President Obama will deliver the annual State of the Union Address before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night, February 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 225th time presidents have reported to Congress, either in person or in written form, under this requirement. 

According to information from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) on the history of the State of the Union addresses, President George Washington gave the first address on January 8, 1790.  Washington and President John Adams delivered their statement 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 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. This term continues to be used 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.  Also, some presidents have chosen not to send a message right after they delivered their first inaugural address. 

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). This year there will be two responses to President Obama’s State of the Union address.  Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, will deliver the Republican response and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) has been tapped to deliver a response on behalf of the Tea Party.