Origins of the Presidency and Official Duties


When does the president begin his term?

When the Constitution was ratified, Congress was given power to determine the date for beginning the operations of the new presidential administration. Congress set the date as March 4, 1789. Although George Washington did not take the oath of office until April 30 of that year, his term officially began on March 4. Later, the Twentieth (or so-called “lame duck”) Amendment, which was ratified in 1933, established January 20 as the date on which presidents would be inaugurated. In 1937, Franklin D. Roosevelt became the first president to take the oath on January 20.

The change of date eliminated the often-awkward “lame duck” period of four months, during which an outgoing president’s power was realistically diminished. There was no longer the need for a longer time frame between election and inauguration, which was necessitated earlier in history by the more modest means of travel and communication.


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