AP EXPLAINS: President's State of Union address to Congress

AP News
Posted: Jan 19, 2015 12:49 PM
AP EXPLAINS: President's State of Union address to Congress

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama takes the dais in the House of Representatives on Tuesday to tell a joint session of Congress, Cabinet members, judicial and military dignitaries and a national television audience about his plans for the coming year. He will be giving a report on The State of the Union, an assessment mandated by the U.S. Constitution and a tradition since George Washington gave the first such report to Congress in 1790. Here's a brief explanation of what was originally known as the president's Annual Message to Congress:


Beginning with Thomas Jefferson, who rejected the ceremonial speech in 1801, presidents for more than a century gave their messages not in person but in writing. Those reports were often stodgy, laden with details on national income and spending. But they still sometimes made history. James Monroe, in 1823, used his report to warn European nations to end their practice of colonization in the Western hemisphere. The Monroe Doctrine, as it became known, was long a bedrock concept in U.S. foreign policy. Abraham Lincoln told Americans during the American Civil War in 1862 that "we cannot escape history" and that slavery must be abolished.


Woodrow Wilson re-established the practice of delivering a speech in person in 1913, and Calvin Coolidge gave the first State of the Union over the radio in 1923. Franklin D. Roosevelt, with World War II looming, used his 1941 address to outline the "Four Freedoms" — freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. Harry Truman used the then-new medium of television to broadcast his address in 1947. George W. Bush, in the first live webcast, outlined plans for a "war on terror" four months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York and Washington.


The State of the Union address has become a highly charged political event, with members of the president's party standing again and again to applaud while the opposition party sits, often glowering at a president's applause lines. And it has seen presidents make proposals that never happen, such as Ronald Reagan's call for a missile defense shield to protect against nuclear attack or Obama's vision of 1 million electric cars on U.S. roads by this year. The audience for the State of the Union address has fallen dramatically as the media landscape has fractured. Obama planned to capture some of those lost viewers by giving his first post-speech interview to YouTube.