When President Trump steps into the well of the House on Tuesday to give his first formal State of the Union address, he will be performing one of the most familiar presidential rituals.
But for nearly half the nation’s history, the idea of a president personally delivering a speech on Congress’s turf was considered an act so presumptuous as to be nearly unthinkable.
The president who broke the mold — and introduced the kind of speech that modern Americans expect to hear each year — was Woodrow Wilson.
Wilson tested out the idea barely a month after his 1913 inauguration, when he traveled to Capitol Hill to give a speech on tariffs.
“Washington is amazed,” The Washington Post pronounced in a headline, over a story that noted no president since John Adams had done such a thing.
“Disbelief was expressed in congressional circles when the report that the President would read his message in person to the Congress was first circulated,” The Post reported, but assured its readers that such spectacles were “not to become a habit.”
Wilson had other ideas. Eight months later on December, 2, 1913, he returned to Capitol Hill “in pursuance of my constitutional duty to ‘give to the Congress information of the state of the Union.’”
It is indeed spelled out in Article II of the Constitution, that the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”
Read more at The Washington Post.