Don't Know Much About the State of the Union

Once not even a speech, the rituals and strange pageantry came later.
3:00 | 02/11/13

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Transcript for Don't Know Much About the State of the Union
The state of the union the constitution says the president must give information to congress but doesn't say how or even how often. I'm Kenneth C Davis here in New York where she. 79 -- George Washington began the tradition of walking over to congress to deliver that message every year. The US constitution only requires this information being given from time to time. For eight years the first president gave his message to congress in person but the state of the union wasn't always a speech thinking the annual message was too much like an English king addressing parliament. Thomas Jefferson decided to -- it. He wrote out his annual message to congress and a clerk read. And that's how it went for more than a century until Woodrow Wilson brought back the personal address in 1913 these messages have. Introduced some memorable ideas the Monroe doctrine in 1823. FDR's four freedoms in 1941. Johnson's war on poverty in 1964. And George W. Bush meaning an axis of evil in 2002. But the US constitution says nothing about the curious rituals which make this event such a distinctive piece of Washington political theater. The president doesn't just deliver his address to congress technically he's invited to do so right after the opening of a new session. He is introduced by the house sergeant at arms ministers. Housing applause. There -- applause for the speaker of the house costs of high privileges and distinct honors and then there is applause. Again. It. When the president does eventually speak. The addresses typically last an hour states but a good deal of that time is eaten -- by yet more applause. Congress sits by party. And the members signaled their approval -- -- by applause. Cheers and standing. Or not. In 1982. Ronald Reagan launched a new tradition by calling out a special guest. Reagan honored -- Scott and for heroism after an airplane crash. When he's gotten. Who when he saw a woman lose your grip on the helicopter -- and dived into the water. And dragged her to say. Almost every president since. Has called on special guests and all become known as Scott and -- And because virtually everyone who's anyone in Washington tends someone always -- to stay behind. The designated survivor has been pulled from the president's cabinet. Or sometimes from congress some conditions however -- change in the state of the union. Might be changing again. In response to the shooting of representative Gabby Giffords congress broke with tradition. Sitting together regardless of party in both went to eleven and twenty. Whether that bipartisan spirit that Washington loved will survive is another question. Kenneth C Davis and when you don't know much just back.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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