Presidential Term Limits in American History: Power, Principles & Politics
By successfully seeking a third term in 1940, Franklin D. Roosevelt shattered a tradition that was as old as the American republic. The longstanding yet controversial two-term tradition reflected serious tensions in American political values. The framersof the Constitution, with Alexander Hamilton as their key spokesman, favored executive authority and unlimited terms for presidents. Yet, early presidents, most notably Thomas Jefferson, being wary of executive authority, established an informal tradition of presidents retiring after two terms. FDR's third-term pursuit in 1940 would accentuate these tensions over executive authority, with Roosevelt supporters citing the Hamiltonian argument for the continued service of a trusted leader in a time of crisis, and opponents espousing the Jeffersonian distrust of executive accumulation and retention of power. Ultimately, the Twenty-second Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1951, would establish the two-term tradition through law and represent a victory for the Jeffersonian view. In this book, Michael J. Korzi recounts the history of the two-term tradition as well as the 'perfect storm' that enabled Roosevelt to break with that tradition. He also shows that Roosevelt and his close supporters made critical errors of judgment in 1943-44, particularly in seeking a fourth term against long odds that the ill president would survive it. Korzi's analysis offers a strong challenge to Roosevelt biographers who have generally whitewashed this aspect of his presidency and decision making. The case of Roosevelt points to both the drawbacks and the benefits of presidential term limits. Furthermore, Korzi's extended consideration of the seldom-studied Twenty-second Amendment and its passage reveals not only vindictive and political motivations (it was unanimously supported by Republicans), but also a sincere distrust of executive power that dates back to America's colonial and constitutional periods.
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