"The President shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient." - The Constitution, Article II, Section 3

George Washington delivered the first State of the Union address on January 8, 1790. His speech centered on the idea of unity itself, that democracy was in its infancy and its success needed to be proven. The tradition of a speech continued under the administration of John Adams with much pomp and circumstance.

Thomas Jefferson rejected the idea of a large speech and the ceremony that surrounded it. To him it was the type of ceremony common to the British monarchy that the founding fathers had rejected. True to his pledge of a return to a more “simple” form of government, he chose to send a written message rather than deliver a speech. The President's Annual Message, as it was then called, remained a written document for the next 112 years.

But it still had impact on the formation of American policy. In 1823 James Monroe set forth The Monroe Doctrine that prohibited European intervention in the Americas. In 1862 Abraham Lincoln rallied support for The Civil War and declared the union "the last, best hope of Earth." Ulysses S. Grant’s final address was an angry defense of his second administration, which had come under fire for various scandals including widespread corruption in the Treasury Department.

In 1913 Woodrow Wilson revived the practice of delivering the annual message in person, giving a dramatic speech calling for tariff reform. Since the advent of radio and television the speech has become a major campaign event. In 1965 Lyndon Johnson moved the speech from midday to the evening in order to attact a larger television audience. The address is now used to present issues and reforms to the American people. LBJ used the speech to outline his "Great Society" platforms. Ronald Reagan, after having his 1986 speech postponed due to the Challenger explosion, used his final speech to apologize for the Iran-Contra scandal.

The State of the Union Address has evolved from an neccessary report to Congress on the health of the country, to a major media event that can paint the image of the President into the eyes of the nation.

According to the US Constitution:

The President shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.

As it turns out, "from time to time" has been interpreted from the beginning as meaning yearly, and in fact, the speech was referred to as the "Annual Message" until FDR. Since the required content of the speech is open to interpretation, these national addresses have been used for everything from simple informational sessions to campaigning, and from introduction of policy to national apologies, though in recent history it is mostly used to promote the priorities of the President for the upcoming year.

Current Practices

The State of the Union Address has become a prime time event used to rally the President's own political party, reach out to the opposition, and speak directly to the public. Since 1966, an opposition response follows the State of the Union, and is typically given by leaders of the political party opposite the President.

On an agreed on date and time (in January or February), both the Senate and the House of Representatives convene for a joint session "for receiving such communication as the President of the United States shall be pleased to make to them." At this time, the Senators cross the Capitol building to the House Chamber. The Speaker of the House and the Vice President (acting as President of the Senate) occupy seats on the dais. A committee chosen from each house is appointed to escort the President to the chamber where he is presented by the Doorkeeper of the House of Representatives. The Speaker introduces the President who then delivers his address to the nation.

In attendance are members and former members of the House and Senate, the Presidential Cabinet (excluding one secretary and the Joint Chiefs of Staff), the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, and the Diplomatic Corp. Since Reagan's term, several Presidential guests are also present at the ceremony, and are individually recognized during the speech. Additional gallery seating is by ticket and coordinated by the Sergeant-at-Arms of the House.

Interesting Facts

Below is a listing of all of the State of the Union Addresses. To signify which Addresses have been noded, I have placed the exact date of the speech next to the link rather than just the year.
As might be expected, noding over 200 years of annual speeches can be time consuming, so please be patient.

George Washington

John Adams

Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson rejected the regal and ceremonial aspect of the State of the Union Address. He decided on a more "simple form of government" and submitted his address to the Congress by letter. This practice continued for over a century until 1913 when Woodrow Wilson once again gave his address as a speech.

James Madison

James Monroe

John Quincy Adams

Andrew Jackson

Martin Van Buren

William Henry Harrison

John Tyler

James K. Polk

Zachary Taylor

Millard Fillmore

Franklin Pierce

James Buchanan

Abraham Lincoln

Andrew Johnson

Ulysses S. Grant

Rutherford B. Hayes

James A. Garfield

Chester A. Arthur

Grover Cleveland

Benjamin Harrison

Grover Cleveland (second term, non-consecutive)

William McKinley

Theodore Roosevelt

William Howard Taft

Woodrow Wilson

Wilson revived the practice of delivering the State of the Union in person by speech to Congress, and did so from 1913 to 1918.

Warren G. Harding

Calvin Coolidge

In 1923, Coolidge is the first President to have his State of the Union broadcast on the radio.

Herbert Hoover

Franklin D. Roosevelt

The phrase "State of the Union Address" becomes the official description of the speech during Roosevelt's terms, though historians cannot agree in which year.

Harry S. Truman

In 1947, Truman is the first President to have his State of the Union broadcast on television.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

John F. Kennedy

Lyndon B. Johnson

Johnson has the State of the Union moved from afternoon to evening so that a wider television audience would see it.

Richard M. Nixon

Gerald R. Ford

Jimmy Carter

Ronald Reagan

George Bush

Bill Clinton

George W. Bush

In 2002, Bush is the first President to have his State of the Union available live via the Internet.

Barack Obama

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