Sometimes people say to me, “Hey Paul, if term limits are so great, how come they’re not already in the Constitution?” Weren’t the Founding Fathers just as concerned about how power corrupts, and absolute power corrupting absolutely? Absolutely, yes, the Founders were concerned. And they did believe in term limits. They called it “Rotation in Office.”
In those days, folks would remain in office for only one or two terms before moving on. Nobody had to tell George Washington to decline the job of President for Life. They followed the honor system. Several state constitutions did provide for term limits, however. For example, the Virginia Constitution of 1776 declared that officeholders, quote, “should, at fixed periods, be reduced to a private station, [and] return . . . into that body from which they were originally taken.”
And the Articles of Confederation, the national law of the land prior to the U.S. Constitution, also required rotation in office. The articles said that no person should remain in office for more than 3 years out of any term of 6 years. That’s pretty tough. Yes, the Revolutionaries wanted Citizen Legislators, not Career Politicians.
Indeed, Madison’s original plan for the U.S. Constitution required term limits. But in the end, the drafters decided limits were unnecessary, since the rewards of serving in Congress were few and the privations many. And in those days, it was more plausible to have faith in the good will of the politicians than it is today.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.