It’s something you hear a lot nowadays from Article V movements who are looking to attract supporters. But is it true? Did the Founders really frown on career politicians?
To answer that question with any accuracy, you must know a bit of “pre-constitutional” history.
Before the Convention of 1776 that ultimately led to the ratification of the United States Constitution occurred, the States were united under a constitution called “the Articles of Confederation.” As a matter of fact, the reason the Convention of 1787 was even called was to address problems with the Articles that led to dysfunctions between the federal and state governments.
The second paragraph of Article 5 in the Article of Confederation reads:
“No State shall be represented in Congress by less than two, nor more than seven members; and no person shall be capable of being a delegate for more than three years in any term of six years; nor shall any person, being a delegate, be capable of holding any office under the United States, for which he, or another for his benefit, receives any salary, fees or emolument of any kind.”
Clearly, the Founders of this country had experienced a Congress with term limits, yet, they decided not to implement them under the Constitution. The question is, why?
Could it be, perhaps, that what the Founders experienced under a Congress with term limits was worse than politicians trying to make a career out of getting re-elected to Congress?
I know. It sounds weird at first. But when you look at real life examples and think about them, it doesn’t really seem so weird.
Every two years the House of Representatives goes through, what is referred to as, a “lame duck session”. It is that short period after an election when House members who have been replaced can still vote on bills. And nothing good ever comes from a lame duck session because the lawmakers who have been replaced no longer have any motivation to represent the people who elected them. Fortunately, congressional lame duck sessions only last a couple of months. But they should serve as an example of what could happen if term limits were imposed.
Then, there is the presidency. In 1951, the 22nd amendment was enacted limiting the office of the President to two terms (or eight years). Over 60 years later, the effectiveness of term limits on the presidency was prominently displayed when President Barack Obama was caught on a live mic telling Russian President Medvedev that he would have more flexibility to negotiate the delicate issue of missile defense after the November elections.
Why did he say that? Because the 22nd Amendment makes a United States President’s entire 2nd term in office a lame duck session. If a president can not be re-elected then who, exactly, does he have to answer to?
… and that is, more than likely, the same conclusion our Founders came to about term limits. The election cycles given to the office of the President, the members of the House, and the members of the Senate by the U.S. Constitution would do far more to ensure compliance to each respective electorate than creating lame ducks by imposing term limits.
So, the next time you hear someone say, “We need term limits because our Founders never intended for Congress to be filled with career politicians”. Tell them the story of term limits and the lame duck and ask them why, after living under a Congress with term limits, our Founders chose not to include them in the Constitution.