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Historic highlights of the State of the Union address

WASHINGTON—The State of the Union address is required by the U.S. Constitution. Article II, Section 3 says: "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."

In their addresses, presidents comment on the state of the country and lay out important doctrines or agendas for the next year. Historic highlights:

1790: George Washington delivers the first one in New York City.

1801: Thomas Jefferson sends his text via messenger to both houses of Congress. It's not until 1913 that the address is again given as a speech.

1862: Abraham Lincoln calls for emancipation of slaves.

1913: Woodrow Wilson revives the tradition of delivering the speech to Congress, but subsequent presidents rarely did until 1934.

1923: Calvin Coolidge's speech is the first broadcast over radio.

1935: The phrase "State of the Union," popularized by Franklin D. Roosevelt, becomes the common name for the address.

1947: Harry Truman's address is the first carried by television.

1966: For the first time, the opposition party gives a response.

1986: Ronald Reagan's speech was postponed for a week after the space shuttle Challenger disaster.

1998: Bill Clinton delivers his address less than one week after the Monica Lewinsky scandal became public and one day after he uttered what's perhaps his most famous quotation: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky."

2002: George W. Bush includes Iraq, Iran and North Korea in what he describes as an "axis of evil."

Sources:, Wikipedia, The American Presidency Project

For more information:

The American Presidency Project:

History of the State of the Union Address:

Coverage from the White House:


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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