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Lame Duck Day

Lame Duck Day takes place on the anniversary of the date in 1933 when the Twentieth Amendment—colloquially known as the "Lame Duck Amendment"—went into effect. The term "lame duck" applies to a politician who has either just lost an election or is retiring, during the time between an election and the time their replacement takes their office. The term can also apply to managers, leaders, and others whose time in an office is ending or who are retiring. Lame Duck Day is for marking the anniversary of the Twentieth Amendment and for recognizing those who are lame ducks.

Proposed by Senator George W. Norris of Nebraska on March 2, 1932, the Twentieth Amendment deals with when presidential and congressional terms begin and end. The first section of the amendment says the terms of the president and vice president end on January 20 and the terms of senators and representatives ends on January 3. Their successor's terms begin on these days. Previous to the amendment, their terms began and ended on March 4. The amendment also deals with issues such as when Congress should assemble, what to do if the president-elect passes away in the time between the election and the new term, and what to do if a president hasn't yet been chosen by the time they should assume office.

Before the amendment was passed, a Senate Judiciary Committee report outlined some reasons why it should exist. It said that when the Constitution was adopted it made more sense to have a large amount of time between an election and the beginning of a new Congress, but that by the 1930s communication and transportation had greatly improved, making the waiting period unnecessary. Election results could then be known within hours after the polls closed, and traveling to Washington D.C. could be done within a few days.

Previous to the amendment, there had been about four months between Election Day and March 4. During this lame duck period, not much general legislative work was usually accomplished. The date of March 4 as the starting point of new terms was not enshrined in the Constitution, however. A September 13, 1788, act of the Continental Congress said that the first Wednesday of March of the following year would be the day when the president, vice president, senators, and representatives would take their offices. This happened to be March 4th. A 1792 act of Congress officially made March 4th the date when terms would begin and end.

Lame duck politicians are seen as being less effective in getting things done because people know they will soon be gone. But, on the other hand, lame ducks don't have to worry about getting reelected, so they often feel freer to do things they wouldn't otherwise do. The term "lame duck" goes back to the London Stock Exchange in the Eighteenth Century, where it was a name for a defaulter, a person who couldn't pay their debts and was said to walk away shamefully, waddling like a duck. The term gained its present meaning in the late nineteenth century in the United States.

How to Observe

If you are a lame duck, use the day to reflect on what you want your legacy to be and enjoy your last days in your position. If you know a lame duck, wish them the best as they are almost out of office or about to retire. Perhaps you could even organize a party for them. Everyone could also spend the day reading the Twentieth Amendment and looking at cartoons about lame duck politicians.

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