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A tradition dating back to the 18th century is the official start date of the new Congress being March 4, four months after being elected in November, in order to accommodate members relying on primitive means of transportation to reach the national capital at the time. Furthermore, the new Congress’ first session would only take place in December, 13 months after being elected. Due to this long period between election and taking office, government officials that are voted out of office but still finishing their term are called lame ducks. To avoid this situation, the 20th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was made. An amendment is an alteration or addition made to a constitution, statute, legislative bill, or resolution.
See the fact file below for more information on the 20th Amendment or alternatively, you can download our 24-page 20th Amendment worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
IF A PRESIDENT DIES DURING HIS/HER TERM
- Aside from addressing the “lame duck sessions,” the 20th Amendment also clarifies procedures in the case that a president-elect dies, is not chosen, or fails to qualify prior to the start of the presidential term.
- So far, there have been 44 presidents of the United States, and 8 of them unfortunately died in office. All of them were succeeded by the vice president.
- Although the 20th Amendment addresses this, the question of whether the vice president becomes president, or is only acting president remains. This is further addressed by the 25th Amendment which was passed in 1967.
UNTIMELY DEATHS IN OFFICE
- William Henry Harrison, 9th president of the U.S., unfortunately holds the record of having the shortest term of only a month in office until his death due to pneumonia. At the time, it was unclear whether the vice president would become his successor; this sparked a constitutional crisis. John Tyler, the Vice President, ascended the presidency.
- Zachary Taylor, 12th president of the U.S., died from acute gastroenteritis. He was succeeded by his Vice President, Millard Fillmore.
- The first president to be assassinated, Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the U.S., was succeeded by Andrew Johnson.
- The 20th president of the U.S., James A. Garfield, was assassinated less than four months into his term. A New York Supreme Court judge administered Chester A. Arthur’s presidential oath to succeed Garfield.
- The assassination of 25th president of the U.S., William McKinley, caused the Congress to pass legislation to charge the Secret Service with the responsibility over the president’s protection. Theodore Roosevelt succeeded him.
- Warren G. Harding was the 29th president of the U.S. and had been experiencing symptoms of congestive heart failure days before his death. Calvin Coolidge assumed the presidency after Harding’s sudden death.
- The end of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 12-year service came as a shock to the public; his declining health had been kept secret. Harry S. Truman, Roosevelt’s successor and 33rd president of the U.S., dedicated the Victory in Europe Day and its celebrations to Roosevelt’s memory.
- John F. Kennedy was the 35th president of the U.S. and the most recent U.S. president to have been assassinated. Vice President Lyndon Johnson ascended to the presidency.
LAME DUCK SESSIONS
- According to the U.S. Constitution, members of Congress must meet on the first Monday of December, meaning that it would take 13 months before a new Congress met. As they would not be re-elected, politicians would be ineffective in representing constituents or affecting public policy in the period after election and taking office of the new Congress.
- Critics argued that the reduction of the period between election and inauguration amounted to an immediate call to public service.
- Lame duck politicians made use of this period of time as they could legislate without being responsible to voters, as they would not be re-elected.
- Senators and Representatives would offer votes in return of being appointed to other government positions or other favors.
- Some legislators were against an amendment that would remove the “lame duck session.”
- The 20th Amendment also condenses the lame-duck periods for presidents-elect by moving it from March 4 to January 20. Had this been done sooner, it could have majorly affected the history of the United States.
- For example, Abraham Lincoln had no power to act on the secession of southern states from the Union even after being elected President in November 1860. The secessionist states had already formed their own government by the time Lincoln assumed office in March 1861, and the country was on the brink of Civil War.
CALLS TO SHORTEN THE “LAME DUCK SESSION”
- Resolutions and bills were introduced in Congress for the change of the opening day of Congressional sessions during the first three decades of independence.
- Determined to get the amendment passed, George Norris, a Senator from Nebraska, re-introduced the 20th Amendment during five sessions of Congress in a row.
- Both the House and Senate agreed on the amendment in 1932. The amendment was quickly ratified by the state and became official on January 23, 1933.
CONTENTS OF THE 20TH AMENDMENT
- The full text of the amendment states:
- “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.
- “Section 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.
- “Section 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.
- “Section 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.
- “Section 5—Sections 1 and 2 shall take effect on the 15th day of October following the ratification of this article.
- “Section 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.”
- Section 1 indicates that the president and vice president’s terms begin on January 20, while Senators and Representatives begin on January 3. Before the ratification of this amendment, all terms started on March 4.
- Section 2 says that Congress must start a new session each year at noon of January 3 unless Congress chooses a different date.
- Section 3 explains that if the president-elect dies before his term begins, the vice president-elect assumes the presidency. If a president-elect does not qualify or is not chosen, until a president can qualify, the vice president-elect must become president. If both the president-elect and vice president-elect don’t qualify, the Congress has the power to declare who should act as president until a president or vice president qualifies.
- Section 4 allows the Congress to legislate procedures for choosing a president or vice president if no candidate receives majority of votes to be elected. This also applies if any of the candidates dies before the Congress chooses among them.
- Sections 5 and 6 establish the 20th Amendment’s effective date and the time limit for it to be ratified. It must take effect on October 15 after ratification, and would not go into effect if not ratified by the required number of states within seven years.
AFTER THE AMENDMENT
- The first Congress to begin its members’ terms and open the first session on the new date was the 74th Congress in 1935. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Vice President John Nance Garner’s second terms began on the date appointed by the 20th Amendment, on January 20, 1937.
- Roosevelt and Garner’s first terms (1993-37) were shortened by 43 days. Thus, Garner was in office for two full terms but not full eight years (March 4, 1933 to January 20, 1941).
RELEVANT POST-20TH AMENDMENT LAME DUCK SESSIONS
- The threat of World War II was addressed in a lame duck session in 1940.
- Chinese troops entered the Korean War during a lame duck session in 1950. The Congress deliberated using nuclear weapons in the war.
- In 1950, the Senate considered censuring Senator Joseph McCarthy in a lame duck session.
- The Congress approved Nelson Rockefeller’s nomination as Vice President during a lame duck session in 1974.
- In 1988, the House alone approved articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton during a lame duck session.
20th Amendment Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about the 20th Amendment across 24 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use 20th Amendment worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about the 20th Amendment. A tradition dating back to the 18th century is the official start date of the new Congress being March 4, four months after being elected in November, in order to accommodate members relying on primitive means of transportation to reach the national capital at the time. Furthermore, the new Congress’ first session would only take place in December, 13 months after being elected. Due to this long period between election and taking office, government officials that are voted out of office but still finishing their term are called lame ducks. To avoid this situation, the 20th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was made. An amendment is an alteration or addition made to a constitution, statute, legislative bill, or resolution.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- The 20th Amendment Fact File
- A Closer Look
- Damage Control
- Sitting Ducks
- Blast from the Past
- Bad Timing
- Comic Making
- Hall of Names
- Digging Deeper
- Characterizing Lameness
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Link will appear as 20th Amendment Facts & Worksheets: https://kidskonnect.com - KidsKonnect, August 27, 2020
Use With Any Curriculum
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