Why does Inauguration Day take place on Jan. 20?

American politics’ big day used to take place in March.


 
President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump shake hands following their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/CP)

President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump shake hands following their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/CP)

As Donald Trump prepares to be inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States, Maclean’s is answering any and all questions you may have about the whys and wherefores of the pomp and circumstance. Read more answers from our FAQ series.

Why does the transfer of power from one president to another happen on Jan. 20?

It used to be March 4, coinciding with the day the United States started to govern under its Constitution in 1789. Back then, the lengthy time from Election Day in November to early March allowed time for the incoming president to get his ducks in a row. After all, many presidents lived before the invention of the telephone or automobile. But the long wait between Election Day and Inauguration Day had its drawbacks; for example, some Americans tried to use the waiting period to drum up support for the Civil War before Abraham Lincoln was officially sworn in on March 4, 1861.

The Americans finally changed the date to Jan. 20 in 1933 not solely because of the advancement of technology but also because the country was going through the Great Depression; a longer wait for incoming President Franklin D. Roosevelt* to take over from Herbert Hoover meant waiting another six weeks to address the crisis. So in 1933, the Americans pushed the inauguration up to Jan. 20 at noon, which is written into the Constitution’s 20th amendment. Why noon? That’s just the time chosen and written in the Constitution as the official end point of the outgoing president’s term. Which means Obama’s last second as commander-in-chief will be 11:59:59 am on Jan. 20. Then the Trump era begins.


* Correction: A previous version of this post erroneously named the president that followed Herbert Hoover. We regret the error.


 

Why does Inauguration Day take place on Jan. 20?

  1. Why does Macleans write more stuff [objective stuff at that] about the US instead of Canada?

  2. OMG, this article is full of so many errors! Please do your research! The Depression had nothing to do with passing this amendment. FRANKLIN Roosevelt was elected president in 1932. The 20th amendment was finally ratified by a majority of states in early 1933. The president’s term starting on January 20th didn’t begin until the January 20, 1937 inauguration.