budget surplus (“Shall it lie unproductive in the public vaults? Shall the revenue be reduced? Or shall it not rather be appropriated to the improvements of roads, canals, rivers, education, and other great foundations of prosperity and union under the powers which Congress may already possess or such amendment to the Constitution as may be approved by the States?”). One wonders what he would of thought of The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), commonly called Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or for that matter Medicare and Medicaid. Jefferson would never have to worry about low testosterone treatments, although he and his fellow legislators might have benefited. However with the principles of his Democratic-Republican Party succeeding In domestic affairs where Jefferson was able to weaken Federalist influences, especially in the judiciary, and succeeded in limiting the size of government by reducing taxes and the national debt, he would have not been happy with the twentieth century democratic platform.

Madison’s State of the Union addresses showed clearly how he became more amenable to a national bank and a strong military, chiefly due to the War of 1812. His detailed examination of the conflicting forces and recent events is impressive (and certainly would not have survived unedited in the TV age!). Also significant is his condemnation of the slave trade (in the 1810 SotU): “American citizens are instrumental in carrying on a traffic in enslaved Africans, equally in violation of the laws of humanity and in defiance of those of their own country. The same just and benevolent motives which produced interdiction in force against this criminal conduct will doubtless be felt by Congress in devising further means of suppressing the evil.” Like most of his contemporaries, Madison changed his political views during his lifetime in the political arena. While the drafting and ratification of the constitution was occurring, he favored a strong national government. Later he and Thomas Jefferson were the leaders of the Anti-Federalists who opposed the proposed constitution arguing that the new Constitution did not explicitly allow the federal government to form a bank. After becoming President with a weak national government during the War of 1812, Madison recognized the need for a strong central government to aid national defense. He changed his views to support a national bank, a stronger navy, and a standing army.

It seems like a lot to take in but if you meditate on the subject it will become more clear.

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