The Twenty-Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1951, states that: “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.”
The amendment resolved an issue that Americans had debated since the founding of the republic: should there be a limit on the number of terms any individual can serve as President of the United States?
The U.S. Constitution, as adopted in 1789, set no term limits for the office of the President. But many Americans feared that a popular leader, if continually reelected might become corrupt or oppressive. Thomas Jefferson, the author the Declaration of Independence, was troubled by the Constitution’s omission of term limits:“The… feature I dislike,” he wrote, “and greatly dislike, is the abandonment in every instance of the necessity of rotation in office, and most particularly in the case of the President.”
America’s first President George Washington, chose to limit his time in office to two terms, a precedent followed until the election Franklin D. Roosevelt to a third term in 1940 and fourth term in 1944. His death in 1945 early in his fourth term, reignited the debate about the ability of persons continually re-elected to the Presidency to serve effectively.
As President Barack Obama noted in his address at the African Union in July, South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and America’s George Washington “forged a lasting legacy not only because of what they did in office, but because they were willing to leave office and transfer power peacefully.”