On Jan. 20, Joe Biden can be sworn in as president of the US. Till then, he’s president-elect of the US.
However what precisely does it imply to be president-elect of the US?
As a lawyer and thinker who research phrase which means, I’ve researched the which means and historical past of the time period “president-elect” utilizing publicly obtainable sources just like the Corpus of Historic American English – a searchable database of over 400 million phrases of historic American English textual content. I’ve additionally used Founders On-line, which makes freely obtainable many paperwork written by the nation’s founders.
“President-elect” just isn’t a time period that’s legally outlined in U.S. legislation. Slightly, the time period’s which means has developed over time by means of its use by the general public. Its use could be traced all the way in which again to George Washington.
The founders used it
In 1793, Washington wrote a letter regarding his upcoming second inauguration as president through which he referred to himself as “president-elect.”
Quite a few letters by the Founding Fathers include the time period “president-elect” in reference to the 1796 presidential election.
Of explicit notice is a letter from James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, despatched on Christmas Day 1796. Wrote Madison:
“Except the Vermont election of which little has of late been stated, ought to include some deadly vice, in it, Mr. Adams could also be thought-about because the President elect. Nothing can deprive him of it however a normal run of the votes in Georgia, Tenissee & Kentucky in favor of Mr. Pinkney, which is altogether opposite to the very best data.”
VCG Wilson/Corbis by way of Getty Pictures
The letter gives perception into how the time period “president-elect” was understood at the moment. Madison asserts that John Adams could be thought-about the president-elect, though the outcomes from at the very least 4 states – Vermont, Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky – don’t seem to have been identified to Madison but.
Madison’s feedback recommend that it was applicable at the moment to think about somebody president-elect as soon as it appeared possible that they’d secured sufficient votes to win the Electoral Faculty.
Madison’s use of the time period was just like its use in a letter that John Adams wrote to Abigail Adams 5 days earlier, on Dec. 20, 1796.
John Adams suggests folks have been toasting him “underneath the Title” of “The President elect.” The letter was written two-and-a-half months previous to Adams’ inauguration, which passed off on March 4, 1797.
Nineteenth- and Twentieth-century information media used it
Starting within the latter half of the 1800s, main information shops often referred to the one who appeared to have gained the presidency as “president-elect” quickly after standard elections have been full.
In a post-election story printed on Nov. 20, 1880, a New York Occasions article bore the headline “Gen. Garfield at House: An Hour with the President-Elect at Mentor.”
In subsequent years, the Occasions referred to obvious election victors as “president-elect” even sooner, together with Grover Cleveland on Nov. 13, 1892 and William McKinley on Nov. 19, 1896.
Different longstanding U.S. publications behaved equally. The Nation journal referred to as William Howard Taft the “president-elect” on Nov. 12, 1908, and did the identical with Woodrow Wilson on Nov. 21, 1912.
Considerably, all these references have been made again when electors didn’t formally solid their votes for president till the second Monday in January and presidential inaugurations didn’t occur till early March. This reveals that there’s a prolonged historical past of utilizing the time period “president-elect” lengthy earlier than electors solid their votes.
Within the Nineteen Thirties, Inauguration Day was moved into January and electors started casting their votes in December, however this doesn’t appear to have had a lot impact on when and the way the time period “president-elect” was utilized by the general public.
For instance, Time journal ran a narrative on “President-elect” Herbert Hoover on Nov. 19, 1928 (earlier than Inauguration Day was modified), and a narrative on “President-elect” Franklin Delano Roosevelt on Nov. 16, 1936 (after Inauguration Day was modified).
Congress used it
Whereas the time period “president-elect” just isn’t outlined in federal legislation, Congress ultimately included it into the U.S. Structure with the adoption of the Twentieth Modification in 1933. That modification states that “If, on the time fastened for the start of the time period of the President, the President elect shall have died, the Vice President elect shall turn out to be President.”
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When Congress doesn’t outline a time period utilized in its laws, it’s customary for courts to interpret that phrase in accordance with its strange which means. Thus, Congress’ resolution to not outline the time period “president-elect” provides us motive to interpret it in accordance with its customary which means all through U.S. historical past.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Pictures
Everyone makes use of it
Lately, it has remained customary for information shops and politicians to check with a presidential candidate as president-elect as quickly as it seems that the candidate has gained sufficient Electoral Faculty votes to turn out to be president.
CNN, The New York Occasions and then-President Barack Obama all referred to Donald Trump as president-elect by Nov. 9, 2016, only a day after the 2016 normal election.
In 2020, by the Saturday after the final election, Nov. 7, 2020, many main information sources, together with the Related Press and Fox Information, had declared Joe Biden president-elect, thus including to the lengthy historical past of the time period.
Mark Satta doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or organisation that might profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their educational appointment.