In the immediate wake of the Academy Awards, it is interesting to note that it was not only King George VI who struggled with public oratory. For all his writing skill, Thomas Jefferson did not deliver most of his speeches aloud.
That’s right – the eloquent statesman who penned the Declaration of Independence by himself did not enjoy reading his own material in public! Regarding Jefferson’s tenure in the Continental Congress, John Adams wrote, “Mr. Jefferson had been now about a Year a Member of Congress, but had attended his Duty in the House but a very small part of the time and when there had never spoken in public: and during the whole Time I sat with him in Congress, I never heard him utter three Sentences together.”
It is not known for sure how many times Jefferson spoke publicly during his presidency. At the very least, he gave an inaugural address at the beginning of each of his two terms. Each of these addresses were delivered to the National Intelligencer in advance and were said to have been only “partially audible” because they were recited in a “low tone.”
For what is now known as the State of the Union address, each year Jefferson chose to forgo the oratory method employed by both of his predecessors. Once again, he opted to deliver his messages in writing! This tradition lasted for well over a century until Woodrow Wilson broke the presidential silence in 1913.
Join Rosemary Gould and Ann Kirkland in Charlottesville, Virginia for Founding Farmer: Thomas Jefferson at Home, May 1-6, 2011.