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1933, the people of North Carolina voted against holding a ratifying convention. Nebraska, Oklahoma, and South Dakota had scheduled conventions for various times in 1934, but did not hold them, since the amendment had already been ratified. Finally, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and North Dakota failed to pass laws calling for conventions.24

On December 5, 1933, acting Secretary of State William Phillips certified the Twenty-first Amendment as part of the Constitution. The amendment appears officially as 48 Stat. 1749.


1. Congressional Record, 66th Congress, 1st Session, 1919, 58, Pt. 8: 7607.
2. U.S. Reports, Hawke v. Smith, 1920, Washington, 253 US 221.

3. U.S. Reports, Rhode Island v. Palmer, 1120, Washington, 253 US 350.

4. U.S. Reports, Dillon v. Gloss, 1921, Washington, 256: 368.

5. U.S. Reports, Olmstead v. U.S., 1928, Washington, 277: 438.

6. U.S. Reports, U.S. v. Lanza, 1922, Washington, 260: 377.

7. J.P. Chamberlain, "Enforcement of the Volstead Act Through State Agencies", American Bar Association Journal, June, 1929, X: 391-397.

8. H. Doc. 722, "U.S. National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement of the Prohibition", Congressional Record, 71st Congress, 3rd Session, 1931, 74.3: 2976.

9. Carl Brent Swisher, American Constitutional Development, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1943), 714.

10. Alan P. Grimes, Democracy and the Amendments to the Constitution, (Lexington, Massachusetts: D.C. Heath and Company, 1978), 109-110.

11. Ibid.

12. Senate Report No. 1022; Congressional Record, 72nd Congress, 2nd Session, 1933, 76.

13. Congressional Record, 72nd Congress, 2nd Session, 1933, 76: 4002, 4055-4061. 14. Ibid., 4138-79.

15. Ibid., 4169.

16. Ibid., 4179.

17. Ibid., 4211.

18. Ibid., 4225-4230.

19. Ibid., 4231.

20. Ibid., 4508-4516.

21. Ibid., 6-13.

22. Ibid., 72nd Congress, 1st Session, 1932, 75, Pt. 4: 4565.

23. Everett S. Brown, "The Ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment", American Political Science Review, December, 1935.

24. Virginia Commission on Constitutional Government, The Constitution of the U.S. (Richmond: 1965), 38.


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.

SEC. 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.


Until the ratification of the Twenty-second Amendment, the Constitution had remained silent concerning the number of terms a President may serve. Article II, Section 1, Clause 1 reads:

The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the term of four years, and together with the Vice President, chosen for the same term.

That the Framers failed to specify the number of terms a President could serve does not mean that the issue was not debated during the Constitutional Convention of 1787. During the congressional debates over the Twenty-second Amendment in 1951, a history of the Constitutional Convention's debates over the length and number of presidential terms was presented:

On May 29, 1787, Edmund Randolph, Governor of Virginia, presented to the Constitutional Convention a plan of government consisting of 15 resolutions, No. 7 of which provided for a single executive "to be chosen by the national Legislature for a term of years. . . to be ineligible a second time." On the same day, a plan was presented by Charles Pinckney of South Carolina whereby the Executive was to be elected for a term of years (left blank in the resolution), and was to be reeligible. Both plans were referred to the Committee of the Whole.

On June 1 the question of instituting an executive was taken up by the convention. On a motion for a 7-year term, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Virginia voted "aye," Connecticut, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia voted "no." The vote of the Massachusetts delegates was divided and the motion was declared carried.

On June 2 a motion was carried to make the Executive ineligible after 7 years was carried, 7 to 2.

On June 15 Mr. Patterson of New Jersey offered a substitute for the Randolph plan. Article 4 of the Patterson plan recommended the election of an executive to continue in office for a term of years and to be eligible for a second time.

On June 19 the Randolph plan was reported by the Committee of the Whole. It provided that the Executive should be elected for a 7-year term and should be ineligible a second time. On July 17 an amendment striking out the provision for "ineligibility a second time" was adopted by the convention by a 6 to 4 vote.

On July 25 the final action not having been taken in the meantime, the question of the selection of the Executive was again taken up. A motion that the Executive

be chosen by the Legislature with the provision that no person be eligible for more than 6 years in any 12 years was defeated by a 6 to 5 vote.

On July 26 the convention referred its proceeding (from July 23) to the Committee on Detail, and adjourned to meet again on Monday, August 6.

On August 6 the Committee on Detail reported the resolution, unchanged it its provisions regarding the 7-year term without reelection.

On August 24 article X, which contained the above resolution, was taken up. On September 24 the Committee of Eleven, to which various resolutions had been referred, recommended that certain alterations be made to the report of the Committee of the Whole. Among the alterations suggested was the provision relating to the term of the Executive which, as reported from the Committee of the Eleven, read: "He shall hold his office during the term of 4 years."

On September 6 . . . a motion to make the term 7 and one to make it 6 years instead of 4, as suggested by the Committee of Eleven, were defeated.

On September 15 it was finally agreed that the President be chosen by an electoral college for 4 years, no limit as to reeligibility being fixed.1

Beginning with George Washington, the tradition of an American two-term president was established. Thomas Jefferson followed Washington's precedent by limiting himself to two terms, as did succeeding presidents until President Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to four terms, beginning in March of 1933. Although previous to Roosevelt's extended administration the two-term tradition was regarded as an unwritten law, numerous attempts had been made throughout America's history to secure it through an amendment to the Constitution. In fact, from the time of the ratification of the Constitution, some 150 attempts to alter the tenure of the President's office by amendment were introduced in Congress. Few, if any, amendments to the Constitution have such a prolonged legislative history.2

As early as May 2, 1788, Thomas Jefferson wrote to George Washington that he was very concerned with the unlimited eligibility for presidential reelection: "This I fear, will make an office for life." Jefferson advocated a 7-year term for the President, without the opportunity for reelection. In 1803, the Senate rejected a resolution that stated "that no person who has been twice successively elected President shall be eligible as President until four years and no longer." In 1824 and 1826, the Senate passed joint resolutions limiting the President to two terms. In both instances, no action was taken in the House. During Andrew Jackson's Administration, 21 joint resolutions were introduced in Congress, each intended to limit the President's term in some way. In 1841, the legislatures of Vermont, Indiana, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island sent "one-term" amendments to Congress.

On December 15, 1875, the House passed a resolution introduced by Representative William Springer of Illinois. The House passed the resolution without debate, 234 to 18, 38 not voting. Springer's resolution read:

Resolved, That in the opinion of this House the precedent established by Washing ton and other Presidents of the United States in retiring from the Presidential office after their second term has become, by universal occurrence, a part of our republican system of government, and that any departure from this time-honored custom would be unwise, unpatriotic, and fraught with peril to our free institutions.

During the period following President Grover Cleveland's reelection in 1892, 13 amendments were introduced to limit the President's term in various ways. In 1894, Representative William Jennings Bryan proposed three "one-term" amendments and one that would have made the President ineligible to succeed himself.

During the next decade, 21 similar amendments were introduced by various members of Congress. On February 1, 1913, the Senate passed a joint resolution limiting the President to one 6-year term. The House failed to take action on the Resolution.

On February 21, 1927, Representative Benjamin L. Fairchild of New York introduced the following as an amendment to the Constitution:

No person shall be eligible to the office of President who has previously served two terms, whether by election or succession due to the removal, death, resignation or inability of the President where the term by succession shall have continued for a period of 2 years or more.

One day later, Senator Robert M. La Follette of Wisconsin introduced a similar measure in the Senate. However, no action was taken on the resolutions in either House during the 69th Congress. On January 27, 1928, the La Follette resolution was reintroduced in the Senate, amended, as passed on February 10, to read virtually the same as the Springer resolution passed by the House in 1875. However, the La Follette Resolution was defeated in the House.3


Despite repeated attempts to amend the Constitution over a period of more than 150 years, it was not until the 80th Congress that an amendment to limit the President to two terms was finally successful. The 80th Congress, convening in 1946, was the first to have a Republican majority since 1928. During the previous years, dominated by the Roosevelt administration, the Republicans had been unable to halt the President and his New Deal legislation. During the debates over the Twenty-second Amendment, the Republicans argued that Roosevelt had accumulated inappropriate power due to his long tenure as President. Representative Louise E. Graham of Pennsylvania warned:

We have seen the evil of perpetuation of centralization of government, of control through great bureaucracies, appointment of courts and control of our foreign relations, all due to the built-up, accumulated potency and power of one man remaining too long in public office.4

Representative John M. Robison of Kentucky added:

He [Roosevelt] created hundreds and hundreds of bureaus, commissions, and agencies and at one time had more than 4,000,000 Federal civil officeholders in this country and in foreign countries. Through the agencies and officials, they attempted and did, to a large degree, control agriculture, industry, labor, and many of the normal activities of the American people. Power feeds power. 5

Within an atmosphere of extreme Republican dissatisfaction over the results of the prolonged Roosevelt Administration and its policies, H.J. Res. 27 was introduced and reported favorably by the House Committee on the Judiciary on February 4, 1947.6 Two days later, on February 6, the Resolution was brought to the House floor under a gag rule that limited debate on the measure to 2 hours and consideration of amendments to 5 minutes. That same day by a vote of 285 to 121, 26 not voting, the House passed H.J. Res. 27, but not before it had rejected both a substitute amendment to limit the tenure of the offices of President and Vice President to 6 years and an amendment to require ratification by State conventions rather than legislatures.8

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The Senate Committee on the Judiciary reported H.J. Res. 27 favorably, but with three proposed amendments. The first and third amendments called for ratification by State conventions. The second revised the language of the Resolution to provide for the contingency of succession by a Vice President so that no person could serve as President for more than 9 years.

The Senate began consideration of the H.J. Res. 27 on March 3, 1947.10 On March 10, the Senate rejected the first of the Judiciary Committee's amendments, 11 and 2 days later, a substitute amendment containing the final language of Section 1 was adopted.12 Also on March 12, the Senate rejected amendments calling for the popular election of the President and Vice President and limiting the total tenure of any President, Vice President, Senator, or Representatives to 6 years. 13 The resolution was then passed by the Senate, as amended, 59 to 23, 13 not voting. 14 On March 21, 1947, the House concurred in the Senate version.15


When the Twenty-second Amendment was sent to the States for ratification on March 24, 1947, 48 states were in the Union.16 Consequently, 36 States were required to ratify before the amendment would become part of the Constitution. Maine provided the first ratification on March 31, 1947, and Minnesota the 36th on February 27, 1951. The ratification dates of each of the States are printed below:

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The Twenty-second Amendment was rejected by Massachusetts on June 6, 1949 and by Oklahoma in June of 1947. No action was taken by Arizona, Kentucky, Rhode Island, Washington, and West Virginia.

On March 1, 1951, the Twenty-second Amendment was certified as part of the Constitution by Jess Larson, Administrator of General Services. The amendment appears officially as 16 Fed. Reg. 2019.17

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