150 years ago yesterday, December 3, 1861, was the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's first Annual Message.
The term "State of the Union Address" was not yet used. And, the address came at the end of the year, which, in a way, is more logical than the way we do it now. (How can you review something at its beginning?)
The actual contents of the speech can be viewed here. Unlike the Gettysburg Address of November, 1863, this speech is rather long and rambling.
What did Lincoln talk about?
Well, the state of the Union was pretty dire.
11 states had seceeded and formed the Confederate States of America.
These states were at war with what was left of the Union.
The rebels had won a major victory back in July at Manassas, Virginia and another victory at nearby Ball's Bluff, VA in October.
Jefferson Davis, a native of Kentucky (like Lincoln), and a former Secretary of War of the United States, had been elected the President of the Confederacy on November 6 of that year (although he had given his inaugural address back in February, it took him until November to be officially elected.) and on November 18, had issued his own President's Address.
The Trent Affair brought the remaining United States to the brink of war with Great Britain (although it was resolved peacefully late that December.)
If sometimes the challenges of our present day seem overwhelming, we need only go back in time to 1861. This NY Times blog (who also provided a couple of the links above) has a wonderful analysis of Lincoln's Annual Message.
What did I find impressive about this address? The fact that Lincoln continued to look forward even as the Union was in great peril of staying divided. We needed a Department of Agriculture and Lincoln proposed one. Our judical system had outgrown our country, and circuit courts either needed to be provided to all, or abolished all together.
The Union budget was balanced (in fact, there was a surplus.).
Lincoln had some interesting comments regarding labor and capital, comments that have relevance today.
Lincoln also proposed a solution to the slavery problem which will surprise some.
What Lincoln was fighting for was a future where the population of the reunited United States had reached 250 million people (noting that Lincoln believed that event would happen in the lifetimes of some in the audience.) This didn't happen until sometime in 1991
Regardless of your political views (and I try to remain neutral in my writings although I am a Northerner) one must ask: How many of our present day politicians can look forward that far ahead with that type of vision?
We count ourselves fortunate that Americans of the 1860's could.