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Extra!: History of the State of the Union

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(CNN Student News) -- On January 23, 2007, President George W. Bush will deliver his annual State of the Union address. But what is the State of the Union, and what makes this presidential speech different from others?

The State of the Union is an annual speech given by the President of the United States to the U.S. Congress. The president presents his goals and agenda for the upcoming year and highlights his administration's achievements. The U.S. Constitution requires of the president to "...from time to time give to the Congress Information on the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient..."(U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 3).

President George Washington delivered the first of these annual messages" on January 8, 1790, at Federal Hall in New York, the first U.S. Capitol. The address was not called the "State of the Union" until President Franklin D. Roosevelt used that phrase in 1935. Until then, the speech was referred to as the "Annual Message."

Both Washington and his successor, John Adams, delivered their Annual Messages in person before Congress. However, Thomas Jefferson, the third U.S. president, felt that Washington's formal speech was "monarchical" and time consuming. In 1801, he chose to send Congress a written message instead. For the next 112 years, U.S. presidents sent written Annual Messages to Congress. The messages (or excerpts of them) were often printed in newspapers for the American public to read.

In 1913, President Woodrow Wilson resumed the practice of delivering the Annual Message in person to both houses of Congress, despite the controversy surrounding his decision to do so. Since then, almost every president has delivered this speech in person.

The arrival of new technologies enabled presidents to communicate their Annual Messages directly to the American people. In 1923, Calvin Coolidge became the first president to broadcast his speech on the radio. Twenty-four years later, Harry S Truman became the first president to deliver the address on television. In 2002, President George W. Bush's address was the first to be made available as a live Webcast on the White House Web site.

Today, the president usually delivers his annual State of the Union message at an evening joint session of Congress during the second, third or fourth week of January. Broadcast and Webcast to an international audience, the address gives the president the opportunity to report on national conditions, announce and rally support for the chief executive's legislative agenda for the coming year, and personally convey his vision for the nation.

State of the Union facts:

  • The State of the Union is delivered in the House of Representatives, before members of both the House and the Senate, as well as the justices of the Supreme Court, the president's Cabinet and the diplomatic corps.
  • One member of the president's Cabinet is designated not to attend the speech. This helps protect the presidential line of succession.
  • After the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, Congress began designating one senator and one representative from each party not to attend the speech.
  • Members of the Supreme Court attend the State of the Union address, but they do not play an official role.
  • An opposing party's first official "response" to the State of the Union speech was given in 1966.
  • The practice of inviting surprise guests to sit with the first lady began in 1982, when President Ronald Reagan recognized a good samaritan named Lenny Skutnick.
  • Source: Congressional Research Service

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