Back When the U.S. Presidency Had No Limits

It wasn’t long ago, before 1951, one could run for and win the office of the President of the United States indefinitely. As long as the people agreed to it, more than two terms were legal, even though it wasn’t cool.

Then, on July 11, 1944, after winning the office three terms in a row, Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) announced he would run a fourth time.

No doubt, FDR was a popular fella, at least amongst the (non-southern) Democrats. That said, he’d already broken an unwritten rule.

No president was supposed to serve more terms than George Washington, two, tops. Back in the day, when asked to serve a third term, old Georgie boy declined, lest anyone should accuse him of trying to be some sort of monarch.

But, nobody anticipated the effects of the hero FDR on a beleaguered nation.

In the long run (pun totally intended), it was for the best that Congress ratified the 22 Amendment in 1951, even if FDR fans took it as an attack on their guy.

Fanboy Culture

On November 7, 1944, FDR won the Oval Office for the fourth time. That was two more terms than any other president ever before, and ever after. Not that he was the first to try.

The other Roosevelt, cousin Teddy, took a swing at third in 1912 but struck out. But, the people of the United States liked FDR so much, it didn’t matter that he lived his life in a wheelchair. Everyone knew he was disabled. Nobody cared.

As far as FDR’s fans cared, he was the leader who guided the United States out of the Great Depression and through World War II. Although he’d intended to keep the U.S. out of the Second big one, the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1939 forced his hand. It didn’t hurt his re-election in 1941 either.

During times of war, as when crossing a river, the people prefer not to change horses. When he ran again in ’44, the U.S. was still at war. Had FDR not passed away in 1945, he would have spanned sixteen years in the Oval Office, long enough for a child to almost grow into a young adult.

In fact, had we not passed an Amendment to set limits, and had he not died, FDR could have stayed president long enough to reshape the future of American politics. In a way, he did just that, but only because his detractors took action.

Haters

1947 Congress | nytimes.com

Not everyone liked FDR. The Southern Democrats and the Republicans were not fans of his New Deal. That was the alphabet program of services that FDR implemented to pull the U.S. out of the Depression.

The fact that he ran for and won a third term boiled their blood. Many in the public also questioned the issue. At the time, there were heated debates, with some pushing for term limits, and others more concerned about the war.

Three years after FDR’s fourth election, and two years after he passed, Republicans demanded an Amendment to limit presidential terms.

Only somewhat off-topic, nobody thought to add an addendum including congressional term limits?

22nd Amendment

There are two sections to the 22nd Amendment. The first stipulates that nobody can run for the office of president more than two times.

It outlined, ”But this Article shall not apply to any person holding the office of President when this Article was proposed by Congress…” as not to disrupt the course of the current presidency. Second 2 pertained to the terms for ratification.

The Amendment required three-fourths of States to ratify it to make it legit, but first, it had to pass Congress. When it came time to vote there, on March 21, 1947, the Republican and Southern Democrats weren’t the only ones voting in favor of term limits. A young Democrat by the name of John F. Kennedy (JFK) also agreed that the U.S. should limit terms.

Some historians accuse JFK’s endorsement of the 22nd Amendment on the influences of his father, Joseph Patrick Kennedy Sr. A chairman of two offices for FDR, Papa Kennedy fell out of favor with the Roosevelt during his presidency. The accusation is that JFK was voting with a familial bias. Perhaps or maybe he was just a bigger fan of George Washington’s ideology.

It didn’t matter. Kennedy’s endorsement was a footnote. Congress passed the Amendment. By February 27, 1951, 36 of the 48 states ratified it, grafting term limits onto the U.S. Presidency.

Few people, if anyone, would say this was a bad idea. In each person’s life, there will be a sitting president who boggles the mind, as in, “how did this person take the oval office?”

Not one American would trade the right to peacefully vote for a new president in four years.

Sources: history.com, constitutioncenter.orgconstitutioncenter.org