Presidential Radio Address - 24 January 1987
My fellow Americans:
This coming Tuesday I'll travel up Constitution Avenue from the White House to the Capitol to deliver my State of the Union Address. The House Chamber that night will be crowded-Members of the House itself, Members of the Senate, the Justices of the Supreme Court, Cabinet officials, the diplomatic corps-all will have come. Television lights will flood the rostrum from which I will speak, providing added moment, a reminder that the audience will extend far beyond the Chamber to you, the American people, and indeed to much of the world.
In a moment I'd like to share with you some thoughts about the agenda I'll outline to the 100th Congress on that historic night. But if you'll permit me, first I'd like you to join me in considering the State of the Union Address as an important American tradition, a tradition that on Tuesday night will represent the first great public event marking this the bicentennial year of our Constitution.
It's the Constitution itself-article II, section 3-that mandates the President to inform Congress regarding the state of the American Union and to recommend measures that he considers, in the Constitution's words, "necessary and expedient." President Washington appeared before Congress personally each year to offer his account of national problems and prospects. In 1801 President Jefferson was eager to show how different America was from Britain, where Parliament was opened by the monarch, so he put the practice of appearing in person to an end, substituting instead a written message. Presidents continued to send Congress written messages for more than a century, until in 1913 Woodrow Wilson revived the practice of delivering the message in person. Since Franklin Roosevelt seized upon the idea with his customary relish, no President has missed the opportunity to present his proposals before Congress face-to-face.
But whether delivered in person or in writing, these annual messages represent one of our nation's basic historical texts-a body of writings that show our development from a fledgling Republic to a great bastion of freedom; that present our Presidents as individual men, struggling as best they could with the issues of their day; that in our time-our own time-provide continuity, a sense of the proud history that we as Americans have inherited.
In 198 Presidential messages to Congress certain themes reappear. National security-there is Washington's urging that the Republic remain strong; for, in his words, "To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace." Economic growth-there is President Fillmore's satisfaction in 1852 at all that we as a free people had accomplished: "The population has almost quadrupled. Our boundaries have been extended. Our territory is checkered over with railroads and furrowed with canals." And then the great theme, the national experiment in human liberty-President Monroe wrote in his final message that "Our institutions form an important epoch in the history of the civilized world." And in President Lincoln's second message, we read of America as "the last, best hope of Earth." Freedom, Lincoln stated, is a way that is "plain, peaceful, generous, just-a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless."
On Tuesday night I'll follow the men who preceded me in office by addressing each of these themes. Of our national security, I will once again stress that no duty of the Federal Government is more important than the defense of this Republic. I will reassert the importance of the American virtues of boldness and innovation-virtues embodied in our Strategic Defense Initiative. In addressing economic matters, I will announce initiatives regarding jobs, education, and continued economic growth-measures designed to keep America competitive throughout the world and provide new jobs and opportunities here at home. And, yes, I will address the urgent need for the Federal Government to control its own spending and to do so permanently by amending the Constitution. And in speaking about the great theme liberty, I will state that our national experiment remains proud and successful. Now we must extend liberty to others, providing, in particular, steady and substantial aid to freedom fighters in Nicaragua and elsewhere around the globe.
All this we must do, I will argue, to live up to the best within ourselves and our history, to take our place beside those who have gone before in keeping this Republic "the last, best hope of Earth."
Thanks for listening, and until Tuesday night, God bless you.