The complete history of the US State of the Union address
John HaltiwangerJan 17, 2019, 05.21 AM
President Donald Trump delivers his first State of the Union address.AP
The State of the Union address has a long, interesting history that dates back to President George Washington.
The address is derived from the US Constitution, and different presidents have put their own spin on it due to the vague language of the text.
In the present day, the State of the Union largely serves as an opportunity for the president to highlight his accomplishments while outlining his hopes for the future.
The State of the Union is an annual address the president delivers before a joint session of Congress.
Its history dates back to the first leader of the nation, President George Washington, and it's evolved and changed a number of times over the years.
In the present day, the State of the Union largely serves as an opportunity for the president to emphasize the ways in which he feels his administration has been successful while also laying out his agenda and hopes for the future.
The State of the Union address is derived from Article II, Section 3 of the US Constitution, which states that presidents "shall from time to time give to the Congress information about the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient." This has been interpreted differently by various presidents over the course of history, given how vaguely worded it is.
It's not required that presidents deliver information on the "state of the union" in an oral speech, but that's how it was initially done. In the first 12 years of the existence of the US, Presidents George Washington and John Adams both delivered their State of the Union addresses before Congress.
On January 8, 1790, Washington delivered the first State of the Union address before Congress in New York City, which was still the US capital at the time.
President Thomas Jefferson ended the tradition of delivering a speech before Congress, and instead opted to send a written message to lawmakers. Jefferson felt that delivering an address before Congress was too aristocratic and similar to practices in monarchies.
Subsequent presidents followed Jefferson's example for over a century. But the precedent the third president established was eventually broken by President Woodrow Wilson in 1913.
Wilson was the first president to deliver the executive's message in an oral speech before Congress since 1801. At the time, The Washington Post reported that lawmakers were "agape" at Wilson's break from tradition. "Washington is amazed," the newspaper reported.
Since Wilson, most presidents have delivered their message to Congress in person.
The "state of the union" was a phrase first popularized by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. His speech was informally referred to as the state of the union "address" or "message."
President Harry S. Truman officially named the speech the "State of the Union address," and the rest is history.
President Ronald Reagan started the practice of inviting special guests, often ordinary Americans who've performed an act of heroism or people who help the president make specific policy points.
Reagan also holds the record for the shortest State of the Union address, delivering his 1986 speech in approximately 31 minutes.
The longest State of the Union in history was delivered by President Bill Clinton in 2000, clocking in at around 89 minutes.
Some State of the Union addresses have been more impactful or memorable than others and the influence of the speech has perhaps been exaggerated at times. But it is a vital opportunity for the president to grab the attention of Congress, the US public, and, in many ways, the world to address whatever they feel is most important in that moment.