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The President’s Annual State of the Union Address, Explained

January 18, 2019 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

As President Donald Trump prepares to address Congress for his 2018 State of the Union address, take a look back at the history of this high-profile tradition.

These days, the State of the Union—the yearly speech by the U.S. president in front of the two houses of Congress, giving his view on the state of the nation and his legislative goals for the year—is as familiar a late January tradition as failing New Year’s resolutions and playoff football. But though its roots go all the way back to the nation’s founding, the State of the Union as we know it is a thoroughly modern tradition.

As President Donald Trump prepares to address Congress for his 2019 State of the Union address, take a look back at the history of this high-profile presidential tradition.

WHAT IS THE STATE OF THE UNION?

Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution states that the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

According to the National Archives, George Washington first fulfilled this particular presidential duty on January 8, 1790, when he addressed the new Congress in the Senate Chamber of Federal Hall in New York City (then the U.S. capital). But Thomas Jefferson, the third president, chose to give his annual message to Congress in writing rather than make the trek to the Capitol—kicking off a tradition that would last nearly a century.

In 1913, Woodrow Wilson decided to buck that tradition. Shortly after his inauguration, Wilson went to Capitol Hill to make a speech about tariffs, becoming the first president since John Adams to presume to address Congress directly, on its own turf. That December, Wilson returned before Congress to give the first modern State of the Union address (though it wouldn’t officially be called that until Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency).

President Franklin Delano delivers his 1941 State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress. (Credit: Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH ADDRESSES CONGRESS

The Constitution put into place a deliberate separation of powers between the three branches of the federal government, tasking the legislative branch with making the nation’s laws, the executive branch with enforcing them and the judicial branch with interpreting and applying them.

But Wilson, a Progressive Democrat, believed …read more

Source: HISTORY

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