Twenty-second Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Twenty-second Amendment of the United States Constitution sets a term limit for the President of the United States. The 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.
bq). 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 convention and a bulwark against a monarchy; his Farewell Address, suggests that it was because of his age that he did not seek re-election. Thomas Jefferson also contributed to the convention of a two-term limit; in 1807 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 four years, will in fact become for life.” Jefferson’s immediate successors, James Madison and James Monroe, also adhered to the two-term principle.
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. Theodore Roosevelt succeeded to the presidency upon William McKinley’s assassination and was elected in 1904 to a full term himself, serving from 1901 to 1909. He sought to be elected to a (non-consecutive) term in 1912 but lost to Woodrow Wilson. 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, he won a fourth term, but suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died in office the following year. Thus, Roosevelt was the only President to have served more than two terms.
According to historian Glenn W. LaFantasie of Western Kentucky University, “ever since 1985, when Ronald Reagan was serving in his second term as president, there have been repeated attempts to repeal the 22nd Amendment; this proposal has failed repeatedly in Congress, although it is still introduced over and over again.” In addition, several Democratic congressmen, including Rep. Barney Frank, Rep. José Serrano, Rep. Howard Berman, and Sen. Harry Reid, 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 an open question 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 if a two-term President could later be elected—or appointed—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 president. Neither theory has ever been tested, as no former President has ever sought the Vice Presidency, and thus the courts have never been required to make a judgment. In 1980, as former President Gerald Ford was being considered a possible running mate for Republican candidate Ronald Reagan, an issue arose regarding how many terms Ford could serve, if he succeeded to the Presidency, since he served more than two years of Richard Nixon’s second term.
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 FDR’s unexpired fourth term and who had been elected to a full term in 1948, began a campaign for another term in 1952, but quit after a poor showing in the New Hampshire primary.
Since the Amendment’s ratification, the only other 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 of Kennedy’s term, and was elected President in 1964. Since 14 months is less than two years, he was eligible to run again in 1968, but withdrew early in the campaign, also after a poor showing in the New Hampshire primary.
Gerald Ford became President on August 9, 1974, and served the final 29 months of Richard Nixon’s unexpired term. Since 29 months is more than 2 years; had Ford won a full term in 1976 (he lost to Jimmy Carter), he would have been ineligible to run again in 1980, despite being elected just once.
The only individuals who have been prohibited from continuing to seek the presidency under the amendment are Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush; all were elected to the presidency twice. Former presidents Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush, both defeated after only one term (in 1980 and 1992 respectively), are eligible to seek the office again, as well as the incumbent Barack Obama, who is eligible to seek a second term.