History Book – The 20th Amendment and Reagan’s inauguration


NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, January 20th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: the WORLD Radio History Book. Today, the first American tennis player ejected from a grand slam tennis tournament.

Plus, the resolution of the Iran hostage crisis.

EICHER: But first, an amendment to the Constitution that tried to minimize the power of lame duck politicians…Here’s Paul Butler.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: When the founders originally designed our representative form of government, elections preceded terms by as much as 13 months. Pepperdine School of Law professor Edward Larson explains why that was problematic in a Federalist Society video: 

LARSON: The criticism of lame-duck lawmaking is that you’ve got members who might have run for office and have been defeated and yet they’re still there voting when the election is over…basically, they were free to do whatever they wanted and not be responsible to any constituents. 

The U.S. government eventually reduced that time to about 4 months, but still lame-duck law making was a recurring challenge. For decades, Congress debated fixes to the problem, but it wasn’t until 1932 that they could finally agree on a solution. They sent the proposed constitutional amendment to the states for ratification. 

The amendment contains six sections. The first sets the terms of president and Vice President as beginning on the 20th day of January. Terms for U.S. senators and representatives must now begin on January 3rd. 

Section two requires Congress to meet at least once during the year. The third and fourth sections clarify how presidents are to be chosen in the event of a death while in office. And the final two sections mandate when the amendment would take effect. The states are supportive. 

On January 24th, 1933, Missouri becomes the 36th state to ratify the change, making the 20th Amendment of the Constitution the law of the land. 

MUSIC: [THE DANCE OF THE LAME DUCK]

Next, 48 years later, January 20th, 1981. Ronald Reagan becomes the 40th president of the United States of America.

REAGAN:  To a few of us here today, this is a solemn and most momentous occasion; and yet, in the history of our nation, it is a commonplace occurrence. The orderly transfer of authority as called for in the Constitution…

Reagan’s inauguration ceremony is the first to be held on the West Front terrace of the Capitol. 

REAGAN: Standing here, one faces a magnificent vista, opening up on this city’s special beauty and history. At the end of this open mall are those shrines to the giants on whose shoulders we stand.

In his 20-minute speech, Reagan offers a moving patriotic vision for America that includes reducing the size and influence of government. 

REAGAN: We are a nation that has a government—not the other way around. It is time to check and reverse the growth of government which shows signs of having grown beyond the consent of the governed.

Reagan won the 1980 election overwhelmingly due to domestic issues, but the standoff with Iran over American hostages also played a significant role. Just 20 minutes after Reagan’s speech, Iran released the 52 American hostages—held for 444 days.

ABC NEWS: Though thousands of miles apart, these two historic events moved almost on parallel tracks today. The new president had not been in office an hour when the former hostages became free men and women again.

The timing was not a coincidence. The Ayatollah agreed to terms well before the ceremony, but held off till after Carter’s departure as a final insult. The next day however, former President Jimmy Carter got the last laugh as he flew to West Germany to greet the Americans before they got home.

MUSIC: [TIE A YELLOW RIBBON ROUND THE OLD OAK TREE]

And finally, January 21st, 1990:

AUDIO: [SOUND OF TENNIS MATCH]

In the fourth round of the Australian Open, 30-year old American John McEnroe faces a much younger Mikael Pernfors from Sweden. 

McEnroe easily wins the first set. Pernfors fights back and wins the second. Tied one game a piece in the third set, the chair umpire charges McEnroe with unsportsmanlike behavior for trying to intimidate a line judge. 

CLIP: [SOUND OF JUDGE]

John McEnroe wins set three. Late in set four, McEnroe throws his racket in disgust after hitting a ball wide. The judge penalizes McEnroe a point for the fault. 

McEnroe is furious. He approaches the chair and begins swearing at the umpire—a third violation. And with that, the judge disqualifies McEnroe. Pernfors wins by default.

McEnroe, stunned, just stands there shaking his head. Pernfors is equally shocked.  

Later, McEnroe speaks to the press:

MCENROE: They could have let me off. It’s not like anyone else heard what I said. It was between me and one or two people. So I think it was unnecessary to fault me in that situation.

McEnroe retired from the tour two years later. He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1999. McEnroe continues to be active in the sport as a commentator—covering Wimbledon, as well as the Australian Open.

That’s this week’s WORLD Radio History Book, I’m Paul Butler.


(Photo/Public Domain) Reagan inauguration

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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