Harold Michael Harvey, JD

In the beginning there was no such thing as term limits for president or for members of Congress. On the other hand, members of the judiciary were given a lifetime appointment.

The president and members of Congress could theoretically hold onto their offices for life too, as long as they could win re-election to one successive term after another.

George Washington, the first president elected under the Constitution of the United States of America, began a precedent of sorts when he declined to seek a third term in office.

Some historians believe he did not seek a third term so as not to lend an air of sovereign reign to the American presidency. Others points to language in his farewell address that suggest Washington simply felt he was too old for the rigors of a third four-year term.

Thomas Jefferson, in 1807, first broached the subject of term limits for the office of the president. Jefferson suggested either the Constitution had to set term limits or those who served in the office would have to restrain themselves after serving two terms.

For 140 years Congress took no action to limit the terms a president could serve. During that span of time four presidents unsuccessfully sought a third term, beginning with Ulysses S. Grant in 1880. Grover Cleveland (1896), Theodore Roosevelt (1912) and Woodrow Wilson (1920) also sought third presidential terms, but all failed. Cleveland and Wilson did not come close to receiving their party's nomination, while Roosevelt ran on a third party ticket and finished second to Wilson, who won his first term in 1912.

In 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was successful in winning a third term. Historians credit Roosevelt’s work in stabilizing a weak economy at home and the winds of war blowing in Europe as reasons for him breaking precedent and seeking a third term in office. Then, in 1944, America was knee deep in World War II and this fact, some historians believe, gave justification for Roosevelt to seek a fourth term In office, which he won.

In 1947 Congress proposed the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution to limit a president to two-four year terms. Also, a president could serve no more than a total of 10 years in office, in situations where a president was elected after completing the term of another president.

The proposed amendment was ratified by 18 states in 1947. It then lost steam picking up three states in 1948, two in 1949 and only 1 in 1950. However, in 1951 12 states ratified the proposed amendment, bringing the total to 36 states, the total needed to adopt, In 1951, Alaska and Hawaii were not states.

The 22nd Amendment became the law of the land on February 27, 1951. In 1985, several Republican congressmen, caught up in the Reagan Revolution, sought to repeal the term limits amendment in an effort, to extend President Ronald Reagan’s tenure in office. Their efforts failed.

However, in recent years, several Democrats including Senator Harry Reid, Reps. Barney Frank, Howard Berman and Jose’ Serrano have introduced joint resolutions to repeal the 22nd Amendment. Each resolution has never made it out of its respective committee.

Serrano (D-N.Y.), who represents the largest Latino district in the country, has introduced a joint resolution each term of Congress since 1997. His most recent attempt to repeal the 22nd Amendment was filed on Jan. 4, 2013 as House Joint Resolution 15. This bill is not sponsored by any other member of Congress and is resting in committee.


This week, President Barack Obama hit another proverbial 3-2 slider out the park. In the face of a ricin threat on his life and bloody terrorists on the loose in Boston, he flew into Beantown and participated in a memorial service for victims of the worst terrorist attack on American soil since Sept. 11, 2001. He preached a message of hope to America, urging his constituents to stay the course, to have no fear and to maintain a discipline mind. He looked into the cameras and told those responsible that they would be found and brought to justice. Before midnight Friday, Obama had made good on that promise.

It seems that the problems of governance have thrown Obama a mixture of sliders, curves and two-seam fastballs beginning with inheriting the worst economic crisis the nation had faced in nearly a century. While tackling the economy, Obama has had to wind down two unpopular wars abroad and he has had to make good on a pledge made by former President George W. Bush to bring Osama Bin Laden to justice.

The world is a dangerous place, much as, it was when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president. And like Roosevelt reminding America that it has nothing to fear "but fear itself," Obama has been a reassuring voice in troubling times.

If the terror in Boston this week has taught us anything, it taught us that America is not likely to get any safer any time soon. There are enemies on the right and on the left who do not mind killing and maiming innocent American people - men, women and children - to advance their ideology of what America is to them. Scenes of snipers on rooftops, armored personnel carriers loaded with America’s finest, communities on lock-down and sirens screaming through downtown business districts are becoming the new normal.

In times like these should the country stay the course with a trusted leader, one not given to timidity, but with love and compassion for humanity, and a sound, disciplined mind that stays with a problem until it is solved?

There can be no good reason to limit the term of the president when there are no corresponding limits on the other two branches of government. Perhaps Rep. Jose’ Serrano should get busy. The time may have come for Joint Resolution 15 and the repeal of presidential term limits.

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