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Why Does the Presidential Inauguration Day Take Place on Jan. 20th?

Published on
February 11, 2022 at 4:08:09 PM PST February 11, 2022 at 4:08:09 PM PSTth, February 11, 2022 at 4:08:09 PM PST

It’s almost been a year since senator Bernie Sanders wore his meme-inspiring mittens at the inauguration of President Joe Biden. Historically, big woolly mittens and similar comfy winterwear weren‘t the usual attire as the inauguration day used to take place in March until 1937. Why is Inauguration Day January 20th and was it a good decision to move it closer to the election day?


Let’s find out!


When Was The Previous Inauguration Day?


The Inauguration Day before 1937 was taking place on March 4, so the lame-duck period was much longer than today’s 11 weeks. New Congress members used to be sworn on March 4 too, but today the event takes place on January 3, unless the preceding Congress decides on another day.


Why Is Amendment XX So Important?


It was the Twentieth Amendment that enabled all of this. The original idea, i.e. the proposition was made in 1923. Senator George Norris of Nebraska created the original resolution that made a foundation for the Twentieth Amendment.


Yet, the amendment was not approved by Congress until a decade later, in 1933.

Why Was Inauguration Day Moved?


The main idea was to shorten the lame-duck period because there were no longer legitimate reasons for it to last that long. 


Naturally, it takes some time for the president who is leaving to make due preparations, as well as for the new one to elect the members of the new cabinet. However, the main and perhaps the most obvious reason behind moving inauguration day was faster means of transport and shorter time needed for counting votes.


Namely, back in the day, i.e. 1789 when the Congress set March 4 as the date “for commencing proceedings”, not only did it take much longer to process all American votes but traveling to the capital was no mean feat either. For instance, a harsh 1789 winter delayed George Washington’s inauguration by eight weeks. The first US president had to wait until April 30 because too many Congress members were unable to travel in time for the event.


Was the Decision to Move Inauguration Day Justified?


Reducing the lame-duck period from four to two and a half months is absolutely justified. What is more, the shorter period was very much needed in times of great crisis. For example, during the Great Depression, President Roosevelt had to wait four months until the New Deal, a series of domestic programs to re-inflate the economy, could be implemented. Thanks to the New Deal, a lot of people were able to be put back to work and the sense of security was restored.


Another argument would be the “Secession Winter” turmoil when seven states left the Union following the 1860 election. Abraham Lincoln, the president-elect, simply had to wait while the outgoing president took no action.


Should We Make It Shorter?


Considering how much transport and vote counting were modernized and made faster in the 20th century, could the lame-duck period be reduced even more? It’s hard to tell.


After all pre-election humdrum and the final election day, American families prepare for Thanksgiving, which is then followed by the holiday season, Christmas, Hanukkah, and other holidays. To this end, January 20 seems like the earliest date for the new president and his team to take their duties.


Why Is January 20 the Inauguration Day, and Not Some Other Day?


January 20 is quite an agreement, by the way. The Senate was proposing January 15, while the House of the Representatives had their heart set on January 24. Obviously, the noon of January 20 seemed like a nice compromise to keep everybody happy.