As first appeared in NewsBreak
By Aron Solomon
The State of the Union, which President Biden will deliver on Tuesday night, is a historically important speech given by the president to Congress.
The State of the Union is an annual event that dates back to George Washington, who was supposed to give one every year but didn’t always do so. Since then, it has become a tradition for presidents to speak before Congress once per year (except for those who served fewer than four years in office).
Presidential State of the Union speeches are usually televised live and cover topics ranging from domestic policy to foreign relations; however, presidents can also use these speeches as an opportunity for self-promotion if they wish.
The president is generally the one who gives the State of the Union address. It can also be given by any member of Congress who holds a leadership position, such as the vice president (if there is one), speaker of the House, and Senate majority leader. In addition to these officials, members may also give speeches during this time if they wish.
In recent years it’s become more common for presidents to allow their successors to deliver their first State of the Union address while they are still in office. In fact, this has now happened five times since Ronald Reagan did so back in 1987.
The format of this event has changed over time, but it generally includes three parts:
- An overview of how things are going in our country and what we’ve accomplished over the past year. This part usually lasts about 15 minutes and may include videos and photos showing Americans at work or play across all 50 states, territories, and other areas under U.S. jurisdiction (like Puerto Rico).
- A discussion about where we want our country to go next – what challenges lie ahead? How can we improve ourselves? How will these improvements benefit everyone in America? This part usually lasts 30 minutes or more, depending on how long it takes for all members present at the event to get their questions answered and how patient the president is on that given evening.
The State of the Union is not actually a lawmaking process; instead, it’s an opportunity for the president to lay out his agenda for the coming year and ask Congress for their support. This is what makes it different from other speeches given by presidents – it’s a chance for them to really sell their ideas to the nation as to how things should be done.
While President Washington gave the first State of the Union address in 1790, it has been a tradition ever since, with every president delivering an annual speech to Congress outlining their goals for the year ahead and thanking them for their support throughout his term.
The name of the event comes from Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution: “He shall from time to time give to Congress information of the state of union…and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”
Not only is the State of the Union broadcast live across the nation and, truly, around the world, It’s also memorialized in “The Statues at Large.”
Is the State of the Union still important 233 years since the first one was delivered?
As John Lawlor, a Florida lawyer, argues, its importance remains untarnished:
“The State of the Union is something that people in the United States understand is coming every year. For the vast majority of people, regardless of political affiliation, it’s a valued check-in from their president and something they see as uniquely American.
Tuesday night’s State of the Union by President Biden is available not only live on TV networks but can easily be found streaming on the Web.
About Aron Solomon
A Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer, Aron Solomon, JD, is the chief legal analyst for Esquire Digital. He has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania and was elected to Fastcase 50, recognizing the top 50 legal innovators in the world. Aron has been featured in Forbes, CBS News, Crunchbase, Variety, CNBC, USA Today, ESPN, TechCrunch, The Hill, BuzzFeed, Fortune, Venture Beat, The Independent, Fortune China, Yahoo!, ABA Journal, Law.com, The Boston Globe, NewsBreak, and many other leading publications.