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.