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The 22nd Amendment – Part 5

April 28, 2014

The first sentence of the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states: “No person shall be elected to the office of 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 President more than once.”

If this language had been in the original U.S. Constitution, Franklin Roosevelt could not have run for President in 1940 or 1944.  Would that have been a better situation?  President Reagan, who voted for FDR four times, became an outspoken opponent of the 22nd Amendment.  He didn’t necessarily want to run for a third term, but he disliked operating from the lame duck status of a second term.  In a 1986 interview Reagan said “the minute the ’84 election is over, everybody starts saying what are we going to do in ’88 and focusing a spotlight.”  Later that year he flatly stated: “I have come to the conclusion that the 22nd Amendment was a mistake.”

If the 22nd Amendment is a mistake, does that mean the two-term tradition is also a mistake?  When Jefferson was encouraged by the legislatures of Vermont and North Carolina to seek a third term, he replied that he did not wish to violate the two-term precedent set by George Washington.  To the Vermont legislature he wrote: “If some termination to the services of the chief magistrate be not fixed by the Constitution, or supplied by practice, his office, nominally for years, will in fact, become for life; and history shows how easily that degenerates into an inheritance.”

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