Once upon a time in America, U.S. presidents delivered the State of the Union not as a seech but as a written report. It wasn't until President Woodrow Wilson that chief executives stood before joint sessions of Congress to voice their hopes for the nation.
Like him or loathe him, tonight's address will be a defining moment in Barack Obama's presidency, and may influence whether Americans choose to give him another four years.
Tonight, Obama is expected to speak to America's dwindling middle class at the mercy, according to the White House, "of Republicans who favor less opportunity and less fairness."
Exploring what he calls "fair play" themes, Obama will call for a reformed tax code that rewards the middle class and asks the wealthiest Americans to pay more, more support for alternative energy policies, and incentives to encourage companies to stop shifting jobs overseas.
Ultimately, tonight's speech will be a free campaign speech before a national television audience.
In advance of the address, Citydesk listened to a number of Boise citizens voice their hopes for a State of the Union that is short on rhetoric and long on specifics.