State of the Union address: As Pelosi invites Trump to give the speech, history proves its significance

Major speech is a historic component of virtually every American presidency

Chris Riotta
New York
Monday 28 January 2019 20:20 GMT
Donald Trump's State of the Union address in 90 seconds

Donald Trump’s State of the Union address is back on, now that the longest federal government shutdown in history has finally ended — but it may include some caveats.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has invited the president to deliver his spech at the Capitol on 5 February in a formal letter.

Pelosi said in her letter that she and agreed on the new date after speaking with Mr Trump.

The historic tradition was pushed back this year because of the 35-day government shutdown, spurred by the president’s demands for $5.7bn to go towards his campaign promise of a US-Mexico border wall.

Congress must pass a joint-resolution inviting the president to make the speech in the US House of Representatives before he can address the nation.

With Mr Trump expected to announce a newly-scheduled State of the Union address in the coming days, here’s the history behind the significance and meaning of the presidential speech.

When did State of the Union addresses begin?

The State of the Union has varied in form throughout early-American history, with George Washington and John Adams both delivering their addresses directly to Congress.

When Thomas Jefferson assumed the Oval Office he ended the practice of delivering the speech to Congress, instead sending lawmakers a written letter addressing the nation.

Woodrow Wilson then ended the tradition of sending written letters, becoming the first president to address Congress with an “executive’s message” in nearly a century.

Has the State of the Union always been televised?

Calvin Coolidge was the first president to conduct a State of the Union address over radio in 1923.

However, the first televised State of the Union address occurred under Harry Truman, who also officially renamed the speech the “State of the Union” after the term was popularised by Franklin D Roosevelt.

The State of the Union address was then moved from a daytime speech to 9.00pm. under Lyndon B Johnson in an effort to garner a larger audience throughout the nation.

Has a State of the Union address ever been delayed?

The State of the Union has only been delayed once before Mr Trump’s shutdown.

Ronald Reagan pushed back the speech after the historic Challenger space shuttle explosion on 28 January.

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Meanwhile, just two presidents in US history never delivered a State of the Union address throughout their tenure in the White House. William Henry Harrison died just 32 days after his inauguration of pneumonia, while James Garfield was assassinated within the first year of his presidency.

But that isn’t to say the State of the Union is guaranteed annually. A slate of modern US presidents have declined to deliver the major speech during their first year in office, including Mr Trump, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George HW Bush and Ronald Reagan.

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