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Donald Nieman has actually received capital from the national Endowment because that the Humanities.

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George Washington’s very first presidential term started on march 4, 1789, even though he didn’t take it the oath of office till April 30. Ramon de Elorriaga via Wikimedia Commons

How lengthy should a president serve?

There is nothing magical around that number. The framers discussed whether the president’s term should be four, six or 7 years, even if it is the president might serve just one term, or could serve because that life. Ultimately, they worked out on 4 years and enabled reelection.

However, they to be emphatic the the president would certainly serve because that a identified period. Why? because kings didn’t. Castle were creating a republic, where the human being are sovereign, and neither they nor the American civilization wanted a monarch.


In September 1788, after the Constitution to be ratified, the Confederation congress directed the the brand-new government would begin on in march 4, 1789. That seemed to be enough time to command elections because that representatives, senators, a president and also a vice president – and also for castle to take trip to new York, the chair of the brand-new government.

It wasn’t. The residence of Representatives accomplished a quorum top top April 1, the Senate on April 6 and George Washington took the oath the office together president on April 30.

Nevertheless, every 4 years thereafter, for an ext than 140 years, presidents started their term – even if it is a first or second one – on march 4 since Congress created it together Inauguration work in 1792 and also never changed it.

Electoral crises – the tie in between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr in 1800, the secession dilemm in 1860-61 and the challenged election in between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel J. Tilden in 1876 – did not protect against one term from ending and also another start on in march 4.

Did a carry of strength take too long?


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Sen. George W. Norris that Nebraska led an effort to move Inauguration Day to January. Harris & Ewing via Wikimedia Commons

The 20th Amendment, embraced in 1933, readjusted the day and also time the presidential inaugurations come noon top top Jan. 20.

The amendment to be the result of a 16-year crusade by Sen. George W. Norris the Nebraska. Norris believed that lame-duck congresses the met in between November and also March following elections did no reflect the people’s will and also should not legislate. This was particularly true, the argued, if the party managing that lame-duck session had lost in the November elections.

Equally a trouble were defeated presidents who offered for month after voter had decreased to reelect them. In one emergency such together the secession crisis, the four-month interval between the election and also inauguration the a new president had actually delayed a decisive response to disunion.

The Constitution set the ax lengths for presidents, senators and representatives. Transforming the date they started and also ended would certainly invite a constitutional challenge, so it could be completed only through amendment. Beginning in 1934, Congress would convene, v newly chosen members in the House and Senate, on Jan. 3 – and also beginning in 1937, the president would certainly take the oath that office in ~ noon top top Jan. 20.

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What if there were other problems?

The 20th Amendment additionally offered a path forward if things didn’t walk smoothly in the runup come Inauguration Day.

If the president-elect died in between the election and Jan. 20, the evil president-elect would become president. The amendment also declared what should happen if congress couldn’t agree on who had won the presidential election, either because of deadlock over counting electoral votes or the House’s failure to declare a winner when no candidate received a majority of electoral votes.

If that happened, or if the person chosen no at the very least 35 year old and what the constitution calls a “natural born citizen” the the country, the evil president-elect would certainly serve until Congress picked someone else. If there wasn’t a angry president-elect or that person didn’t meet the Constitution’s criteria either, climate Congress might determine that would offer as exhilaration president till it chose how a new president would be chosen.

Fortunately for the nation, these provisions have never to be tested. Some space straightforward – like permitting a vice president-elect to take the place of a deceased president-elect. But if a winner isn’t declared by Jan. 20, partisan division is likely part of the problem – and that means consensus after Jan. 20 may not it is in possible.

One point is clear, however. The 20th Amendment creates a difficult stop. The sit president’s term end at noon ~ above Jan. 20. If conference can’t determine a winner, the Presidential succession Act, adopted in 1947, would make the speak of the residence of to represent the new chief executive – at the very least for a time.

Whether the likes the or not, Trump’s term as president will finish Jan. 20. What happens next is yet unknown, yet at least that lot is certain.

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Editor’s note: This is one updated version of an article originally published Oct. 22, 2020.