State of the Union address on tap

Published 7:29 am Wednesday, January 30, 2002

By By Sonny Callahan
U.S. Representative
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.
Beginning with the "annual message of the president" delivered to Congress by President George Washington in 1790, the state of the union address has become an important platform for the forty-two men who have followed in the footsteps of the "father of our country."
Surprisingly, the delivery hasn't always been the same.  In fact, many of you may be surprised to learn that for many years the president didn't even deliver his own address.
With the exception of the addresses delivered by Washington and President John Adams, every state of the union speech between 1801 and 1913 was written out and sent to the Capitol building for a reading in front of a joint session of Congress. 
The tradition of writing and sending the address to Congress was started by Thomas Jefferson, who considered appearing before the senators and representatives to deliver the annual speech as nothing but a return to the time when the United States was simply a collection of royal colonies, and the king would regularly deliver a "state of the empire speech" to Parliament.
President Woodrow Wilson ended this tradition in 1913 and returned to the practice of delivering his annual message to Congress in person.   
In addition, the state of the union used to be delivered to Congress at midday.  President Lyndon Johnson changed this in 1965, and moved the time of the speech to the evening so more Americans could tune in on their televisions and radios to hear what he had to say.
It's hard to imagine what the state of the union would be like today if these changes hadn't been made.  Can you picture yourself, along with millions of other Americans, hearing President Bush's message as a rerun and being read by the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House, rather than being delivered in person by the chief executive of this country?
Speech outlines things to come
Throughout the long history of state of the union speeches, presidents have used this opportunity not so much to reflect on the previous year's events as to outline what they have in store for the future.
In fact, the state of the union has not been dictated by history as much as it has been used as an opportunity to lay the groundwork for the future.
Just to give a few examples of the important role these addresses play, here are some of the remarkable items from state of the union speeches from the past:
Message important for the future
With this year's message, President Bush will also have the unique opportunity of outlining his legislative agenda for the coming year.  
Unfortunately, this will be one of those rare times where much of the speech will possibly be dictated by history.
The events of September 11th, the ensuing war on terrorism, and the current economic trials facing this country will most certainly play a significant part in what the president has to say on the evening of January 29th.
However, as we have seen time and again in the weeks and months following his inauguration, the president has consistently risen to the challenge of delivering effective, thoughtful, and inspiring messages when they are most needed.
And I certainly don't think this time will be any different.
It will be an honor for me to be sitting in the House chamber for this state of the union message, as I have for the previous seventeen years.  It's an event that I would never consider missing.
I hope that each of you, too,  considers it an honor to hear what our chief executive has to say.  Remember:  although he will be speaking in front of Congress, the president's message is intended for all Americans.
Until next week, take care and may God bless.

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