The US President's State of the Union address has a long and intriguing history. When George Washington delivered the first "annual message to Congress"—as it was known in his day—in January 1790, he was fulfilling his Constitutional duty. Article II. Section. 3. of the nation's founding document states:

[The President] shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient;

It was a short speech—perhaps no more than ten minutes in length. But it was long on aspiration, humility, and a pledge of cooperation with the legislative branch. That 1790 message was a far cry from the high-gloss extravaganza we recognize today!

"State of the Union" is the inaugural installment in our newest series of video shorts: History Behind the Headlines. We call it the "why behind the wow." It's a growing resource to help students (and their teachers!) understand how history has shaped modern events.

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