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The 22nd Amendment – Part 3

April 15, 2014

The original U.S. Constitution did not require the President to retire after two terms, but George Washington established that tradition, and Presidents Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson, Grant, Cleveland, and Wilson maintained it.  After a four-year retirement Grant permitted his friends to nominate him for a third term, but he was defeated at the party convention.

The second terms of the Presidents listed above were often times of war, economic depression, scandal, and disappointment.  Monroe’s second term seems to be the sole exception, but when his Secretary of State became President, the “Era of Good Feelings” was followed by a miserable four years for John Quincy Adams.

Franklin Roosevelt became President at the lowest point of the worst economic depression in U.S. history.  During his first term unemployment dropped from 24.9% to 16.9%.  In 1936 Roosevelt was re-elected by the largest Electoral College landslide in history.  His coattails gave his party a 331 to 89 majority in the House and a 76 to 16 majority in the Senate.  Everything seemed to be going FDR’s way, everything except the rulings of the Supreme Court.  In 1935 they had declared the National Industrial Recovery Act unconstitutional.  In 1936 they ruled against the Agricultural Adjustment Act.  The New Deal legislation of his first term was in jeopardy unless he could get the Court to see things his way.

He devised a plan to accomplish this, but he did not consult with his own party leaders before presenting it to Congress.  His idea was to ask Congress to enact legislation that would allow the President to increase the size of the Court.  Instead of nine justices FDR wanted as many as fifteen.  When justices over the age of 70 1/2 retired, they would not be replaced unless their total number was less than nine.  This plan gave Roosevelt’s enemies ammunition in their fight against him, and it wasted the Senate Judiciary Committee’s time for five and a half months.  He should have thanked them for killing the idea in Committee, but he chose instead to campaign against his own people when they ran for re-election in 1938.  All but one were re-elected, but FDR’s party lost seventy-five seats in the House and seven seats in the Senate.

Meanwhile, a new economic recession had begun, and unemployment had climbed to 19%.  FDR’s second term was following the same disappointing course as most of his two-term predecessors.  Politicians in both major parties were looking forward to the election of 1940 and the sure prospect of a new President.


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