President Ronald Reagan will follow an old American custom this month. On Jan. 20, he will deliver what is known as the State of the Union address. Every January since George Washington in 1790, the president of the United States has delivered a State of the Union address.
This is a speech given to both houses of Congress. It is one of the President's most important statements of the year.
The purpose of the State of the Union address is to have the president inform Congress and the American public what important recent developments have happened in the country and overseas. Even more significant, this address gives us a clue as to what the president has on his mind and what changes he wishes to make.
Whatever ideas he wishes to have adopted are later included in proposals submitted to Congress for its approval. These proposals are called bills. Congress may pass them, and if it does they become laws. On the other hand Congress may decide to change what the president proposes. Of course, Congress also may introduce bills on its own and the president may sign or veto, them.
The important thing, though, is that the State of the Union address provides a framework for legislation that will come up in Congress for the coming year. To that extent, the President provides a useful and necessary focus to the workings of government in the United States.
This address is one indication of the important role of the president. Other important functions of his job help us understand why the president is considered the most powerful man in the United States, if not the world.
The president is commander-in-chief of all the armed forces. That means that if a top-ranking general does not obey the president, the president has the power to remove him.
In addition, a president appoints his own cabinet. These are the heads of 13 major departments that help run the government of the United States. Two important departments are the State Department, which deals with other countries , and the Treasury Department, which handles money matters.
The president also appoints judges to the US Supreme Court, ambassadors to foreign countries, and US attorneys. Actually what the president does is to propose these appointments; the US Senate must approve them. Once in a while the Senate rejects a nomination. But in most cases the people that the president proposes for high posts are approved.
The president, in turn, can show his disapproval of what Congress does. If he doesn't like some legislation passed by the two houses - that, is the US House of Representatives and the US Senate - he can veto it. A veto means the President refuses to sign the legislation. Unless he signs, the legislation cannot become law.
If the president vetoes legislation, the two houses of Congress can make it become law anyway if a two-thirds majority votes to override the veto. This practice whereby the president and the Congress can curb each other's power is part of a system known as ''checks and balances.''
Over the years the responsibilities of the president have shifted. Depending on the mood of the country and the demands of the day, some presidents have exercised more power and some less.
Two of the changes that have occurred since George Washington took the oath as the first President of the United States are:
* All recent presidents have a lot more work to do. In George Washington's time his staff consisted only of a secretary and one or two clerks. Household servants acted as messengers. By comparison, President Reagan has a staff of about 500.
* George Washington was paid $25,000. Today, presidents of the US get a yearly salary of $200,000. They also get up to $40,000 for travel expenses and up to $50,000 for other expenses.
Here are few questions to see how well you know your US presidents:
1. President Carter belongs to the Democratic Party, and President Reagan to the Republican Party. What was the name of George Washington's party?
2. How are the following Presidents related to each other: (A) John Adams and John Quincy Adams, (B) Theodore (''Teddy'') Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, (C) William Henry Harrison and Benjamin Harrison?
3. Was Thomas Jefferson the second, third, or fourth President of the US?
4. Which president never married?
5. Who was the first president to win a Nobel peace prize?
6. Only one president has ever resigned while in office. Who is he?
7. Which president has served more than two terms?
1. Federalist Party.
2. Adams: father and son: Roosevelt: cousins; Harrison: grandfather and grandson.
4. James Buchanan.
5. Theodore Roosevelt.
6. Richard M. Nixon over Watergate.
7. Franklin D. Roosevelt.