Why are US Presidential Inaugurations Held on 20th January?

The First US President George Washington (sixth right) takes his oath of office on 30th April 1789 in New York City. Subsequent inaugurations took place on 4th March until 1933 when the 20th Amendment put 20th January as inauguration day.PHOTO: http://www.history.com.

The first Presidential inauguration in the USA was on 30th April 1789 in New York City, the then capital of the USA.

On the day, George Washington took oath of office by proclaiming these solemn words, now repeated by every President in the USA:

“I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

The second President John Adams was inaugurated on 4th March 1797.

And now US President elect Joe Biden and his Vice President Kamala Harris will take oath of office on 20th January 2021.

The 20th January inauguration day has a long tradition in the USA.

Origins of the 20th January inauguration day

Before 1933, all inaugurations in the United States except that of George Washington used to take place on 4th March.

In 1933 however, the US Senate passed the 20th Amendment to the Constitution that sought to create flexible timelines for the start of terms for the President and the US Congress.

‘‘The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January, and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon on the 3d day of January, of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall then begin.’’

On the term of the Congress the 20th Amendment states:

‘‘The Congress shall assemble at least once in every year, and such meeting shall begin at noon on the 3d day of January, unless they shall by law appoint a different day.’’

The era before 1933, and due to challenges in transport and communications, results of presidential elections used to take long before they could be known across the vast country.

But with advancements in these spheres, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary said, the new realities needed to be brought to bear on the US elections.

‘‘[W]hen our Constitution was adopted there was some reason for such a long intervention of time between the election and the actual commencement of work by the new Congress. . . . Under present conditions [of communication and transportation] the result of elections is known all over the country within a few hours after the polls close, and the Capital City is within a few days’ travel of the remotest portions of the country. . . .’’

On the tem of the Congress, it was deemed that with the terms of the Members of the house of representatives and one-third of the Members of the Senate expiring on 4th March every election cycle, there was a practical challenge of short sessions of the Congress.

‘‘It is a physical impossibility during such a short session for Congress to give attention to much general legislation for the reason that it requires practically all of the time to dispose of the regular appropriation bills. . . . The result is a congested condition that brings about either no legislation or illy considered legislation  . . .’’

A few facts to note on Presidential inaugurations in the US:

  • President James Buchanan’s inauguration of 1857 was the first to be photographed.
  • President William McKinley’s inauguration of 1897 was the first to be filmed
  • President Harry Turman’s inauguration of 1949 was the first to televised.

Source: www.history.com /US Congress

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