tv History of the State of the Union Address CSPAN January 24, 2015 5:36pm-5:51pm EST
coming programs, and to keep up with the latest history news. >> members of the congress, i have the great pleasure, the high privilege, and the great honor of presenting to you the president of the united states. [applause] >> i'm don ritchie. i'm the senate historian. the state of the union messages mandated by the constitution in the words from time to time, the president of the united states should give a message to congress on the state of the union and recommendations of programs that he thinks should be followed. george washington began that practice of giving a state of the union message to congress when the first congress met, but washington went in person to the congress, went to the senate chamber, and delivered a speech that had a series of recommendations. a relatively short speech.
but in those days before there were standing committees of congress, they actually used to cut the state of the union message up into paragraphs and create ad hoc committees to address each one of the issues that the president suggested. washington and adams, john adams his vice president who became president followed that practice and so they created this sort of idea that from time to time was an annual message and, in fact for years it was known as the annual message. it didn't become known as the state of the union message really until the 1940s. in fact, in 1948 there was a hollywood movie called "state of the union" and that cemented the idea that the annual message was the state of the union message. president washington and adams went in person to congress. thomas jefferson, however, didn't enjoy public speaking. in fact he gave only two public speeches while he was president. his first inaugural address and his second inaugural address. other than that, jefferson liked to be known as a writer not as a speaker.
and jefferson also thought the idea of the president going to the congress personally to deliver a list of things that he wanted to see done was too much like the british king, the monarch going to parliament, and he thought this was not appropriate for a republic. and so jefferson sent his message to congress. and each year after that presidents would send their messages dh would be read by the clerk of the senate and the house rather than bit president. and, of course, most members of the congress could read it in the congressional record or in the newspapers. they didn't necessarily have to go and listen to a clerk reading the message. that became the tradition. again, the constitution is not that specific about what it is. just time to time this message needs to be given on the state of the union. in 1913 we had a new president who had been trained as a political scientist. in fact, he had a ph.d. in history and political science, and that was woodrow
wilson. and he wrote his doctoral dissertation about government. he felt the american president needed to be more like the british prime minister. couldn't just be completely separate from the legislative branch. had to be the chief legislator as well as the chief executive. and so wilson decided that he would go in person to deliver his messages. the first one he did was in april of 1913 and it was about the tariff. it wasn't a state of the union per se. absolutely shocked members of congress. they duntd know what to do with this. the idea the president would come and speak to them. they finally decided, well, they would do it in the house chamber and invite the senators over. how are they going to go about doing this? there was a lot of grumbling. if congress was left on its own they wouldn't have wanted the president to come up. the president said he wanted to and his party said ok. woodrow wilson began the modern tradition of presidents going each year to give their state of the union message. he gave his first state of the
union message in december of 1913. he continued to do it in person until he was in paris negotiating the end of the first world war and he actually telegraphed his state of the union message become to congress in 1919. and then then presidents have followed both patterns. the only president of the united states who has not given a state of the union message in person since then was herbert hoover, who was also not a great public speaker. didn't think much of the occasion and just sent his message up. almost every other president almost every year, has felt this was too good an opportunity to miss, to not be able to go in person, in the drama of the session to give a state of the union message. >> the president of the united states.
[applause] >> this is the point when everybody in congress is sitting there listening to you. the senate and the house are in the same room. the cabinet is there. the supreme court is there. diplomats are there. the galleries are packed with people. it is a -- sort of a major moment of coming together. the only other occasion like that is the inauguration. >> i propose that we begin a massive attack on crippling and killing diseases. >> i should propose to this congress a $10 billion nationwide clean waters program to put modern municipal waste treatment plants in every place in america where they are needed to make our waters clean again and do it now.
>> it does influence their legislative agenda for the year, whether or not congress chooses to follow the president's suggestions or ignores them or rewrites them, at least the president has given them an outline of what he wants to see. sometimes presidents never got a chance to give their inaugural address. william henry harrison and james garfield died before their first opportunity. they came into office in march. congress wasn't going to begin until december. so in the 19th century a state of the union messages were almost all given in december. when the constitution was changed, it moved the beginning of congress up to january. and now they are usually in january and february. there's been some miscues in some of the state of the union messages. president grover cleveland sent a very controversial proposal dealing with the tariff. in the days before we had an income tax the chief source of revenue in the country was the tariff. it was one of those things that divided parties and created great passions and unfortunately, for cleveland
his party was not united on this issue. and, in fact, they lost the next election probably because of that division. and a lot of people blamed his state of the union message. but in most cases, most state of the union messages are really long laundry lists of things that the president wants to see done. and they're not particularly controversial speeches, nor are they particularly inspiring speeches. they're really wish lists the presidents are putting forward. when anything is done in congress, of course, the galleries are open. as long as there are galleries and there have bengalries in the senate since 1795 and in the house since 1789, the public can come in. but, of course, there aren't that many seats in the galleries and there's great demand. usually each member of congress gets a single ticket for a spouse or for, you know, a member of their staff or a favorite constituent or somebody
to sit in the gallery. the press gallery is absolutely packed. the diplomatic gallery is packed. usually the first lady is there with guests of the president. so, there's not a lot of space for the public on those occasions. but over time, the public has gotten to see this or hear this or read this through the media because newspapers covered it in general and in the 19th century you would have read the entire speech in most newspapers. in the 20th century, beginning in 1923, calvin coolidge's state of the union message was broadcast on the radio. then in 1936 franklin roosevelt suggested moving the state of the union from the middle of the day when it was traditionally given to the evening because it would get a much larger audience on the radio. in the 1940s it was back during the day but television came along. in 1947 harry truman's state of the union message was covered by television. in 1965 lyndon johnson said let's move the tv show back into
the evening so that more people can get to see the state of the union message. and so now it's an evening performance and it's a live tv, the major networks are all covering it. and so it gets a considerable audience that way. and since the late '90s, it's been streaming on the internet around the world. in recent years the two parties have sort of become cheerleading squads for their presidents. but there are moments when clearly, something that the president says inspires something more than just a partisan reaction. there's a bipartisan reaction, and you can tell what the mood of the congress is to some degree, what the responses are. >> and all the world knows that no successful system builds a wall to keep its people in and freedom out. [applause]
>> and, of course, immediately after the speech, members of congress will rush out into statutory hall where there are dozens of cameras set up for television stations around the country that they'll be getting personal reactions of the members, the immediate reactions. now of days in the house chamber you can twitter and tweet, and some of those people will be responding instantly. >> mr. speaker, mr. president, distinguished members of the house and senate, when we first met here seven years ago, many of us for the first time, it was with the hope of beginning something new for america. we meet here tonight in this historic chamber to continue that work. if anyone expects just a proud recitation of the accomplishments of my administration, i say, let's leave that to history. we're not finished yet. [applause]
>> the one thing that you cannot do, that is very different than, say, most parliaments where heckling is considered a fair sport, in the u.s. congress you are to be respectful of the president when he speaks. and a few years ago one member of the house did interrupt the president and shout out, and he was censured by the house representatives for doing that. that's considered to be unbecoming conduct. >> the reforms -- the reforms i'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegal. >> liar. >> it's not true. >> the office of the constitution believed in transparency. and they did require -- even though they wrote their constitution in secret, they did require certain things to be open. not everything. for instance, they don't actually require congress to meet in open session. just from time to time to publish a journal of their proceedings. and the same thing is they don't
ask the president to give an annual message, but they ask him from time to time to deliver a message on the state of the union. i think they would be pleased to see that the president comes pretty much every year to do this. i think they would be astonished to realize that the congressional record is published every day after the proceedings and not only the state of the union message be in there, but every words of every member of the house and the senate on the floor on that particular day. that was something that they had certainly intended, that this was a republic, it was a democratic republic, it was representing the people and the people had a right to know what was going on. and so in that sense, even though they were not all that specific, they certainly set some goals that i think the government has met. >> i can report to you, the state of this old buddy youthful union -- old but youthful union
is good. [applause] >> here are some of our featured programs for this weekend on the c-span networks. tonight at 10:00 on c-span2 former governor mike huckabee on america's current political and cultural landscape. sunday night at 11:00 a princeton university historian examines the political initiatives instituted by president lyndon johnson as part of his great society. and on american history tv on c-span3 a university of california davis professor on the role of the british royal air force and allied strategy during world war ii. sunday evening at 6:00, an archivist at the purdue university special collections division towards the schools and millionaire heart collection, which is held as the world's largest assemblage of papers related to the american aviation pioneer. find our complete television
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