Things You May Not Know About the State of the Union

Tonight at 9 p.m., millions of Americans will gather around their television sets to view history in the making. Granted, 50% of the audience will likely stem from the "American Idol" lead-in, but they’ll hopefully stick around to watch President Obama’s 2010 State of the Union Address. In related news, here are some interesting facts about the history of the speech, courtesy of CQ Politics:

The State of the Union is steeped in ceremony, but the tradition has changed quite a bit over the years.

As Congress prepares to hear President Obama’s first address this Wednesday, here are some facts to lift the curtain on this annual tradition:

  • The president’s annual message has its origins in the Constitution and was modeled after a British tradition.
  • Senators are seated towards the front of the House chamber. Only Congressional leaders and the administration can bring guests.
  • Thomas Jefferson broke with tradition to deliver his address in writing. Subsequent presidents followed suit until Woodrow Wilson delivered his 1913 message in person.
  • Harry S. Truman delivered the first televised speech in 1947. George W. Bush’s 2002 speech was the first to be streamed live online.
  • Lyndon B. Johnson moved the speech from daytime to the evening to increase television viewership. Over the years, presidents have tailored their speeches more towards the American public than simply to Congress.
  • Along with one member of the president’s Cabinet, two Members of the House and Senate skip the event should tragedy hit during the event. The tradition of lawmakers staying back started after the 9/11 attacks.

Least Impressive Inauguration Speeches in American History

Yahoo! News ran an interesting article today (linked on Huffington Post) featuring some of the worst inauguration speeches presidents have ever made. Let’s hope President Obama can avoid this list. I found Thomas Jefferson’s to be most interesting, mainly because of the caustic nature in which he went after the media (some things are timeless):

After a soaring first address in 1801, Thomas Jefferson was reelected and offered a sophomore effort that was an angry, monotone dud, historians say. Bitter at the "licentious" media and four years of attacks on his administration, the president was on the defensive and not as his inspirational best:

"During this course of administration, and in order to disturb it, the artillery of the press has been leveled against us, charged with whatsoever its licentiousness could devise or dare. These abuses of an institution so important to freedom and science, are deeply to be regretted, inasmuch as they tend to lessen its usefulness, and to sap its safety; they might, indeed, have been corrected by the wholesome punishments reserved and provided by the laws of the several States against falsehood and defamation; but public duties more urgent press on the time of public servants, and the offenders have therefore been left to find their punishment in the public indignation."

Can anyone else not pronounce "licentious?" I keep saying "licenshish." Anyway…

The worst likely remains William Henry Harrison’s (described in the article), whose 8,000-word address in the dead of winter may have ended up killing him. Now that’s a rough speech.