Monday, March 4, 2013

Today's History Lesson

Prior to the ratification of the 20th Amendment to the US Constitution in 1933, all presidential inaugurations, save the first, were held on today's date*.  With the popular vote for president on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, and the Electors (Electoral College) vote the first Monday after the second Wednesday of December, I'd always wondered why it took until March to inaugurate the President.

When asked, my teachers generally had glib "communications were slow back then" or "it took a long time to travel" sorts of answers. True in their way, but not necessarily correct.  So why was March 4, inauguration day?

Answer:  On March 4, 1789 the Constitution of the United States was ratified by the required 9 states.  The Congress of the Confederation marked that day, March 4th, as the start of operations for the new United States government.  Hence, presidential inaugurations were held on the anniversary of the birth of the United States. Happy Birthday to the ratified United States Constitution!!

I thought you would want to know.


* Washington's inauguration was held April 30, 1789.   Public Presidential inaugurations are never held on Sundays.  On the rare occasions Inauguration Day fell on Sunday, a private swearing in took place Sunday followed by the public ceremony the next day.  Exceptions are allowed, as necessary.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your account is close, but not totally accurate. Also, your teachers were not making things up when they cited slow communication/ transportation as a factor.

The Constitution went into effect on June 21, 1788 when New Hampshire became the ninth state to approve its ratification.

March 4, 1789 was designated as the opening day for the first Congress, however slow transportation prevented many members from arriving on that day. Lacking a quorum, the new Congress adjourned. The House finally achieved a quorum and officially met for the first time on April 1. The Senate followed suit on April 6, 1789.

Washington was finally inaugurated on April 30. Once again slow communication/travel played a role.