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Historical State of the Union Messages

Article II, Section 3, Clause 1 of the Constitution requires 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." Like many precedents, President George Washington first established the practice of reporting to Congress once a year. Washington gave his first annual message—what is now known as the State of the Union—to Congress on January 8th, 1790. He addressed Congress in person in the Senate Chamber of Federal Hall in New York City (the temporary seat of government at that time).

The second President, John Adams, also gave his annual messages in person but the practice was ended by Adams' successor, Thomas Jefferson, who sent his messages to Congress in writing. Jefferson's written communication with Congress began a tradition which lasted over a hundred years and was not broken until President Woodrow Wilson personally addressed a joint session of Congress in 1913. With few exceptions, all subsequent Presidents have chosen to appear annually before a joint session of Congress to deliver their message. The term "State of the Union" was first used to describe an annual message delivered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt but came into common usage during the presidency of Harry Truman.

Many presidential messages and related documentation are part of the official records of Congress and are located in the holdings of the Center for Legislative Archives. Below are small sampling of these historic messages.

President Thomas Jefferson's letter to the President of the Senate regarding the Annual Message, December 8, 1801

President Abraham Lincoln's Second Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862

President John F. Kennedy's First State of the Union Address, January 30, 1961

President Ronald Reagan's State of the Union Message to Congress, February 4, 1986

Read the full text of all State of the Union messages at the American Presidency Project.


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