6 e) Term limits & the Founding Fathers, Jefferson continues
The fears that Jefferson held of monarchy led him to express his reservations in terms of an executive office becoming hereditary. But the principle of an executive seizing too much power and the fear of his using his power to remain in office was surely a valid one.
“If some period be not fixed, either by the Constitution or by practice, to the services of the First Magistrate, his office, though nominally elective, will in fact be for life; and that will soon degenerate into an inheritance.” –Thomas Jefferson to Weaver, 1807.
Jefferson was especially troubled by the possibility of the President becoming through custom an office for life, and sought himself to establish the precedent of holding the office for only two terms, which did indeed prevail until Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to a third and a fourth term, which, in fact, turned out to be “for life.”
“General Washington set the example of voluntary retirement after eight years. I shall follow it, and a few more precedents will oppose the obstacle of habit to anyone after a while who shall endeavor to extend his term. Perhaps it may beget a disposition to establish it by an amendment of the Constitution.” –Thomas Jefferson to J. Taylor, 1805.
After President Roosevelt’s election to a fourth term, Congress finally passed and sent to the states the 22nd Amendment limiting the President to two terms of office. Roosevelt had been re-elected to a 3rd and 4th term because of the threat and then the reality of World War II. As Jefferson had noted back then, however, there will always be an excuse for the President seeking more than two terms.
“If the principle of rotation be a sound one, as I conscientiously believe it to be with respect to this office, no pretext should ever be permitted to dispense with it, because there never will be a time when real difficulties will not exist and furnish a plausible pretext for dispensation.” –Thomas Jefferson to H. Guest, 1809.