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  Presidential Election Process (Moderator: muon2)
  Did presidential terms expire at noon before the 20th amendment?
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Author Topic: Did presidential terms expire at noon before the 20th amendment?  (Read 420 times)
President Johnson
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« on: May 21, 2019, 02:03:39 pm »

Before the 20th Amendment was enacted in 1933, presidents were sworin in on March 4 after the election rather than January 20. Did the presidential term expire at noon (12 p.m.) on March 4, or at midnight? Was that even specified?

Because congressional terms at that time expired at the end of March 3 according to Wikipedia's infoboxes. I've also seen some lists of presidents that had March 3 as ending date. For example James Buchanan as president from March 4, 1857 to March 3, 1861, while Lincoln was listed from March 4 onwards. Midnight is kind of weird, just look at New York governors. Some sources say David Paterson was governor until January 1, 2011, others say December 31, 2010.
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Clarktucky
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« Reply #1 on: May 22, 2019, 01:06:38 am »

No idea
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jimrtex
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« Reply #2 on: June 05, 2019, 07:36:40 pm »

Before the 20th Amendment was enacted in 1933, presidents were sworin in on March 4 after the election rather than January 20. Did the presidential term expire at noon (12 p.m.) on March 4, or at midnight? Was that even specified?

Because congressional terms at that time expired at the end of March 3 according to Wikipedia's infoboxes. I've also seen some lists of presidents that had March 3 as ending date. For example James Buchanan as president from March 4, 1857 to March 3, 1861, while Lincoln was listed from March 4 onwards. Midnight is kind of weird, just look at New York governors. Some sources say David Paterson was governor until January 1, 2011, others say December 31, 2010.

This indicates that all terms ended at noon on the 4th.

President for a Day

But this suggests that it was unsettled whether terms began at midnight or noon.

Significance of March 4

The Constitution does not specify a date for beginning of congressional and presidential terms, it only specifies a length of terms. The default meeting date of December was only ensure that Congress met in every calendar year. If they did not meet in December they would have skipped the entire year.

The Constitutional Convention in 1787 far exceeded its authority, and effectively achieved a coup. To provide political cover, they had George Washington, who was President of the convention, send a letter to the Continental Congress, the lawful government, requesting that they send the proposed constitution on to the (people) of the States for possible ratification, and for the Continental Congress to determine whether the Constitution had been ratified and to provide for the inauguration of the new government. This process also bypassed the legislatures who had established the Articles of Confederation.

After 9 States had ratified the Constitution, the Congress began to consider where the initial Congress should meet. They dawdled somewhat, since Virginia had not ratified, and was considered key to success of the venture. New York where the Congress was meeting at the time had also yet to join the conspiracy. Under the Articles of Confederation each state delegation had one vote, and an abstention was regarded as opposing (or preventing  a majority for affirmative action). Delegations from North Carolina and Rhode Island refused to participate since their States had not ratified.

It was some time before they could get 7 votes to make the Congressional meeting place in New York (they actually designated the city where Congress was meeting, rather than to name "New York"). They also set the date for three crucial events:

(1) Appointment of presidential electors (First Wednesday in January, 1789)

(2) Meeting of presidential electors (First Wednesday in February, 1789)

(3) Meeting of Congress (First Wednesday in March, 1789).

The initial proposed schedule would have placed these three dates a month earlier, but squabbling over the capital had caused a delay. There was no need to set a congressional election date, since that was up to each individual State.

The first Wednesday in March, 1789 was March 4th. The First Congress being made of originalists determined that the two, four, and six years terms would begin and end on March 4.

They did accommodate the fact that Congress must count the electoral votes and possibly  choose a President, by setting a presidential election schedule that occurred during the outgoing Congress.

The November election date is based on time for elector appointees to be informed, to give them time to travel to the meeting locations, to transmit the electoral votes to the capital, and to provide time for the outgoing House of Representatives to elect a president if necessary (e.g. as happened in 1801 and 1825). That is, for a presidential term to begin on March 4th, there must be a president-elect. In 1789, it took some time to assemble a quorum, so that they could count the electoral votes. It was determined that Washington had been elected on April 6, but it was not until April 30, that Washington was actually inaugurated.

Traditionally, the first session of a Congress would not begin until December of the odd year, and run into late spring or early summer of the even year. The second session of a Congress would start in December and run up until March 3rd. Many of the representatives would not have been re-elected, having either retired or having been retired.

If there was a new president, the Senate would meet in very brief session on March 4 and  a few following days, to confirm any cabinet officers. They could do this since 2/3 of senators held over, and there might be a few new members who reached the capital.

Summary: presidential and congressional terms were coincident, and at least by mid-19th Century it was determined that the terms began at noon. It is much easier to measure noon - all you need is a stick, whereas midnight requires complicated mechanical contraptions.

Incidentally, the word "noon" comes from the Latin "none" meaning the ninth hour of the day measured from sunrise. Over time, the event had drifted closer to midday.







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