State of the Union speech wasn’t always a speech

Released: 
February 11, 2013

The president’s State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress has become an annual tradition, but it wasn’t always.

Barack Obama delivers another State of the Union address to Congress on Feb. 12, 2013. Technically, though, he could just fire off an email. The Constitution mandates that the President “shall from time to time give to the Congress information on the State of the Union,” but not how or when. Our first two presidents, George Washington and John Adams, delivered speeches. Thomas Jefferson stopped the practice, thinking it looked too much like something a king would do.

For more than 100 years after Jefferson presidents sent written messages to Congress – until Woodrow Wilson revived the live speech in 1913.

The longest SOTU message was William Howard Taft’s 1910 written report totaling 27,651 words. The shortest was George Washington’s 1790 speech: at 1,089 words.

Our photo gallery gives more fun facts on presidential State of the Union messages. Have a look, then add to the discussion below. What’s the value of this yearly tradition? Do you think a good speech leads to the success of a president’s agenda?