Monthly Archives: November 2015

Term limits & the Founding Fathers, still more from Jefferson

6 d) Term limits & the Founding Fathers, still more from Jefferson

In contrast to some of our “public servants” of today who manage to become quite wealthy while in office, Jefferson himself deliberately avoided such use of the public trust.

“I have the consolation of having added nothing to my private fortune during my public service and of retiring with hands as clean as they are empty.” –Thomas Jefferson to Diodati, 1807.

That attitude contrasts greatly with today’s representatives, who have voted themselves not only handsome salaries, but generous retirement benefits. But in Jefferson’s view, whenever officers of government look upon their office for the benefits they can gain from it, this longing contributes to corruption in high office.

“Whenever a man has cast a longing eye on [offices] a rottenness begins in his conduct.” –Thomas Jefferson to T. Coxe, 1799.

When writing about a proposed Constitution for the State of Virginia, Jefferson suggested a single long term for Senators. This would have several salutary effects: it would prevent Senators from conducting their office so as to promote their own careers, and it would keep their perspective focused on the people whom they were to represent.

“I proposed the representatives (and not the people) should choose the [State] Senate… To make them independent I had proposed that they should hold their places for nine years and then go out (one third every three years) and be incapable forever of being re-elected to that house. My idea was that if they might be re-elected, they would be casting their eye forward to the period of election (however distant) and be currying favor with the electors and consequently dependent on them. My reason for fixing them in office for a term of years rather than for life was that they might have an idea that they were at a certain period to return into the mass of the people and become the governed instead of the governor, which might still keep alive that regard to the public good that otherwise they might perhaps be induced by their independence to forget.” –Thomas Jefferson to E. Pendleton, 1776.

“I apprehend that the total abandonment of the principle of rotation in the offices of President and Senator will end in abuse.” –Thomas Jefferson to E. Rutledge, 1788.

Throughout his writings, Jefferson was more concerned with rotation in office the higher the office held. Here, he speaks of the need for limited terms in the office of President and Senator.

never at a loss for words, Jefferson has more to say next week

Term limits & the Founding Fathers, more from Jefferson

6 c) Term limits & the Founding Fathers, more from Jefferson

The government of the United States, then, is essentially a people’s government. It was to be run by people who were from their number and closely associated with their interests.

“All [reforms] can be… [achieved] peaceably by the people confining their choice of Representatives and Senators to persons attached to republican government and the principles of 1776; not office-hunters, but farmers whose interests are entirely agricultural. Such men are the true representatives of the great American interest and are alone to be relied on for expressing the proper American sentiments.” –Thomas Jefferson to A. Campbell, 1797.

Farming was, of course, the principle occupation of that day. Most of Jefferson’s writings that concerned the term of office spoke of the need for having short terms so that the people’s will may be exercised over their representatives more directly. In fact, he considered very short terms to be the ideal:

“A government by representatives elected by the people at short periods was our object, and our maxim… was, ‘where annual election ends, tyranny begins;’ nor have our departures from it been sanctioned by the happiness of their effects.” –Thomas Jefferson to S. Adams, 1800.

The idea was that the people would keep watch over their representatives and through their votes, make needed corrections.

“Should things go wrong at any time, the people will set them to rights by the peaceable exercise of their elective rights.” –Thomas Jefferson to W. Nicholas, 1806.

Public office was to be a public service, not a means for self-enrichment.

“Our public economy is such as to offer drudgery and subsistence only to those entrusted with its administration–a wise and necessary precaution against the degeneracy of the public servants.” –Thomas Jefferson to M. de Meunier, 1795.

stay tuned from more from Jefferson

Term limits & the Founding Fathers

Term limits & the Founding Fathers
What were George Washington’s views on this topic?There was no official limit to the number of terms a President could run for until shortly after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt in his fourth consecutive term. This created the twenty-second amendment stating:
“No person shall be elected to the office of President more than twice…”
However, after Washington rejected running for a third time for the Presidency, he created a tradition of informal term limits. Roosevelt was the only President to successfully break Washington’s tradition in 1941 when he was elected a third time.
How about Thomas Jefferson?
“The Jeffersonian Perspective
Commentary on Today’s Social and Political Issues
Based on the Writings of Thomas Jefferson

Term Limits & Citizen Legislators
“[If the] representative houses [are dissolved,]… the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, [return] to the people at large for their exercise.” –Thomas Jefferson: Declaration of Independence, 1776.
The people perform whatever functions of government they are competent to perform and delegate to persons of their choice those functions for which they are not competent.
“We think experience has proved it safer for the mass of individuals composing the society to reserve to themselves personally the exercise of all rightful powers to which they are competent and to delegate those to which they are not competent to deputies named and removable for unfaithful conduct by themselves immediately.” –Thomas Jefferson to P. Dupont, 1816.
Was Congress and the Office of President intended to be in the hands of professional politicians, or did the Founding Fathers mean for private citizens to become involved in politics, to hold office for a few terms, and then to return to private life? Clearly, Jefferson considered the ultimate source of governmental power to rest in the people themselves.
stay tuned for more on this subject