Change Over Time

As the United States attained greater status in the 20th century, the method used to invite foreign leaders and dignitaries to address Congress evolved. The practice of receiving foreign leaders before Joint Meetings or Joint Sessions was exceedingly rare prior to World War II. The French general and Revolutionary War hero the Marquis de Lafayette made the first address before the House of Representatives in 1824. While it is commonly assumed that it was the first joint meeting, Lafayette addressed the House and Senate separately. Members of the Senate were invited to the 10 December 1824 address in the House Chamber. On 8 December 1824 a joint congressional committee determined that General Lafayette would address both the House and Senate separately:

That the joint committee have agreed to recommend to their respective Houses, that each House receive General Lafayette in such manner as it shall deem most suitable to the occasion; and recommend to the House the adoption of the following resolutions:

1. Resolved, That the congratulations of this House be publicly given to General Lafayette on his arrival in the United States in compliance with the wishes of Congress; and that he be assured of the gratitude and deep respect which the House entertains for his signal and illustrious services in the Revolution; and the pleasure it feels in being able to welcome him, after an absence of so many years, to the theatre of his early labor, and early renown.

2. Resolved, That, for this purpose, General Lafayette be invited, by a committee, to attend the House on Friday next at one o'clock: that he be introduced by the committee, and received by the members, standing, uncovered, and addressed by the Speaker, in behalf of the House, in pursuance of the foregoing resolution."

This report was read and agreed to, unanimously, by the House.1

A full half-century passed before another foreign leader was extended the honor. On 18 December 1874, King David Kalakaua of Hawaii became the first member of royalty accorded the honor of appearing before a Joint Meeting of Congress. Hawaiian Chief Justice Elisha Hunt Allen, a former Member of the U.S. House, delivered the king’s address because the monarch was incapacitated with a head cold. French Ambassador Andre de Laboulaye spoke before a Joint Session of Congress on 20 May 1934. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill addressed a Joint Meeting of Congress on 26 December 1941—less than three weeks after the U.S. entered World War II.

Churchill’s address, the first of three he delivered before Congress, began a new trend in which Congress invited foreign leaders to address Joint Meetings rather than just one-chamber receptions. Within the next decade nine additional Joint Meetings were held for foreign leaders.

After the Second World War, foreign leaders who addressed Joint Meetings often represented America’s close wartime allies—particularly those from Atlantic Alliance countries. A large number also represented newly emerging democracies in Asia, South America, Latin America, and Africa.   


1House Journal, 18th Cong., 2nd sess. (8 December 1824): 29.