Twentieth Amendment to the United States Constitution facts for kids
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Ratified on January 23, 1933, the Twentieth Amendment (Amendment XX) to the United States Constitution moved the beginning and ending of the terms of the president and vice president from March 4 to January 20. It moved the start and end dates for members of Congress from March 4 to January 3. In both cases the start and end time is at noon. It also gives the procedure to follow if for some reason there is no president-elect.
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.
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.
If, at the time fixed for the beginning of the term of the President, the President elect shall have died, the Vice President elect shall become President. If a President shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for the beginning of his term, or if the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified; and the Congress may by law provide for the case wherein neither a President elect nor a Vice President elect shall have qualified, declaring who shall then act as President, or the manner in which one who is to act shall be selected, and such person shall act accordingly until a President or Vice President shall have qualified.
The Congress may by law provide for the case of the death of any of the persons from whom the House of Representatives may choose a President whenever the right of choice shall have devolved upon them, and for the case of the death of any of the persons from whom the Senate may choose a Vice President whenever the right of choice shall have devolved upon them.
Sections 1 and 2 shall take effect on the 15th day of October following the ratification of this article.
This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years from the date of its submission.
In the latter part of the eighteenth century, when the Constitution was written, travel and communications were both very slow by modern standards. To cross the Atlantic Ocean could take several weeks. Traveling by horseback or by carriage on crude roads in the US could take even longer. Communications were mainly by letter or messenger. For these reasons the framers of the Constitution allowed for the longer periods of time it took to send and receive messages. Four months, the time from the election in November to the swearing-in in March, was necessary at the time.
By the 1930s, a railroad passenger could cross the country in 3 days. The Post Office had been using airmail since 1918. But vastly improved travel times and communications were not the only reasons behind the Twentieth Amendment. The joint resolution calling for the amendment was sponsored by Republican Senator George W. Norris of Nebraska. Called the "Lame Duck" Amendment, Norris wanted to eliminate the lame-duck sessions of Congress where outgoing members still held office and voted on bills for several months before the new members could be sworn in. The bill he wrote applied to both houses of Congress, the offices of President and Vice-President.
Another area the amendment addressed was with the succession of the president if the president-elect died before taking office. It provides for the vice-president elect to become the president-elect and take office on January 20. The amendment also give Congress the power to legislate on other issues dealing with the succession of the president.
Effects of the Twentieth Amendment
The sessions of Congress between the election and the beginning of a new term are called "lame duck" sessions because members of Congress who were voted out of office still attend and can still vote. Originally the term "lame duck" was a financial term meaning those who could not repay a loan. As used in politics, a representative who lost an election was no longer accountable to the voters. As the framers of the Twentieth Amendment saw it, lame duck representatives should not be able to vote since voters had already rejected their views. The Twentieth Amendment only shortened the lame duck period by six weeks. Between 1933 and 2012, 18 lame-duck sessions of Congress have passed laws.
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Page 1 of joint resolution submitting the Twentieth Amendment for ratification (source: National Archives)
Twentieth Amendment to the United States Constitution Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.