President Obama will deliver the annual State of the Union Address before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night, January 24th. By tradition, the president reports annually on the current condition of the nation and lays out a framework for his domestic and foreign policy plans and the FY2013 budget request.
This annual address fulfills the constitutional requirement in Article II, Sec 3 of the Constitution that “The President shall from time to time give to the Congress Information on the State of the Union.” President Obama’s speech this year will mark the 223rd time presidents have reported to Congress, either in person or in written form.
President George Washington gave the first address on January 8, 1790. Washington and his successor John Adams delivered their statements in person, but President Thomas Jefferson sent his message to Congress in writing. This practice of written submission only continued until President Woodrow Wilson, in 1913, decided to go before Congress to deliver his message.
Between 1913 and 1934 presidents held to no particular tradition, sometimes giving their statements in person and sometimes sending them to Congress only in writing. However, since President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first State of the Union Address in 1934, most presidents have appeared in person. Notable exceptions have been written statements by President Eisenhower after his heart attack and by Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and Carter in the final year of their the presidency.
Since 1934, when the 20th amendment changed the end date of presidential terms to January 20th, Presidents have delivered their State of the Union messages in January or February. Prior to 1934, Presidents delivered the message in December.
Starting in 1966, a representative of the opposition party delivered a response to the president’s address. The first opposition response was given by Sen. Everett Dirksen (R-IL) and Rep. Gerald Ford (R-MI). This year Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-IN) will continue that tradition. Daniels, Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush, had considered competing for the Republican nomination this year.
The CRS report "The President's State of the Union Address: Tradition, Function, and Policy Implications" provides a comprehensive review of the State of the Union Address.