President’s Upcoming State of the Union Address Has Roots In Constitution

When President Barak Obama addresses the nation on February 12, he will not only carry on an American tradition, but also fulfill a Constitutional mandate.

Under Article II, Sec. 3, of the U.S. Constitution: “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.”

The U.S. Constitution does not require the State of the Union Address to be delivered at a certain time, date, or place. In fact, it does not even specify that it be given every year, only that it be made “from time to time.”

Because there are few Constitutional mandates, the State of the Union has evolved over the years. President George Washington delivered the first message to Congress on January 8, 1790. He used the opportunity to discuss the concept of a “union” and set out a course for the new nation.

President Thomas Jefferson preferred to articulate his goals for the country in a written document delivered to the Senate and the House of Representatives, finding a formal speech too reminiscent of the monarchy. This subsequently became the standard format for the State of the Union for over 100 years.

While President Obama’s speech will be broadcast on every major television network, the American public did not have the opportunity to listen to the State of the Union live until 1923, when it was broadcast on the radio. In 1947, Harry S. Truman became the first president to deliver the State of the Union Address on television.

In outlining their domestic and international priorities, the Presidents have also tackled serious concerns facing the nation. President Abraham Lincoln called for an end to slavery, while Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to authorize the country to enter World War I. More recently, President George W. Bush outlined his goals for the War on Terror, following the September 11 attacks.

On February 12, President Obama will deliver his third address to Congress and the nation. As those before him, he will tackle the issues of the day, both discussing the state of the country and as well as his vision going forward.

Donald Scarinci is a managing partner at Lyndhurst, N.J. based law firm Scarinci Hollenbeck.  He is also the editor of the Constitutional Law Reporter and Government and Law blogs.

 

"This meeting is entirely off the record. Until somebody leaks it."
—Michael Kempner, addressing a roomful of Democratic powerbrokers organizng for Hillary Clinton