WTF Fun Fact 13233 – History of the State of the Union Address

The U.S. presidential State of the Union address wasn’t always given as a speech to a joint session of Congress. Starting with Thomas Jefferson, presidents delivered the State of the Union as a written report to Congress. It wasn’t until Woodrow Wilson’s presidency in 1913 that the address resumed as a speech delivered in person to Congress.

The history of the State of the Union address

While the U.S. Constitution mentions the President’s duty to “from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient,” it does not specify how this duty should be fulfilled.

George Washington gave the first State of the Union address to Congress in 1790. This practice was followed by his successor, John Adams, and continued until Thomas Jefferson took office in 1801.

Jefferson believed that the Constitution’s requirement for the President to report on the state of the union was too formal. He thought it would make the President appear too much like a monarch. As a result, Jefferson chose to deliver the State of the Union address as a written report to Congress. This practice continued until 1913 when Woodrow Wilson re-established the tradition of delivering the State of the Union as a speech.

According to the U.S. House of Representatives website (cited below):

“There have been 98 total in-person addresses from 1790 to 2022…The address was formally known as the Annual Message from 1790 to 1946. Since 1947, it has officially been known as the State of the Union Address.

How the report became an address

The State of the Union address has evolved over time and become an important event in American politics. The speech provides the President with a platform to outline their legislative agenda, discuss important policy issues, and set the tone for the coming year.

The SOTU is also an opportunity for the President to respond to current events and other pressing concerns.

The role of the SOTU in American politics

The SOTU address has also been a platform for Presidents to address controversial issues and push for legislative changes.

In his SOTU address in 2002, George W. Bush called for the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In 2010, Barack Obama called for the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

In recent years, the State of the Union address has become a partisan event. Members of Congress are often divided along party lines in their response to the President’s speech. Despite this, the SOTU remains an important event on the American political calendar.  WTF fun facts

Source: “State of the Union Address” — United States House of Representatives

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