Tonight, on the occasion of the 96th “State of the Union,” TAPintoTV looks back at the history of the annual address.
The basis for the State of the Union can be found in Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution, and indeed, in 1790, George Washington delivered the first address, which was then known as the “Annual Message.” To date, no one has given a shorter address.
Washington delivered that speech in New York and in-person. John Adams followed suit. However, Thomas Jefferson delivered his State of the Unions in writing, which began a new tradition until 1913. That year, President Woodrow Wilson, former Governor of New Jersey, revived the practice of delivering the State of the Union as a speech to Congress. Since President Wilson’s speech, there have been a total of 83 in-person addresses.
Though Bill Clinton delivered the longest State of the Union in 2000, clocking in at one hour, twenty-eight minutes and forty-nine seconds, Donald Trump is the president whose addresses have gone the longest, averaging an hour and 20 minutes.
Here are some facts about some State of the Union origins and traditions:
Ronald Reagan was the first president to invite a “gallery guest” to attend the address. In 1982, Reagan invited Lenny Skutnik, who had jumped into the frozen Potomac River after the crash of Air Florida Flight 90 to save a woman’s life.
Though the Constitution mandates a State of the Union, it says nothing about how often, what method or location of the address: “[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.”
Two presidents never delivered a State of the Union: William Henry Harrison and James Garfield, who both died before they could give one.
Since 1966, the speech has been followed by a response by a member of the opposing political party.
Some State of the Union addresses are more memorable than others; James Monroe issued the Monroe Doctrine in his annual message of 1823. FDR announced his “Four Freedoms” in his 1941 State of the Union address.
The first radio broadcast of the State of the Union was delivered by President Calvin Coolidge in 1923; the first televised speech was broadcast by Harry Truman in 1947; Lyndon Johnson was the first president who gave a prime time State of the Union address in 1965; George W. Bush was the first president whose address was broadcast live over the Internet in 2002.