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State of the Union Address
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State of the Union Address

The State of the Union Address is an annual event in which the President of the United States reports on the status of the country, normally to a joint session of the U.S. Congress (the House of Representatives and the Senate). The address is also used to outline the President's legislative proposals for the upcoming year.

Modeled after the Speech from the Throne, the requirement for the address is written into the United States 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." (Article II, Section 3)

This requirement does not specify the address's form, frequency, or depth of information. Although all Presidents have given an annual message, its form has changed over time.

Table of contents
1 History
2 The speech
3 External links


George Washington gave the first state of the union address on January 8, 1790 in New York City, then the provisional U.S. capital. In 1801, Thomas Jefferson discontinued the practice of delivering the address in person, regarding it as too regal (and, as he was reported to have had a raspy voice). Until 1913, when Woodrow Wilson re-established the practice despite some initial controversy, the address was instead written and then sent to Congress to be read by a clerk.

For many years, the speech was referred to as "the President's Annual Message to Congress." The actual term "State of the Union" did not become widely used until after 1935 when Franklin Delano Roosevelt began using the phrase.

Prior to 1934 the annual message was delivered in December. The ratification of Amendment XX on January 23, 1933 changed the opening of Congress from early March to early January, affecting the delivery of the annual message. Since 1934, the message or address has been delivered to Congress in January or February.

Today, the speech is typically delivered on the last Tuesday in January, although there is no such provision written in law, and it varies from year to year. Since 1966, the speech has been followed by a response or rebuttal from members of the political party opposing the President's. The response is typically broadcast from a studio with no audience.

Calvin Coolidge's 1923 speech was the first to be broadcast on radio. Harry S. Truman's 1947 address was the first to be broadcast on television. Lyndon Johnson's address in 1965 was the first delivered in the evening. George W. Bush's 2002 address was the first broadcast available live on the world wide web.

The speech

In the State of the Union the President traditionally outlines his administration's accomplishments over the previous year, as well as his agenda for the coming year in upbeat and optimistic terms. At some point during the speech, the President usually says the State of our Union is strong or a very similar phrase. In recent years it has also become common for the President to acknowledge special guests sitting near the
First Lady in the gallery, such as everyday Americans (see Lenny Skutnicks) or visiting Heads of State. The guests are usually relevant to some part of the President's speech.

The President's presence upon entering the House chamber is ceremoniously announced by the Sergeant-at-Arms of the House of Representatives who calls out, "Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States!" The President enters the chamber to thunderous applause and spends several minutes greeting members of Congress as he makes his way toward the podium front and center. Once there, the President hands copies of his address to the Vice President of the United States (in his capacity as President of the Senate) and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, who sit behind the President for the duration of the speech. If either is unavailable, the next highest-ranking member of the presidential order of succession takes his or her place.

Sitting near the front of the chamber are the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Justices of the Supreme Court, and the members of the President's Cabinet. Customarily, one cabinet member does not attend, in order to provide continuity in the line of succession in the event that a catastrophe disables the President, the Vice President, and other succeeding officers gathered in the House chamber. Additionally, since the September 11, 2001 attacks, a few members of Congress have been asked to relocate to undisclosed locations for the duration of the speech.

The President delivers the speech (with the aid of dual TelePrompTerss) from the podium at the front of the House chamber. State of the Union speeches usually last a little over an hour. Part of the length of the speech is due to the large amounts of applause that occur from the audience throughout. The applause is somewhat political in tone, with many portions of the speech only being applauded by members of the President's own party. Applause indicates support, while applause with a standing ovation indicates enthusiastic support.

External links