Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A brief history of the State of the Union Address

Tonight, President Obama will give his first State of the Union Address. As mandated by the Constitution, in Article II, Section 3, the President “shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the State of the Union.” The Constitution does not, however, say how such an address should be given, and it has changed over time. George Washington gave the first State of the Union address on January 8, 1790. However, when Thomas Jefferson became President, he chose an alternative form, choosing to write a letter to Congress, which was read by a clerk. This practice continued until 1913, when Woodrow Wilson re-adopted the speech style presentation. Some presidents chose to send a written State of the Union to Congress, the last one being Jimmy Carter.

When the address was given has also changed over time. Before 1934, the address was delivered at the end of the calendar year; however things changed after the ratification of the 20th Amendment, which changed when Congress opened from early March to early January. Since then, the speech (or letter) has been delivered in January or February, and today it is typically given on the last Wednesday in January.

State of the Union Fun Facts:
- Calvin Coolidge’s 1923 speech was the first to be broadcast on radio.
- Harry Truman’s 1947 speech was the first to be broadcast on television.
- Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1965 address was the first to be delivered in the Evening.
- Ronald Reagan was the only president to postpone his address, after the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.
- Bill Clinton’s 1997 speech was the first live web broadcast.

Have your students watch tonight’s speech, and play State of the Union Bingo. You can then ask your students their opinion of President Obama's speech , as well as the importance of the address itself.

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