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Why Such a Chilly Date?

Robert Henson of the Capitol Weather Gang explains today how it came to be that the U.S. president takes the oath of office in an often-cold Jan. 20 ceremony:

Most of our nation's presidents have taken the oath of office on March 4. It wasn't until 1933 that the 20th Amendment switched the date to Jan. 20, which averages about 8.5°F colder and roughly twice as snowy (see the Reagan National averages and records for January and March)....

The main impetus for the 20th Amendment was to try to eliminate "lame duck" sessions of Congress. Each year, Congress assembled in December, while senators, representatives, and the president and vice president took office on March 4. As a result, every two years an entire December-to-March session of Congress unfolded with previous members in place, and the new Congress didn't meet until the next December, a full 13 months after it was elected. This lame-duck problem was obvious and much-lamented, but attempts throughout the 1800s to shift the dates of congressional terms proved fruitless.

Henson goes on to explain that another aim was to avoid Congressional meetings during that other D.C. climatological joy, the muggy summer months (this was pre-AC). Some also thought that in moving the date in January would ensure that all events would be moved indoors, as no one would be fool enough to pull a William Henry Harrison in the middle of winter. Clearly they underestimated their descendants.

Read the full post at the Capitol Weather Gang blog.

By Christopher Dean Hopkins  |  January 8, 2009; 1:01 PM ET  | Category:  Swearing-in Ceremony
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