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Inequality in the State of the Union Address Since 1796

  1. The Income Gap

    The Income Gap

    Income inequality will figure prominently in President Obama’s Jan. 28 address before Congress. For perspective on the enduring problem, he can crib from the State of the Union scripts of presidents going back centuries.

    Barack Obama, 2013
    “It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country—the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love.”

    Daniel Acker/Bloomberg
  2. George Washington, 1796

    George Washington, 1796

    “It should be repugnant to the vital principles of our Government virtually to exclude from public trusts talents and virtue unless accompanied by wealth.”

    Getty Images
  3. James Polk, 1845

    James Polk, 1845

    “The Government in theory knows no distinction of persons or classes, and should not bestow upon some favors and privileges which all others may not enjoy.”

    Getty Images
  4. Abraham Lincoln, 1861

    Abraham Lincoln, 1861

    “The prudent, penniless beginner in the world labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself, then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This is the just and generous and prosperous system which opens the way to all, gives hope to all, and consequent energy and progress and improvement of condition to all.”

    Alexander Gardner/Getty Images
  5. Teddy Roosevelt, 1901

    Teddy Roosevelt, 1901

    “The old laws, and the old customs, which had almost the binding force of law, were once quite sufficient to regulate the accumulation and distribution of wealth. Since the industrial changes which have so enormously increased the productive power of mankind, they are no longer sufficient.”

    Hulton Archive/Getty Images
  6. William Taft, 1911

    William Taft, 1911

    “The anti-trust act is the expression of the effort of a freedom-loving people to preserve equality of opportunity.”

    PhotoQuest/Getty Images
  7. Warren Harding, 1921

    Warren Harding, 1921

    “Through the eradication of illiteracy and the diffusion of education, mankind has reached a stage where we may fairly say that in the United States equality of opportunity has been attained, though all are not prepared to embrace it. There is, indeed, a too-great divergence between the economic conditions of the most and the least favored classes in the community.”

    Universal History Archive/Getty Images
  8. Franklin Roosevelt, 1935

    Franklin Roosevelt, 1935

    “In spite of our efforts and in spite of our talk, we have not weeded out the overprivileged and we have not effectively lifted up the underprivileged.”

  9. Harry Truman, 1948

    Harry Truman, 1948

    “It is deplorable that in a nation as rich as ours there are millions of children who do not have adequate schoolhouses or enough teachers for a good elementary or secondary education.”

  10. Dwight Eisenhower, 1953

    Dwight Eisenhower, 1953

    “There is urgent need for greater effectiveness in our programs, both public and private, offering safeguards against the privations that too often come with unemployment, old age, illness, and accident.”

  11. John Kennedy, 1963

    John Kennedy, 1963

    “Our working men and women, instead of being forced to beg for help from public charity once they are old and ill, should start contributing now to their own retirement health program through the Social Security system.”

    AP Photo
  12. Lyndon Johnson, 1964

    Lyndon Johnson, 1964

    “This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America.”

    AP Photo
  13. Richard Nixon, 1970

    Richard Nixon, 1970

    “We can fulfill the American Dream only when each person has a fair chance to fulfill his own dreams.”

    AP Photo
  14. Gerald Ford, 1976

    Gerald Ford, 1976

    “As we rebuild our economy, we have a continuing responsibility to provide a temporary cushion to the unemployed.”

  15. Jimmy Carter, 1979

    Jimmy Carter, 1979

    “We know that inflation is a burden for all Americans, but it’s a disaster for the poor, the sick, and the old.”

  16. Ronald Reagan, 1984

    Ronald Reagan, 1984

    “We know that many of our fellow countrymen are still out of work, wondering what will come of their hopes and dreams. Can we love America and not reach out to tell them: You are not forgotten; we will not rest until each of you can reach as high as your God-given talents will take you.”

    Bob Daugherty/AP Photo
  17. Bill Clinton, 1993

    Bill Clinton, 1993

    “If we believe in restoring the values that make America special, we must believe that there is dignity in all work, and there must be dignity for all workers.”

    Luke Frazza/AFP via Getty Images
  18. George W. Bush, 2001

    George W. Bush, 2001

    “We must encourage and support the work of charities and faith-based and community groups that offer help and love, one person at a time.”

    Doug Mills/AFP via Getty Images