Why January 21?
The 20th Amendment to the Constitution, which changed the beginning of a Presidential term from March 4 to January 20, was ratified in 1933, and took effect for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s second term in 1937.
When Inauguration Day Falls on Sunday
Only six times in the nation's history has the constitutionally-mandated date for a Presidential Inauguration fallen on a Sunday. January 20, 2013 will be the seventh time, and following historical precedent, the public ceremony will be held at the U.S. Capitol on Monday, January 21, 2013. In a tradition that dates back to 1917, the White House will likely arrange a private swearing in before noon on January 20, 2013.
Setting the Precedent
The first time an Inauguration fell on a Sunday was in 1821 for President Monroe’s second swearing-in. Monroe decided, after consulting the Supreme Court, to hold the public ceremony on Monday since “courts and other public institutions were not open on Sunday.” There was no private swearing in on March 4, the date the previous term expired.
In 1849, the second time Inauguration Day fell on a Sunday, President-Elect Zachary Taylor followed the precedent set by President Monroe and had the oath of office administered Monday, March 5, at the public ceremony.
Changing the Precedent
Breaking the practice of both Presidents Monroe and Taylor, the Presidential oath was administered privately to President Hayes in the White House Red Room on Saturday, March 3, 1877 and repeated publicly at a ceremony on the East Front of the Capitol on Monday, March 5.
Working on Sunday
In 1917 President Wilson was the first president to take the oath of office on a Sunday. It was administered privately on Sunday, March 4, in the President’s Room of the U.S. Capitol by Chief Justice Edward D. White, witnessed by First Lady Edith Bolling Wilson who remembered the event in a diary entry. Following the precedent set by President Monroe, the public ceremony was held on Monday, March 5.
Both Presidents Eisenhower and Reagan, in 1957 and 1985 respectively, took the oath of office in private ceremonies at the White House on Sunday, January 20. On Monday, January 21, both Presidents took the oath in public ceremonies at the U.S. Capitol. President Eisenhower’s was on the East Front and President Reagan’s was moved indoors to the Capitol Rotunda due to extremely cold weather.