What Is the Purpose of the State of the Union Address? History of the Annual Presidential Message

President Donald Trump will deliver his third State of the Union Address on Tuesday, continuing a tradition that is 230 years old.

The president sharing information with Congress about the status of the country is a responsibility enshrined in the Constitution. Trump will give the update in the form of an in-person speech, and while it's difficult in the modern era to imagine the president pursuing a different communication method, the Constitution doesn't mandate an oration.

Article II, Section 3, Clause 1 of the Constitution requires the president to, "give to Congress information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient." In layman's terms, it's the president's job to tell Congress where America stands at present and what needs to be done to achieve future success.

President George Washington was first to deliver the inaugural address, then called the "Annual Massage," and he did so as an in-person speech in 1790. At only 1,089 words, it was the shortest State of the Union ever given.

His successor, former President John Adams carried on the tradition of it being an in-person event, according to the National Archives, but Thomas Jefferson took a different approach, offering Congress a written message.

Jefferson turned out to be a trendsetter, and the tradition of delivering the address via written communication to Congress continued for more than 100 years until Woodrow Wilson took office. In 1913, he addressed Congress in person and every president has followed suit except for a "few exceptions," according to the National Archives.

state of the union purpose history trump
Donald Trump, with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence looking on, delivers the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives on February 5, 2019. The State of the Union message is mandated by the Constitution, although it does not need to be spoken. Doug Mills-Pool/Getty

Along with setting a standard for the message to be in the form of a speech, the House of Representatives History, Art & Archives reported Wilson shifted the content of the address. In the 19th century, it was largely intended to be a "lengthy administrative report" on departments within the executive branch, as well as, a message about the budget and economy.

Wilson's decision to return to the days of an in-person address before Congress turned the State of the Union—still called the Annual Message—into a platform to promote the president's agenda, according to the History, Art & Archives. Thanks to radio, television and the internet, the president now speaks directly to the American people when he addresses Congress.

Changing the name from the "Annual Message" to the "State of the Union," began informally in 1942 with then-President Franklin Roosevelt. The 32nd president presented his message 12 times, the most of any president, and 10 were in-person. It wasn't until 1947 when then-President Harry Truman was in office that the address officially became known as the State of the Union.

On Tuesday, Trump will become one of two presidents to deliver a State of the Union address amid an impeachment trial in the Senate. In 1998, then-President Bill Clinton, who in 1995 delivered one of the longest messages, spoke to Congress at a time when the Senate was listening to debate as to whether he should be removed office.

Clinton was acquitted during a vote in the Senate a few weeks later, and Trump is expected to have the same fate at a vote scheduled for Wednesday.