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About Traditions & Symbols | State of the Union

Each year, before a joint session of Congress, the president fulfills his or her constitutional duty to "give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union" (Article II, section 3). 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 national radio broadcast of the message occurred in 1923, following a limited but successful experimentation with radio in 1922. Truman's 1947 address was the first to be televised, and in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson began the tradition of delivering the address in prime time. In 1966 the opposition party began offering a televised response to the president's speech, a tradition that has continued. 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.

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