It's been four years since the last presidential inauguration, and with president-elect Donald Trump's first day in office less than a month away, many Americans have questions about the ceremony (and the future of the country, but we'll have to wait and see about that one). One of those questions might be why Inauguration Day is always on January 20. The date has changed over the course of American history; it actually wasn't until 1933 that the current day was chosen.
The first presidential inauguration took place on April 30, 1789, on the balcony of Federal Hall in New York City, and afterward, George Washington delivered the first inaugural address. From then on, according to the National Archives, inaugurations took place on March 4, or Mar. 5 if the fourth was on a Sunday. However, that left four months between the presidential election in early November and the actual transfer of power. Preparing for the presidency obviously takes preparation, but the period between elections and inaugurations was so long that it left new presidents unable to act in times of urgent crisis.
According to Our White House, this became especially clear after Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to office in 1932. Although he was elected during the Great Depression, he couldn't make any changes until his inauguration in early March.
On January 23, 1933, Congress ratified the 20th Amendment, which changes the date from Mar. 4 to January 20 in its first section. "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," it reads. In case you're wondering, the amendment goes on to require that Congress meets at least once a year and follows up with several stipulations regarding the vice presidency.
In the event that Jan. 20 falls on a Sunday, the president is sworn in privately, and the public inauguration ceremony occurs on Jan. 21. This has only happened to three presidents since the ratification of the 20th amendment: Dwight Eisenhower in 1957, Ronald Reagan in 1985, and Barack Obama in 2013. As Our White House points out, the last inauguration was particularly significant because it fell on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, so the first black president was sworn into office on a day honoring a leader in the civil rights movement.
This year, inauguration day is back to the traditional date of Jan. 20. Now that you're a little wiser about the history of the ceremony, you can go back to your own preparations for the big day.