George Washington started this trend. Historians are mostly split on what the original intention was. Washington wasn't much of a politician or speech-maker. George mainly worked up some topics to engage Congress on priorities as he saw them for the American people. Somewhere around paragraph six, George talks up the threat of Indians, and how troops need to be prepared (meaning food, guns, ammo, and uniforms). History does not note any reporters or journalists in the big hall when this was given. There is a hand-written speech kept from the first speech......seven pages long.
It's an interesting speech....especially how it ends:
The welfare of our country is the great object to which our cares and efforts ought to be directed, and I shall derive great satisfaction from a cooperation with you in the pleasing though arduous task of insuring to our fellow citizens the blessings which they have a right to expect from a free, efficient, and equal government.
A free, efficient, and equal government? We probably haven't seen this in one hundred years.
As Jefferson walked into the office....he deemed the State of the Union Address to be too much like a King's comments to his faithful subjects....so he tossed it. For roughly one hundred years....we did well without it. President Wilson started this back up in 1913....amid some criticism at the time. Historians don't go into this commentary much, which leads one to wonder why details aren't told more.
Does anyone today get a thrill out of the speech? If you voted for the guy (either Republican or Democrat)....maybe there is some faint enjoyment of the moment. I suspect most people hit the mute button or shift the channel over to ESPN, the Travel Channel, or pick up the phone to chat with relatives. The news media is thrilled...mostly because it gives them something to talk about. If the President's personal toilet next to the oval office overflowed.....they'd get just as big a thrill....asking stupid questions over the plumber, his technique of repair, and the amount of spillage.
The curious thing is that over the last one hundred years.....with the speech given yearly.....in the midst of winter and flu season....no President has been laid down with the flu and prevented from giving the speech. Most folks I know in Bama would tell you between a serious cold and flu.....there's always a ten-percent chance during this week of January....that they'd be awful damn sick. Going a hundred years straight....without any illness preventing you from the address? Man, that's pretty good odds.
A gimmick? Worthless? Boring? Well....yeah. But it's a free speech moment on a national audience. Folks get all peppy and charged up....then head off into the evening....drinking whiskey and gin, and feel good for a brief time about politics in America. The other ninety percent of us? We would have preferred to watch a repeat of Bonanza, read through some Bible scripture, discuss the chances of the Braves in 2014, or clean our sixteen guns that we keep in the living room closet. Luckily, we weren't forced into sitting in the hall and jumping up every six minutes to do fake applause.