Sign in to comment!

Menu
Home

Fast Facts: State of the Union

President Bush's (search) 2005 State of the Union will be the nation's 216th such address. Following are details and trivia about the annual presidential presentation:

— Bush, like most recent presidents, will address the Congress (search) personally, but that has not always been the case. Thomas Jefferson's messages were sent to clerks in the House and Senate, establishing a tradition that lasted until 1913, when Woodrow Wilson appeared in person.

— The speech was known as the "President's Annual Message to Congress" prior to the middle of the 20th century, when it became known as the State of the Union (search).

— Franklin Roosevelt delivered 12 State of the Union Messages during his presidency.

— The shortest message was the first, when George Washington's 1790 speech consisted of only 833 words.

— The longest was Harry Truman's more than 25,000-word message of 1946.

— Two presidents didn't survive long enough to deliver a message: William Henry Harrison died just 32 days into office in 1841 and James A. Garfield was assassinated in 1881 before he could give his first address.

— When the State of the Union was given as an address, presidents traditionally delivered it in mid-afternoon until 1965. That year, Lyndon Johnson changed it to 9:00 pm in order to reach a wider audience.

— The address normally draws large audiences. In 2004, President Bush's televised address drew an estimated audience of 43.4 million.

— The first address broadcast on radio was in 1923, by Calvin Coolidge. Harry Truman followed with the first TV address in 1947.

— The address occurs during a uniquely arranged joint session of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, which is held in the House chamber in the Capitol building. In addition to current and former members of Congress, seats are reserved for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Supreme Court justices, the Diplomatic Corps, and Cabinet members.

— One member of the president's Cabinet is always absent from the address in order to maintain the continuity of government in case of catastrophe. In 2004, Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans was absent from the address.

— After Sept. 11, 2001, Congress also adopted a plan for continuity of government, which dictates that two members from each chamber are absent. In 2004, the missing members of Congress were Sens. Trent Lott and Harry Reid and Reps. Christopher Cox and George Miller.

— In recent years, it has become customary for the opposition party to issue a response to the State of the Union. These responses are televised shortly after the address is complete, and are usually given by a nationally known figure from within the party.

— Most State of the Union speeches go through at least 20 drafts. President Bush's speeches are no different, and he is known for being an active editor.

FOX News' Alex Duncan compiled this report.