Sunday, November 05, 2006

Three terms, or more?

On 5 November 1940 Franklin Delano Roosevelt was re-elected President of the United States. Nothing remarkable there you might say; there were many Presidents who were re-elected before FDR and there have been quite a few since. What made this event remarkable was that Roosevelt was the first man elected to the Presidency for a third term.

There was, at that stage, no Constitutional barrier to anyone serving a third term as President. There was, however, an unwritten convention that as George Washington had served only two terms, so too should his successors. Roosevelt's success in 1940 and his further re-election in 1944 turned this convention on its head.

However it has not happened since. The members of the post-war US Congress seemed concerned that there now existed the possibility of a President being re-elected continually and thus becoming what might be described as a benevolent dictator. To prevent this an amendment to the Constitution was proposed and by 1951 the requisite number of states had ratified what became the Twenty-Second Amendment. This stated that "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."

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