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The Twentieth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution

Passed on March 2, 1932, the Twentieth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution clarified and rectified questions left unanswered originally in the Constitution. In the time of George Washington, travel was slow and roads were bad. So the Founders allowed a period of four months between the presidential election and the inauguration. With the improvement of road making and advancement of technology, the Twentieth Amendment shortened this unnecessary wait.

The original, unamended Constitution fixed March 4 as the date when all presidential and congressional terms started. This arrangement meant that, when there was a change of President, the nation had to endure a four-month period of a lame-duck administration.

The Twentieth Amendment fixed a much earlier date, January 20, for presidential inaugurations, and January 3 for the start of congressional terms.

The amendment also dealt with a couple of other questions, notably: What happens if a president-elect dies before taking office? Answer: The Vice President-elect becomes President. Surprisingly, the Twentieth Amendment did not address the more basic question: If the President dies in office and is succeeded by the Vice President, does the Vice President become President or only Acting President? This issue was left to be dealt with by the Twenty-Fifth Amendment.

The Twentieth Amendment met with very little opposition. It was passed by Congress on March 2, 1932, and was finally ratified on January 23, 1933. The first presidential term it applied to was when Franklin D. Roosevelt succeeded himself as President on January 20, 1937.

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