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United States presidential transition

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United States presidential transition

This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
the United States

A presidential transition or presidential interregnum refers to the period of time between the end of a presidential election and the inauguration of a new President of a country. During this time the incoming President usually designates new government personnel, including selecting new Cabinet positions and government department or agency heads.

In the United States, during a presidential transition, the outgoing "lame duck" President has lost many of the intangible benefits of a Presidency (e.g., being perceived as the default leader on issues of national importance) but the incoming President-elect is not yet legally empowered to affect policy. This ambiguity in the roles of the President-elect and outgoing President creates the potential for a leadership vacuum, which may be most acutely felt during wartime or times of economic crisis.

Notable transitions

Perhaps the most disastrous transition in US history was the 1860-1861 transition from the administration of James Buchanan to that of Abraham Lincoln. Buchanan held the opinion that states did not have the right to secede, but that it was also illegal for the Federal government to go to war to stop them. Between November 6, 1860 and March 4, 1861, seven states seceded and conflict between secessionist and federal forces began, leading to the American Civil War between the Northern and Southern states.

The Presidential transition period at the end of the administration of Herbert Hoover, prior to the inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt (November 8, 1932 — March 4, 1933) was a notably difficult transition period. After the election, Roosevelt refused Hoover's requests for a meeting to come up with a joint program to stop the downward spiral and calm investors claiming it would tie his hands, and as this "guaranteed that Roosevelt took the oath of office amid such an atmosphere of crisis that Hoover had become the most hated man in America.[1] During this period of essentially leaderless government, the U.S. economy ground to a halt as thousands of banks failed.[2] The relationship between Hoover and Roosevelt was one of the most strained between Presidents ever. While Hoover had little good to say about his successor, there was little he could do. FDR, however, supposedly could and did engage in various petty official acts aimed at his predecessor, ranging from dropping him from the White House birthday greetings message list to having Hoover's name struck from the Hoover Dam along the Colorado River border, which would officially be known only as Boulder Dam for many years to come.

The transition between General Accounting Office (GAO) estimated the cost of those pranks at $13,000 to $14,000. However, they note that similar pranks were reported in prior transitions, including the one from Bush's father to Clinton in 1993.[3] Press secretary Ari Fleischer followed up the GAO report with a White House-produced list of alleged vandalism including removal of the W key from keyboards.[4] The Clintons were also accused of keeping for themselves gifts meant for the White House.[5] The Clintons denied the accusations, but agreed to pay more than $85,000 for gifts given to the first family "to eliminate even the slightest question" of impropriety.[6]

The transition between Bush and Barack Obama was considered seamless, with Bush granting Obama's request to ask Congress to release $350 billion of bank bailout funds.[7] At the start of his inaugural speech, Obama praised Bush "for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and co-operation he has shown throughout this transition".[8] At exactly 12:01 pm on January 20, 2009, the White House website removed most material relating to the Bush White House, including archives of speeches, press briefings, announcements, videos and other news. This was described by some as a "new inaugural tradition spawned by the Internet-age".[9]


In the United States, the presidential transition extends from the day of the US presidential election (which occurs in November), until the 20th day of January as specified in the Twentieth Amendment. The presidential transition is regulated by The Presidential Transition Act of 1963 (P.L. 88-277),[10] amended by The Presidential Transitions Effectiveness Act of 1998 (P.L. 100-398) [11] and The Presidential Transition Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-293).[12][13] The Act as amended directs the Administrator of General Services to provide facilities, funding of approximately five million dollars, access to government services, and support for a transition team, and to provide training and orientation of new government personnel and other procedures to ensure an orderly transition.

The President-elect will also usually appoint a 'presidential transition team' (sometimes even before the presidential election) to prepare for a smooth transfer of power following the presidential inauguration.

List of US presidential transitions

Outgoing President Transition begins
(Election Day)
Transition ends
(Inauguration Day)
Incoming President
George W. Bush November 4, 2008 January 20, 2009 Barack Obama
Bill Clinton November 7, 2000
(December 12, 2000)[14]
January 20, 2001 George W. Bush
George H. W. Bush November 3, 1992 January 20, 1993 Bill Clinton
Ronald Reagan November 8, 1988 January 20, 1989 George H. W. Bush
Jimmy Carter November 4, 1980 January 20, 1981 Ronald Reagan
Gerald Ford November 2, 1976 January 20, 1977 Jimmy Carter
Lyndon B. Johnson November 5, 1968 January 20, 1969 Richard Nixon
Dwight Eisenhower November 8, 1960 January 20, 1961 John F. Kennedy
Harry Truman November 4, 1952 January 20, 1953 Dwight Eisenhower
Herbert Hoover November 8, 1932 March 4, 1933 Franklin Roosevelt
Calvin Coolidge November 6, 1928 March 4, 1929 Herbert Hoover
Woodrow Wilson November 2, 1920 March 4, 1921 Warren Harding
William Taft November 5, 1912 March 4, 1913 Woodrow Wilson
Theodore Roosevelt November 3, 1908 March 4, 1909 William Taft
Grover Cleveland November 3, 1896 March 4, 1897 William McKinley
Benjamin Harrison November 8, 1892 March 4, 1893 Grover Cleveland
Grover Cleveland November 6, 1888 March 4, 1889 Benjamin Harrison
Chester Arthur November 4, 1884 March 4, 1885 Grover Cleveland
Rutherford Hayes November 2, 1880 March 4, 1881 James Garfield
Ulysses Grant November 7, 1876
(March 2, 1877)[15]
March 4, 1877[16] Rutherford Hayes
Andrew Johnson November 3, 1868 March 4, 1869 Ulysses Grant
James Buchanan November 6, 1860 March 4, 1861 Abraham Lincoln
Franklin Pierce November 4, 1856 March 4, 1857 James Buchanan
Millard Fillmore November 2, 1852 March 4, 1853 Franklin Pierce
James Polk November 7, 1848 March 4, 1849[17] Zachary Taylor
John Tyler December 4, 1844 March 4, 1845 James Polk
Martin Van Buren December 2, 1840 March 4, 1841 William Harrison
Andrew Jackson December 7, 1836 March 4, 1837 Martin Van Buren
John Quincy Adams December 3, 1828 March 4, 1829 Andrew Jackson
James Monroe February 9, 1825[18] March 4, 1825 John Quincy Adams
James Madison 1816 March 4, 1817 James Monroe
Thomas Jefferson 1808 March 4, 1809 James Madison
John Adams February 17, 1801[19] March 4, 1801 Thomas Jefferson
George Washington 1796 March 4, 1797 John Adams

See also


  1. ^ Gibbs, Nancy (November 10, 2008). "When New President Meets Old, It's Not Always Pretty".  
  2. ^ Rudney, Robert. "Lessons Learned from the 1932-1933 Presidential Transition". Retrieved 2008-10-30. 
  3. ^ Pear, Robert (June 12, 2002). "White House Vandalized In Transition, G.A.O. Finds". The New York Times. 
  4. ^ Evans, Mike (June 3, 2001). "Bush aide details alleged Clinton staff vandalism". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on June 10, 2001. 
  5. ^ "Gifts Were Not Meant for Clintons, Some Donors Say". The Washington Post. February 5, 2001. Retrieved May 27, 2010. 
  6. ^ "Tripp: I was told not to record White House gifts". CNN. February 9, 2001. Retrieved May 27, 2010. 
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ [2]
  9. ^ "Topic Galleries". Retrieved 2012-11-07. 
  10. ^ "Presidential Transition Act of 1963". Retrieved 2008-11-28. 
  11. ^ "The Presidential Transitions Effectiveness Act of 1998". Retrieved 2008-11-28. 
  12. ^ "Presidential Transition Act of 2000". Retrieved 2008-11-28. 
  13. ^ "S. 2705". Retrieved 2010-02-09. 
  14. ^ Date recount was halted by Supreme Court order.
  15. ^ Date the contested election was certified by Congress
  16. ^ Hayes took his inauguration oath privately on March 3 and publicly on March 5.
  17. ^ Taylor was sworn in on March 5.
  18. ^ Date Adams was elected by the House of Representatives
  19. ^ Date Jefferson was elected by the House of Representatives
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