ArtI.S4.C2.1 When Congress Shall Assemble

Article I, Section 4, Clause 2:

The Congress shall assemble at least once in every Year, and such Meeting shall be on the first Monday in December, unless they shall by Law appoint a different Day.

Ratified in 1933, Section 2 of the Twentieth Amendment superseded Article I, Section 4, Clause 2, by changing the date when Congress shall assemble from “the first Monday in December” to “noon on the 3d day of January . . . .” 1

In requiring Congress to assemble at least once a year, the Framers ensured that Congress would meet regularly, thereby placing such sessions “equally beyond the power of faction, and of party of power, and of corruption.” 2 During the Constitutional Convention, the Framers considered both May and December as possible periods for convening. In making this decision, they weighed the difficulties of traveling in December against the inconvenience to Members engaged in agricultural pursuits in May.3 The interest in commercial pursuits proving greater than the interest in convenience, the Framers selected the first Monday in December to assemble.

The Framers’ choice of December rather than May meant that more than a year would pass from the election of Congress in November until Congress convened in December of the following year. In its 1932 Report on Fixing the Commencement of the Terms of the President and Vice President and Members of Congress, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary explained the need for the lengthy delay, stating: “When our Constitution was adopted there was some reason for such a long intervention of time between the election and the actual commencement of work by the new Congress. We had neither railroads nor telegraphic communication connecting the various States and communities of the country.” 4 The Senate Committee on the Judiciary also noted that, prior to the 1913 adoption of the Seventeenth Amendment, time was required between the election and convening of Congress so that state legislatures could convene and select Senators.5 With popular election of Senators and improved communication and transportation technologies, the lengthy delay between the election and convening of Congress was no longer necessary.6

U.S. Const. amend. XX. back
Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States § 827 (1833). Justice Story further opined: “[I]t was obvious, that from the nature of their duties, and the distance of their abodes, the members of congress ought not to be brought together at shorter periods, unless upon the most pressing exigencies. A provision, so universally acceptable, requires no vindication or commentary.” Id. back
Max Farrand, The Framing of the Constitution 136 (1913) (noting that James Madison advocated for Congress to convene in May because it was easier to travel then, but the Framers chose December for its convenience for Members involved in agriculture.) back
Fixing the Commencement of the Terms of the President and Vice President and Members of Congress, S. Rep. No. 26, 72nd Cong., 1st Sess. (1932), as reprinted in 75 Cong. Rec. 1372, 1372 (Jan. 6, 1932). back
Id. ( “Originally, Senators were elected by the legislatures, and as a rule the legislatures of the various States did not convene until after the beginning of the new year, and it was difficult and sometimes impossible for Senators to be elected until February or March.” ). back
Id. ( “Under present conditions the result of elections is known all over the country within a few hours after the polls close, and the Capital City is within a few days’ travel of the remotest portions of the country.” ). back