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State of the Union Address Q&A

Wednesday, January 27, 2010 | 11:33 p.m. CST

The State of the Union address has a long history, from written form by Thomas Jefferson to President Barack Obama's technologically-savvy oral speech today. Here are some facts about the address's history and those who gave it.

Q: What is the State of Union address?

A: The State of the Union address is an annual report given by the president to Congress. The Constitution instructs the president to outline the state of union but also gives the president a chance to set his agenda for the following year. It is usually an oral speech, but not always.

Q: What does the Constitution say about the State of Union address?

A:  "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."    — Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution

Q: How many presidents never got the opportunity to give a State of the Union address?

 A: Two. William Henry Harrison died 32 days after his inauguration; James A. Garfield was assassinated 199 days after his inauguration.

Q: How long was the State of the Union delivered to Congress in written form only?

A: Thomas Jefferson began delivering the State of the Union address in written form. It wasn’t until 112 years later that Woodrow Wilson began giving an oral address.

Q: When was the first televised State of the Union and who gave it?

A: Harry S. Truman was the first president to give a televised address.

Q: Who was the only president in U.S. history to postpone his speech?

A: Ronald Reagan postponed the State of the Union address after he learned of the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.

Q: Why is there always one Cabinet member missing from the State of the Union address?

A: To maintain the line of succession in case of an emergency.

Q: How old is Obama’s main speechwriter?

A: 27 years old. His name is Jon Favreau.

Q: Who was one of Bill Clinton’s guests of honor during his 1999 speech?

A: Sammy Sosa.

Q: Who was the first president to give the State of Union address?

A: George Washington gave the first State of the Union address in 1790. Since then, every president has followed this example and given his speech before the next session of Congress begins.

Q: Who on average gave the longest State of Union addresses?

A: William Howard Taft. The average length of his speeches was 22,614 words.

Q:Who on average gave the shortest State of Union addresses?

A: John Adams. The average length of his speeches was 1,790 words.


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