Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Teaching Unit: Analyzing State of the Union Messages

Missouri Show Me Standards Objectives: CA5, SS3, SS4
Grade Level: Senior High
Unit Overview:

This unit is designed as a list of ways to use Truman's State of the Union Messages throughout your curriculum. So in a sense, this is a series of mini-lessons to incorporate into major teaching units on public speaking, government, the presidency, or national/world events that took place during the years 1945-1951. The unit includes 3 lessons:

  1. Group work analyzing content of State of the Union messages
  2. Lesson pertaining to the 1945 Address to Congress Upon Assuming Office After Roosevelt's Death
  3. Lesson titled From War to Peace - The Year of Decision (Summary of 1945 given by Truman in his State of Union Message in 1946.

Background Information on State of Union Messages:

Compiled from: Facts About the Presidents by Joseph Nathan Kane, H. W. Wilson Company, NY 1981.

Presidential Messages are not required in any specific form or at any specified time. The annual State of the Union messages are either read to Congress or a written message is delivered by the President in person. Presumably, they fulfill the requirement of Article 2, section 3 of the Constitution, which provides that the President "shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union." The term "State of the Union Message" came into use on January 6, 1941; before then, the messages were generally call " annual messages".

Until the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, there were 141 messages. Of these, 125 were delivered in December, one in January, one in September, three in October, and eleven in November. Since the inauguration date was changed to January, most messages have been made in January but a few have been made in February.

The longest State of the Union message was sent (not orally delivered) by President Harry S. Truman in 1946. It consisted of 25,000 words and combined his economic report with his state of the union information. This message focused on critical issues regarding the return to a peace economy from a war production one. The foreign policy section regarding European recovery also was a lengthy focus.

Information on Truman's State of Union Messages:

Truman's first address to Congress, which is listed on this web site (Truman's 1st address to Congress) was not a State of the Union Message. It was quite short and Truman delivered it four days after assuming office after the death of Franklin Roosevelt. The message was basically an assurance that he would continue to pursue the goals of the former president and continue to push for a complete victory over our enemies. This address is not a standard State of the Union format.

The remaining addresses and messages in this collection are more focused on a standard State of the Union format. The 1946 Message to the Congress was released on January 21, 1946--it was not orally delivered. Actually, that was probably best. The Message was very long and would have probably put everyone to sleep; it combined both his State of the Union Message and the Budget. Note that the Law does not require an oral report - only a report, from time to time.

The 1947 Annual Message to Congress, however, was, delivered in person before a joint session on January 6. It was a combined speech on the State of the Union and on the Budget. It was followed the next day by lengthy written Economic Report (not on file on our site).

In 1948, Truman delivered his State of the Union message to Congress in person followed 5 days later by his budget report. A similar format then continued throughout the remaining years of his presidency.

TEACHING LESSONS:

Lesson:

Group work analyzing content of State of Union Messages.

  1. Divide the class into 4 groups. Each group will be given one year to report on: 1948, 1949, 1950, or 1951. (See Messages listed by date in the State of the Union section of our web site)
  2. Brainstorm on what each group will be looking for in preparing a Reporting Format: ie. content, tone, message focus, categories, humor, length.
  3. Student groups develop a report about the message they are reviewing as to what it contains based on established evaluation criteria. The information should be presented by criteria sections so that all four speeches can eventually be analyzed..... compared and contrasted.
  4. Reporting format: Assume that the brainstorming session yielded the following criteria:
  5. Criteria:Opening, focus, tone, topics, headings, categories

    Summarize the content of each category (summary should not exceed 20 words per category)

    • Use of humor or illustrations
    • Length
    • Obvious world conditions at the time
    • Obvious national conditions at the time

    Then:

  6. Develop a report format for analyzing the reporting data, or, better yet, have a technology student design one. When reporting, students should prepare short word-processed statements that can be then manipulated technically (cut and pasted) into the designed format.
  7. Give each group a copy of the entire class report containing summaries of all four speeches. Discuss findings and form generalizations. What can you discern about the change in national and world conditions from reading a group of four consecutive state of the union addresses? How did the political climate change?

Lesson:

Lesson pertaining to the 1945 Address to Congress Upon Assuming Office After Roosevelt's Death

Questions for discussion:

  1. At what point does the message change from a funeral or memorial oration to a pronouncement of intent? Defend your response.
  2. Which paragraphs are directed at Americans, which are directed to the enemies, and which are directed to the allies or other affected countries? What overlap is there?
  3. Summarize Truman's view of the United Nations.
  4. Describe Truman's use of the theme of Hope.
  5. What world leadership role is Truman depicting for the United States?
  6. What was the concluding tone of the speech?
  7. Try delivering sections of the speech and determine what tone or emphasis you would use.
  8. If you were a speech writer for the President, what phases would you have added or subtracted? Why?

Lesson:

Lesson titled From War to Peace - The Year of Decision (Summary of 1945 given by Truman in his State of Union Message in 1946.

Instructions: Read only the second section of the 1946 message. [Note: This section is subtitled "From War to Peace - The Year of Decision"]

Questions for Discussion:

  • How is Truman's support of the United Nations presented in this message? Why do you think he was so adamant about pushing that support?
  • Discuss this statement by Truman: " For the immediate future the business prospects are generally so favorable that there is danger of such feverish and opportunistic activity that our grave postwar problems may be neglected. We need to act now with full regard for pitfalls; we need to act with foresight and balance. We should not be lulled by the immediate alluring prospects into forgetting the fundamental complexity of modern affairs, the catastrophe that can come in this complexity, or the values that can be wrested from it"
  • Read aloud the tribute in the opening part of this section to the winning of the War and the sacrificial role of the Americans. Discuss: Do we as Americans still have the strength and sacrificial fortitude to brave adversity and bond together for a common cause?
  • Read the section beginning with the words: On the domestic scene, as well as on the international scene, we must lay a new and better foundation for cooperation ........ To the end of this major section. Stop at The Federal Program Summarize Truman's view of the new peactime economy---and the role of cooperation. What groups are targeted in this portion? What should be the main objective of all concerned?