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The Voter’s Speakeasy featuring unbiased reporting and insight into life at Vote Smart from our staff, interns, and volunteers.

State of the Union Fun!

2013 February 14

by Ben Raker

Article II, section 3 of the United States constitution lays is out clearly: “Every year the president shall give a really big speech the whole country will watch, half of them eagerly, half of them angrily.” Well,
not exactly. The actual constitutional impetus for our current fanfare-inducing national tradition is pretty basic: “[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...” One cool way of thinking about it is that because of the word “recommend” this clause in the constitution further codifies the fact that the president is no king – he or she recommends things to congress, and even that is secondary to merely informing the people's representation on the state of the union.

We can thank George Washington for nailing down the parameters a bit. He set the tradition of giving this “State of the Union” to Congress on a yearly basis. Wilson reestablished the tradition of delivering the address to Congress in person after years of it being simply delivered to Congress (it used to be a lengthy written report that was delivered to the chambers and read by a page). Depending on how much you like to count ovations vs. standing ovations, we can thank FDR for establishing the relatively modern tradition of State of the Union speeches addressing both the Congress and citizens of the United States in his speech (among many other important ...

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