The Twenty-second Amendment (Amendment XXII) of the United States Constitution sets a term limit for election and overall time of service to the office of President of the United States. Congress passed the amendment on March 21, 1947. It was ratified by the requisite 36 of the then-48 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.
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.
Some historians point to George Washington’s decision against a third term as evidence that the founders saw a self-imposed two-term limit as a bulwark against a monarchy. Nevertheless, in his Farewell Address, Washington both reveals he considered not standing for reelection in 1792,[Note 1] and that his decision not to seek a third term in 1796 was due to age, not intention to set precedent. Nine years later, Thomas Jefferson further contributed to the convention of a voluntary two-term limit when he wrote in 1807, “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, adhered to the two-term principle as well. In a new political atmosphere several years later, Andrew Jackson continued the precedent.
Even prior to Franklin D. Roosevelt, however, several Presidents attempted to serve a third term. Following Jackson’s exit from office after two terms, and due to Lincoln’s assassination before his second term was complete, Ulysses S. Grant was the first since the 1830s who was in a position to explore a third term. In 1880, after having served from 1869 to 1877, Grant sought nomination for a third term at the Republican National Convention, but narrowly lost his party’s nomination to James Garfield. During a period dominated by Republicans, had Grant been nominated (with the actual nominee winning), he might well have won a third term. Years later, Grover Cleveland pursued a third term (and second consecutive term) in 1896, but in the wake of the Panic of 1893, lost virtually all support to the Silverites led by William Jennings Bryan. He furthermore declined to head the Gold Democrat ticket, whose performance proved abysmal, although their campaign did receive his endorsement Prada Sale.
Theodore Roosevelt succeeded to the presidency upon William McKinley’s assassination and was himself elected in 1904 to a full term, serving from 1901 to 1909. He sought to be elected to a non-consecutive third term in the election of 1912, but lost to Woodrow Wilson. McKinley’s death came only six months into his second term, and while election in 1912 would not have constituted a third elected term, Roosevelt could have otherwise served eleven and a half years, just short of three full terms. Woodrow Wilson himself tried for nomination to a third term in 1920 by deadlocking the convention; he deliberately blocked the nomination of the former Secretary of the Treasury, his son-in-law William Gibbs McAdoo, the front-runner. Wilson anticipated that the party would side with their sitting president were the convention deadlocked. Wilson, however, was too unpopular even within his own party at the time, and James M. Cox was nominated. He would again contemplate running for a nonconsecutive third term in 1924, devising a strategy for his comeback, but again lacked any support and died at the beginning of the year.
Franklin D. Roosevelt spent the months leading up to the 1940 Democratic National Convention refusing to state whether he would seek a third term. His Vice President, John Nance Garner, along with Postmaster General James Farley, announced their candidacies for the Democratic nomination. When the convention came, Roosevelt sent a message to the convention, saying he would run only if drafted, saying delegates were free to vote for whomever they pleased. The delegates issued 946 votes for Roosevelt, 72 for Farley, and 61 for Garner; they replaced Garner with Henry A. Wallace, and Farley resigned as postmaster general. In the 1940 general election, while Republican Wendell Willkie received six million more votes than the previous Republican candidate (Alfred Landon) had in 1936, Roosevelt still won decisively, taking 38 of 48 states. His supporters cited impending war as a reason for breaking with precedent, while Willkie had run against the principle of a third term.
In the 1944 election, held during World War II, Roosevelt won a fourth term, defeating New York governor Thomas E. Dewey. While quelling rumors of his poor health through his campaigning, Roosevelt’s health was deteriorating, and he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, dying in office on April 12, 1945. Roosevelt was the first president elected to a third term, and the only one to exceed eight years in office. While elected to twice as many terms as any other president, his death in 1945 came early in his fourth term, while delay in ratification of the Twentieth Amendment meant that Roosevelt’s first inauguration took place on March 4, 1933. This limited his time in office to 12 years and 39 days, much less than the 16 years to which he was actually elected.
Near the end of the 1944 campaign, Thomas Dewey announced support of an amendment that would limit future presidents to two terms. According to Dewey, “four terms, or sixteen years, is the most dangerous threat to our freedom ever proposed.” The Republican-controlled 80th Congress approved a twenty-second Amendment in March 1947; it was signed by Speaker of the House Joseph W. Martin and acting President pro tempore of the Senate William F. Knowland. Nearly four years later, in February 1951, enough states ratified the amendment for its adoption. The new amendment, however, did not apply to the incumbent, technically allowing Harry S. Truman to serve without limit. However, after poor performance in the 1952 New Hampshire primary, Truman chose not to seek his party’s nomination. The same party has won the presidency in three consecutive elections only once since World War II, when Republican George H. W. Bush won in 1988 after two terms as Vice President with Republican Ronald Reagan. In all other cases, the opposing party’s candidate has won after two terms with a single party: Dwight D. Eisenhower (R) in 1952, John F. Kennedy (D) in 1960, Richard Nixon (R) in 1968, Jimmy Carter (D) in 1976, George W. Bush (R) in 2000, and Barack Obama (D) in 2008.
The Congress proposed the Twenty-second Amendment on March 24, 1947. The proposed amendment was adopted on February 27, 1951.
The following states ratified the amendment:
Ratification was completed on February 27, 1951. The amendment was subsequently ratified by the following states:
In addition, the following states voted to reject the amendment:
The following states took no action to consider the amendment:
(Neither Alaska nor Hawaii had yet been admitted as states at the time.)
According to historian Glenn W. LaFantasie of Western Kentucky University (who was opposed to repealing the amendment), “ever since 1985, when Ronald Reagan was serving in his second term as president, there have been repeated attempts to repeal the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, which limits each president to two terms.” In early 1989, during an exit interview with Tom Brokaw of NBC, President Reagan stated his intention to fight for the amendment’s repeal. However, after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 1994, his post-presidential ambitions had to be scrapped.
In addition, several congressmen, including Democrats Rep. Barney Frank, Rep. José E. Serrano, Rep. Howard Berman
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, and Sen. Harry Reid, and Republicans Rep. Guy Vander Jagt, Rep. David Dreier and Sen. Mitch McConnell 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.
On January 4, 2013, Rep. José E. Serrano again introduced a resolution proposing an Amendment to repeal the 22nd Amendment, as he has done every two years since 1997; he has not done so during the 114th Congress as of June 2015.
There is a point of contention 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 whether a two-term president could later serve as 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 vice president. The practical applicability of this distinction has not been tested, as no former president has ever sought the vice presidency. During Hillary Clinton’s 2016 candidacy, she said that she had considered naming Bill Clinton as her Vice President, but had been advised it would be unconstitutional.
The constitution does not restrict the number of terms a person can serve as Vice President.
The amendment explicitly 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 Franklin D. Roosevelt’s unexpired fourth term and who had been elected to a full term in 1948, withdrew as a candidate for re-election in 1952 after losing the New Hampshire primary. Had he won, he would have been eligible to run again in 1956.
Since the amendment’s ratification, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama have been elected president twice. The only president who took office after the ratification of the Twenty-second Amendment and 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 (less than two years) of Kennedy’s term, was elected president in 1964, and ran briefly for re-election in 1968 but chose to withdraw from the race. Gerald Ford became president on August 9, 1974, and served the final 29 months (more than two years) of Richard Nixon’s unexpired term. Ford, who lost to Jimmy Carter in 1976, would have been eligible to be elected in his own right only once.