Lame Duck - History

Lame Duck  - History

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Lame duck - person holding office after his or her replacement has been elected to the office, but before the current term has ended. In the American presidency, the period after election day in November and the swearing-in of the new President in January is known as the lame duck period.

. .

Lame-duck session

A lame-duck session of Congress in the United States occurs whenever one Congress meets after its successor is elected, but before the successor's term begins. The expression is now used not only for a special session called after a sine die adjournment, but also for any portion of a regular session that falls after an election. In current practice, any meeting of Congress after election day, but before the next Congress convenes the following January, is a lame-duck session. [1] Prior to 1933, when the 20th Amendment changed the dates of the congressional term, the last regular session of Congress was always a lame duck session.

Congress has held 16 lame-duck sessions since 1940. Recesses preceding lame-duck sessions have usually begun by mid-October, and typically lasted between one and two months. Congress typically reconvened in mid-November and adjourned before Christmas, so that the lame-duck session lasted about a month. Some recesses, however, have begun as early as August 7 or as late as November 3, and ended as early as November 8 or as late as December 31. Lame-duck sessions have ended as early as November 22 and as late as January 3, and have extended over as few as one, and as many as 145, calendar days.

Some lame-duck sessions have been held largely for pro forma reasons (e.g., 1948), on a standby basis (e.g., 1940, 1942), or to deal with a single specific matter (e.g., 1954, 1994, 1998). Some sessions, as well, have deferred major matters to the succeeding Congress (e.g., 1944, 1982, 2004), especially when a stronger majority for the same party was in prospect. Most, however, could be regarded as at least moderately productive. When the President has presented an extensive agenda to a lame-duck session controlled by his own party, it has often approved many of his recommendations (e.g., 1950, 2002, 2004), but when he has done so under conditions of divided government, he has had less success, and has often vetoed measures (e.g., 1970, 1974, 1982). Additionally, a major task of most lame-duck sessions in recent years has been to complete action on appropriations and the budget. In 1974, 1980, 1982, 2000, 2004, and 2012, this effort was at least somewhat successful, but in 1970 and 2002 a final resolution was largely left to the following Congress.

Lame-duck sessions do not usually occur in countries under a parliamentary form of government, whether the Westminster system or other models. Under a parliamentary system there are usually no fixed dates for elections or the beginning of terms, so that a new session of parliament will always begin with its first meeting after an election has been held. Often the previous parliament is dissolved by the head of state at the request of the head of government, therefore even in an emergency there is no parliament to call after the final session until the new parliament has been elected. In contrast to members of Congress who do wield their full authority until their term ends, the power of outgoing parliamentarians is limited by convention any cabinet ministers that were members of the now dissolved parliament will serve in an "acting" or "caretaker" capacity (i.e. not being able to make important appointments nor policy declarations) until the new parliament convenes.

Whereas: Stories from the People’s House

The term “lame duck” is British in origin, used as early as the late 18th-century to describe bankrupt businessmen. The phrase came into usage in the United States to describe defeated politicians as early as the 1830s—replacing a somewhat harsher term, “dead duck”—and now generally encompasses all departing Members. Respecting the travel difficulties to and from Congress’ meeting place in New York, the Continental Congress had set the start date for congressional sessions in the Constitution on March 4—several months after the traditional fall elections. Complaints about long “lame duck sessions,” which took place in the months between the election and the end of the term, led to the ratification of the 20th Amendment on January 23, 1933, which backed the new Congress’ start date up to January 3.

“To Members in the coming session,
We leave what's left of the depression
With fifty thousand tomes appended
Telling just how it can be ended.
To Congressmen who'll draw our salary,
We leave all gunmen in the gallery
All communists who march and fight,
And threaten us with dynamite.
Those stalwart ones may have the onus
Of laying hands upon the bonus.
The currency-to them we hand it,
To shrink, contract it, or expand it.
We'll let them exercise their talents,
On making that thar [sic] Budget balance
And pointing out, with no delaying,
A tax the public won't mind paying.
To make this simple as can be,
We leave to them technocracy.
To them we're leaving the analysis
Of beer producing no paralysis
To them we leave with stifled sobs,
All persons who are seeking jobs.
Our pangs of exile 'twill assuage
To know we have no patronage.
To you, dear ladies of the press,
We leave unfeign'd thankfulness
All you have done to give us pleasure,
Are memories we will always treasure,
While we roam that vast expanse
Where lame ducks seek their sustenance.
When happy days are here again,
Please let us know just where and when!”

Owen facetiously bequeathed the next Congress the bustle and tumult on Capitol Hill that she and her colleagues had experienced in the early days of the Great Depression: the passage of the 21st Amendment (ending Prohibition), the passage of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), Glass-Steagall, and Revenue Acts—which, respectively, provided businesses secure loans, authorized Federal Reserve banks to use government bonds and securities as collateral for issued notes, and levied the largest peacetime tax percentage increase to date—the Bonus March, and a gunman in the House gallery.

And Owen certainly found her “happy days” outside of Congress’ early Depression commotion: she had a successful career as a diplomat.

States secede on James Buchanan’s watch

The most consequential lame-duck term in U.S. history was that of President James Buchanan, who oversaw the country’s unraveling amid tensions between the North and South over slavery. During the final months of his presidency—and in response to the November 1860 election of anti-slavery Republican Abraham Lincoln—Southern states began to debate leaving the Union.

Although Buchanan spoke out against secession in his December 3 State of the Union address, he maintained that it was “beyond the power of any president” to do anything about it—and put the blame on Northern states for agitating against slavery in the South. Less than three weeks later, South Carolina became the first state to secede.

Buchanan did take a short-lived stand when South Carolinians demanded that federal forces withdraw from Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. In early January, Buchanan sent a ship with reinforcements to the Carolina base. Yet when Southerners fired on the ship, Buchanan deferred to Congress to respond—and neither branch of government took action.

In the days that followed, several other states broke away from the Union. By Lincoln’s inauguration on March 4, 1861, a total of seven had seceded—with four more soon to follow, forming the Confederate States of America and igniting the Civil War. (Test your knowledge with U.S. presidential trivia.)

The U.S. Navy’s Curtiss NC-4: First Across the Atlantic

The U.S. Navy Curtiss NC-4 arrives at Ponto Delgado, the harbor of Lisbon, Portugal.

In the spring of 1919, three Navy-Curtiss flying boats set out to beat the competition and be the first to fly across the Atlantic Ocean.

As the three large flying boats turned into the wind, their wakes formed graceful arcs. Approximately 1,200 people—U.S. Navy personnel, reporters and families of the crews—watched from the shore at the Rockaway Beach Naval Air Station as the aircraft climbed. Also on hand were 60 Curtiss workers, led by superintendent Peter Jensen, who had worked feverishly to put the final touches on the flying boats they had built. The three planes turned eastward and soon disappeared into the haze. At 10 a.m. on May 8, 1919, John H. Towers sent word that the planes had left Long Island on the first attempt to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. At noon Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt sent the following message: ‘Commander John H. Towers, U.S.N., USS NC-4. Delighted with successful start good luck all the way — Roosevelt.’

The idea of a transatlantic flight by flying boat was proposed as early as 1914 and backed by philanthropist Rodman Wanamaker, who had asked Towers and Lieutenant J.C. Porte of the Royal Navy to pilot an aircraft designed by Glenn Curtiss. In the spring of 1914, Curtiss built a flying boat with a 72-foot wingspan, mounting three engines capable of a total of 480 hp. Christened America, the new plane had capacity for ample fuel, food and two pilots. However, when World War I broke out, the plan was canceled and America was sold to the British for maritime patrol service.

When the United States entered the war in April 1917, the U.S. Navy also needed flying boats to patrol against German U-boats. Curtiss had supplied the British and Russians with flying boats throughout the war and was among the premier designers and manufacturers of the type. In 1917 the Navy and Curtiss decided to work together to produce a new large aircraft to be known as the Navy-Curtiss (NC) flying boat. Chief naval constructor Admiral D. W. Taylor wrote, ‘The ideal solution would be big flying boats or the equivalent, that would be able to fly the Atlantic to avoid the difficulties of delivery, etc.’ The new flying boats—affectionately known as ‘Nancies’—had a wingspan of 126 feet (larger than that of a Boeing 727) and an overall length of 69 feet. They originally had three tractor Liberty engines that produced 1,200 hp. One engine was centrally installed above the fuselage, and the other two were supported on each side, between the upper and lower wings. Fully loaded, NC-1 weighed 24,000 pounds. One of its weight-saving innovations was to mount the tail on outriggers supported from a short, rugged hull. Under the supervision of Commander H.C. Richardson, the shape of the hull was refined using model testing to determine the best configuration for takeoff and taxiing.

Work on the first aircraft began at the Curtiss Engineering Corporation in Garden City, Long Island, during January 1918. NC-1 made her maiden flight on October 4, 1918, at Rockaway, with Richardson and Lieutenant David H. McCulloch as pilots, and was still undergoing flight testing when the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918.

The NC flying boat had originally been designed for transatlantic flight, and that goal was revived during the winter of 1918-1919, when naval officials made plans to fly to Europe in May 1919. It was decided that since the crews would be sent out by government orders, rather than on their own initiative, they must have the best available equipment and be furnished with all possible support. The route chosen had a 1,200-nautical-mile hop to the Azores as its longest leg rather than the 1,900-nautical-mile trip to Ireland across the treacherous North Atlantic. Three aircraft would attempt the trip, NC-1, NC-3 and NC-4. As NC-1 had been damaged during a March storm, one wing of the experimental NC-2 was used to refit it. To increase the margin of safety, a fourth pusher-type engine was added behind the original central engine.

NC-4 undergoes maintenance at its mooring at Rockaway Naval Air Station on Long Island, N.Y., where all three Nancies started out on their Atlantic crossing. (Naval History and Heritage Command)

Next, the Navy selected crews to man the three planes, appointing Towers as commanding officer. Crews came from the Regular Navy, the Naval Reserve and the U.S. Coast Guard. Towers chose NC-3 as his flagship, and Richardson was picked as chief pilot. Patrick N.L. Bellinger was chosen as commander for NC-1 and Albert C. Read for NC-4. Marc Mitscher, originally picked to command the now scrubbed NC-2, became NC-1‘s pilot. In addition, the airplanes carried radio operators, flight engineers and mechanics.

During WWI, Richard E. Byrd had experimented with a number of scientific instruments, ranging from drift indicators to bubble sextants, that were useful in navigating over water, without visual landmarks. Although Byrd lobbied hard to join the 1919 flight, instead the Navy assigned him to plan the navigation for the flying boats only as far as Trepassey Bay.

The route, which started at Rockaway Naval Air Station and ended in Plymouth, England, would consist of six legs. The first leg was 540 nautical miles to Halifax. The second was 460 miles to Trepassey Bay, near St. Johns, Newfoundland. The third and longest leg of the Atlantic crossing would take the flying boats from Trepassey Bay to Horta in the Azores, a distance of 1,200 nautical miles. After a short hop of 150 miles to Ponta Delgada, also in the Azores, the crossing concluded with an 800-nautical-mile flight to Lisbon, Portugal. Finally, a 755-mile flight to Plymouth would end the journey.

Twenty-one ships were stationed along the flight path from Trepassey Bay to the Azores to aid in navigation and rescue if needed. A picket line of 14 ships was assigned from the Azores to Lisbon, and 10 ships from Lisbon to Plymouth. That sort of methodical planning and heavy investment — typical of the moon landings 50 years later — demonstrated the importance that the Navy placed on it. National prestige was at stake. In 1919, the main competition to be first across the Atlantic was the British. Before the Americans left Long Island, Australian test pilot Harry Hawker and his Scottish navigator Kenneth F. Mackenzie-Grieve, with their Sopwith Atlantic biplane, and F.P. Raynham and C.W.F. Morgan, with their Martinsyde Raymor, were already in Newfoundland. British Admiral Mark Kerr, with his Handley Page V/1500, and John Alcock and Arthur W. Brown, with their Vickers Vimy, were eager to jump into the fray. The British teams would attempt a flight from Newfoundland to the British Isles for a prize of 10,000 pounds sterling offered by the publisher of the Daily Mail, Alfred Harmsworth, Lord Northcliffe, for the first successful transatlantic flight.

On May 3, 1919, just two days after NC-4 made her first flight, the NC Seaplane Division was formally commissioned. NC-1, now equipped with four engines, would make her first flight in that configuration on the next day.

The operations were hindered by a series of accidents. On May 5 during fueling operations a fire broke out in the NC hangar, and NC-1‘s starboard wing was destroyed. But using the wing from the already cannibalized NC-2, it was soon repaired. Flares accidentally set off started another fire on May 6. After misjudging the distance to the aft propeller, Chief Machinist’s Mate E.H. Howard lost his hand on May 7.

Finally, on May 8, the Nancies left Rockaway for Newfoundland. NC-3 and NC-1 had relatively uneventful flights to Halifax, making the 540-nautical-mile trip in about nine hours. Along the way, however, cracks developed in the planes’ new, highly efficient Olmstead propellers. The Olmsteads were subsequently replaced with standard Navy propellers. NC-4, which was going through her shakedown flights on the way to Canada, was not so lucky. She lost both center engines and was forced to set down in the open sea near Cape Cod. The crew then taxied for five hours until the flying boat reached the naval air station at Chatham, Mass. Although NC-4 was repaired and ready to resume the flight by May 10, unfavorable weather delayed departure until May 14. NC-4 finally arrived in Halifax at 1:07 p.m. that day.

There was concern among NC-4‘s crewmen that if Towers received a favorable weather forecast, he would feel obliged to go for the Azores without them. Because of Howard’s accident and the plane’s failure to make Halifax, newspapers were calling NC-4 a ‘Lame Duck’ and circulating rumors that she would be withdrawn from the flight.

NC-1 and NC-3 had left Halifax for Trepassey Bay on May 10, but after their arrival weather conditions held up the flight’s continuance. Towers received a favorable weather report on the 15th and decided to go — without NC-4. Read actually witnessed them trying to take off as he arrived. But NC-3 and NC-1 were overloaded with fuel and could not get off the water. The weather forecast for the 16th was even better, and nobody had wanted to leave NC-4 behind. NC-4 was quickly overhauled, with mechanics installing one new engine and three propellers. On the evening of May 16, Towers gave the word to go. By then, the flying boats had traveled approximately 1,000 nautical miles (1,150 statute miles) from Long Island, but before them lay the featureless ocean. To guide their way they had only their primitive navigational instruments and, at night, a string of lights provided by the picket line of destroyers.

The only one of the Nancies to reach Lisbon—ironically, “Lame Duck” NC-4, commanded by Lt. Cmdr. Albert C. Read—was photographed in Lisbon Harbor alongside the seatender Shawmut. (Naval History and Heritage Command)

On Friday evening, May 16, the three NC flying boats roared in turn down Trepassey Harbor and flew off into the gathering darkness over the Atlantic. That night was without incident as the fliers passed over the destroyers on their ocean stations with reassuring regularity. Formation flying was difficult, since each airplane had its own flying characteristics and cruising speed: NC-4 was the fastest, NC-1 the slowest. After NC-3‘s lighting circuits failed during the night, the three planes were forced to break out of formation to avoid the risk of collision.

More troubles came with the onset of fog at dawn. In NC-3, Towers spotted a ship on the foggy horizon that he took to be one of the station destroyers and altered his course accordingly. Instead it was the cruiser Marblehead returning from Europe, and the mistake took NC-3 far off course. With fuel running low, Towers determined by dead reckoning that they were somewhere close to the Azores. He decided to put down long enough to obtain a navigation fix. The seas were running high, however, and the rough landing collapsed the struts supporting the centerline engines. In this condition NC-3 could go no farther — except as a surface craft.

Aboard NC-1, Bellinger was having similar difficulty. He landed without incident, but once down could not take off again through the 12-foot-high waves. Meanwhile Read, in NC-4, had also ‘run out of ships’ and was virtually lost in a fog that at one point was so thick the crew could not see from one end of the plane to the other. Losing sight of the horizon, the pilot became totally disoriented. He almost put the big plane into a spin, but recovered in time. However, Ensign Herbert Rodd, the radio officer, was successful in picking up radio bearings and weather information from the destroyers hidden below by fog and clouds.

After more than 15 hours in the air, Read’s dead reckoning and Rodd’s radio reports indicated that NC-4 was very near the Azores. Suddenly, through a small break in the fog, they sighted Flores, one of the western islands of the Azores. With Flores as a checkpoint, Read swung NC-4 eastward toward the islands of Fayal and Sao Miguel, then settled for immediate safety on Fayal. NC-4 landed in Horta’s harbor a bit before noon. Within minutes of Read’s arrival, a great bank of fog had blotted out the port completely.

Upon boarding the cruiser Columbia, which was serving as the base ship for the NCs at Horta, Read and his men were quick to inquire about NC-3 and NC-1. They learned that NC-1, trapped and punished by the great waves, had been lucky to stay afloat. Fortunately, the Greek freighter Ionia rescued Bellinger and his crew, but NC-1 finally sank three days later.

The fate of NC-3 remained a mystery for 48 hours. Before leaving Trepassey, Towers, much to his dismay, had to tell Lieutenant L.C. Rhodes that he would need to stay behind in order to reduce weight for takeoff. Towers also jettisoned tools, a chair, extra drinking water and the emergency radio transmitter. Thus, NC-3 could receive radio calls but not send them. Pure seamanship had to take over. Towers figured that within two or three days he would drift close to Sao Miguel. On Monday afternoon, May 19, inhabitants of Ponta Delgada spotted the battered NC-3. When the destroyer Harding raced out to help, John Towers stood up and shouted, ‘Stand off! We’re going in under our own power.’ He and his crew had managed to sail their crippled plane 205 miles backward through violent seas, using the tail assembly as a sail.

With NC-4‘s arrival in the Azores, it was the British who panicked. Although NC-4 was not involved in the race for prize money, British honor was at stake. Hawker and Mackenzie-Grieve took off from Newfoundland and headed for Ireland on May 18. Less than halfway across they had consumed half of their gasoline. At dawn, with their radiator steaming, they had to ditch in the stormy North Atlantic.

Raynham and Morgan tried to take off about an hour after Hawker and Mackenzie-Grieve, but their Martinsyde could not lift off from the soggy field. They crashed in the attempt, and Morgan suffered permanent injuries.

For nearly three days NC-4 rode her moorings at Horta, kept there by high seas, rain and fog. On the 20th the weather cleared enough to permit takeoff, and in less than two hours NC-4 reached Ponta Delgada. Towers, who had arrived by sailing the last 205 miles, was already there to greet him. Despite Towers’ heroic achievement, NC-4‘s Commander Read was the popular hero. Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels gave orders for Towers to proceed onward by ship — he was forbidden to fly on NC-4 even as a passenger. It was a bitter pill for the division commander to swallow. Daniels, a former newsman, apparently thought it a better story that Read in his ‘Lame Duck’ had conquered the mighty Atlantic. NC-4 was scheduled to take off for Lisbon the next day, but weather and engine trouble delayed the departure for a week. While the crew waited, they learned that Hawker and Mackenzie-Grieve had been picked up by a Danish tramp steamer and had arrived safely in Scotland.

NC-4‘s crew was up before dawn on Tuesday, May 27. Lieutenant James L. Breese and Chief Machinist’s Mate Eugene S. Rhoads diligently pampered the plane’s engines. Herbert Rodd bestowed equal care on his indispensable radio set. (Much of the credit for the success of the entire NC-4 mission could be attributed to Rodd’s expert use of his radio and Read’s confidence in using his results.) At Read’s command, Lieutenant Elmer Stone advanced the throttles and sent the big flying boat charging down the harbor, then lifted off toward Lisbon.

Another chain of destroyers extended between the Azores and Lisbon. As NC-4 overflew the vessels, each ship radioed her passage to the base ship Melville at Ponta Delgada and the cruiser Rochester in Lisbon, which in turn reported to the Navy Department in Washington. Finally, word came from the destroyer McDougal, the last ship in the picket line, that NC-4 was within minutes of completing her historic flight.

In NC-4, the crew peered eastward, where the horizon was fading in the twilight of May 27. Then from the center of that darkening line there flashed a spark of light — Cabo da Roca lighthouse. They had sighted the westernmost point in Europe. Minutes later, NC-4 roared over the rocky coastline and turned south toward the Tagus estuary and Lisbon. According to Read, that moment was ‘perhaps the biggest thrill of the whole trip.’ Each man on board realized that no matter what happened — even if they crashed on landing — the first transatlantic flight in history was an accomplished fact.

Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels congratulates (from left) NC-1’s commander Patrick N.L. Bellinger, NC-4’s Read and flight commander John H. Towers, while Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt looks on. (Naval History and Heritage Command)

After two days in Lisbon, where all three NC crews were honored by the Portuguese government, the NC-4 crew was ready to continue to Plymouth. NC-4 departed Lisbon on the morning of May 29, but a few hours later, near the Monedego River, she was forced down by engine trouble. The repairs took quite a while, and Read refused to risk landing in darkness at Plymouth. So NC-4 flew to Ferrol, Spain, for the night. The next day NC-4 completed the final leg of her flight, landing in Plymouth Harbor early in the afternoon of May 31, escorted by three flying boats of the Royal Air Force. She received a tumultuous reception from an English crowd.

During the 24-day duration of the nearly 4,000-mile flight, news of the flying boats’ progress was featured on the front page of most American newspapers. But other remarkable flights quickly followed. Alcock and Brown made the first nonstop Atlantic flight from St. Johns and crashed into a bog in Clifden, Ireland, in June 1919. Fearing that Admiral Kerr would overtake them, they put down as soon as possible to ensure that they would win the Daily Mail‘s cash prize. Eight years later, Charles Lindbergh completed his solo nonstop flight from Long Island to Paris. He was followed a month later by Clarence Chamberlin and then Richard E. Byrd.

By the time NC-4‘s crewmen arrived back in New York, in the days prior to ticker-tape parades, the only public acclaim they received was a private dinner thrown by Glenn Curtiss. The 1919 flight had highlighted the difficulties of flying the Atlantic. It would be 20 years before the lessons learned through the NCs’ flights were translated into regularly scheduled airline flights to Europe. On May 21, 1939, the Pan American Airways flying boat Yankee Clipper took off from Long Island and flew to Lisbon via the Azores. Six days later the airliner arrived back at Port Washington, exactly 20 years to the day after NC-4 had arrived in Lisbon.

Today if you take off from Long Island’s Kennedy Airport on your way to Europe, you may fly over Jacob Riis Park, former site of the Rockaway Naval Air Station. Eighty-three years ago three brave crews left that spot. By now, millions have flown across the Atlantic, but the honor of being first belongs to Lt. Cmdr. Albert C. Read, his crew of five and the U.S. Navy’s NC-4.

This article was written by Edward Magnani and originally published in the November 2002 issue of Aviation History.

For more great articles subscribe to Aviation History magazine today!

The description of 'lame duck' is often applied to politicians who are known to be in their final term of office, when colleagues and electors look toward a successor. It is also sometimes used to describe office-holders who have lost an election but have not yet left office.

In recent years (as of 2006) both George W. Bush and Tony Blair, unable to see out further electoral victories, have been faced with such mutterings, for example:

In May 2006, The Washington Post ran an article titled 'Bush's Political Capital Spent', including the opinion:

"Such weakness has unleashed the first mutterings of those dreaded second-term words, 'lame duck'."

In April 2006, The [London] Times ran an article titled:

"Is Blair a 'lame-duck' Prime Minister?"

US presidents have long suffered this fate, partly due to the electoral rules in America, which limit the number of terms that a president may serve, and the USA is where the phrase originates when applied to politicians. The Congressional Globe entry for 14 January 1863 has:

In no event could it be justly obnoxious to the charge of being a receptacle of ‘lame ducks’ or broken down politicians.

Historians now describe various 19th century US presidents as 'lame ducks'. The first such description of a US president I can find which was written while he was still in office isn't until 1926 though, and relates to Calvin Coolidge. The Wisconsin newspaper, the Appleton Post-Crescent ran a piece titled, 'Making a lame duck of Coolidge', in May 1926:

". the voting in other Republican states should hinge pretty largely on the issue whether Mr. Coolidge shall be permitted to become a lame duck president for the final two years of his term."

The actual origin of the term is nothing to do with politics though and is quite specific in meaning. It comes from the London Stock Market and referred to investors who were unable to pay their debts. In Horace Walpole's Letters to Sir Horace Mann, 1761, we have:

"Do you know what a Bull, and a Bear, and a Lame Duck are?"

In 1771, David Garrick, in Prologue to Foote's Maid of Bath wrote:

"Change-Alley bankrupts waddle out lame ducks!"

In 1772, the Edinburgh Advertiser included:

"Yesterday being the settling day for India stock, the bulls had a balance to pay to the bears to the amount of 23 per cent. Only one lame duck waddled out of the alley, and that for no greater a sum than 20,000."

We are still familiar with the terms 'bull market' and 'bear market', referring to rising and falling markets respectively, but 'lame duck' in the specifically stock trading context is now little used.

Why should someone who has no assets be called a 'duck'? Could it be related to the cricketing term, 'out for a duck' - used when a batman is out without scoring any runs? It seems not. That term is much later and refers to the zero on the scoreboard being similar to a duck's egg. First used in 1867, in G. H. Selkirk's Guide to Cricket Grounds:

"If he makes one run he has 'broken his duck's egg'."

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A Lame Duck Session of Congress Impeached Bill Clinton

After taking unexpected losses in the 1998 midterm elections, Republicans convened a special lame-duck session of the House of Representatives to consider articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton. Clinton was accused of lying to Congress and obstructing the investigation into his scandalous affair with a White House intern named Monica Lewinsky.

The House convened on December 17, 1998 and voted two days later to impeach Clinton on two articles of impeachment: perjury and obstruction of justice. Clinton was the first president to be impeached in 130 years. During the Senate impeachment trial held in January 1999, Clinton was acquitted of both charges and served out the rest of his second term.

What's a Lame Duck?

Brian Johnson is a student at George Mason University and an HNN intern.

According to Google Trends every two years there is a surge in search interest for the term, “lame duck.” These surges of interest coincide with presidential and legislative elections in the United States. As we approach Election Day this November, the spike in interest has quickly returned. Everyone is asking, what is a lame duck?

Merriam-Webster defines a lame duck as “an elected official or group continuing to hold political office during the period between the election and the inauguration of a successor.” This definition is generally referred to as the original meaning of the term and would also mean President Obama is not technically a lame duck until November 8, 2016. Jordan Weissmann, senior business and economics correspondent for Slate, has said that Obama is currently a second term president, not a lame duck, according to this definition.

Using this definition, a president is only a lame duck for a little over two months, from the election in November until January 20, when the president is inaugurated. It used to be a lot longer. Until the 20th Amendment to the Constitution (1933) inauguration day took place on March 4. The amendment moved up the inauguration date expressly to shorten the period when the incumbent was serving as a lame duck.

The two-term tradition established by George Washington affected the perception that all presidents in their second term were, in effect, lame ducks, because they weren't expected to run for re-election. Then Democrat Franklin Roosevelt shattered the two-term tradition by running for a third and then a fourth term. Republicans afterwards proposed an amendment to the Constitution to limit presidents to two terms. The amendment was ratified in 1951. So we were back to where we started after George Washington. Since then all presidents in their second term, both Republican and Democratic, have worked hard to demonstrate that though they might not be eligible for a third term they were by no means lame. Their political opponents, of course, have sought to shape the perception that they were.

This is what Republicans have been doing in Barack Obama's final years in office, much to the administration’s frustration. This past October President Obama, Politico Magazine that Obama’s final year will be remembered for building relations with Cuba, the nuclear deal with Iran, and major agreements on trade and climate change.

Republicans have tried to stigmatize Obama as a lame duck to curb his power. Their most energetic use of the phrase came in the wake of the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016. Within hours Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell announced that he would refuse to hold hearings on any nominee President Obama submitted to the Senate for “advice and consent.” The reason, he suggested, was that President Obama is now a lame duck.

Are the Republicans right to call Obama a lame duck? Their use of the term departs from the dictionary definition, but politicians frequently define words in their own way when it’s convenient. This is true of both Democrats and Republicans.

The origin of “lame duck”

One of the few positive media developments in 2008 arrived after the national political conventions, when Rachel Maddow got her own nightly hour on MSNBC.

Not that I always concur with her politics, but unlike most such hosts, she doesn’t badger, talk over or needlessly interrupt her guests. She might argue with them, but she always offers them a chance to speak. Nor is she full of herself like Keith Olbermann, who can elevate pomposity to stratospheric levels.

Lately Maddow’s show has offered a nightly feature called “Lame Duck Watch,” which observes that George W. Bush is still president of the United States of America, and thus in position to issue regulations, pardons and executive orders that deserve scrutiny, especially when most eyes are focused on the impending presidency of Barack Obama.

This got me to wondering about the origin of the phrase “lame duck.” We use it to describe an office-holder whose replacement has been elected but not sworn in. It connotes a sense of being crippled, even though the lame duck still holds the full powers of office.

I am no authority on ducks. I went duck-hunting once, but sitting quietly in a blind by the South Platte River on a winter morning was cold and boring.

A farm friend did have a duck pond, where Mama Duck would lead her offspring to shore. The ducklings tried to stay in line while the resident border collie worked to bunch them up. As soon as the collie left, the ducks would string out per their imprinting. Then the collie would return to make the ducklings clump like sheep before wandering off. Mama would get her ducks in a row, and then the affronted collie would return. This went on and on.

As for wild ducks, it appears that they do not all fly south for the winter. On many frosty days, I see them in the Arkansas River when I’m out walking our dog. These ducks swim and fly. A lame duck might not be able to waddle well, but from what I see, ducks don’t do a lot of waddling, and a lame leg might not be that much of a handicap.

So why do we refer to a “lame duck” rather than a “sitting duck” or a “wingless duck” or a “sinking duck”? Or for that matter, why not a “crippled goose” or a “feeble swan”?

The phrase did not originate in politics. According to my favorite bathroom reference book, “Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable,” the expression originally came from finance, and referred to “a stock-jobber or dealer who will not, or cannot, pay his losses” and has to “waddle out of the alley like a lame duck.” It also applies to a defaulter on a loan, and goes back to 18th-century London.

So the stock market not only has bulls and bears, but the original lame ducks. Bernie Madoff of the $50 billion Ponzi scheme ought to qualify, as well as the hordes of Americans who have walked away from their houses when they turned out to be worth less than their mortgages.

In the American political sense, “lame duck” was first used in 1863 in reference to “broken-down politicians,” and the first president to be called a lame duck was Calvin Coolidge.

Given the original meaning of the phrase, that of default, and the current political meaning, the waning days of this Bush administration certainly fit well with “lame duck,” even if the phrase doesn’t connect with actual mallards and mergansers. And we can hope that when the leading lame duck migrates in January, some of those stock-jobber lame ducks go, too. But it seems unlikely, since lame ducks often have a way of hanging around.

Watch the video: Lame duck turns - Coreys Ballet Coaching (January 2023).

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