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How long is the State of the Union address usually? What was the longest of all time?

The presidential State of the Union address to the nation is rooted in the US Constitution but the length isn’t specified. Here’s a look at past speeches…

The State of the Union address can be brief or really, really long

The State of the Union, the address by the US president to lawmakers and the nation at large, is required by the US Constitution. 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,” Article II, Section 3 stipulates.

However, there aren’t specifics as to when or how it must be given, nor the length it should be. Despite the lack of defined “when” the tradition has been done annually, sometimes twice a year, since the first US president, George Washington, in 1790, the year after his inauguration. While he and his successor John Adams gave their annual address, called the “Annual Message” at the time, in person to Congress, Thomas Jefferson, the third US president, chose to send his in writing to lawmakers.

That was the norm for more than a century until Woodrow Wilson returned to the in-person format, which most all presidents followed suit from Franklin Delano Roosevelt onwards. While Washington was known for his brevity, holding the record for the shortest SOTU, a mere 1,089 words, in modern times Richard Nixon holds the title for shortest address clocking in at just under 29 minutes.

2023 State of the Union: When and how to watch

The State of the Union speeches get longer

Since Lyndon B Johnson until Bill Clinton presidents generally keep their speeches well under an hour, only LBJ went over an hour in 1967. However, with the exception of George W Bush, every president since Clinton has averaged over an hour with Donald Trump the longest winded on average, 1 hour 20 minutes 20 seconds. But the 45th president doesn’t hold the record for the longest falling nearly six and a half minutes short.

President Clinton takes the prize for longest spoken State of the Union address, his 2000 speech clocking in at 1 hour 28 minutes and 49 seconds. He also holds the record for most words spoken with a tally of 9,190 in 1995. However, Jimmy Carter, while his spoken State of the Union addresses were relatively brief averaging just 36 minutes 53 seconds, his final SOTU to Congress was sent in writing. In January 1981 he gave lawmakers a 33,667-word address, which one can imagine they were glad it had been in writing and not delivered in person.

So far President Joe Biden is keeping an average of just over an hour with his “Address Before a Joint Session of Congress” and his first State of the Union.


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