State of the Unions have been a tradition since George Washington. Article II, Section III of the Constitution declares that a president should give a brief overview of the state of the union every year to Congress. It’s not surprising that Washington was the first president to give a “State of the Union.” What is surprising is that Thomas Jefferson thought that giving the speech orally was too royal, and opted to write to Congress. This tradition continued until Woodrow Wilson decided to orally deliver the speech again. Other cool trivia about the State of the Union:
- FDR was the first president to give this speech and have it called the “State of the Union.”
- Truman’s State of the Union was the first televised.
- The first opposition response was in 1966, and the Republican Party felt that they needed a response since it was being televised during prime time. The person they chose? Gerald Ford was the first opposition party response, and there have been six more times that the opposition response was given by a future President or Vice President of America ( Ford in 1966 and 1967, Ford and Rep. George Bush of Texas–among others–in 1968, Rep. Al Gore, among others, in 1982, Joe Biden, among others, in 1983 and 1984, and Bill Clinton, among others, in 1985).
- One person in the Cabinet, one member of the House, and one member of the Senate do not attend a State of the Union. These members are kept separate throughout the entire address. This is to ensure a continuity in policy if there were to be a catastrophic event during a State of the Union.
If you are even more curious about the State of the Union Congress put together a FAQ in 2006, and two college professors from the University of California at Santa Barbara compiled the Presidency Project. And there is always our collection in our catalog!
References: Schlesinger, R. (2012). State of the Union Trivia and History. U.S. News & World Report.