This month's Edition for Educators highlights Joint Meetings and Joint Sessions. The two houses of Congress generally work separately, but on occasion the House of Representatives and the Senate gather together in Joint Meetings and Joint Sessions for moments of historic significance.
What’s in the House Chamber
Learn more about the House Chamber where the President’s State of the Union Address and Joint Sessions and Joint Meeting of the House and Senate are held. The press and the public can witness the process from the galleries or watch the proceedings on television. The grand space in which all this work is carried out was designed in the 19th century—and redesigned over the years—with these needs in mind.
Foreign Leaders & Dignitaries Who Have Addressed the U.S. Congress
A Joint Meeting is the preferred method for receiving addresses from foreign leaders and dignitaries. Joint Meetings are used for special commemorative events and to receive addresses by domestic dignitaries. To initiate a Joint Meeting, both houses, by resolution or by unanimous consent, declare themselves in recess for a joint gathering in the House Chamber. House Rule IV governs this procedure. Learn more about these Joint Meetings.
Astronaut John Glenn Addresses a Joint Meeting of Congress
Astronaut John Glenn addressed a Joint Meeting of Congress just days after becoming the first American to orbit the Earth. The Friendship 7 space capsule circled the globe three times in just under five hours and reached speeds of more than 17,000 miles per hour. Though a huge technical achievement, the trip was also of political importance, helping to secure the United States’ standing in the space race with the Soviet Union. Glenn was later elected to the Senate in 1974.
Joint Session Postcard
In this 1950 postcard image, Congress gathered to hear President Harry Truman in a House Chamber that was half old and half new. Engineers had just installed a new roof and ceiling and renovated the gallery level. The changes addressed long-standing structural problems and gave the House a chance to update the chamber’s look. When the House gathered for Truman’s next State of the Union Address in 1951, the lower half of the chamber had been renovated as well with deep wood paneling replacing the Victorian décor visible in this postcard.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill Addresses a Joint Meeting of Congress
On January 17, 1952, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill addressed a Joint Meeting of Congress for the third time in his career. Telling the assembled Members that “I have come here to ask not for gold but for steel, not for favors but for equipment,” Churchill pledged Britain’s support to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and vowed to help defend Western Europe against Communist encroachment. Churchill also pleaded with Congress to keep the atomic bomb in the U.S. arsenal until peace was ensured.
White Tie and Tails?—The 1936 Annual Message
Tuxedo? Business suit? Dress up or dress sensibly? It’s not the Oscars . . . it was the first evening Annual Message. Learn about the President Franklin Roosevelt’s historic evening Annual Message.
The Netherlands' Queen Beatrix's Address to a Joint Meeting of Congress
April 21, 1982
On this date, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands addressed a Joint Meeting of Congress to celebrate 200 years of unbroken diplomatic relations between the United States and the Netherlands. She focused primarily on the importance of global nuclear disarmament.
President George Washington Delivered His First Regular Annual Message to a Joint Session of Congress
January 8, 1790
On this date, George Washington delivered his first regular Annual Message to a Joint Session of Congress. Article II, Section 3, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution states that the President “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information on the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”
Several former House Members later addressed a Joint Session as President of the United States, including:
Historical Documents: Selma and the 1965 Voting Rights Act
Following President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Joint Session address on the Voting Rights Act on March 15, 1965, the House moved swiftly to pass the important legislation. View some of the House Records related to that historic message.
This is part of a series of blog posts for educators highlighting the resources available on History, Art & Archives of the U.S. House of Representatives. The series appears monthly. For lesson plans, fact sheets, glossaries, and other materials for the classroom, see the website's Education section.Follow @USHouseHistory