INDEPTH: U.S. POLITICS
Joint Meetings of Congress FAQ
CBC News Online | July 17, 2003
Joint meeting of Congress
What is a joint meeting of Congress?
A joint meeting of the Senate and the House of Representatives is the way the U.S. Congress usually hears speeches from foreign leaders and dignitaries. Joint meetings also are used for special commemorative events and to receive addresses by domestic dignitaries.
What is a joint session of Congress?
A joint session of Congress is mandated by the U.S. Constitution for the president's state of the union message, other presidential addresses to Congress and to receive the results of electoral votes for the president and vice-president of the United States.
How did the joint meetings evolve over history?
The first address to a joint meeting of Congress came on December 10, 1824, when the speaker was the Marquis de Lafayette.
After that, either the Senate or the House of Representatives would have formal receptions for visiting foreign dignitaries, who would make brief speeches.
Fifty years later, on December 18, 1874, King David Kalakaua of Hawaii became the first member of royalty asked to address a joint meeting of Congress. However, Hawaii's Chief Justice Elisha Hunt Allen, a former member of the U.S. House, actually delivered the speech because the king had a cold.
The modern address to a joint meeting of Congress began on December 26, 1941, when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill addressed Congress less than three weeks after the U.S. entered the Second World War.
It was his speech that began the formal practice of speaking before joint meetings of the House and Senate rather than receptions in either house.
Churchill would speak before Congress two more times, on May 18, 1943 and January 17, 1945.
Including British Prime Minister Tony Blair's speech to Congress on July 17, 2003, there have been 92 joint meetings addressed by foreign leaders and dignitaries since 1824.
Who are the Canadians who have addressed a joint meeting of Congress?
- Governor General Vincent Massey (May 4, 1954)
- Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (February 22, 1977)
- Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (April 27, 1988)
What non-heads of state or government have addressed Congress?
As well as the Marquis de Lafayette, Lech Walesa addressed Congress in 1989, when he was leader of Solidarity in Poland, and Nelson Mandela spoke while he was deputy leader of the African National Congress in 1990.
Joint meeting facts
Who has spoken more than once?
- 88 leaders or dignitaries representing 45 countries and kingdoms have addressed joint meetings of Congress.
- 11 monarchs or royalty have addressed joint meetings of Congress.
- 6 women have addressed joint meetings of Congress.
- Leaders from the United Kingdom have spoken seven times before joint meetings of Congress
- Tony Blair (July 17, 2003)
- Queen Elizabeth II (May 16, 1991)
- Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (February 20, 1985)
- Prime Minister Clement Atlee (November 13, 1945)
- Prime Minister Winston Churchill (December 26, 1941, May 19, 1943, January 17, 1952)
(Winston S. Churchill, MP, and grandson of Prime Minister Churchill, participated in a joint meeting to commemorate the birth centennial of Dwight D. Eisenhower (March 27, 1990)
Winston Churchill who addressed Congress three times, Nelson Mandela addressed Congress a second time in 1994 and Yitzhak Rabin of Israel addressed joint meetings in 1976 and 1994.
Source: Office of the Clerk: U. S. House of Representatives