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Keywords:

  • modern presidency;
  • traditional presidency;
  • state of the union address;
  • Jeffrey Tulis;
  • rhetorical presidency

This study looks at the structural and rhetorical changes in the state of the union address from George Washington to Bill Clinton. The author finds that beginning with early-twentieth-century presidents, the length of address drops significantly and the president increasingly attempts to identify himself as one of the public in the speech. Among other things, the findings suggest three distinct periods in the evolution of the state of the union address: a founding period, a traditional period, and a modern period. However, although early-twentieth-century presidencies may exhibit change in delivery and style of the state of the union address, it is unclear whether this can be credited to a specific modern rhetorical innovation or whether the traditional/modern paradigm may necessitate reevaluation.