State of the Union Preview: Best (and Worst) Moments from History

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Next week the nation will turn its attention to an annual ritual that, like American politics itself, runs the gamut from inspiring to ridiculous—the State of the Union.

The State of the Union was originally called the Annual Message. Although President George Washington gave the first one in person before Congress in 1790, the message was delivered in writing until the early part of the 20th Century—at which point President Woodrow Wilson revived the tradition that has lasted until today. Along the way the State of the Union went from radio to television to the Internet and picked up a formal response from the political party out of power. While the State of the Union has provided us with some of our most uplifting and sublime moments, the various responses have provided ample fodder for late night comedians.

Let’s start with the sublime. Consider, for instance, Franklin Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union in which he evoked “the Four Freedoms”—freedom of speech and worship and freedom from want and fear—as a powerful justification for what was to be America’s role in a world at war.




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