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The Twenty-second Amendment of the United States Constitution sets a term limit for election to the office of President of the United States. Congress passed the amendment on March 21, 1947. It was ratified by the requisite number of states on February 27, 1951.
Section 1. No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once. But this article shall not apply to any person holding the office of President when this article was proposed by the Congress, and shall not prevent any person who may be holding the office of President, or acting as President, during the term within which this article becomes operative from holding the office of President or acting as President during the remainder of such term.
Section 2. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several states within seven years from the date of its submission to the states by the Congress.
Historians point to George Washington's decision not to seek a third term as evidence that the founders saw a two-term limit as a bulwark against a monarchy, although his Farewell Address suggests that he was not seeking re-election because of his age. Thomas Jefferson also contributed to the convention of a two-term limit when he wrote in 1807, "if some termination to the services of the chief Magistrate be not fixed by the Constitution, or supplied by practice, his office, nominally four years, will in fact become for life." Jefferson’s immediate successors, James Madison and James Monroe, adhered to the two-term principle as well. In a new political atmosphere several years later, Andrew Jackson continued the precedent.
Prior to Franklin D. Roosevelt, few Presidents attempted to serve for more than two terms. Ulysses S. Grant sought a third term in 1880 after serving from 1869 to 1877, but narrowly lost his party's nomination to James Garfield. Grover Cleveland tried to serve a third term (and second consecutive term) in 1896, but did not have enough support in the wake of the Panic of 1893. Cleveland lost support to the Silverites led by William Jennings Bryan, and declined to head the Gold Democrat ticket, though he did endorse the Gold Democrats. Theodore Roosevelt succeeded to the presidency upon William McKinley's assassination and was himself elected in 1904 to a full term, serving from 1901 to 1909. He sought to be elected to a (non-consecutive) term in 1912 but lost to Woodrow Wilson. Wilson himself tried to get a third term in 1920, by deadlocking the convention. Wilson deliberately blocked the nomination of his Secretary of the Treasury and son-in-law, William Gibbs McAdoo. However, Wilson was too unpopular even within his own party at the time, and James M. Cox was nominated. In 1940, Franklin D. Roosevelt became the only president to be elected to a third term; supporters cited the war in Europe as a reason for breaking with precedent.
In the 1944 election, during World War II, Roosevelt won a fourth term but suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died in office the following year. Thus, Franklin Roosevelt was the only President to have served more than two terms. Near the end of the 1944 campaign, Republican nominee Thomas E. Dewey, the governor of New York, announced support of an amendment that would limit future presidents to two terms. According to Dewey, "Four terms, or sixteen years, is the most dangerous threat to our freedom ever proposed."
The Republican-controlled 80th Congress approved a 22nd Amendment in March 1947; it was signed by Speaker of the House Joseph W. Martin and acting President pro tempore of the Senate William F. Knowland. Nearly four years later, in February 1951, enough states ratified the amendment for its adoption. While excluded from the amendment's restrictions, then-President Harry S. Truman ultimately decided not to seek another term in 1952.
The Congress proposed the Twenty-second Amendment on March 24, 1947. The proposed amendment was adopted on February 27, 1951. The following states ratified the amendment:
Ratification was completed on February 27, 1951. The amendment was subsequently ratified by the following states:
In addition, the following states voted to reject the amendment:
The following states took no action to consider the amendment:
(Neither Alaska nor Hawaii had yet achieved statehood status at the time.)
According to historian Glenn W. LaFantasie of Western Kentucky University (who was opposed to repealing the amendment), "ever since 1985, when Ronald Reagan was serving in his second term as president, there have been repeated attempts to repeal the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, which limits each president to two terms." In addition, several congressmen, including Democrats Rep. Barney Frank, Rep. José Serrano, Rep. Howard Berman, and Sen. Harry Reid, and Republicans Rep. Guy Vander Jagt, Rep. David Dreier and Sen. Mitch McConnell have introduced legislation to repeal the Twenty-second Amendment, but each resolution died before making it out of its respective committee. Other alterations have been proposed, including replacing the absolute two term limit with a limit of no more than two consecutive terms and giving Congress the power to grant a dispensation to a current or former president by way of a supermajority vote in both houses.
There is a point of contention regarding the interpretation of the Twenty-second Amendment as it relates to the Twelfth Amendment, ratified in 1804, which provides that "no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice President of the United States."
While it is clear that under the Twelfth Amendment the original constitutional qualifications of age, citizenship, and residency apply to both the President and Vice President, it is unclear whether a two-term president could later serve as Vice President. Some argue that the Twenty-second Amendment and Twelfth Amendment bar any two-term president from later serving as Vice President as well as from succeeding to the presidency from any point in the United States presidential line of succession. Others contend that the Twelfth Amendment concerns qualification for service, while the Twenty-second Amendment concerns qualifications for election, and thus a former two-term president is still eligible to serve as vice president. The practical applicability of this distinction has not been tested, as no former president has ever sought the vice presidency, and thus the courts have never been required to make a judgment regarding the matter.
The amendment specifically did not apply to the sitting president (Harry S. Truman) at the time it was proposed by Congress. Truman, who had served nearly all of Franklin D. Roosevelt's unexpired fourth term and who had been elected to a full term in 1948, withdrew as a candidate for re-election in 1952 after losing the New Hampshire primary. Had he won, he would have been eligible to run again in 1956.
Since the amendment's ratification, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have been elected president twice. The only president who could have served more than eight years was Lyndon B. Johnson. He became President in 1963 when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, served the final 14 months (less than two years) of Kennedy's term, was elected president in 1964, and ran briefly for re-election in 1968 but chose to withdraw from the race after barely winning the New Hampshire primary and polls showed him losing Wisconsin's. Gerald Ford became president on August 9, 1974, and served the final 29 months (more than two years) of Richard Nixon's unexpired term. Ford, who lost to Jimmy Carter in 1976 would have been eligible to be elected in his own right only once.