Fun facts about State of the Union addresses

February 12, 2013

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A few interesting factoids about the State of the Union address:

President Thomas Jefferson discontinued the practice of delivering the State of the Union address in-person to Congress, simply forwarding his comments on paper for the clerks of the House and Senate to read.

Before him, presidents George Washington and John Adams had read their annual addresses to Congress, just like Obama plans to do.

President Woodrow Wilson picked up where the first two presidents left off, restarting the tradition of the in-person address in 1913. Commanders in chief have delivered their speeches that way ever since.

The Constitution requires a yearly State of the Union message, but it does not mandate that the president deliver it verbally. It merely states: “[The president] shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

Another little tidbit: About 130 recognized foreign ambassadors to the U.S., known collectively as the “diplomatic corps,” will attend this year’s event, filling designated seats on both sides of the chamber and standing if need be — those who are newest to the mix may not get a chair.

Congress has welcomed foreign ambassadors to attended its floor activities since at least the 1840s. In fact, when the House and Senate chambers were built in the 1850s, they included Diplomatic Galleries for foreign ambassadors to observe the events.

As such, the diplomatic corps has long served as essentially the eyes and ears of the world in the chamber.

For more interesting facts about the State of the Union, check out reporter Ed O’Keefe’s explainer video:

And for those who simply can’t get enough of this sort of thing — behold, a televised history of the State of the Union:

For more federal news, visit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics.

To connect with Josh Hicks, follow him on Twitter, subscribe to his Facebook page or e-mail hicksja@washpost.com.

E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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Eric Yoder | February 11, 2013