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