What is the State of the Union address?

The State of the Union is an annual address given by the President of the United States to a joint session of Congress about the current condition of the nation. 

The speech typically takes place near the beginning of the calendar year and is considered an opportunity for the president to share the successes, policy goals, achievements and failures of their administration. Interestingly enough, this address has not emerged out of some esoteric tradition but is a literal constitutional responsibility of the Office of the President.

Article II, Section 3, Clause 1 of the Constitution reads, “The president must give the Congress information on the ‘State of the Union’ ‘from time to time.’” While “from time to time” allows some personal discretion, since the 1930s, the address has been given annually.

The president's update to Congress on the state of the union hasn't always been a speech to a joint session of Congress. Before the modern American history, some presidents sent a letter. But for nearly a century, presidents have opted to give a live address to Congress.

The State of the Union has been the origin of some of the most famous speeches in American history. Abraham Lincoln’s 1862 speech codified the sentiment of America as the “last best hope of earth.” Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1942 speech advanced his “four freedoms” wartime goals for the U.S. while fighting the Axis powers, and in 2003, George W. Bush advanced his claim that Iran, North Korea, and Iraq formed an “Axis of Evil” who were pursuing “weapons of mass destruction.”

President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address will be given Thursday, March 7 at 9 p.m. EST.

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