History, Art & Archives of the U.S. House of Representatives

The State of the Union: Showtime

The Office of the Historian shares some past State of the Union Addresses and previews our coverage for Tuesday night.

More >

A “Troublesome and Greatly Derided Custom” — Answering the Annual Message

During the presidencies of George Washington and John Adams, the process of the State of the Union and its responses was more genteel and singular, but no less contentious than it is today. In the 1790s, both houses of Congress drafted, debated, and marched en masse to the President’s mansion to deliver a formal, unified response, addressing the important issues raised by the executive. That is, until one volatile Member of the House dared to wonder aloud what the fuss was all about.

More >

Knit One, Purl Two in the House Gallery?

Eleanor Roosevelt
Opening day of a new Congress is usually a day full of excitement and activity. A new session begins, the Members are sworn in, and the House of Representatives organizes itself for the first time in a new term. Adding to the excitement of the opening day of March 9, 1933, a special visitor was in attendance, the new First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The flurry of activity in the House Chamber can sometimes be chaotic, but the rules of the House maintain the decorum and help the “People’s House” function smoothly. But, as the First Lady’s visit soon proved, those same rules are sometimes subject to change for special visitors.

More >

White Tie and Tails?—The 1936 Annual Message

Tuxedo? Business suit? Dress up or dress sensibly? It’s not the Oscars . . . it’s the first evening Annual Message. American citizens are accustomed to seeing the President of the United States deliver prime-time addresses to a worldwide audience. However, when presidential night-time addresses were unique events, a previous generation of Members and their spouses were puzzled by what constituted proper fashion protocol at a speech that slowly emerged as a major policy—and social—statement.

More >

Edition for Educators—State of the Union Address

The formal basis for the State of the Union address is from the U.S. Constitution. Earlier State of the Union addresses (also called Annual Messages) included agency budget requests and general reports on the health of the economy. During the 20th century, Congress required more-specialized reports on these two aspects, separate from the State of the Union. Over time, as the message content changed, the focus of the State of the Union also changed.

More >

Putting One Over on Teddy

When Woodrow Wilson became President a century ago, he smashed an old tradition. Wilson had long suspected that the President could act as a prime minister for Congress, formulating party program and directing party strategy. The secret to this kind of leadership was the use of oratorical power to convince others of what was in the public interest. Wilson intended to replace written presidential messages with a direct address to a joint session, expecting this would seize the imagination of the country, give him the momentum to enact his policies, and set a new tone for the administration.

More >