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The State of the Union is an annual address presented by the President of the United States to the United States Congress. The address not only reports on the condition of the nation but also allows the president to outline his legislative agenda and national priorities to Congress. The report has occurred in January (except for the occasion of a new president's entrance into Office, whereupon he gives his first address in February) since 1934.

The State of the Union is typically given before a joint session of the United States Congress and is held in the House of Representatives chamber at the United States Capitolmarker.

Sometimes, especially in recent years, newly inaugurated presidents have delivered speeches to joint sessions of Congress only weeks into their respective terms, but these are not officially considered State of the Union addresses. The address is most frequently used to outline the president's legislative proposals for the upcoming year.

Modeled after the monarch's Speech from the Throne during the State Opening of Parliament in the United Kingdommarker, such a report is required by the United States Constitution. The Constitution does not require that the report take the form of a speech; although virtually every president since Woodrow Wilson has made the State of the Union report in the form of a speech delivered personally before a joint session of Congress. By tradition, the President makes this report annually, even though the clause "from time to time" leaves the matter open to interpretation:

Since the address is made in the Capitol and during a joint session of Congress, the President must first be invited by Congress to both enter the House of Representatives Chamber and then actually address the joint session. This invitation is customary in form as the speech is now a traditional part of the American political and national schedule.


George Washington gave the first State of the Union address on January 8, 1790 in New York Citymarker, then the provisional U.S. capital. In 1801, Thomas Jefferson discontinued the practice of delivering the address in person, regarding it as too monarchical (similar to the Speech from the Throne). 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. However, there have been exceptions to this rule. Presidents during the latter half of the 20th century have sent written State of the Union addresses. The last President to do this was Jimmy Carter in 1981.

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 at the end of the calendar year, in December. The ratification of the 20th Amendment 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. In 2008, the speech was given on the last Monday of January.

The Twentieth Amendment also established January 20 as the beginning of the presidential term. In years when a new president is inaugurated, the outgoing president may deliver a final State of the Union message, but none has done so since Jimmy Carter sent a written message in 1981. In 1953 and 1961, Congress received both a written State of the Union message from the outgoing president and a separate State of the Union speech by the incoming president. Since 1989, in recognition that the responsibility of reporting the State of the Union formally belongs to the president who held office during the past year, newly inaugurated Presidents have not officially called their first speech before Congress a "State of the Union" message.

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 B. Johnson's address in 1965 was the first delivered in the evening. 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 of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, he postponed it for a week and addressed the nation on the day's events. Not a single justice of the Supreme Courtmarker was in attendance for this postponed address, the first ever such absence. Bill Clinton's 1997 address was the first broadcast available live on the World Wide Web.

Delivery of the speech

A formal invitation is made for each State of the Union Address. The Sergeant at Arms of the United States House of Representatives ceremoniously announces the presence of the President, who then enters the chamber to a standing ovation.

Sitting near the front of the chamber are the Justices of the Supreme Courtmarker, the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and 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.

After greeting attendees, the President hands copies of the address to the Vice President of the United States, who is present in his capacity 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. Once the chamber settles down from the President's arrival, the Speaker officially presents the President to the joint session of Congress. The President then delivers the speech from the podium at the front of the House Chamber.

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. Since the 1982 address, it has also become common for the President to honor special guests sitting in the gallery, such as everyday Americans or visiting heads of state.

State of the Union speeches usually last a little over an hour, partly because of the large amounts of applause that occur from the audience throughout. The applause is often political in tone, with many portions of the speech being applauded only by members of the President's own party. As non-political officeholders, members of the Supreme Court or the Joint Chiefs of Staff rarely applaud in order to retain the appearance of political impartiality.

Opposition response

Since 1966, the speech has been followed on television by a response or rebuttal by a member of the political party opposing the President's party. The response is typically broadcast from a studio with no audience. In 1970, the Democrats put together a TV program with their speech to reply to President Nixon, as well as a televised response to Nixon's written speech in 1973. The same thing was done by Democrats for President Reagan's speeches in 1982 and 1985. In 1997, Oklahomamarker 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. In 2004, the Democrats also delivered their response in Spanish, delivered by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. After President George W. Bush's 2006 State of the Union address, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine delivered the Democratic Party's response in English while Los Angelesmarker mayor Antonio Villaraigosa gave a response in Spanish. Virginia Senator Jim Webb made the 2007 response and Rep. Xavier Becerra of Californiamarker delivered the Spanish version. In 2008, Democrats tapped Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius to give a response in English; Texas state Senator Leticia Van de Putte did the same in Spanish.

Local versions

Certain states have a similar annual address given by the governor. For most of them, it is called the "State of the State" address. In Iowa, it is called the "Condition of the State Address"; in Kentuckymarker, Massachusettsmarker, Pennsylvaniamarker, and Virginiamarker, the speech is called the "State of the Commonwealth" address. The mayor of Washington, D.C.marker gives a "State of the District" address. American Samoamarker has a "State of the Territory" address given by the governor. Puerto Rico has a "State Address" given by the governor. Some cities or counties also have an annual address given by the mayor, county commissioner, or Board Chair, such as Sonoma County, Californiamarker. Some university presidents give a "State of the University" address at the beginning of every academic term. Some cities also have a "State of the City" address, including Cincinnatimarker, Ohiomarker; Seattlemarker, Washingtonmarker; Birmingham, Alabamamarker; Boston, Massachusettsmarker; Buffalo, New Yorkmarker; Rochester, New Yorkmarker; San Antoniomarker, Texasmarker; and San Diegomarker, Californiamarker.

See also

Recent addresses


  1. Ben's Guide to U.S. Government; United States Government Printing Office
  3. ( )
  4. Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Library
  5. Office of the Clerk

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