Top 10 State of the Union Addresses

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1. Abraham Lincoln - December 1, 1862

In 1862, Lincoln used his annual message to Congress to make a clear connection between the preservation of the Union and the abolition of slavery. "Without slavery the rebellion could never have existed; without slavery it could not continue," he argues.

The message came a little more than two months after Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation (it would officially go into effect a month later, on January 1, 1863). It also took place in the wake of an electoral rebuke to his Republican Party in the November elections. As a result, Lincoln attempts to strike a conciliatory tone, acknowledging the "great diversity of sentiment, and of policy, in regard to slavery, and the African race amongst us." He pushes a plan of "compensated emancipation" that would compensate states that abolished slavery before 1900, making more of a practical and fincancial case for the policy than a moral case.

He concludes, however, by returning to his thematic centerpiece, contending that freedom for the slaves is integral to the survival of the nation:

"Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We -- even we here -- hold the power, and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free -- honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth."

Text of Address

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