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TEXT OF AMENDMENT
SECTION 1. 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.
SEC. 2. 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.
SEC. 3. 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.
SEC. 4. 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.
SEC. 5. Sections 1 and 2 shall take effect on the 15th day of October following the ratification of this article.
SEC. 6. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years from the date of its submission.
In accordance with the constitutional provisions written by the Founding Fathers in 1787, the newly established U.S. Government was to become effective when nine States ratified the Constitution.1 After the ratification process was completed in June of 1788, the existing Congress designated March 4, 1789 as the official date when the Federal Government, as outlined in the Constitution, would begin operation, This date represented an estimate of the time needed to appoint presidential electors in each State and allow them to cast their ballots for President. In addition, the States needed time to select both Representatives and Senators to serve in the U.S. Congress. As mandated by the Constitution, the President was to serve for 4 years, Senators for 6, and Representatives for 2. All legislative and executive offices, then and in the future, would commence on March 4 and end in subsequent oddnumbered years on the same date.
The problem inherent in this system was that the Constitution, under Article I, Section 4, Clause 2, stipulated:
The Congress shall assemble at least once in every year, and such a meeting shall be on the first Monday in December, unless they shall by Law appoint a different day.
This meant that, although Congressmen were elected to office in November of even-numbered years, they were not entitled to take office until after the terms of their predecessors expired the following March. Moreover, the new Congressmen would not assemble until the following December. This left a thirteen month lapse from the time of election until the new Congress first convened. In the meantime, defeated or retiring Congressmen would meet in their regular session in December of the election year and continue to hold office until their term expired on March 4 of the next year. This short session of Congress, from December to March, was nicknamed the "lame-duck" session, deriving its title from the stock exchange term meaning "one who was unable to meet his obligations." 2
The "lame-duck" session of Congress was controversial for a number of reasons. For instance, if the election of the President were thrown into the House of Representatives, the election would be decided not by recently elected Congressmen, but by the "lameduck" session. In addition, should a session of Congress require more time to conduct its business, the session could not be extended, since the terms of many legislators expired on March 4. The pending business would either have to be postponed until the following December, or a special session of the new Congress would have to be called. Consequently, the "lame-duck" session provided parlimentary advantages for the majority party in Congress. This is why constitutional amendments to eliminate the "lame-duck" session continually faced opposition in Congress.
Objections to the "lame-duck" session were heard long before proposals leading to the Twentieth Amendment were introduced. On the opening day of Congress' first "lame-duck" session in March of 1795, Aaron Burr laid before the Senate a motion introducing a constitutional amendment extending the terms of Congressmen until the first day of June. Again in 1840, Millard Fillmore introduced an amendment that called for the elimination of the "lame-duck" session. Fillmore's resolution provided for the terms of Congressmen to begin on the first day of December, rather than fourth day of March. Several other amendments to the Constitution, which would have altered the terms of office and dates of congressional sessions, were introduced during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Each of them was defeated.5
In 1923, the first of several resolutions introduced by Senator George W. Norris of Nebraska to eliminate the "lame-duck" session was reported by the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry. The measure, S.J. Res. 253, easily passed the Senate on February 13, 63 to 6, 27 not voting. However, as would be the case with several of Norris' resolutions, the House of Representatives defeated the proposal by delaying further action until Congress adjourned in March. The same thing happened in 1924 with S.J. Res. 22 (68th Cong.), and again in 1926 with S.J. Res. 9 (69th Cong.). In 1928, S.J. Res. 47 (70th Cong.) finally made it to a vote in the House, where it gained a majority but failed to receive the necessary two-thirds vote, 209 to 157, 66 not voting and 2 answering "present."8
On June 8, 1929, another Norris amendment proposal, S.J. Res. 3 (71st Cong.), passed in the Senate and was sent to the House. Once
in the House, the Resolution lay on the Speaker's table until April 17, 1930, when it was finally referred to a House committee. In the meantime, a similar House Resolution, H.J. Res. 292 (71st Cong.), was introduced. This proposal, as amended by Speaker of the House Nicholas Longworth of Ohio, would have required the second session of Congress, which convened in January, to adjourn by May 4 of even-numbered years. H.J. Res. 292 passed easily in the House, 290 to 93, 47 not voting and 1 answering "present."10 In conference, representatives from the House and the Senate failed to agree on a compromise measure. As a result, hopes for an amendment to the Constitution once again expired with the adjournment of the 71st Congress.11
The elections of 1930 resulted in a Democratic landslide in the House. Unlike Longworth, the new Speaker, John N. Garner of Texas, came out in active support of an amendment to remedy the "lame-duck" problem. On January 6, 1932, the sixth Norris Amendment, S.J. Res. 14 (72nd Cong.), was reported in the Senate by the Committee on the Judiciary. During floor consideration in the Senate on January 6, one amendment to limit the second session of Congress was rejected before the Resolution passed, 63 to 7, 25 not voting.12
In the House, the Committee on Election of the President, Vice President, and Representatives in Congress reported S.J. Res. 14 with an amendment in the nature of a substitute measure. Among numerous suggested alterations, the substitute proposed ending presidential terms on January 24 and congressional terms on January 4, providing for succession in the event of the death or lack of qualification of the President-elect or Vice President-elect, making provision in case of the death of candidates from which Congress might have to choose a President or Vice President, and setting an effective date for the first two sections of the amendment.
The House began consideration of S.J. Res. 14 under an open rule on February 12, 1932.14 On February 13, numerous amendments to the committee substitute were offered, all of which were either rejected or withdrawn. The two amendments withdrawn by their sponsors would have required ratification of the amendment within 7 years of its submission to the States and provided that Congress could, by concurrent resolution, set an assembly date other than January 4.15 The rejected amendments called for ratification of the Twentieth Amendment by State conventions, extension of Representative's terms to 4 years, and limitation of the second session of Congress.
After the House debate concluded, the Election Committee's substitute was approved and recommitted to the committee, with instructions to report it back with a new section establishing a mandatory 7-year ratification period. 16 Once the Resolution was amended accordingly and again reported by the Committee on Election, it passed the House, 204 to 134, 43 not voting. 17 Minor differences between the House and Senate versions were quickly resolved in conference.18
The Twentieth Amendment was sent to the States for ratification in March of 1932; and within 1 year, all 48 States had ratified. Virginia was the first State to ratify, on March 4, 1932; and on January 23, 1933, Utah became the required 36th State to approve the Amendment. The ratification dates of each of the States appear below:
Mar. 4, 1932
Mar. 11, 1932
Mar. 16, 1932
Mar. 25, 1932
Jan. 9, 1933
With more than the necessary number of States having ratified, the Twentieth Amendment was certified as part of the Constitution on February 6, 1933, by Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson. Section 5 of the Amendment provided that Section 1 and 2 would become effective on October 15, 1933; therefore, the terms of newlyelected Senators and Representatives began on January 3, 1934, and the terms of the President and Vice President began on January 20, 1937.19
The Twentieth Amendment appears officially as 47 Stat. 2569.
FOOTNOTES TO AMENDMENT XX
1. United States Constitution, Acticle VII.
2. Carl Brent Swisher, American Constitutional Development (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, Co., 1943), 723.
3. Annals of the Congress of the United States, 1795 (Washington, D.C.: Gales & Seaton, 1849), 5: 853.
4. Congressional Globe, 26th Congress, 2nd Session, 1840, 9: 44.
5. Congressional Record, 70th Congress, 2nd Session, 1928-1929, 70: 1-8; H. Doc. 551.
8. Ibid., 70th Congress, 1st Session, 1928, 69, Pt. 4: 4430.
9. Ibid., 71st Congress, 3rd Session, 1931, 74, Part 6: 5906-5907.
6. Congressional Record, 67th Congress, 4th, Session, 1932, 64, Pt. 4: 3505-3507.
7. Ibid., 3540-3541.
10. Ibid., 5907-5908.
11. For a summary of these five proposals see: Congressional Record, 72nd Congress, 1st Session, 1931-1932, 75.
12. Congrssional Record, 1372-1384.