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State of the Union Addresses and Messages: research notes by Gerhard Peters

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Length of State of the Union Messages and Addresses in Words
Length of State of the Union Addresses in Minutes (from 1966)
List of Acknowledged Guests Sitting in House Gallery
List of Opposition Responses
Cabinet Members Not in Attendance
(from 1984)
 

Gerhard PetersState of the Union Messages to the Congress are mandated by Article II, Section 3 of the United States Constitution: "He 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;" 

George Washington established the precedent that clarifies the phrase "from time to time." Since 1790, with occasional exceptions, State of the Union messages have been delivered once annually.

A misconception found even in some academic literature is that the State of the Union is an orally delivered message presented to a joint session of Congress.  With a few exceptions, this has been true in the modern era (ca. 1933-present, see Neustadt or Greenstein). However, beginning with Jefferson's 1st State of the Union (1801) and lasting until Taft's final message (1912), the State of the Union was a written (and often lengthy) report sent to Congress to coincide with a new Session of Congress..  

Federalists Washington and Adams had personally addressed the Congress, but Jefferson was concerned that the practice of appearing before the representatives of the people was too similar to the British monarch's practice of addressing each new Parliament with a list of policy mandates, rather than "recommendations."  

Jefferson's practice changed in 1913 with Woodrow Wilson.  Wilson believed the presidency was more than a impersonal institution and active and visible presidential leadership was needed to the people and the Congress. As an expression of this philosophy, Wilson delivered oral messages to Congress, citing the authority of the Constitution.  

For health reasons, Wilson did not address Congress in 1919 and 1920. Warren Harding's two messages (1921 and 1922) and Calvin Coolidge's first (1923) were also oral messages.  Subsequently, Coolidge's remaining State of the Unions (1924-28) and all four of Hoover's (1929-32) were written.  

Franklin D. Roosevelt consolidated the modern practice of delivering an oral State of the Union beginning with his first in 1934.  Exceptions include Truman's 1st (1946) and last (1953), Eisenhower's last (1961), Carter's last (1981), and Nixon's 4th (1973 and 1974 when he submitted multiple documents entitled "State of the Union.").  In addition, Roosevelt's last (1945) and Eisenhower's 4th (1956) were technically written messages although they addressed the American people via radio summarizing their reports.  In 1972 and 1974, Nixon presented both an oral address and a written message as did Carter in 1978, 1979, and 1980. Scholarly research needs to recognize the variability in these practices.

The five most recent presidents (Reagan, Bush, Clinton, G.W. Bush, and Obama) addressed a joint session of Congress shortly after their inaugurations but these messages are technically not considered to be "State of the Union" addresses. Reagan's 1981 address is called, "Address Before a Joint Session of the Congress on the Program for Economic Recovery."  Bush's 1989 and Clinton's 1993 messages are called "Administration Goals" speeches.  

G.W. Bush's 2001 speech was actually his "Budget Message," and President Obama delivered a similar non-State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on February 24, 2009. For research purposes, it is probably harmless to categorize these as State of the Union messages. Tthe impact of such a speech on public, media, and congressional perceptions of presidential leadership and power should be the same as if the address was an official State of the Union.  These speeches are included in the table below with an asterisk.

An additional fact is that the State of the Union is delivered near the beginning of each session of Congress.  Before 1934 this meant the State of the Union was delivered usually in December. Since 1934, the State of the Union has been delivered near the beginning each year, with some presidents delivering a final message at the end of their last term (Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson, Ford, and Carter).  The table below reflects each message's placement in the President's term."

President George W. Bush delivered his last State of the Union Address on January 28, 2008. Bush had the right to deliver either a written or oral State of the Union in the days immediately before leaving office in 2009. However, like Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Clinton, he chose not to do so. Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson, Ford, and Carter chose to do so.


President: Political Time (see essay above)
years of term 1st (oral) 2nd (oral) 3rd (oral) 4th (oral) end 4th 1st (written) 2nd (written) 3rd (written) 4th (written) end 4th (written)
Barack Obama 2013-present 2013 2014          
2009-2013 2009* 2010 2011 2012          
George W. Bush 2005-2009 2005 2006 2007 2008          
2001-2005 2001* 2002 2003 2004          
William J. Clinton 1997-2001 1997 1998 1999 2000          
1993-1997 1993* 1994 1995 1996          
George Bush 1989-1993 1989* 1990 1991 1992          
Ronald Reagan 1985-1989 1985 1986 1987 1988          
1981-1985 1981* 1982 1983 1984          
Jimmy Carter 1977-1981 1978 1979 1980   1978 1979 1980 1981
Gerald R. Ford 1974-1977 1975 1976 1977          
Richard M. Nixon 1973-1974 1973 1974 1973 1974      
1969-1973 1970 1971 1972       1972  
Lyndon B. Johnson 1965-1969 1965 1966 1967 1968 1969          
1964-1965 1964          
John F. Kennedy 1961-1963 1961 1962 1963          
Dwight D. Eisenhower 1957-1961 1957 1958 1959 1960         1961
1953-1957 1953 1954 1955 1956       1956  
Harry S Truman 1949-1953 1949 1950 1951 1952         1953
1945-1949 1947 1948   1946      
Franklin D. Roosevelt 1945 1945 1945        
1941-1945 1941 1942 1943 1944          
1937-1941 1937 1938 1939 1940          
1933-1937 1934 1935 1936          
Herbert Hoover 1929-1933         1929 1930 1931 1932  
Calvin Coolidge 1925-1929         1925 1926 1927 1928  
1923-1925 1923       1924  
Warren G. Harding 1921-1923 1921 1922          
Woodrow Wilson 1917-1921 1917 1918         1919 1920  
1913-1917 1913 1914 1915 1916          
William Howard Taft 1909-1913         1909 1910 1911 1912  
Theodore Roosevelt 1905-1909         1905 1906 1907 1908  
1901-1905         1901 1902 1903 1904  
William McKinley 1897-1901         1897 1898 1899 1900  
Grover Cleveland 1893-1897         1893 1894 1895 1896  
Benjamin Harrison 1889-1893         1889 1890 1891 1892  
Grover Cleveland 1885-1889         1885 1886 1887 1888  
Chester A. Arthur 1881-1885         1881 1882 1883 1884  
James A. Garfield 1881 no messages          
Rutherford B. Hayes 1877-1881         1877 1878 1879 1880  
Ulysses S. Grant 1873-1877         1873 1874 1875 1876  
1869-1873         1869 1870 1871 1872  
Andrew Johnson 1865-1869         1865 1866 1867 1868  
Abraham Lincoln 1861-1865         1861 1862 1863 1864  
James Buchanan 1857-1861         1857 1858 1859 1860  
Franklin Pierce 1853-1857         1853 1854 1855 1856  
Millard Fillmore 1850-1853         1850 1851 1852  
Zachary Taylor 1849-1850 1849        
James K. Polk 1845-1849         1845 1846 1847 1848  
John Tyler 1841-1845         1841 1842 1843 1844  
William Henry Harrison 1841 no messages          
Martin Van Buren 1837-1841         1837 1838 1839 1840  
Andrew Jackson 1833-1837         1833 1834 1835 1836  
1829-1833         1829 1830 1831 1832  
John Quincy Adams 1825-1829         1825 1826 1827 1828  
James Monroe 1821-1825         1821 1822 1823 1824  
1817-1821         1817 1818 1819 1820  
James Madison 1813-1817         1813 1814 1815 1816  
1809-1813         1809 1810 1811 1812  
Thomas Jefferson 1805-1809         1805 1806 1807 1808  
1801-1805         1801 1802 1803 1804  
John Adams 1797-1801 1797 1798 1799 1800          
George Washington 1793-1797 1793 1794 1795 1796          
1789-1793 1790 1790 1791 1792          

* Technically not a "State of the Union" Address.   See explanation in essay above this table


2014 State of the Union Address

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