Senate Historian Emeritus Don Ritchie talked about the history of the State of the Union address.
Article. II. Section. 3. of the Constitution, requires the President of the United States to inform Congress of the state of our nation. The president fulfills this constitutional obligation in the State of the Union address in which the issues that our country is facing are discussed and proposals for the coming year are presented.
Students will identify the constitutional requirement for the State of the Union address, examine the issues presented in State of the Union speeches, and analyze President Trump’s proposals for each issue.
Use either option below to engage students in activities and classroom discussions on the State of the Union address. Ensure students have a device to be able to access videos online as a class or individually.
Ask students to share what they know about the State of the Union Address.
Why does the president give this speech every year? Who attends the address? What topics are typically covered in the speech?
As a class introduction, view the following video clip to provide a brief history of the speech and discuss the accompanying questions.
VIDEO CLIP: State of the Union History (3:22)
Explain the origin of the State of the Union address.
How did Thomas Jefferson prefer to deliver his message to Congress?
Which president returned to the tradition of addressing a joint session of Congress in person?
According to Don Ritchie, why did Thomas Jefferson prefer to deliver the address in this manner? How did this impact presidents through the 19th and early 20th centuries?
Explain what Don Ritchie means when he says the messages are "long laundry lists."
STEP 2 (OPTIONAL)
In preparation for President Biden's 2021 address to a joint session of Congress, have students view President Trump's 2020 State of the Union address, and ask students to complete the sections on the handout.
Video Clip: President Trump's 2020 State of the Union Address (1:23:00)
Which issues did President Trump discuss during his speech? What actions did he propose to take?
Have students view President Biden's 2021 address to a joint session of Congress, and ask students to complete the sections on one of the following the handouts. Teachers can choose the the option for the class or have students choose.
Have students share their responses to the speech (es).
What do you think is the most important issue our country is facing this year? Choose one topic from the speech and explain how you might solve it.
Have students share their responses through class discussion, an online classroom forum or in small groups during class.
Students may also choose to view historical State of the Union Addresses given by past presidents to compare and contrast.
VIDEO: President Harry Truman (D) and President Dwight Eisenhower (R) (January 8, 1952 and January 1960)
VIDEO: President John F. Kennedy (D) (January 20, 1962)
VIDEO: President Lyndon B. Johnson (D) (January 8, 1964)
VIDEO: President Richard Nixon (R) (January 27, 1974)
VIDEO: President Gerald Ford (R) (January 12, 1977)
VIDEO: President Jimmy Carter (D) (January 23, 1980)
VIDEO: President Ronald Reagan (R) (January 25, 1988)
VIDEO: President George H.W. Bush (R) (January 31, 1990)
VIDEO: President Bill Clinton (D) (January 23, 1996)
VIDEO: President George W. Bush (R) (January 29, 2002)
VIDEO: President Barack Obama (D) (January 26, 2010)
VIDEO: President Trump (R) (February 4, 2020)