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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 (text) by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years from the date of its submission.
Passed March 2, 1932. Ratified January 23, 1933.
The original provisions of the Constitution mandated ample time between federal elections in early November of one year and the assumption of office by newly elected officials four months later in early March of the following year.
This waiting period was entirely sensible in the nation’s early years because of the vagaries of transportation and communication. Weeks were often needed to take word of election results to remote areas and successful candidates required additional time to wrap up affairs and make the journey to the capital.
As time passed, however, the need for a lengthy “lame duck” period waned. The development of the telegraph and railroad, and later the telephone and airplane made many question the wisdom of continuing the long wait.
Senator George W. Norris of Nebraska (served 1913-43) had long advocated adoption of a constitutional amendment to shorten the lame-duck period, a time that was increasingly devoted to political bickering and overall inaction.
In March 1932, Congress approved an amendment proposal calling for new congressional terms to begin on January 3 and new presidential terms on January 20. Ratification of the Twentieth Amendment by the required three-fourths of the states was achieved in early 1933, but did not apply to the transitional period between the administrations of Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
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