2000 The State of the Union Message
The annual State of the Union Message is a vital forum to promote presidential priorities for the coming year. The message serves as a report to Congress and the nation on national conditions; as a platform to announce and rally support for the President's legislative agenda for the coming year; and as a unique opportunity for the Chief Executive to personally convey his vision for the nation to Congress and the American people. The State of the Union Message gives the President an opportunity to exercise legislative leadership by assessing current national conditions and making recommendations for future policy.
The State of the Union Message is usually delivered by the President at an evening joint session of Congress during the second, third, or fourth week of January. When a President indicates that he is coming to deliver a State of the Union Message, Congress responds by passing a resolution calling "a joint session of Congress to receive a message from the President on the State of the Union."
President Clinton will deliver his State of the Union Message on Thursday, January 27 at 9:00 p.m.
History of the Message
A Constitutional Requirement
Article II, Section III, Clause 1 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." It is this constitutional requirement that forms the basis of the State of the Union Message.
The idea of a State of the Union Message traces back to the British practice of opening Parliament with the Speech from the Throne. It was originally titled the "President's Annual Message to Congress."
The First Message
George Washington gave the first State of the Union Message on January 8, 1790, before a joint session of the House and Senate in New York, then the nation's capital. In his speech, Washington urged the legislators to consider how best to advance science and learning in the new country and talked about the need for improved roads and a postal system. Congress responded to Washington's speech just as the British parliament had traditionally responded to a speech by the king: they drafted and delivered a response that closely mirrored Washington's speech, pledging Congressional cooperation.
Breaking with Tradition
The tradition established by George Washington and John Adams of delivering the State of the Union Message in person was broken with Thomas Jefferson's presidency. Jefferson felt that the act of the President speaking in person before Congress was time consuming and monarchical, resembling too closely the nation's royal past. In his pledge to "return to simple, republican forms of Government," Jefferson broke with tradition and delivered his annual messages in writing by messenger, with no invitation to Congress to respond:
"By sending a message, instead of making a speech at the opening of the session, I have prevented the bloody conflict [to] which the making an answer would have committed them. They consequently were able to be sent into real business at once."
Jefferson avoided discussing specific measures in his messages, fearing they might appear as regal edicts, instead broadly stating his recommendations. Not until Andrew Jackson did a president champion specific issues in the annual address. After a long string of post-Civil war presidents who viewed the State of the Union address as a means to placate Congress, Theodore Roosevelt saw the occasion as a "bully pulpit" to mold the nation.
Jefferson's precedent of submitting the annual message in writing lasted through the next 24 presidents until 1913, when Woodrow Wilson personally delivered his address to Congress. President Franklin Roosevelt adopted Wilson's practice of personal delivery, and it has since become a 20th century tradition.
Media Coverage of the Message
Before the advent of radio, the State of the Union Message was transmitted to the public by the print media. Historian Charles Beard observed that the annual message was:
"…the one great public document of the United States which is widely read and discussed. Congressional debates receive scant notice, but the President's message is ordinarily printed in full in nearly every metropolitan daily, and is the subject of general editorial comment throughout the length and breadth of the land. It stirs the country: it often affects Congressional elections; and it may establish grand policy."
Calvin Coolidge was the first President to use radio for a State of the Union address, in 1923. FDR used both the radio and a personal appearance before Congress. President Harry Truman's 1947 State of the Union Message was the first to be broadcast by television. With the advent of radio and television coverage of the address, the State of the Union Message has gained great importance by providing a nationwide platform for the President.
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