The State of the Union: a deliverance dressed in tradition

The State of the Union serves as the President's opportunity to tell Congressional representatives and citizens of the country about the successes of their term in office, as well as their goals for the upcoming year. It's also a speech dressed in tradition, complete with formalities that extend as far back as 1790, when George Washington delivered the first speech.

Originally delivered in written form, it became a regular practice to deliver it in person when Woodrow Wilson spoke in 1913. Other "firsts" for the State of the Union occurred in when Warren G. Harding was the first president to give the speech over radio, and then Harry S. Truman by TV in 1947.

It was only until 1934 when the State of the Union name was uttered by Franklin Roosevelt. Prior to that it was referred to as the "President's Annual Message to Congress." In 1966, the first opposition speech was given following the State of the Union. The tradition of presidents honoring guests began in 1982.

Now, in 2019, several traditions are continued, which include:

  • The president and speaker of the house are allowed up to 24 guests.
  • The only reserved seating is for the president's cabinet, justices and members of the diplomatic corps and the Military leaders from the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
  • The president only enters the chamber after the House Sergeant in Arms announces to the room: "Madam (or Mister) Speaker, the President of the United States!"
  • One member of the cabinet will not be in attendance however. Referred to as the "Designated Survivor" they will watch the address at a separate location, in order to ensure a line of succession pending any disaster.
  • This is one of the only times during the whole year that all three branches of government are in the same room.
  • Individuals often display their agreement (or disapproval) by when they clap. Justices often clap the least, in a display of neutrality.

President Trump will give his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, Feb. 5 at 9 p.m..