Back in our school days, most of us developed the ability to fill our short-term memories with facts. We would retain things like “What is the symbol for silver on the Periodic Table of Elements?” (Ag) or “What is an attributive adjective?” (Your guess is as good as mine). By the time the school term ended, though, those facts had been flushed from our brains so that we could make room for the next batch of facts on which we’d be tested. As a result, many of us can no longer recall from high school, say, the capital of Vermont (Montpelier) — what we remember is important stuff, like that kid named Leland in Geography class who used to pick his nose and wipe it on his pants.
Try this one: Why is January 20th Inauguration Day?
Come on, we all used to know this… let’s see, did it have something to do with — no, that’s not it…
Time’s up! Pencils down. Originally Inauguration Day was March 4th, but the Twentieth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution changed the date to January 20th. The Twentieth Amendment, as we also used to know, was ratified in 1933, so Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first president to be inaugurated on January 20th.
The primary purpose of the amendment was to shorten the time between the election and when elected officials actually went to work. The Founding Fathers and their successors knew that a newly-elected president needed time to close up his cottage and hire a carriage to take him to the far-off U.S. capital, which is why March 4th had originally been established as report-to-work day. Among other things, the 20th Amendment reflected 20th-century modes of travel.
By the way, I didn’t remember the details about the 20th Amendment, either — I had to look them up. One thing I do know is that I’m going to remember this particular inauguration, and what it says about the United States of America, for the rest of my life.