The United States Constitution provides for reporting by the President to Congress. Article 2, Section 3 reads:
He 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.
Although the President is allowed to speak at other times, by tradition there has been one annual report that is known as the "State of the Union Address." George Washington gave the first one on January 8, 1790, in New York City, then the national capital. Thomas Jefferson chose to deliver a written communication in 1801 and the annual addresses continued in this fashion until Woodrow Wilson revived the personal address on December 2, 1913. Since then, the State of the Union Address has almost always been delivered in person, although Jimmy Carter sent a written report in January 1981.
The traditional date of the address was in December. It was thus the report on the president's previous year, and was given after presidential elections by the outgoing president. With the change of inauguration date to January by Amendment XXIV, the speech has become a tradition during late January and is given by the incoming president following his inauguration. The first speech, however, is not technically described as a "State of the Union Address."
There was no State of the Union Address in 1934. Herbert Hoover delivered his final message in December 1932, after losing the election. Franklin D. Roosevelt delayed his first address until January 3, 1934.
The State of the Union address has been used for important purposes. James Monroe set forth the Monroe Doctrine in his address in December, 1823.
Since the address is intended to look forward as well as back, it sometimes shows a startling lack of prescience. Wilson's state of the union address in 1913, less than a year before the outbreak of World War I, observed:
The country, I am thankful to say, is at peace with all the world, and many happy manifestations multiply about us of a growing cordiality and sense of community of interest among the nations, foreshadowing an age of settled peace and good will. More and more readily each decade do the nations manifest their willingness to bind themselves by solemn treaty to the processes of peace, the processes of frankness and fair concession.
Calvin Coolidge delivered his final State of the Union Address on December 4, 1928, and was more than pleased with the state of the economy:
The great wealth created by our enterprise and industry, and saved by our economy, has had the widest distribution among our own people, and has gone out in a steady stream to serve the charity and the business of the world. The requirements of existence have passed beyond the standard of necessity into the region of luxury. Enlarging production is consumed by an increasing demand at hom6 and ail expanding commerce abroad. The country can regard the present with satisfaction and anticipate the future with optimism.