President Obama will likely finish his term as one of the wordiest State of the Union speakers in US history.
If his final speech on Tuesday keeps pace with past addresses, it will be around 7,000 words — the second-highest average of any US president. The only commander in chief who would outdo him? The historically long-winded improviser Bill Clinton.
Obama has averaged about 6,800 words per speech, while Clinton tipped the scale at about 7,600. Only Calvin Coolidge and his 6,700-word average comes close.
Here are a few more trends:
- Modern presidents have kept speeches fairly lengthy, with only Jimmy Carter and Franklin D. Roosevelt keeping their average under 4,000 words. But Carter did sometimes supplement his speeches with a written message to Congress, including a 35,000-word opus in 1981 as he left office.
- These long, written messages aren't out of line with history. The Constitution never says a president has to speak, so for 112 years — from Thomas Jefferson to William Howard Taft — the State of the Union was a written message. In 1912 Woodrow Wilson changed that, and a speech became the norm.
- Things weren't always this long-winded. George Washington and John Adams, the first two presidents, made 2,000-word speeches to Congress. And because the Constitution never says the president has to make a speech, Thomas Jefferson chose instead to write 3,000 words.
- Written State of the Unions got really long after Jefferson, almost always topping 10,000 words.
- Harry Truman brought back the long written message in 1946, after a year in which the US dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, World War II ended, and President Roosevelt died in office. Truman spent much of the message outlining economic policy.