It’s Time For Term Limits
Term limits were included in the nation’s Articles of Confederation, but dropped from the language of the Constitution. The members of the Continental Congress felt their inclusion was too much micro-management for the explicit, succinct, and remarkably short document that forms the backbone of our government. Members of the 1777 Continental Congress were limited to three years maximum service and the motivation for that limit was that the legislators reflected the demographic and philosophical views of the people they represented. Office holders self-imposed term limits were considered part of the American public-service work ethic.
What the Founding Fathers believed would be voluntarily imposed term limits by those who chose to serve in government have fallen by the wayside with the advent of career politicians. There is a huge divide between the opinions of the members of Congress and those of the voting (and tragically, the non-voting) public in regard to term limits. Over the years, polls placed the numbers of Senators and Representatives opposed to mandated term limits from 66-percent to 94-percent, while the general publics’ desire to see term limits imposed for federal offices ranges from 60-percent to 78-percent of the population. As a national issue, term limits is notable for its lack of demographic variation among the populace who overwhelmingly support mandated term limits.
Congressional term limits were endorsed by Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Harry Truman Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and others. Our first president, George Washington set the bar by returning to private life after two terms. The 1951 constitutional amendment limiting presidents to two terms, the Twenty-Second Amendment, has created an imbalance of power between the executive and legislative branches of government. While presidents reign for a maximum of eight years, entrenched dynastic careerist occupy the Senate and House of Representatives for decades.
In 1784, the majority of incumbents in Congress were vociferously against mandated term limits, but the norm into the 19th century was for members of Congress to serve two or three terms and return to private life. In the early days of the United States, approximately 40-percent of incumbents were reelected, but over the years that percentage has increased steadily despite the Founding Fathers’ hopes that politicians, at the federal level, should not perceive elective office as a life career path.
When Congress convened in 1901, the average time served in Washington, D.C., had already tripled over the past 75 years, and only 30-percent of the incoming Congressmen were newly-elected freshmen. In 1988 the percentage of returning incumbents broke the 90th percentile in the House of Representatives for the first time…and remains above that mark today.
The first popular term limits movement originated in the 1940s. The Twenty-Second Amendment was proposed in 1947, and became the law of the land four years later. The nation had witnessed the toll multiple terms, World War Two and the Great Depression exacted on President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Additionally, many nations were wary of powerful long-serving government leaders who came to believe that their remaining in power held greater importance than the welfare of the country.
Senators and representatives are loath to have term limits placed on their time in the District of Columbia’s halls of power. The passage of a constitutional amendment will become a reality only when the diverse majority of Americans of all political affiliations demand our elected officials bow to the will of We the People and fix what is plaguing the government of the United States of America.