State of the Union speeches delivered in the early 20th century paint a picture of development and growth, back-dropped against a growing threat from a European war machine.
In the first decade of the 20th century, the priorities of the United States President are centred on development of the country - corporations, the development of interstate commerce topped the list. The construction of a canal in Panama, and war treaties signed in The Hague indicated what was to come in later years.
With unrest in Europe precipitating a world war in the 1910s, the tools of conflict began creeping up in importance in presidential speeches. While battleships, and submarines were mentioned, the priority of the United States was development such as interstate commerce and the railways. Because of events like the Mexican Revolution, specific years during the decade were also mentioned frequently. President William H. Taft delivered all the speeches in 1910, 1911 and 1912, so this could be his speech writing style. In 1920 the country introduced a prohibition on alcohol, which stayed in place in to the next decade.
In the 1930s that followed, expansion came to a halt with the Great Depression - unemployment hit new highs. Speeches included statistics related to the economic situation, skewing results for the decade. The world was heading to war: autocracy and mobilized were both listed.
The 1940s, coloured by another world war, represented a general change in the tone of speeches – representing a perceived threat to the United States. The attack on Pearl Harbour by the Japanese in 1941 drew the country in to the war itself. Along with them, the Nazis and Hitler were mentioned frequently.
With the end of the war, the conflict gave way to a cold war. From 1945 through to the 1960s, the talking points were communists – the danger from the Soviets and a race for atomic weapons. The country remained engaged in wars in Korea and Vietnam.
While the 1970s and 1980s continued to focus on the threat from the Soviet Union, they also set the scene for the rest of the century, with priorities beginning to change towards the economy, with jobs, spending, inflation and most importantly oil representing the President’s priorities.
The speeches of the President in the 1990s are distinct since they return the discussion to that of the modern United States. With no discussion of conflict overseas, they speak about the challenge of the 21st century, finding jobs and college for kids.
Unsurprisingly, with the event of 9/11, speeches in the 2000s almost exclusively focus on terrorism, and the wars that followed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Saddam Hussein earned two mentions, as did Al Qaeda. It is possible to see the ideas of a new President beginning to creep in though, with Medicare featuring highly.
Finally, with an incomplete decade, the 2010s concentrate backs on the United States in the years following the 2008 financial crisis including jobs, innovation, and trillion dollar holes in the economy.