State of the Union Address
From Academic Kids
- Alternative meanings in State of the Union (disambiguation)
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. It has occurred in January except for 6 occasions in February since 1934.
- "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.
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 monarchial (similar to the Queen's Speech). Instead, the address was written and then sent to Congress to be read by a clerk until 1913 when Woodrow Wilson re-established the practice despite some initial controversy.
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 D. 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.
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. Bill Clinton gave his in 1999 after being impeached, but on a threat of being convicted for his role in the Lewinsky scandal. George W. Bush's 2002 address was the first broadcast available live on the world wide web. Ronald Reagan was the only president to have postponed his State of the Union address. On January 28, 1986, he planned to give his address, but after learning that the Challenger exploded, he postponed it for a week and addressed the nation on the day's events.
In the State of the Union the President traditionally outlines the administration's accomplishments over the previous year, as well as the 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, "Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States!" The President enters the chamber to a standing ovation and spends several minutes greeting members of Congress and walking toward the podium at the front and center of the House chamber. Once there, the President hands copies of the address to the Vice President of the United States (as President of the Senate) and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, both of whom sit behind the President for the duration of the speech. If either is unavailable, the next highest-ranking member of the respective house substitutes.
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 (the designated survivor) 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.
Once the chamber settles down from the President's arrival and the attendees take their seats, the Speaker taps the gavel and officially presents the President to the joint session of Congress by saying something similar to the following: "Members of Congress, I have the high privilege and distinct honor of presenting to you the President of the United States." Another standing ovation commences before the President finally begins the address.
The President delivers the speech (with the aid of dual teleprompters) 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. However, all join in the ovations that occur before the speech begins, because by tradition it is the office being applauded and not the person holding it (and, in fact, the President is never introduced by name).
The opposition response to the speech
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. This is the norm, but not the rule. In 1997, former Oklahoma congressman J.C. Watts delivered the Republican response to that year's speech in front of high school students sponsored by the Close-Up Foundation.  (http://www.arg-media.com/articles/domestic/dom43.htm). In 2004, the Democrats delivered a response to that year's State of the Union in Spanish. It was delivered by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.  (http://www.dfw.com/mld/startelegram/news/state/7756716.htm?1c)
- The American Presidency Project (UC Santa Barbara: 52,000+ Presidential Documents) (http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/sou.php)
- C-SPAN State of the Union videos and transcripts (http://www.c-span.org/executive/stateoftheunion.asp) (since 1945)
- White House coverage (http://www.whitehouse.gov/stateoftheunion/)
- http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/5050 Text file of state of the union addresses from 1790-2001
- State of the Union Addresses of the American Presidents (http://www.usa-presidents.info/union/) (1790-2004)