President Ronald Reagan delivered his first State of the Union address in a televised prime-time speech on January 26, 1982. One year earlier, Reagan addressed Congress shortly after his inauguration, giving a speech focused on his plans for reviving the economy rather than a report to Congress on the nation. Following the precedent set by Reagan in 1981, speeches delivered in the first year of a presidential administration are, by custom, not considered State of the Union addresses. Reading copies of presidential messages given before a Joint Session are records of the Office of the Clerk.
Article II of the Constitution requires that the President “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” A type of presidential message, the name has changed over time from an “Annual Message” to the current “State of the Union” title. The form of the address has also varied throughout its history from a written document sent to both chambers to one delivered in person to a Joint Session of Congress.
Most of Reagan’s speech focused on domestic issues with comparatively brief remarks on foreign affairs. The cornerstone of the address was his proposed “new federalism” plan to shift management of Medicaid from the states to the federal government while in turn transferring responsibility of 40 federal aid programs to state governments. Other policy initiatives outlined included a plan to revitalize “depressed urban areas” and rural towns, as well as a vow not to raise taxes.
Reagan ended his speech by calling on Congress and his administration not to let the country down during trying times. “Let us so conduct ourselves that two centuries from now, another Congress and another President, meeting in this Chamber as we are meeting, will speak of us with pride, saying that we met the test and preserved for them in their day the sacred flame of liberty—this last, best hope of man on Earth.”