September 9th, 2009
05:20 PM ET
10 years ago

Obama speech continues tradition started by Adams, Wilson

Obama speech continues tradition started by Adams, Wilson.

Obama speech continues tradition started by Adams, Wilson.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Obama's speech on health care reform Wednesday night to a joint session of Congress continues a long tradition of presidents addressing Congress outside of the more familiar setting of a State of the Union address or annual message.

George Washington began the tradition of addressing Congress in person in the form of an annual speech, satisfying the constitutional requirement that the president brief Congress on "from time to time" on "the state of the union." However, it was Washington's successor, John Adams, who was the first president to address a joint session of Congress on a specific topic outside of the regularly scheduled annual message.

Adams' first speech to Congress was an address on relations with France, delivered on May 16, 1797, just over two months after his inauguration. He would deliver his first annual message in November of that year. After Adams, Thomas Jefferson discontinued the practice of addressing Congress in person, saying the ceremony too closely resembled a king addressing his subjects.

Jefferson's refusal to address Congress in person would set a precedent that his successors in office would follow for the next 112 years. Eventually, President Woodrow Wilson resumed the practice of speaking before Congress in 1913, and over the course of two terms delivered six annual messages and 20 speeches on specific policy or issue areas, for a record-setting 26 total addresses before Congress.

Since Wilson, almost every president has used the setting of a joint session of Congress to deliver not only annual messages and State of the Union addresses, but also to address a wide array of topics. Herbert Hoover never gave a State of the Union or annual message, but did briefly address a joint session in 1932 to kick off a celebration regarding George Washington's birthday.

War was a frequent topic of discussion in speeches to Congress. Presidents Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and George H.W. Bush addressed joint sessions to discuss wars or military conflicts the United States had been involved in at the time. Presidents Eisenhower and Carter each gave speeches on the Middle East. Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Reagan discussed the nation's economy in joint session addresses, while President Clinton discussed health care reform in a 1993 joint session speech. The last president to give a non-State of the Union/annual message address to Congress was President George W. Bush, who discussed the 9/11 terrorism attacks in 2001.

President Obama will deliver Wednesday night's speech at roughly the same point former presidents George W. Bush and Clinton delivered their second addresses to a joint session of Congress and on the same date Nixon gave his 1971 joint session speech on the economy.

Presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan each gave a total of three non-State of the Union/annual message speeches before Congress, the most of any president since Truman, who gave nine.

Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. I support President Obama!

    When are republicans going to offer solutions to help fix this country they destroyed instead of being the party of opposition?

    September 9, 2009 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  2. T'SAH from Virginia

    Okay??? And the POINT is???

    September 9, 2009 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  3. too closely resembled a king addressing his subjects

    when do we address the Chinese?

    September 9, 2009 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  4. Anonymous

    clinton a great president
    if not for clinton the banks would not be in trouble
    if not for clinton we wouldn't have nafa
    and we still would have a good job
    give me a break iam a democratbut iam not blind

    September 9, 2009 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  5. B

    We have been trying to get this done since Truman !

    So NOW is the Time.

    September 9, 2009 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  6. Ken Williams

    There's really no basis to compare Obama to accomplished president; be they Republicans or Democrats. He's passed a stimulas bill that hasn't really helped anyone and is preposing a healthcare bill that will cost a hell of a lot of Americans to lose their employer helth insurance!

    September 9, 2009 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  7. linda from south dakota

    i support president obama and always will,, his ideas are great,, the insurance compamys are way over baord on their rates,,, they need to cap it which is what he is trying to do,,,,, your cost will go down,, drs many times want more tests so they get a cut of the pie,,,,, with his plan they wont,,,,, u can keep your current insurance,,, u hava choice,, unlike the president before,,,, ( he cared more about other things that werent as improtant)... listen to his speech tonight and ERALLY LISTEN

    September 9, 2009 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  8. Karen S.

    Mr. President AWESOME speech, keep the change going for the people of America, truly a president for all American. God Bless you and the true American people that are not just for self gain.

    September 9, 2009 09:29 pm at 9:29 pm |
  9. Romel Horsman

    I'm a Canadian and I listened intently to the speech of your President Barack Obama. If all the contents of his speech will be implemented, all the Americans will live a peaceful life.

    At the beginning, the beckering of the government leaders is about spending. Now that we get over that hump of thinking about expenditure, everybody can get medical care needed and have peace. Not the perfect plan but better than what you have ongoing in United States. And it is improving all the time as companies, drugs producers, Unions and Associations of nurses and doctors always work on negotiating for the improvement of the population's care.

    Where is the faith and courage of the Americans?

    September 9, 2009 10:09 pm at 10:09 pm |
  10. Mary

    Unlike his total disrepect for our President today, I will address him as Rep. Wilson.

    His behavior in what Americans regard as a sacred and honorable venue of our country was severely stained by HIM!

    How shameful and embarrassing our country would elect such an uncouth being. The South Carolina constituents must feel horrible! I'm sure they do not deserve HIM!! No one does!!

    He should be FIRED!!!!!!!!!!

    September 9, 2009 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |