History: State of the Union Address - A historical perspective
President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 24.

The State of the Union Address (SOTUA) is one of only two duties assigned to the President of the United States in our Constitution. Under Article II, Section 3, it states: "He 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." But as I found out in preparing a historical briefing package for the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee a number of years ago what seems to be the "same old, same old" has, in reality, had a hither and yon approach to where it got today. Therefore, the following chronological approach is useful in helping to explain how we got to today's State of the Union Address in 2012.

1790 - George Washington gives the first SOTUA and does so in person to Congress in New York City

1801 - Thomas Jefferson starts the practice of only sending a written copy of his SOTUA as he deems a verbal presentation smacks of a monarchy

1913 - Woodrow Wilson re-established the speech format of the SOTUA

1917 - Woodrow Wilson makes the first night SOTUA address to Congress

1923 - Calvin Coolidge makes the first radio SOTUA address

1934 - First time SOTUA address title is used. Prior to this it is known as The President's Annual Message to Congress

1936 - Franklin D. Roosevelt makes the second evening SOTUA address

1947 - Harry Truman makes the first televised SOTUA

1965 - Lyndon Johnson starts the regular night time SOTUA format that continues through today

1966 - First time rebuttal SOTUA given by the opposition party

1981 - Jimmy Carter is the last president to issue a SOTUA as he leaves office

1982 - Ronald Reagan starts tradition of having VIP guests with the First Lady Lenny Skutnik, a hero who rescued survivors of the Air Florida disaster at the 14th Street Bridge the month before, is recognized by the president

1986 - Ronald Reagan is first and only President to delay (by a week) his SOTUA. This was due to the space shuttle Challenger tragedy

1989 - George Herbert Walker Bush starts tradition of not labeling his first address to Congress as a SOTUA

1997 - Bill Clinton is first president to give his SOTUA via the world wide web

2004 - Democratic Party first to use both English and Spanish in their rebuttal to SOTUA

It should be noted in closing this column that the date in January is not a set date but varies constantly. Also at least one cabinet member and a number of members of Congress are always absent to attend to any catastrophe which may occur during the SOTUA.

Page last updated Tue January 31st, 2012 at 09:08