Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse first staged their Pulitzer Prize–winning play, State of the Union, in 1945, and published it a year later. The play was inspired by events of the time. Following World War II, which ended in 1945, global politics became a concern of many American citizens, as the play indicates. Issues of declining relations with the Soviet Union, atomic weapons, and America’s inclusion in the newly formed United Nations are mentioned at various points in the play, which explores the various underhanded and dubious political methods that candidates use to get elected president of the United States. The two playwrights wrote the work after a friend, Helen Hayes, suggested they write a play about a presidential candidate.
In the play, that candidate is Grant Matthews, a self-made businessman who is very popular with the public for his strong and controversial views— and who at least one critic feels is molded after the real-life 1940 presidential candidate, Wendell Willkie, a person who is mentioned in the play. A politician, James Conover, and a host of other politically influential supporters convince a reluctant Grant to run for president, and he agrees, thinking that he can do so without compromising his plan to be an honest candidate. Unfortunately, as Grant makes more and more concessions, he—and his wife, Mary—realize that in order to be honest, he must risk alienating special interest political groups, which could cost him the election. Ultimately, the playwrights, through Grant’s final speech, encourage the American people to take a more active role in the political process. Although the playwright team wrote many popular plays during their partnership, State of the Union is arguably their most well-known. The play is available in a 1998 paperback edition from Dramatists Play Service.