On Unity: Beasley presents history of the president’s address to a joint session of Congress (VIDEO)

The U.S. Constitution requires a president to deliver an annual message to Congress, but it does not impose any specifications. As the history of this paramount speech has evolved over 200 years, the president’s words matter, but, increasingly, theatrics and Congress’ response influence the American people’s perception of leadership.

Presidential rhetoric expert, Associate Professor of Communication Studies and Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Vanessa Beasley presents the evolution of the president’s annual address to Congress in a video essay—and what to expect tonight—for The Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy.

Unlike the oath of office, which has remained unaltered since its drafting by the founders, the style, substance and schedule of this annual tradition continues to evolve. As President Joe Biden prepares to address Congress on April 28, visual cues from attendees may provide more clues than the speech’s text about the trajectory of his administration’s relationship with Congress.