When was the first annual presidential message?

On Tuesday, January 30th, President Donald Trump gave his first State of the Union address, leading many to ponder about the history of this major annual event. If you’re wondering when the first annual presidential message — or “state of the union” was, you’re not alone.

The State of the Union address is the official term for the big presidential message that currently takes place once a year. Each January, the president of the United States gives a speech to Congress, which is now televised so that the entire nation may watch as well. The message is supposed to explain the administration’s view on the current state of the nation (hence the name) and outline the plans for legislation in the coming months. Not surprisingly, it’s a very big deal.

So how long has this been going on in American history? Well, pretty much forever. According to the National Archives, President George Washington was the first president to give an annual presidential message. Washington gave his first annual message to Congress on January 8th, 1790. At the time, he spoke to Congress in the Senate Chamber of Federal Hall in New York City.


The message is even a constitutional requirement. The National Archives say that Article II, Section 3, Clause 1 of the Constitution requires that the President “…shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient” (though it doesn’t technically have to be annually).

Second U.S. president John Adams also gave an annual message in person, but then the practice was briefly ended by Thomas Jefferson, who choose to give it in writing. After that, the message was sent to Congress in writing for over 100 years. The tradition moved back to an actual speech when President Woodrow Wilson gave his address in person in front of Congress in 1913, and it’s been delivered via speech ever since.


President Franklin D. Roosevelt coined it the “State of the Union,” a term that actually didn’t become popular until Harry Truman was president.

So there you have it. A little history for your morning!

Filed Under