The State of the Union is an annual address presented by the President of the United States to the United States Congress. The address not only reports on the condition of the nation but also allows the president to outline his legislative agenda (the office of the President does not have Constitutional power to enact legislation, only Congress can do this legally) and national priorities to Congress.
The State of the Union is typically given before a joint session of the United States Congress and is held in the House of Representatives chamber at the United States Capitol. The address is traditionally given in the month of January.
Sometimes, especially in recent years, newly inaugurated presidents have delivered speeches to joint sessions of Congress only weeks into their respective terms, but these are not officially considered State of the Union addresses. The address is most frequently used to outline the president's legislative proposals for the upcoming year.
Modeled after the monarch's Speech from the Throne during the State Opening of Parliament in the United Kingdom, such a report is required by the United States Constitution. The Constitution does not require that the report take the form of a speech, although virtually every president since Woodrow Wilson has made the State of the Union report in the form of a speech delivered personally before a joint session of Congress. By tradition, the President makes this report annually, even though the clause "from time to time" leaves the matter open to interpretation:
Since the address is made in the Capitol and during a joint session of Congress, the President must first be invited by Congress to both enter the House of Representatives Chamber and then actually address the joint session. This invitation is customary in form as the speech is now a traditional part of the American political and national schedule.
George Washington gave the first State of the Union address on January 8, 1790 in New York City, then the provisional U.S. capital. In 1801, Thomas Jefferson discontinued the practice of delivering the address in person, regarding it as too monarchical (similar to the Speech from the Throne). Instead, the address was written and then sent to Congress to be read by a clerk until 1913 when Woodrow Wilson re-established the practice despite some initial controversy. However, there have been exceptions to this rule. Presidents during the latter half of the 20th century have sent written State of the Union addresses. The last President to do this was Jimmy Carter in 1981.
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