The formal basis for the State of the Union address is from the U.S. Constitution:
The President “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information on the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” Article II, Section 3, Clause 1.
The constitutionally mandated presidential address has gone through a few name changes:
It was formally known as the Annual Message from 1790 to 1934.
It began to be informally called the State of the Union address from 1942 to 1946.
Since 1947 it has generally been known as the State of the Union address.
On January 27, 2010, President Barack Obama will fulfill his constitutional duty to “give to the Congress Information on the State of the Union” (Article II, Section3). Presidents George Washington and John Adams delivered their messages in person, but in 1801 Thomas Jefferson chose to send his in writing. That precedent held until Woodrow Wilson decided to deliver his message in person in 1913, a tradition that continues today. Franklin Roosevelt referred to it as the “State of the Union Address,” a title that became official during the Harry Truman administration. The first radio broadcast of the message occurred in 1923, and the 1947 address was the first televised. View a list of speakers before joint sessions of Congress. Read a report from the Congressional Research Service. See a list of opposition responses to the annual address. Each year, one member of the President’s cabinet is absent from the address, to maintain the line of succession in case of an emergency.