President Obama will deliver the annual State of the Union Address before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night, January 12th.
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 227th time presidents have reported to Congress, either in person or in written form, under this requirement.
By tradition, the president reports annually on the current condition of the nation and lays out a framework for the administration's domestic and foreign policy plans and the upcoming budget request. However, the White House has indicated that this year the president will deliver a “non-traditional” speech addressing challenges rather than only identifying new programs in the budget request.
President George Washington gave the first address on January 8, 1790. Washington and his successor President John Adams delivered their statement in person, but President Thomas Jefferson sent his message to Congress in writing. This practice of providing only a written submission continued until President Woodrow Wilson, in 1913, decided to go before a joint session of 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. President Roosevelt reset the oral tradition and used the term “State of the Union” for both the speech and the event, a practice that continues today.
After Roosevelt, most presidents have delivered their State of the Union address 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 presidency.
President Washington's “Annual Message” delivered to both houses of Congress in 1790 was 1,089 words in length, the shortest State of the Union message on record. In 1981 President Cater delivered a written message of 33,667 words, the longest message.
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.
President Calvin Coolidge delivered the first State of the Union address to a national audience on radio in 1923 and President Harry Truman’s 1947 address was the first to be broadcast on television. President George W. Bush’s message in 2002 was the first State of the Union address to be webcast live on the internet.
Since 1966, a representative of the opposition party has 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) in reply to President Johnson's State of the Union address. This year Governor Nikki Haley (R-SC) will deliver the Republican response. Last year Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) delivered the Republican response and in 2014 the response was given by Rep. Cathy McMorris (R-CA).
The CRS report “The President’s State of the Union Address: Tradition, Function, and Policy Implications” and the House Of Representatives History Art, & Archives website provide a comprehensive history of the State of the Union Address.