When President Barack Obama takes the stage for State of the Union Address Number Seven, he will be only the 16th president to reach the milestone. Despite cultivating an administration many associate with displeasure or unease, Obama is entering and increasingly elite group in American Presidential history. Though the power of Number Seven as an address or written message has ebbed and flowed, it has always remained a central statement of the Presidents’ views. Number Seven does not include some titanic names. Lincoln only made four SOTUs; the same as John Adams. President Kennedy only made three. What remains is a mixed bag of long tenured administrations; each with significant challenges still flaring in the twilight of their reign. When Obama begins Number Seven, he will join some interesting company. Let’s hop in the time machine for four examples of Number Seven in four different American centuries:
George W. Bush (2001-2009) 7th SOTU January 23rd 2007
What was important to George?:
Though seemingly recent, Bush delivered the first Number Seven in the 21st Century eight years ago. It had been over a half decade since the traumatic events of 9/11 and the repercussions were clear in this address. First, he stayed stateside, preaching many conservative ideals such as balancing the budget, cutting spending, and and vetting out of the box thoughts on Social Security. However, since most of Bush’s presidency regaled in foreign policy, his Number Seven was mostly centralized around matters abroad ; creating a sort of haunting microcosm. The President again used Number Seven to cement his legacy and justify the actions taken seven years into his administration. He touched on many issues facing the Middle East, from sanctions on Iran to constitutional reforms in Arabic nations. He reaffirmed his commitment to the military and the power of American might overseas. Number Seven was a time to be unabashedly proud and the first 21st Century Seven was no exception.
“We’re not the first to come here with a government divided and uncertainty in the air. Like many before us, we can work through our differences, and we can achieve big things for the American people. Our citizens don’t much care which side of the aisle we sit on, as long as we’re willing to cross that aisle when there is work to be done.”
“We need to uphold the great tradition of the melting pot that welcomes and assimilates new arrivals. We need to resolve the status of the illegal immigrants who are already in our country without animosity and without amnesty.”
“American foreign policy is more than a matter of war and diplomacy. Our work in the world is also based on a timeless truth: To whom much is given, much is required. We hear the call to take on the challenges of hunger and poverty and disease, and that is precisely what America is doing.”
Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) 7th SOTU January 27th 1987
What was important to Ronald?:
Not unlike many at the end of their public careers, Reagan used Number Seven to look back on America and its accomplishments. It was the fifth of six Number Sevens in the 20th Century. Reagan lauded the listening members for being elected to the 100th Congress and painted a picture of the first one back in 1789. He brought the audience back to the present but not before touching on previous presidents such as Monroe, Truman and Kennedy. Of course there was a huge focus on the Cold War with more than passing boasts of Soviet decline and American triumph. Finally he looked forward, invoking the year 2000 and America’s continued need to stand tall. For Reagan, Number Seven was a recommitting to his vision of American prowess – past, present and future.
“In this 200th anniversary year of our Constitution, you and I stand on the shoulders of giants—men whose words and deeds put wind in the sails of freedom. However, we must always remember that our Constitution is to be celebrated not for being old, but for being young…”
“In our Constitution, we the people tell the Government what it can do, and it can do only those things listed in that document and no others. Virtually every other revolution in history has just exchanged one set of rulers for another set of rulers. Our revolution is the first to say the people are the masters and government is their servant.”
“We the people—starting the third century of a dream and standing up to some cynic who’s trying to tell us we’re not going to get any better. Are we at the end? Well, I can’t tell it any better than the real thing—a story recorded by James Madison from the final moments of the Constitutional Convention, September 17th, 1787. As the last few members signed the document, Benjamin Franklin—the oldest delegate at 81 years and in frail health—looked over toward the chair where George Washington daily presided. At the back of the chair was painted the picture of a Sun on the horizon. And turning to those sitting next to him, Franklin observed that artists found it difficult in their painting to distinguish between a rising and a setting Sun.”
Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) 7th SOTU October 27th, 1807
What was important to TJ?:
Jefferson’s Number Seven was delivered perhaps under more duress than any of its counterparts. It was the first of six Number Sevens in the 1800s, and to say things with Great Britain were escalating would be putting it mildly. Just over a month before Congress acted on the Embargo Act of 1807, Jefferson used the power of his pen to nudge America to redress British grievances. Despite touching on other foreign issues such as Spanish troubles and Barbary pirates, the seventh address was a powerful Presidential document predating decisive acts in American history. Acknowledging his previous hesitations at military call to arms, Jefferson nonetheless authorized a continued militancy that would last until the end of his presidency.
“The love of peace so much cherished in the bosoms of our citizens, which has so long guided the proceedings of their public councils and induced forbearance under so many wrongs, may not insure our continuance in the quiet pursuits of industry.”
“I did not hesitate, therefore, to authorize engagements for such supplements to our existing stock as would render it adequate to the emergencies threatening us, and I trust that the Legislature, feeling the same anxiety for the safety of our country, so materially advanced by this precaution, will approve, when done, what they would have seen so important to be done if then assembled.”
George Washington (1789-1797) 7th SOTU December 8th 1795
What was important to George?:
The first Number Seven would also be the only in the 1700s. This speech in 1795 ran the gambit of late 18th century America. Washington addressed domestic anxieties touching on Indian affairs and extrajudicial killings plaguing the American Southeast. His touch on foreign policy was mostly focused on Northern Africa, announcing an update in treaty negotiations with Morocco and Algiers. Great Britain was absolutely on the American mind with the coming controversies regarding Jay’s Treaty. As the 18th Century ended, Number Seven was used as a cautionary tale of speeding too quickly through adolescence and minding one’s own business. If there was only going to be one Seven in the entire century, Washington’s was a good one to have.
“Temperate discussion of the important subjects which may arise in the course of the session and mutual forbearance where there is a difference of opinion are too obvious and necessary for the peace, happiness, and welfare of our country to need any recommendation of mine.”
“Congress have demonstrated their sense to be, and it were superfluous to repeat mine, that whatsoever will tend to accelerate the honorable extinction of our public debt accords as much with the true interest of our country as with the general sense of our constituents.”
“To enforce upon the Indians the observance of justice it is indispensable that there shall be competent means of rendering justice to them.”
*Tremendous credit in this article to the excellent American Presidency Project “established in 1999 as a collaboration between John T. Woolley & Gerhard Peters at the University of California, Santa Barbara.” http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/index.php*