Wednesday, January 27, 2010

He Shall From Time to Time…..A Brief History of the State of the Union

Tonight, President Barack Obama will deliver his first State of the Union address as president. The need for a president to address Congress about the state of the union is laid out in our Constitution in Article II, Section 3, which mandates that the president “shall 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.” Like much of the Constitution, this requirement is written in somewhat ambiguous language that the early presidents interpreted in different ways. For example, what kind of requirement is “from time to time?” President George Washington interpreted that to mean once a year, and so the State of the Union is delivered once a year, usually at the start of a new legislative session.

Another interesting aspect of the constitutional requirement of a state of the union is that it does not explicitly state that the president must deliver it before Congress in person. George Washington and John Adams both chose to deliver the address in person. John Adams’ State of the Union only took about 5 minutes to deliver. Imagine if that was the case today. While the first two presidents delivered the address in person, Thomas Jefferson believed the sight of a president addressing Congress was too similar to the practice of the King of England addressing parliament. He rankled at any display of monarchial power. Therefore, he sent a written copy of his state of the union to be read to Congress. This became the standard practice for presidents until Woodrow Wilson. He resurrected the practice of delivering the address in person, a practice that was later adopted by FDR. While presidents still have the constitutional right to mail their address to Congress, it has become an unwritten requirement of the modern presidency to deliver it in person.

There have been some tense moments surrounding previous addresses, check out a NY Times article that describes some of these addresses in greater detail.

To read more about the State of the Union address and the American presidency, check this out.

Delivering the State of the Union address live on primetime television was a practice started by President Lyndon Johnson. Will you be watching tonight?

[Image via knowledgerush]

No comments:

Post a Comment