Presidential Terms and Tenure: Perspectives and Proposals for Change

The terms of the President and Vice President are set at four years by Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution. The 20th Amendment, ratified in 1933, sets the expiration date of these terms at noon on January 20 of each year following a presidential election.

From 1789 to 1940, chief executives adhered to a self-imposed limit of two terms, although only 7 of the 31 Presidents from 1789 through 1933 actually served two consecutive terms in office. The precedent was exceeded only once, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was elected to four terms, and served from 1933 through 1945. The 22nd Amendment, proposed and ratified following the Franklin Roosevelt presidency, provides that “No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice.” It also specifies that Vice Presidents who succeed to the presidency may be elected to two full terms as President if they have served less than two years of their predecessor’s term, for a theoretical total of 10 years’ service as President. If, however, they have served more than two years of their predecessor’s term, they can be elected to only one additional term, for a total of between four and eight years of service, depending on when the Vice President succeeded to the presidency. The debate continues as to whether the 22nd Amendment is an absolute limit on service as President. For instance, could a former President elected to two terms later be elected Vice President, and then succeed to the presidency on the departure of the incumbent chief executive? The 25th Amendment, ratified in 1967, provided, among other things, for vacancies in the office of Vice President, empowering the President to make nominations to that office when it becomes unoccupied, subject to approval by a vote of both houses of Congress.

Although the length of the presidential term was decided after spirited debate at the 1787 Constitutional Convention, and the 22nd Amendment provides term limits for the President, proposed constitutional amendments that would alter these provisions are occasionally introduced in Congress. One proposal, which would lengthen the President and Vice President’s terms to six years, was introduced frequently through the 103rd Congress. Some six-year term amendments proposed limiting the President to a single term, while others allowed for two terms, or no limit at all. Another category of amendment, which continues to be introduced in most Congresses, would repeal the 22nd Amendment. H.J.Res. 5, introduced in the 111th Congress by Representative José E. Serrano, falls into this category. H.J.Res. 5 was referred to the House Judiciary Committee, but no further action has been taken to date.

This report will be updated as events warrant.

Presidential Terms and Tenure: Perspectives and Proposals for Change

October 19, 2009 (R40864)

Contents

Summary

The terms of the President and Vice President are set at four years by Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution. The 20th Amendment, ratified in 1933, sets the expiration date of these terms at noon on January 20 of each year following a presidential election.

From 1789 to 1940, chief executives adhered to a self-imposed limit of two terms, although only 7 of the 31 Presidents from 1789 through 1933 actually served two consecutive terms in office. The precedent was exceeded only once, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was elected to four terms, and served from 1933 through 1945. The 22nd Amendment, proposed and ratified following the Franklin Roosevelt presidency, provides that "No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice." It also specifies that Vice Presidents who succeed to the presidency may be elected to two full terms as President if they have served less than two years of their predecessor's term, for a theoretical total of 10 years' service as President. If, however, they have served more than two years of their predecessor's term, they can be elected to only one additional term, for a total of between four and eight years of service, depending on when the Vice President succeeded to the presidency. The debate continues as to whether the 22nd Amendment is an absolute limit on service as President. For instance, could a former President elected to two terms later be elected Vice President, and then succeed to the presidency on the departure of the incumbent chief executive? The 25th Amendment, ratified in 1967, provided, among other things, for vacancies in the office of Vice President, empowering the President to make nominations to that office when it becomes unoccupied, subject to approval by a vote of both houses of Congress.

Although the length of the presidential term was decided after spirited debate at the 1787 Constitutional Convention, and the 22nd Amendment provides term limits for the President, proposed constitutional amendments that would alter these provisions are occasionally introduced in Congress. One proposal, which would lengthen the President and Vice President's terms to six years, was introduced frequently through the 103rd Congress. Some six-year term amendments proposed limiting the President to a single term, while others allowed for two terms, or no limit at all. Another category of amendment, which continues to be introduced in most Congresses, would repeal the 22nd Amendment. H.J.Res. 5, introduced in the 111th Congress by Representative José E. Serrano, falls into this category. H.J.Res. 5 was referred to the House Judiciary Committee, but no further action has been taken to date.

This report will be updated as events warrant.


Presidential Terms and Tenure: Perspectives and Proposals for Change

Introduction

The term of office of the President and Vice President is generally considered to be a settled constitutional issue. The four-year term, and the two-term tradition, the latter formalized in 1951 by the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, appear to be fixed elements in the nation's political landscape. In contrast to the tranquil present, when relatively little debate occurs, the issue has had a turbulent past. Delegates to the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 wrangled over the presidential term for three months before reaching a compromise package of provisions only days before their adjournment. The two-term tradition was supposedly established by George Washington in 1795. While generally honored as sacrosanct until Franklin Roosevelt sought a third term in 1940, it was frequently challenged in the 19th century by advocates of a single term, while no fewer than four 19th and 20th century Presidents before President Franklin Roosevelt were tempted to seek a third term. In the contemporary congressional context, proposals to adopt a single six-year term for Presidents were the subject of perennial constitutional debate until fairly recently, while amendments to repeal the 22nd Amendment continue to be introduced in every Congress.

Terms and Tenure in the Constitution

The terms of the President and Vice President were originally established at four years, with eligibility for reelection, by the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, which drafted the U.S. Constitution.

The Philadelphia Convention: Debate and Decisions on Terms and Tenure

The questions of presidential term length and reeligibility were the subject of considerable discussion at the Constitutional Convention, which met in Philadelphia from May 28 through September 17, 1787. The delegates were generally divided between two factions—first, the "federalists," who sought to establish a robust federal government provided with the power of taxation and exercising greater authority over interstate commerce and relations, while managing the nation's international trade, foreign relations, and defense policy with a stronger hand. An executive who possessed considerable independence and authority was a key element in the federalist vision. They were generally opposed by the second faction, "anti-federalists," who feared the concentration of power as a threat to individual liberty and states' rights, preferring an executive (or multiple executives) who possessed limited authority and more closely resembled the President of Congress under the Articles of Confederation. Early in its deliberations, the convention rejected the concept of a plural executive, settling on a single President. It then moved to address two fundamental issues concerning his tenure.

  • The first concerned duration of the executive's term.1 Most state governors at that time served terms of one or two years. There appears to have been agreement among most of the delegates that whatever view they took of the federal executive, the office should have a longer term to guarantee stability. During the convention, nothing shorter than a three-year term received serious consideration.
  • The second was the issue of reeligibility—should the executive be limited to a single term or be permitted to run for reelection to additional terms, and, if so, how many? Here, the convention delegates sought to balance the potential advantages of continuity and perspective provided by a long-serving executive with their still-fresh memories of domineering colonial governors and pervasive concern that an infinitely reelectible executive might lead to dictatorship or monarchy.

Both these questions were influenced by the question of who should elect the President: from the beginning, many delegates assumed the executive would be chosen by the legislature (Congress). It was widely held that a single term would be necessary to avoid excessive congressional influence over the presidency, and even worse, the unseemly spectacle of the executive scrambling to ensure congressional support for reelection to a second term. At least a solid minority of delegates, which occasionally expanded to a majority, also opposed reeligibility for the executive on general principle. They feared this provision might result in lengthy or even indefinite tenure for Presidents, providing them the opportunity to accrue overweening power in the executive branch. Other delegates, however, were more concerned about the need, as they saw it, to establish an independent, energetic executive; the fact that he might be eligible for reelection presented little difficulty for them. Debate over these issues continued off and on for two months, with the convention changing position several times before it reached a final compromise.

As the convention opened, the delegates initially debated a three-year and a seven-year term, both in the context of election by Congress. In early June, they agreed to the latter option, but did not provide the opportunity for reelection. Two weeks later, they revisited this decision, at the same time voting to move election from the national legislature to electors chosen in the states. The electors option was seen by some delegates as eliminating congressional influence over, or control of, the presidential election, and was regarded as an important element of separation of powers. This first hint of what ultimately emerged as the electoral college was followed by a vote to eliminate the prohibition on reeligibility. Concurrently, however, the delegates voted to shorten the executive's term to six years. The issue was not yet settled, however. On July 24, dissatisfied with their earlier choices, the convention voted to restore election by Congress, and followed up immediately with a heated debate on a proposal to reinstate the one-term requirement. It seems apparent from the record that tempers had grown short by this time, and even James Madison's restrained style does not conceal the apparent passion of the debate that followed. Supporters of independent election, still smarting from the recent reversion to congressional election, vehemently opposed the motion, while partisans of the single term and legislative supremacy countered, probably facetiously, with various proposals, including an indefinite term (i.e., the executive would serve "during good behavior") and terms of 11, 15, and even 20 years.2 The latter faction also had the votes, at least for the moment; two days later, by a vote of six states to three the convention referred the following resolution to the Committee on Detail: "that a National Executive be instituted—to consist of a single person—to be chosen by the Natl. legislature—for the term of seven years—to be ineligible a 2d time."3 The Committee on Detail, charged with organizing and fleshing out the convention's decisions, reported on August 6; its draft, as instructed, provided a seven-year term, without a provision for reelection.

The matter was still not settled, however. The delegates continued to struggle over who should elect the President, with term and reeligibility now recognized as a subset of the greater question. By this time, proposals for election of the President by the state legislatures, by electors chosen by lot from among the Members of Congress, and even popular election, had been considered and rejected, but agreement still eluded the delegates. One modern account of the convention notes that some delegates had left the convention to attend to business and professional matters after almost three months of nearly continuous, six-day-a-week sessions, while those who remained shared a growing inclination to finish the project. Debates grew shorter and members were quicker to accept compromise solutions to persistent disagreements.4 In this context, recognizing they were at an impasse, the delegates voted on August 31 to refer the presidency question, along with other unresolved issues, to a Committee on Postponed Matters (also known as The Committee of Eleven, for the number of its members).5 As active participants, the committee members were fully aware of the protracted struggle over presidential election, term, and reeligibility that had continued since early June. They chose to offer a fresh take on the issue: their report on the presidency, submitted on September 4, provided a four-year term, reeligibility, and, key to the issue, a reworked method of election, by an electoral college appointed in each state "in such manner as its Legislature may direct."6 The committee's novel solution ultimately resolved the impasse. Although several die-hard opponents continued to argue in favor of legislative election, a single term, or shorter terms, all such motions were defeated by wide margins.7 The convention had finally reached agreement on term and tenure for the President and the recently conceived office of Vice President. The Committee on Style and Arrangement reworked the various decisions into a form recognizable as the Constitution, and, after some final revisions, the document was approved and proposed to the states for ratification on September 17, 1787, with its now-familiar wording:

The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same Term, be elected as follows. 8

In the ensuing struggle for its approval in the states, the federalists cited "energy in the executive," stability in government, and separation of powers in defense of the presidential term and tenure, while opponents warned against excess concentration of power in the presidency, and a tendency to dictatorship or even monarchy that reeligibility and lengthy terms might encourage. In the final analysis, however, it is arguable that many doubts about these arrangements were mitigated by the near certainty that George Washington would serve as first President under the Constitution.

Vice Presidential Vacancies: A Constitutional Oversight?

The Constitution addressed the question of presidential vacancies in the following language in Article II, Section 1, clause 6:

In case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what Officer shall then act as President. 9

It did not, however, make similar provision for vacancies in the vice presidency, so that office became vacant whenever the Vice President succeeded as President, or left office for any other reason, and remained so for the balance of the presidential term. The lack of such a provision was eventually remedied by the 25th Amendment.10

Patterns in Presidential Tenure

As the nation's first President, George Washington set many precedents. One of the most enduring is the tradition that he limited himself, and future chief executives by his example, to not more than two terms in office. His action was followed until Franklin Roosevelt was elected to a third term in 1940. Further, Roosevelt's unprecedented four-term presidency then spurred the subsequent ratification of the 22nd Amendment, which conferred constitutional force on the practice.11 The two-term tradition is thus widely regarded as the norm, but the record of presidential tenure is more complex: in fact, only 11 of 43 Presidents who served between 1789 and 2009 were elected to and served two consecutive terms, or 96 months, in office.12 When deaths in office and the vicissitudes of electoral politics are taken into account, average presidential tenure declines to 61 months for the nation's 220 years of government under the Constitution. Moreover, the average time Presidents spend in office has passed through several apparent cycles since 1789, with the renomination and reelection rates of incumbents and the average length of presidential terms arguably reflecting changing levels of political unrest and/or socio-economic conditions in the nation during a given period. Moreover, the two-term tradition was persistently challenged during the nation's first century of constitutional government, while proposals that would have extended the executive's term to six years and/or limit Presidents to a single term continued to be offered into the late 20th century and beyond in the case of the latter.

Presidential Tenure, 1789-1837: Setting the Two-Term Precedent

George Washington, the "indispensable man," set a precedent for presidential tenure in 1796 when he announced his retirement after two terms (1789-1797), but there is little evidence he based the decision on a personal understanding that the Constitution implicitly limited his tenure. Moreover, Washington's announcement, which was incorporated in his renowned 1796 Farewell Address, actually gave no indication that he considered his action as a precedent for his predecessors. Rather, he cited his own weariness, and particularly the growing infirmities of age as primary factors in his decision: "every day the encreasing [sic] weight of years admonishes me more and more, that the shade of retirement is as necessary to me as it will be welcome."13 Washington's immediate successor, John Adams (1797-1801), was defeated in the tumultuous election of 1800, and never faced the question of how many terms he would serve.14

According to modern scholars, the two-term tradition is more accurately attributed to Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809), who had expressed concern about "perpetual reeligibility" in the presidency as early as 1788.15 As his own second term drew to a close, he was petitioned by the Vermont legislature to consider another run. Jefferson declined, stating in his reply his belief that

If some termination to the services of the Chief Magistrate be not fixed by the Constitution, or supplied by practice, his office, nominally four years, will in fact become for life, and history shows how easily that degenerates into an inheritance. Believing that a representative Government responsible at short periods is that which produces the greatest sum of happiness to mankind, I feel it a duty to do no act which shall essentially impair that principle, and I should unwillingly be the person who, disregarding the sound precedent set by an illustrious predecessor [George Washington], should furnish the first example of prolongation beyond the second term of office.16

Jefferson's decision acquired the force of tradition, at least in the short run, and was frequently attributed to Washington. Three of Jefferson's four immediate successors, James Madison (1809-1817), James Monroe (1817-1925), and Andrew Jackson (1829-1837), stepped down at the close of their second terms, while the fourth, John Quincy Adams (1825-1829), was defeated for reelection in 1828 by Jackson. This 48-year period saw the longest average presidential tenure in the nation's history. Of the seven chief executives who served during these years,17 five served two consecutive terms, a record that has yet to be equaled during a period of similar length. Even considering that each of the two Presidents Adams served only a single term, the average presidential tenure during this 48-year period was 82 months, substantially longer than the historical average of 61 months.18 The vice presidency during this period had a similar pattern of stability, with the eight incumbents serving an average tenure of 67 months.19

A One-Term Tradition? Presidential Tenure, 1837-1901

Andrew Jackson was the last chief executive to be elected twice until Abraham Lincoln won a second term in 1864.20 Throughout much of this period, the concept of a single term, rather than the two-term tradition, enjoyed wide support as an appropriate norm for executive tenure. In fact, Jackson himself recommended that Congress consider an amendment that would establish a single four- or six-year presidential term in his Annual Messages to Congress21 every year between 1830 and 1835.22 William Henry Harrison (1841) recommended a constitutional amendment to prohibit "the eligibility of the same individual to a second term of the Presidency" in his 1841 inaugural address, 23 while his Whig Party called for "a single term for the presidency" three years later in 1844, in its first published presidential platform.24 Although similar declarations do not appear in the Democratic platforms of the time, historian Michael Nelson notes that many Democrats supported the proposal; moreover, Democratic Presidents James Polk (1845-1849) and James Buchanan (1857-1861) announced their intention to serve only one term before they entered office.25 In fact, none of the eight Presidents who served between Jackson and Lincoln was elected to a second term. While such events indicate the popularity of single presidential terms during this period, the short tenures of these chief executives are arguably also due to the vagaries of political life: electoral defeat or rejection by their parties, and, in two instances, death in office.26

Throughout the balance of the 19th century, the ideal of the two-term presidency, while often deferred to, actually remained the exception, rather than the rule, arguably, both by design and circumstance. At the same time, proposals for a single-term amendment to the Constitution continued to be offered in Congress.27 As noted previously, in 1864 Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865) became the first President elected to a second term since Jackson, while Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877) was the only chief executive between Jackson and Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) to serve two consecutive terms in office. In 1876, Republican Party leaders, with Grant's tacit approval, explored the possibility of a third term, but the force of tradition, combined with the record of his tenure in office,28 led to a public outcry, and this trial balloon was eventually deflated.29 Of the other chief executives holding office during this period, Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881) declined to seek a second term; moreover, he also proposed a single-term amendment in his inaugural address.30 Grant sought the GOP nomination again in 1880, permitting his name to be placed in nomination at the Republican National Convention. While he gained a plurality of delegate votes in the first ballot, Grant was unable to attain a majority. Instead, James A. Garfield, a "dark horse" reform candidate won the nomination on the 36th ballot and the subsequent general election.31 Garfield was shot on July 2, 1881, less than four months after his inauguration, and lingered into September before succumbing to his wound. He was succeeded by his Vice President, Chester Arthur (1881-1885), who was denied nomination for a second term by his Republican Party. Arthur's successor, Democrat Grover Cleveland, advocated a single-term amendment in his acceptance message to the Democratic National Convention in 1884,32 but ultimately became unique among American Presidents. Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms, 1885-1889 and 1893-1897; his tenure was interrupted when he was defeated for reelection by Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893). He accomplished the unique feat of beating his successor four years later, in 1892, and returning for a second term.33 William McKinley (1897-1901) won election in 1896, and with his 1900 victory, became the first President elected to a second term since Grant. Three months into his second term, McKinley notified his Cabinet that he would respect the two-term tradition,34 but three months after making that announcement, he was assassinated, and was succeeded by Vice President Theodore Roosevelt.

The period between 1837 and 1901 thus presents a contrast in presidential tenure to the earlier years under the Constitution. During this period, the death of five incumbent Presidents, chronic political volatility, recurrent financial crises and subsequent economic downturns, and continued support for a one-term limit contributed to notably shorter average presidential tenure between 1837 and 1901. The 18 chief executives who served during this period spent an average of 43 months in office, considerably less than the overall historical mean of 61 months. Presidential tenure during the earlier part of the era, between 1837 and 1861, serves to highlight the political instability of the post-Jackson period, when the nation seemed to move inevitably toward disunion. During these tumultuous 24 years, presidential tenure reached a low point: the eight chief executives from Van Buren to Buchanan served an average of 36 months, less than one full term each. The period between 1861 and 1901, which began with Lincoln's inauguration and the onset of the Civil War, and concluded with the death of William McKinley, was only marginally less volatile: the 10 Presidents from Lincoln through McKinley averaged 48 months in office, a single term.

Tenure in the Early 20th Century

The assassination and death of William McKinley in September, 1901, and the accession of his Vice President, Theodore Roosevelt, provides a break with the conditions of presidential tenure that prevailed in the 19th century.35 Average presidential tenure lengthened between 1901 and 1945, growing to more than 74 months, due largely to the record tenure of Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945), and the terms served by Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) and Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921). This was substantially longer than the mean of 61 months for all chief executives, especially when compared with the 43 months average time in office of Presidents who served between 1837 and 1901.

Most early 20th century Presidents honored the two-term tradition, although several were tempted by the prospect of a third term. After serving most of McKinley's second term, Theodore Roosevelt was elected President in his own right in 1904. He quickly declared his adherence to the two-term tradition in a statement issued on the night of his election triumph:

On the 4th of March next I shall have served three and a half years and this ... constitutes my first term. The wise caution which limits the President to two terms regards the substance and not the form; and under no circumstances will I be a candidate for or accept another nomination.36

Roosevelt kept his promise, retiring in 1908, but dissatisfaction with his chosen successor, William Howard Taft (1909-1913), led the former President to run again in 1912, explaining that in 1904 he had meant to say he would not seek a third consecutive term.37 Denied the Republican nomination, Roosevelt ran as the Progressive Party candidate, thus dividing the Republican vote and guaranteeing the election of Democratic nominee Woodrow Wilson.

The Democratic National Convention responded to Roosevelt's third-party bid by adopting a platform plank that called for "an amendment to the Constitution making the President of the United States ineligible to reelection."38 Following the election, the Democratic-controlled 62nd Congress moved to implement the proposal, and a single-term amendment passed the Senate by the requisite two-thirds majority in February 1913, even before Wilson's inauguration. The Senate resolution was referred to the House Judiciary Committee, but no further action was taken on it, despite suggestions that it enjoyed substantial support in the House of Representatives, and it expired with the end of the 62nd Congress on March 4, 1913. The reason the amendment stalled was not explained until 1916, when it was revealed Wilson himself had written to a trusted Representative in February relating his opposition to the single-term amendment. When the House Democratic leadership learned of the President-elect's opinion, they bowed to his wishes and shelved the amendment.39 According to one historian, Wilson contemplated running for a third term eight years later, in 1920. Although crippled by a stroke suffered in October 1919, the President apparently envisioned his third-term candidacy as an opportunity for a national referendum on his plan for the League of Nations, which had been stalled in the Senate for more than a year.40 Beyond discussion among Democratic Party leaders, nothing came of these suggestions. The lack of follow through is attributed variously to rumors of Wilson's ill health, the influence of the two-term tradition, a robust succession struggle within the Democratic Party, and anxieties that a referendum on the League would lead to repudiation of the party by the voters.41 Although the 1920 Democratic National Convention required 44 ballots before it picked James M. Cox as the party's standard bearer, President Wilson's name was never placed in nomination.42

None of Wilson's three immediate successors served two full terms. Warren Harding (1921-1923) died in office in 1923; he was succeeded by Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929), who was elected in his own right in 1924, and ultimately by Herbert Hoover (1929-1933), who was defeated for reelection in 1932. One account asserts, however, that Coolidge (1923-1929) was actively interested in the Republican nomination in 1928, had it been offered to him. He continued to enjoy broad popularity as the election approached, and a substantial number of party leaders and journalists continued to suggest his candidacy. According to Charles Stein, writing in The Third Term Tradition, the President refused to commit himself unless he was sure of an overwhelming demand.43 As the level of support for an additional Coolidge candidacy stalled, the President ended speculation with a characteristically laconic statement, which he issued without additional comment on August 2, 1927: " I do not choose to run for President in 1928."44

Breaking With Tradition: A Third and Fourth Term for President Franklin D. Roosevelt

The two-term mold was finally broken by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940. Following his 1936 landslide reelection to a second term, it seemed likely that he would retire in 1940. Although some supporters urged him to seek a third term, the President refused to commit himself, and, according to some historians, he may have been undecided at the time.45

In September, 1939, the political landscape was transformed by the outbreak of war in Europe. The conflict erupted into a world crisis in the spring and summer of 1940, as Germany first overwhelmed Denmark and Norway in April, and then attacked France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg in May, crushing resistance in less than six weeks. By the time the Democratic National Convention opened on July 15, the President had decided to accept his party's nomination, but only if it came in the form of a draft.46 With characteristic indirection, Roosevelt authorized Senator Alben Barkley to declare from the convention platform that, "He (President Roosevelt) wishes in all earnestness and sincerity to make it clear that all the delegates to this Convention are free to vote for any candidate."47 The President's ambiguous statement was taken, as he intended it would be, as a signal that he would accept the nomination. The convention erupted in boisterous pro-Roosevelt demonstrations, and the President was duly nominated on July 17 by an overwhelming margin.48

Little more than a year after President Roosevelt's 1940 reelection, the United States entered the war following a surprise Japanese attack on U.S. military installations at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii as well as on other American possessions in the Pacific. As the election of 1944 approached, the nation was deeply involved in World War II, and the injunction "don't change horses in the middle of a stream" seemed even more compelling than in 1940. Roosevelt, despite failing health, that was generally concealed from the public, was elected to a fourth term in November. Exhausted by years of stress and overwork, however, he succumbed to a cerebral hemorrhage on April 12, 1945, less than three months after his fourth inaugural.

The 22nd Amendment and After: Presidential Tenure Since President Franklin Roosevelt

President Roosevelt was succeeded in 1945 by his Vice President, Harry S. Truman. Within two years, in 1947, the 80th Congress had proposed the 22nd Amendment to the states, and in 1951, the states completed the ratification process. The amendment, examined in detail later in this report, provides that no person shall be elected more than twice to the presidency and also sets additional conditions of service for Presidents who succeed to the unfinished terms of their predecessors.

While Truman was not covered by the amendment, all 11 Presidents who have served since then have been subject to its provisions. Of these, four, Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961), Ronald Reagan (1981-1989), William (Bill) Clinton (1993-2001), and George W. Bush (2001-2009) each served two consecutive terms, while Truman's time in office was just three months short of a full eight years. These "standard" two-term presidencies contributed to lengthening the average tenure in office to more than 76 months for the period between 1945 and 2009, making this the longest average tenure for any of the periods covered in this report since the early days under the Constitution.

Embedded within this period, however, were two turbulent decades: the years between 1961 and 1981, which witnessed a rate of presidential turnover comparable to that of the 1840s and 1850s. Five Presidents served in the space of 20 years: John F. Kennedy (1961-1963), Lyndon Johnson (1963-1969), Richard Nixon (1969-1974), Gerald Ford (1974-1977), and Jimmy Carter (1977-1981). The reasons for their rapid succession in office are also similar to those experienced by the chief executives of the 1840s and 1850s: Kennedy was assassinated, but his four immediate successors were victims of a series of political and economic mishaps and misadventures for which they arguably bore at least partial responsibility.49

Constitutional Amendments Affecting Presidential and Vice Presidential Tenure

The 20th, 22nd, and 25th Amendments have altered some of the original constitutional and early legislative provisions governing presidential and vice presidential terms and tenure. The 20th Amendment changed the date on which presidential and vice presidential terms expire from March 4 to January 20, while the 25th Amendment provided procedures to fill vacancies in the office of Vice President. Perhaps most important, and arguably the most controversial, of the three was the 22nd Amendment, which established term limits for the presidency.

The 20th Amendment: Beginning Presidential Terms on January 20

The 20th Amendment was proposed by Congress in 1932 and its ratification by the states was completed in 1933. It provided the first change in any aspect of presidential or vice presidential term and tenure since the beginnings of constitutional government in the United States.

From 1789 until 1937, presidential and vice presidential terms ended on March 4 of every year following a presidential election.50 This date, which originally applied to the opening day of the First Congress, was confirmed and extended to presidential and vice presidential terms of office by the Second Congress in 1792.51 This arrangement led to a four-month interval between the presidential election, which was set by Congress in 1845 for Tuesday after the first Monday in November every even-numbered year,52 and the opening of the new Congress and the presidential inauguration, both held on March 4 of the following year.

Congressional sessions were also connected with the presidential term of office. Article I, Section 4, clause 2 of the Constitution required Congress to assemble "at least once in every Year, and such meeting shall be on the first Monday in December, unless they shall by Law appoint a different Day." As a result, the first session of most Congresses did not convene until more than a year after its election, and the second session usually convened after elections for its successor had been held, and continued through March 4.53 These "lame duck" sessions were increasingly criticized in the 20th century, as they included Members of both chambers who had retired or had been defeated for reelection, and occasionally were dominated by political parties that had been repudiated at the November elections. Similarly, as the powers and responsibilities of the presidency expanded, there was increasing demand that the four-month presidential transition be shortened.

Although the Senate passed an amendment resolution ending the lame duck session as early as 1923, efforts to change the dates for congressional and presidential terms of office were stalled in the House of Representatives throughout the decade of the 1920s. In addition to the lame duck session arguments noted above, proponents of the amendment favored elimination of time limits on the short session on the grounds that it promoted obstructionism in both chambers, and particularly, filibusters in the Senate.54 Opposition to the measure centered on the congressional term: opponents of both parties feared the measure would eliminate what they regarded as a politically salubrious "cooling off period" after the elections. By convening the new Congress just two months after elections, rather than 13 months, as under the then-current system, the passions generated during the election campaign would still be fresh, and might negatively affect the flow of legislative business. Further, they opposed longer, or continuous, congressional sessions on the grounds that these would present opportunities for the abuse of legislative power. House Speaker Nicholas Longworth spoke for many opponents when he stated (in the lame duck 3rd session of the 71st Congress),

Under this resolution ... it will be entirely possible for Congress to be in session perpetually from the time it convenes.... It seems to me obvious that great and serious danger might follow a perpetual two years' session of the Congress. I am not one of those who says the country is better off when Congress goes home, I do not think so, but I do think that the Congress and the country ought to have a breathing space at least once every two years.55

By 1932, however, party control of the House in the 75th Congress had shifted, and a bipartisan coalition was able to bring a proposal to the floor in both chambers. The amendment, which was proposed to the states on March 2, 1932, included the following provisions:

  • Terms of the President and Vice President would end on January 20 of the year following a presidential election.
  • Terms of Representatives and Senators would end at "noon on the 3d day of January."
  • Congress would meet at least once annually, at "noon on the 3d day of January," unless Congress appointed a different day by law.
  • The counting of electoral votes in presidential elections and contingent election of the President and Vice President would be conducted by the newly elected Congress, rather than by the lame duck session.56
  • If the President elect died, the Vice President elect would become the President elect.
  • Congress was empowered to provide by law for cases of vacancy or deadlock connected with the contingent election process.

The ratification process proceeded with considerable speed, and was completed on January 23, 1933, when the 36th state approved it. By May of the same year, the 48th, and last, state legislature added its approval.57 The 20th Amendment became effective for the legislative branch in 1935, when the 74th Congress convened on January 4, and for the President and Vice President in 1937, when President Roosevelt and Vice President John Garner were inaugurated on January 20.58

The 22nd Amendment: "Term Limits" for the President

In 1946, the Republican Party regained control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 16 years. The GOP had previously committed itself to term limitations on the presidency "[t]o insure against the overthrow of our American system of government" in its 1940 national convention platform, while the party's 1944 manifesto called for a single six-year term for the chief executive.59 The question of presidential tenure was thus high on the agenda of the 80th Congress when it convened on January 3, 1947, and resolutions proposing constitutional amendments that would impose term limitations on future Presidents were quickly introduced in both chambers when Congress assembled.

Debate on the amendment proceeded generally on partisan lines. Clearly the most important factor in consideration of the amendment was the unprecedented example of President Roosevelt's 12 years in office. Between the successive crises of the depression and World War II, and President Roosevelt's activist conception of the office, the power and authority of the presidency had expanded well beyond its traditional boundaries. Supporters claimed their goal was the prevention of excessive concentration of power in the hands of future Presidents. Opponents argued that the proposal was a case of overkill: the informal two-term limit had been set aside by the President (and a substantial majority of the voters, it should be noted) only because of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding World War II. It was, they asserted, a restriction of democracy, depriving the people of their right to elect any qualified candidate they chose. One nationally prominent journalist of the era described the amendment as "'an act of retroactive vindictiveness' [against Franklin Roosevelt]. They could never beat him while he was alive, [Elmer] Davis said, so they beat him after he was dead."60 On the other hand, one scholar of the presidency noted that the idea of presidential term limits was not new at that time: more than 270 amendments to circumscribe presidential tenure had been introduced between 1789 and 1947.61

The House took the lead on the question, moving quickly after the new Congress assembled. Two approaches to the question of presidential term limitations emerged: H.J. Res. 25, introduced by Representative Everett M. Dirksen, sought a single six-year term, while H.J. Res. 27, offered by Representative Earl C. Michener proposed a limit of two four-year terms. On February 5, the Judiciary Committee reported H.J. Res. 27 favorably, and the proposal was taken up by the full House on February 6. Debate on the resolution itself was limited to two hours, and to five minutes each on proposed amendments, after which the House voted to approve H.J. Res. 27 on February 6, 1947, by a vote of 285 to 121.62 House debate fell largely along party lines; the amendment has largely been characterized as a "Republican" measure, and it is worth noting that the Republican caucus in the House was united in support of the resolution. On the other hand, one historian points out that the votes of 47 mostly southern Democrats provided the resolution the necessary two-thirds majority required by the Constitution, so there was, in fact, a level of bi-partisan support; most Democratic "yes" votes came from southern or border states.63

Senate consideration of the amendment proceeded at a more measured pace than in the House. The Senate version, reported from the Judiciary Committee on February 21, differed from the House resolution by requiring that the amendment be submitted to ad hoc state conventions for ratification, rather than to the state legislatures. Article V of the Constitution provides for both methods of ratification. The argument was that ad hoc conventions, elected for the single purpose of considering the amendment, would be more familiar with and responsive to public opinion on the proposal. Secondly, the committee version included a prohibition on further presidential service of any person who had served more than 365 days in each of two terms. When the full Senate took up the amendment both these provisions were stripped out, but the Senate did, however, approve an amendment by Senator Robert Taft that clarified procedures governing the number of times a Vice President who succeeded to the presidency might be elected. Taft's amendment included the now-familiar provision that if a Vice President becomes President in the second two years of his predecessor's term, he is eligible to be elected to two full terms on his own, for a total of 10 years service. Conversely, if he serves more than two years of his predecessor's term he may be elected only to a single term in his own right. The Senate passed the resolution, as amended, by a vote of 59 to 23 on March 12.64 As with the House, there was substantial Democratic support for the measure: 16 Democratic Senators, mostly from southern and border states,65 joined all 43 Republicans present and voting to produce the necessary two-thirds majority. The 23 "no" votes were cast by Democrats.

Although the Senate appointed conferees to resolve differences between the two versions of the bill, there is no evidence a conference committee met. On March 21, the House took up the Senate version, which, according to Representative Michener, had been "considered informally before the full Judiciary Committee."66 The House, after additional debate, accepted the Senate's amendments to H.J. Res. 27 on March 21.67

The Senate version of the amendment, as agreed to in the House and proposed to the states, included the following provisions:

  • No person could be elected to the office of President more than twice.
  • Persons who had been President or acted as President for more than two years of their predecessor's term could be elected once.
  • Persons who had been President or acted as President for less than two years of their predecessor's term could be elected twice.
  • The amendment did not apply to any person serving as President when it was proposed, or when it was ratified.

The amendment was proposed to the states for ratification by their legislatures on March 24, 1947. Minnesota became the 36th state to ratify the proposal on February 27, 1951, and it was declared to be ratified and effective on March 1 of the same year.68

Since its ratification in 1951, the 22nd Amendment has applied to four Presidents who have been elected twice to the Presidency: Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1961), Ronald Reagan (1981-1989), William (Bill) Clinton (1993-2001), and George W. Bush (2002-2008). In addition, Richard Nixon (1969-1974), who resigned from office under the threat of impeachment, was technically covered by the amendment's provisions, having been elected twice to the presidency.

To date, two Presidents who succeeded to the presidency have been covered under the Amendment's provisions that govern succession to their predecessors' uncompleted terms:

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.69

The first, Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969), succeeded John F. Kennedy in November, 1963, when the latter was assassinated. Under the provisions of the 20th Amendment, he would have been eligible to be elected to two full terms, because he entered office more than halfway through his predecessor's term. Gerald R. Ford (1974-1977), the second Vice President to succeed to the presidency during this period, was eligible to be elected to only one full term in his own right, as he replaced Richard M. Nixon after the latter had served only 19 months of his own second term.70

Does the 22nd Amendment Provide an Absolute Term Limitation on Presidential Service?

The 22nd Amendment prohibits anyone from being elected President more than twice, but whether a President who was elected to two terms as chief executive could subsequently be elected Vice President and then succeed to the presidency as a result of the incumbent's death, resignation, or removal from office is a question that has been frequently asked over the years. Another version of this scenario questions whether a former President elected twice could succeed from the speakership of the House, the presidency pro tempore of the Senate, or from a position in the Cabinet, as provided for in the Presidential Succession Act.71 This issue was raised initially during discussions of the 22nd Amendment in 1960, when President Eisenhower was about to become the first President affected by the amendment.72 While the question may have been largely academic with respect to Eisenhower, due to his age and health issues, it has been raised again concerning former President Bill Clinton, who left office in 2001 at the age of 54.73

Some commentators argue that the 12th Amendment's statement that "no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President" ipso facto bars any former chief executive covered by the 22nd Amendment from either serving as Vice President, or succeeding to the presidency from any other line of succession position (i.e., the Speaker of the House, President pro tempore of the Senate, or the Cabinet).74

Others maintain, however, that the original intent of the 12th Amendment's language was simply to apply the same qualifications of age, residence, and "natural born" citizenship to the Vice President as apply to the President, and that it has no bearing on eligibility to serve as President.75 Moreover, they maintain that the 22nd Amendment's prohibition can be interpreted as extending only to eligibility for election, not service; by this reasoning, a term-limited President could be elected Vice President, and then succeed to the presidency to serve out the balance of the term. Adherents of both positions, however, generally agree that anyone becoming President under any of these scenarios would, however, be prohibited from running for election to an additional term.76

Assessing a related question, legal scholars Bruce Peabody and Scott Gant asserted in a 1999 article that a former President could also succeed to the presidency, or be "acting President" from the wide range of positions covered in the Presidential Succession Act. By their reasoning, a former President serving as Speaker of the House, President pro tempore of the Senate, or as a Cabinet officer, would also be able to assume the office of President or act as President under the "service vs. election" interpretation of the 22nd Amendment.77 The Constitution Annotated tends to support some version of this interpretation, but notes that many issues would need to be addressed if this situation ever occurred:

The Twenty-Second Amendment has yet to be tested or applied. Commentary suggests, however, that a number of issues could be raised as to the Amendment's meaning and application, especially in relation to the Twelfth Amendment. By its terms, the Twenty-Second Amendment bars only the election of two-term Presidents, and this prohibition would not prevent someone who had twice been elected President from succeeding to the office after having been elected or appointed Vice-President. Broader language providing that no such person "shall be chosen or serve as President ... or be eligible to hold the office" was rejected in favor of the Amendment's ban merely on election (H.J. Res. 27, 80th Cong., 1st Sess. (1947)), (as introduced). As the House Judiciary Committee reported the measure, it would have made the covered category of former presidents "ineligible to hold the office of President." (H.R. Rep. No. 17, 80th Cong., 1st Sess. at 1 (1947)). Whether a two-term President could be elected or appointed Vice President depends upon the meaning of the Twelfth Amendment, which provides that "no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President." Is someone prohibited by the Twenty-Second Amendment from being "elected" to the office of President thereby "constitutionally ineligible to the office"? Note also that neither Amendment addresses the eligibility of a former two-term President to serve as Speaker of the House or as one of the other officers who could serve as President through operation of the Succession Act.78

It seems unlikely that this question will be answered conclusively barring an actual occurrence of the as-yet hypothetical situation cited above. As former Secretary of State Dean Acheson commented when the issue was first raised 1960, "it may be more unlikely than unconstitutional."79

The 25th Amendment: Filling Vice Presidential Vacancies

The 25th Amendment, which provides for several aspects of presidential succession and disability, also filled a gap in constitutional procedures that had existed since 1789. The amendment established procedures for filling vacancies in the vice presidency which have been implemented twice since the amendment's ratification in 1967.

As noted previously in this report, the Constitution originally made no provision for filling vacancies in the vice presidency, but authorized Congress to provide for simultaneous vacancies in both executive offices. The Succession Act of 1792 (1 Stat. 240), passed by the Second Congress (1791-1793), addressed the issue, authorizing the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House, in that order, to act as President until a special election could be held to fill a presidential vacancy, unless the vacancy occurred late in the last full year of the incumbent's term of office.80 The act made no provision for vacancies in the vice presidency, an omission that continued in its subsequent revisions, the succession acts of 1881 (24 Stat. 1) and 1947 (61 Stat. 380). Consequently, the office of Vice President was vacant on 14 different occasions between 1809 and 1965, due to the death or resignation of various incumbents. These vacancies ranged in duration from 67 days, following John C. Calhoun's resignation to assume a Senate seat in December 1832, to 47 months, when John Tyler became President following the death of William Henry Harrison in 1841.81

During the 1950s, Congress considered proposals concerning presidential disability that were largely generated by concern over illnesses suffered by President Dwight Eisenhower during his term of office (1953-1961). These included a "moderate" heart attack, a "mild" stroke, and surgery for a partial obstruction of the President's intestine.82 Hearings on an amendment to provide for instances of presidential disability were held by the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments, chaired by Senator Estes Kefauver, in 1958 and 1959. No floor action was taken in either chamber on the question during this period. When Senator Kefauver, the chief advocate for constitutional action, died in August 1963, Senator Birch Bayh assumed leadership of succession and disability reform proponents in the Senate, in cooperation with Representative Emanuel Celler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, shocked and traumatized the nation and gave fresh impetus to concerns that culminated in the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. Although Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson succeeded without incident after Kennedy's death, it was noted at the time that Johnson's potential immediate successor, House Speaker John W. McCormack, was 71 years old, and that Senate President pro tempore Carl T. Hayden, next in line of succession, was 86 and visibly frail. A consensus rapidly emerged that a vice presidential vacancy for any length of time constituted a dangerous gap in the nation's leadership during the Cold War, an era of international tensions and the threat of nuclear war.83

Senator Bayh introduced a constitutional amendment shortly after President Kennedy's death that provided new procedures for (1) presidential succession, (2) vice presidential vacancies, and (3) instances of presidential disability. Although the House declined to act on the proposal in 1964, it was reintroduced the following year in both chambers early in the first session of the 89th Congress. The proposal included in its nearly identical House and Senate versions (H.J.Res. 1 and S.J.Res. 1, respectively) the following provisions:

  • Section 1 provided that the Vice President becomes President in "case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation."84
  • Section 2 provided that whenever the office of Vice President is vacant, the President nominates a successor "who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.85"
  • Section 3 provided that whenever the President declares he is disabled and unable to discharge his duties, the Vice President serves as Acting President.
  • Section 4 provided that whenever the Vice President and a majority of the Cabinet, or, alternatively, the Vice President and a disability review body established by law, decides the President is incapacitated, and transmits these findings to Congress, the Vice President becomes Acting President. When the President transmits a message to Congress declaring that no inabilty exists, he resumes his powers and duties. If, however, the Vice President and a majority of either the Cabinet or the Vice President and the disability review body, if one has been established, disputes the President's message, then Congress decides the issue within a limited period of time. A two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress is necessary to sustain the Vice President's judgment that the President remains impaired; otherwise the President resumes the powers and duties of the office.

The proposed amendment moved quickly through the relevant committees and came to the floor of both chambers early during the first session of the new Congress. An overwhelming bipartisan consensus emerged in favor of Sections 1 through 3; Section 4, however, generated controversy that centered on its provisions governing disputed presidential disability. Opponents asserted that these procedures were too detailed to be included in a constitutional amendment, and that the question of disability would be better addressed in the proposed amendment by authorizing Congress to provide by law for such instances. Defenders responded by noting that leaving the disability review function to legislation, and dependent on a simple majority in both houses of Congress, might subject this critical issue to political manipulation: better to "set it in stone" in the Constitution.86 Senator Everett Dirksen was the chief proponent of the legislative route for disability procedures, but his amendment to the resolution was rejected by a substantial margin.87 The Senate ultimately passed S.J.Res. 1 without the Dirksen amendment on February 13, 1965, by a vote of 72 to 0,88 followed by House passage of H.J.Res. 1 on April 13, by a vote of 368 to 29.89 A conference reconciled minor differences between the two versions, and the amendment was officially proposed to the states on July 6. Ratification proceeded quickly in the states; Nevada became the 38th state to ratify on February 10, 1967, and the Administrator of General Services declared the amendment to be in effect on February 23rd of the same year.90

Implementing the 25th Amendment

Both Sections 1 and 2 of the 25th Amendment, which relate to presidential and vice presidential term and tenure, have been implemented since its ratification in 1967. In the case of Section 1, no direct action beyond swearing in the new President was necessary on August 9, 1974, when President Richard Nixon resigned while facing almost certain impeachment stemming from his involvement in the Watergate scandal. His Vice President, former Representative Gerald Ford, was inaugurated without incident when he took the oath of office in an atmosphere of high drama the same day.

1973: Nomination and Confirmation of Gerald R. Ford as Vice President

The provisions of Section 2 of the 25th Amendment were invoked twice within a few years of the amendment's ratification. Between 1973 and 1974, the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the Watergate scandal resulted in what amounted to back-to-back implementations of the section within the space of 16 months, as the vice presidency became vacant twice, first due to resignation, and second, due to succession of the Vice President to the presidency.91 As the remarkable events of the Watergate scandal unfolded, in June 1973, an unrelated federal investigation of political corruption in Baltimore County, Maryland, uncovered evidence of illegal activities by Vice President Spiro Agnew during and after his service as county executive and Governor of Maryland in the 1960s.92 After a grand jury was convened, the Vice President entered into negotiations with the Justice Department and President Nixon's counsel, as a result of which he agreed to resign and plead "no contest" to one count of tax evasion, in return for a fine and three years of probation. Agnew resigned the vice presidency on October 10, 1973. On October 12, the President nominated the House Republican Leader, Representative Gerald Ford, to be Vice President, thus triggering Section 2 of the amendment.93

The nomination was referred in the House to the Committee on the Judiciary, and in the Senate to the Committee on Rules and Administration; the two chambers agreed on consecutive hearings, with the Senate proceeding first. The Senate Rules Committee hearings began on November 1, 1973, and continued in both public and executive sessions until the committee voted unanimously to report the nomination favorably to the full Senate on November 20.94 The House Judiciary Committee opened its first session on November 15, immediately following the Senate's last public hearings session. House hearings continued until November 26, and on November 29, the committee voted 30-8 to report the nomination favorably to the full House.95 After two days of floor debate, the Senate voted on November 27 by a margin of 93 to 2 to confirm Ford as Vice President.96 The House voted to confirm Ford on December 6, after one day of debate, by a vote of 387 to 35.97 Representative Ford took the oath as Vice President before a joint session of Congress in the House chamber the same day.98

1974: Nomination and Confirmation of Nelson A. Rockefeller as Vice President

The second, and to date the only other, implementation of Section 2 occurred less than a year later. On August 9, 1974, Richard Nixon resigned the presidency, after being confronted with the near certainty of impeachment and possible removal from office due to his role in the Watergate scandal. Gerald Ford was immediately sworn in as President, thus creating a vacancy in the vice presidency, for which he nominated former New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller on August 20.99 Congress adopted the same procedures, but the hearing schedules were complicated by the press of legislative business and the fact that 33 members of the House Judiciary Committee and two members of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration were running for reelection in the mid-term congressional elections held November 2, 1974. An additional factor in the delay was the fact that, as a scion of one of America's wealthiest families, Governor Rockefeller's personal finances were extraordinarily complex, and required a lengthy investigation. Given these factors, the Senate hearings were conducted in two widely-separated installments, from September 23 to 26, and again between November 13 and 15. The Rules Committee voted unanimously to report the nomination to the full Senate on November 22.100 The House again scheduled consecutive hearings, convening the Judiciary Committee from November 21 to 26, and again between December 2 and 4. The committee voted 26 to 12 to report the nomination favorably on December 12.101 As was the case with the Ford nomination, floor debate on the confirmation of Nelson Rockefeller to be Vice President was somewhat anti-climactic. Most of the substantive points in favor of, or in opposition to, the nominee had been thoroughly examined in the hearings process and were largely disposed of in the Rules and Judiciary Committee reports. The Senate voted 90 to 7 to confirm Rockefeller on December 10,102 while the House confirmed the nomination by a closer margin, 287 to 128, on December 19.103 Vice President Rockefeller was inaugurated in the Senate, with House Members in attendance, the same day.104

Proposals for Change

Since the 25th Amendment was ratified in 1967, proposals to alter presidential and vice presidential terms and tenure have centered on two approaches. The first would extend the presidential term to six years. Most, but not all, of proposals incorporating this change would also limit the President to a single term. The second approach would repeal the 22nd Amendment to allow individuals to be elected President more than twice.

A Six-Year Term for the President and Vice President

The idea of a six-year term for the President and Vice President has a long history: the first amendment to this effect was introduced in 1826, in the 19th Congress (1825-1826). According to a Congressional Research Service study, a total of 184 such amendments had been introduced by 1981, to which may be added an additional 24 proposed in the 97th (1981-1982) through the 104th (1995-1996) Congresses.105 None, however, have been introduced since that time.

The basic provisions of most of these proposals call for a six-year term for the two executive offices, with each limited to a single term. In addition, most of them include a variant of the existing 22nd Amendment provision for Vice Presidents who succeed to the highest office: they would be eligible for election in their own right provided they had served less than three years of the term to which their predecessor was elected. Moreover, most of these proposed amendments specifically call for the repeal of the 22nd Amendment, in the interest of constitutional consistency.

For and Against

Proponents of the single six-year term deploy a range of arguments in support of their position. Perhaps most prominent, they assert that it would end the "permanent campaign" for reelection, which is said to begin as soon as a newly elected President is inaugurated for a first term. According to this theory, the chief executive would be freed from the distraction of partisan political concerns associated with planning and campaigning for reelection, and would be able to concentrate on public policy issues.106 Decisions on major issues would, they claim, be less likely to be judged by their impact on the President's reelection prospects. This, in turn, would promote greater consistency in foreign and domestic policy, as the President would be able to focus exclusively on their value, rather than on the political implications stemming from the same.107 A six-year term would have additional substance, they assert, because it would give the President more time to implement these policies, to adjust them as necessary, and to monitor their success; this would give the President's initiatives "a fair chance to work."108 Former President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981), a former President who endorsed the longer single presidential term, added another dimension when he suggested that a President who had no prospect of reelection might enjoy greater moral authority and credibility, and perhaps greater influence on the course of policy formulation, since he could not be accused of political motivation (i.e., his interest in securing a second term).109

Critics of the proposal suggest at base that restricting the President to a single term is fundamentally undemocratic, that it deprives the voters of their right to choose their preferred candidate for the office, 110 Rebutting those who claim a single term will help a President concentrate on policy issues, opponents assert the contrary. They note that many Presidents in their second terms have struggled to implement their programs because, as "lame ducks" they have lost influence in Congress and the larger political arena. A one-term chief executive who did not enjoy the prospect of reelection would, they claim, be a lame duck the day he or she took office.111 Far from being more devoted to questions of policy, opponents suggest that a one-term President would be too well insulated from the give and take of political discourse, and less responsive to the will of the people. As one commentator notes: "a [P]resident protected from public opinion is also a [P]resident unrestrained by it. If he is free to act in the national interest, ... that national interest will be as he defines it. And will his definition be superior to the one that is hammered out, under the current system, in the heat of a reelection contest?"112 In the final analysis, they maintain that the single term would extend the terms of failed or simply mediocre Presidents two years beyond their current termination date, while reducing the possible tenure of more capable chief executives by the same length of time: six years in office is too long for a failed President, they say, and too short for a successful one.113

Legislative Activity

As noted earlier, the proposal to establish a single six-year term for the President and Vice President was a hardy perennial from the early days of the republic: 208 such amendments were introduced between the 19th through 104th Congresses. The most recent legislative activity took place during the 92nd (1971-1972) and 93rd (1973-1974) Congresses. In the former, the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments held two days of hearings, on October 28 and 29, 1971 114 A brief hearing held by the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime on September 26, 1973, in the 93rd Congress,115 proved to be the last congressional activity (beyond the simple introduction of proposed amendments) dealing with this question through the time of the present writing.

Beginning in the late 1970s, the once-steady stream of proposed amendments gradually dried up, so that the most recent stand-alone proposals were offered in the 101st Congress (1989-1990), including H.J.Res. 6, introduced by Representative Jack Brooks, H.J.Res. 52, Representative Bill Frenzel, and H.J.Res. 176, Representative Frank Guarini. These proposals received no action other than pro forma committee referral. More recently, the six-year presidential term was incorporated into several proposals that sought to establish a comprehensive system of term limits for both Congress and the President. In the 102nd Congress, for instance, H.J.Res. 28, introduced by Representative Richard Schulze, sought to establish a single six-year presidential and vice presidential term, but retained the two-term limit. This resolution also proposed a three-year term for Representatives and a rotation in office requirement that effectively limited Representatives to six consecutive three-year terms and Senators to three consecutive six-year terms, or 18 consecutive years in either case.116 In the 104th Congress, Representative Frank Mascara introduced H.J.Res. 28, which proposed a single six-year term for the President and Vice President, within the context of a four-year term for Representatives and an absolute limit of 12-years service in one house for Members of both chambers of Congress.117 No action beyond committee referral occurred on either of these two most recent proposals.

Repeal of the 22nd Amendment

The first efforts to repeal the 22nd Amendment began in 1956, just five years after the amendment was ratified. Since that time, 54 proposed amendments that would eliminate the two-term presidential election limit have been introduced in Congress, all but one of them in the House of Representatives. 118 Unlike the single six-year term, repeal continues to be a live option, introduced in every Congress for the past 28 years. The proposed amendments generally incorporate very simple language (e.g., "The twenty-second article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed").119 Some earlier versions, however, combined repeal with the six-year term.120

For and Against

Many of the arguments raised in favor of and opposition to repeal of the 22nd Amendment were cited earlier in this report. Briefly, proponents assert that the amendment is inherently undemocratic, in that it prohibits the voters from electing a qualified candidate they favor. In most instances, they suggest that Presidents would continue to limit themselves to two terms, or be limited by external constraints, such as political considerations, health, or other reasons, unless there were pressing need and demand for a third term. In periods of national or international crisis, they maintain that the 22nd Amendment is a straightjacket that prevents the nation from retaining an experienced and trusted leader at a time when continuity in the presidency is essential. Finally, as is the case with arguments against the single six-year term, proponents of repeal suggest that every President who is reelected becomes a lame duck the day he takes the oath for his second term, handicapped by diminished influence and authority. The prospect of a third term, they argue, would help avoid the slow diminution of power most Presidents experience during their second terms.

Supporters of the 22nd Amendment argue that eight years is time enough for any individual in a position of such great power as the presidency of the United States. The intent of the founders for a time-limited presidency, they assert, was clearly expressed at the Constitutional Convention, where the delegates accepted the prospect that Presidents might serve an additional term of office only after lengthy debate. Moreover, they suggest that temptation to accrue excessive power to the executive, even with the best of intentions, is a constant danger to the constitutional ideal of a balanced federal government embracing a system of checks and balances within a framework of separation of powers. They note that recent history provides what they regard as troubling examples of this impulse to concentration, e.g., the "imperial presidency"121 and the "unitary presidency."122 Presidential term limits, they conclude, are an essential check to the cult of personality and the potential for excessive presidential power.

Legislative and Other Activity

Several early proposals to repeal the 22nd Amendment were the subject of congressional interest in the 1950s, most notably S.J.Res. 11 in the 86th Congress. This measure was accorded hearings in 1959 by the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments, the highlight of which was former President Harry Truman's testimony in its support.123 The subcommittee's vote to approve the proposal and report it to the full committee on September 1 of that year ultimately proved to be the high water mark of the repeal movement: no proposed constitutional amendment calling for repeal of the 22nd Amendment has received anything beyond pro forma committee referral in the ensuing half-century. Proposals to repeal the 22nd Amendment are introduced in almost every Congress—H.J. Res 5, introduced in the 111th Congress by Representative José Serrano on January 6, 2009, is the current vehicle. On February 9, it was referred to the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. No additional action has been taken on it at the time of the present writing.

Beyond the immediate ambit of legislative proposals, the idea, if not the reality, of repealing the 22nd Amendment seems to gain publicity and some level of theoretical support when term-limited Presidents approach the end to their time in office. As noted earlier in this report, there was some interest in the possibility of a third term by President Eisenhower in 1960, notwithstanding the President's documented health problems. In 1973, supporters of a third term for President Nixon established an organization to promote repeal of the amendment, but as the President was increasingly implicated in the Watergate scandal, this effort was abruptly abandoned.124 Again in 1985, as Ronald Reagan entered his second term, suggestions emerged that repeal of the 22nd Amendment might enable a third term for the popular President. While Reagan himself maintained that any effort at repeal should apply only to future Presidents, supporters in Congress and elsewhere mounted a public campaign to repeal the amendment in time for a third Reagan term in 1989.125 Although greeted enthusiastically by the President's supporters, the proposal met with mixed reviews in the press and among the general public. Substantial Republican losses in the 1986 congressional elections, followed almost immediately by revelation of the Iran-Contra scandal, largely dampened further enthusiasm for repeal.126 Most recently, the issue may have sparked new interest toward the end of President Clinton's tenure, when the 106th Congress saw an increase in the number of amendment proposals that would have repealed the 22nd Amendment.127

Concluding Observations

The question of presidential and vice presidential terms and tenure has had a sometimes-dramatic history in the more than two centuries that have passed since the Constitutional Convention settled on the basic questions of term length and reeligibility. As this report documents, various circumstances contributed to what approached a de facto one term presidential tradition for much of the 19th century, while during this same period a durable body of opinion favored a constitutional amendment to formalize the single term. In the 20th century, three constitutional amendments made incremental changes in certain conditions of presidential tenure, most notably the 22nd Amendment's establishment of limits on the number of times a person could be elected President of the United States. In the present day, however, these issues seem to be largely settled. Certain questions do occasionally rise to command some degree of public attention, including speculation on the applicability of the 22nd Amendment to Presidents who have been elected twice, or proposals for constitutional amendments that would repeal the amendment or establish a single six-year presidential and vice presidential term. By design, however, constitutional amendments must pass a number of demanding tests before they can be incorporated in the nation's fundamental charter. Those few of the many hundreds of proposed amendments that have been successful generally owe their success to one or more of the following developments:

  • They incorporate a reform that has been considered and debated over a period of time, and has gradually gained the approval of a "concurrent majority" of the public that includes a wide range of social, cultural and political support from diverse elements around the nation.
  • They have been viewed as a remedy to a sudden and traumatic event in the nation's life that requires a swift and definitive solution.
  • They have received the steady support of generally bipartisan leadership in both houses of Congress over the extended periods generally necessary for the legislature to consider and propose amendments for consideration by the states.

Until or unless any proposals to change the existing conditions of presidential terms and tenure meet one or more of these requirements, there is arguably little momentum for their moving beyond the realm of advocacy and speculation.

Footnotes

1.

Although the titles President, executive, and chief executive are used interchangeably in this report, the President was referred to as "the executive" or "the national executive" throughout most of the Constitutional Convention. The "stile" of "the President of the United States" first appeared in the report of the Committee on Detail, which was submitted on August 6, 1787, after the convention had been in session for 10 weeks. Moreover, the Vice President was not considered at all during this period, since the office was not officially proposed until September 4.

2.

U.S. Constitutional Convention, 1787, The Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 Which Framed the Constitution of the United States of America, reported by James Madison (Greenwood Press, Westport, CT: 1970 originally published 1920, Oxford University Press, New York), p. 314, hereinafter cited as Madison's Notes. For a digest of convention debate specifically relating to presidential term reeligibility, consult The Founders' Constitution, Philip B. Kurland and Ralph Lerner, eds., Web edition available at http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/.

3.

Madison's Notes, p. 326.

4.

Clinton Rossiter, 1787: The Grand Convention (New York: Macmillan, 1966), pp. 210-215.

5.

Madison's Notes, p. 502.

6.

Ibid., p. 507. The committee report also marks the first appearance of the office of Vice President.

7.

Ibid., pp. 514-515, 521.

8.

For detailed discussions of the presidency at the Constitutional Convention, see Inventing the American Presidency, ed. Thomas E. Cronin (University of Kansas Press, 1989) or Charles Coleman Thach, The Creation of the Presidency, 1775-1789 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1922).

9.

U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 1, clause 6. The Second Congress addressed the question of vacancy in the offices of both the President and Vice President in the Succession Act of 1792 (1 Stat. 240). The act provided that in such cases, the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House, in that order, would serve as President until a special election could be scheduled, unless the vacancies fell late in the term of office, in which case, the acting President would continue in office until replaced by the regularly elected President and Vice President.

10.

The Succession Act of 1792, enacted in response to this mandate, provided a special election for simultaneous vacancies in the presidency and vice presidency. It did not, however, address the question of a vacancy in the office of Vice President. Over the ensuing 176 years, the office was vacant on 14 different occasions, for periods ranging from 2 months to 47 months.

11.

It is important to note, however, that the 22nd Amendment actually prohibits any person from being elected President more than two times. This will be discussed more fully later in this report.

12.

Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms (1885-1889, 1893-1897), and is listed as the 22nd and 24th President of the United States. Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945) was elected four times, served three full terms, and died just four months after being inaugurated to a fourth term.

13.

"Farewell Address," September 19, 1796, The Writings of George Washington, (Washington, GPO: 1940), vol. 35, p. 216.

14.

The election of 1800 may also be regarded as an important milestone in the maturation of government under the Constitution. As bitter as the election campaign was, Adams oversaw, albeit grudgingly, the first peaceful transfer of authority (to his victorious opponent, Thomas Jefferson) under the new Constitution.

15.

Michael Nelson, ed., Congressional Quarterly's Guide to the Presidency, 2nd ed. (Washington: Congressional Quarterly, 1996), p. 49.

16.

Thomas Jefferson, "To the Legislature of Vermont," The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, memorial edition (Washington: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904), vol. 16, pp. 292-293.

17.

Washington, John Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, John Quincy Adams, and Jackson.

18.

Statistics compiled by CRS. Terms have been rounded to the nearest month.

19.

Between 1789 and 1837, two Vice Presidents, George Clinton and Elbridge Gerry, died in office, while a third, John C. Calhoun, resigned to accept a seat in the Senate. In a practice unique to this period, two Vice Presidents served under two different chief executives. Clinton served under Jefferson from 1805 to 1809, and under Madison from 1809 to his death in 1812. Calhoun served under John Quincy Adams from 1825 to 1829 and under Andrew Jackson from 1829 until his resignation in 1832.

20.

Nelson, Congressional Quarterly's Guide to the Presidency, p. 59.

21.

The precursor to the State of the Union Message, the President's Annual Message to Congress, was submitted in December every year and was read in the two chambers by a clerk. Beginning with Thomas Jefferson, no President delivered his Annual Message in person for a period of 112 years until Woodrow Wilson did so in 1913.

22.

James D. Richardson, ed., A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents (New York: Bureau of National Literature, Inc., 1897), vol. 3, pp. 1011, 1082, 1120, 1168, 1253, and 1336.

23.

U.S. Congress, Senate, Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of the United States, 101st Congress, 1st session, Senate Document 101-10 (Washington: GPO, 1989), pp. 83, 84.

24.

Donald Bruce Johnson, comp. National Party Platforms, rev. ed. (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1978), vol 1, p. 9.

25.

Nelson, Congressional Quarterly's Guide to the Presidency, p. 49.

26.

Jackson's anointed successor, Martin Van Buren (1837-1841), was defeated for reelection. His successor, William Henry Harrison (1841), died after one month in office. Harrison's Vice President, John Tyler (1841-1845), was denied renomination by the Whig party and not seriously considered for a full term. James Polk (1845-1849) declined to run for a second term. As with Harrison, Zachary Taylor (1849-1850) died in office; his Vice President, Millard Fillmore (1850-1853), was denied nomination for President by his party. Both Franklin Pierce (1853-1857) and James Buchanan (1857-1861) had unsuccessful presidencies; Pierce was denied renomination by his party, and Buchanan, as noted earlier, announced he would serve only one term. His disastrous tenure as President would likely have precluded serious consideration from his divided party in 1860. Polk is generally regarded as the only successful chief executive between Jackson and Lincoln.

27.

For further details on these proposals, please consult archived CRS Report 81-129, Presidential Tenure: A History and Analysis of the President's Term of Office, by Stephen W. Stathis, available upon request to Members of Congress and staff.

28.

Although Grant was personally honest, his Administration had been plagued by a number of sensational political scandals. Moreover, he and the Republican Party also received much of the blame for the ruinous Panic of 1873 and the subsequent six-year economic depression.

29.

Charles W. Stein, The Third-Term Tradition, Its Rise and Collapse in American Politics (Westport, Ct: Greenwood Press, 1972 (c. 1943, Columbia University Press)), pp. 79-82.

30.

Ibid., p. 83.

31.

National Party Conventions, 1831-2000 (Washington: CQ Press, 2001), pp. 63-64, 182.

32.

Stein, The Third Term Tradition, p. 117.

33.

Cleveland won the popular vote in 1888, but was defeated in the electoral college. He outpolled Harrison by 100,000 popular votes 5,540,000 to 5,440,000, but the GOP won a comfortable electoral vote majority of 233 to 178. The explanation is that Cleveland won the southern states with huge popular vote margins, but lost many northern and Midwestern states to the GOP candidate by small margins, often only a few thousand votes. For additional information on electoral college "misfires," please consult CRS Report RL32611, The Electoral College: How It Works in Contemporary Presidential Elections, by [author name scrubbed].

34.

Stein, The Third Term Tradition, p. 134.

35.

A wide range of developments, events, and personalities contributed to the sense of change the nation experienced as the 20th century dawned. These included continued technological progress, the "closure" of the frontier in 1890, the Spanish-American War of 1898 and the acquisition of overseas possessions by the nation, the dawning of the progressive era, the excitement generated by the arrival of a new century, and, not the least, the replacement of the placid, avuncular McKinley by Theodore Roosevelt, the nation's youngest and, arguably most vigorous, President to date.

36.

Reported in The New York Tribune, November 9, 1904, as quoted in Stein, The Third Term Tradition, p. 145.

37.

Quoted in George Harvey, "The Unwritten Law and the 'Great Emergency,'" North American Review, vol. 195, April, 1912, p. 445.

38.

Johnson, National Party Platforms, vol. 1, p. 170.

39.

Stein, The Third-Term Tradition, pp. 228-230.

40.

Ibid., pp. 240-265.

41.

Ibid.

42.

National Party Conventions, 1831-2000, pp. 90-91, 198.

43.

Stein, The Third-Term Tradition, pp. 273-276.

44.

Ibid., p. 282.

45.

James McGregor Burns, Roosevelt, The Lion and the Fox (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1956), pp. 409-413; Herbert S. Parmet and Marie B. Hecht, Never Again, A President Runs for a Third Term (New York: Macmillan, 1968), pp. 176-177.

46.

Burns, Roosevelt, The Lion and the Fox, pp. 426-427.

47.

Ibid.

48.

Johnson, National Party Conventions, pp. 103,206.

49.

Lyndon Johnson presided over the bitterly divisive Vietnam War and chose not to seek reelection in 1968. Richard Nixon resigned in 1974, rather than face impeachment and likely removal from office for his role in the Watergate scandal. Gerald Ford, an appointed Vice President who succeeded Nixon, arguably owed his 1976 election defeat to his pardon of Nixon, continuing public discontent over Watergate, and economic difficulties. Jimmy Carter's 1980 defeat for reelection was arguably the result of continued economic difficulties and foreign policy reverses.

50.

Similarly, the terms of the 1st through 73rd Congresses expired on March 4 of every odd-numbered year. The March date, which had no particular significance in itself, was selected by Congress under the Articles of Confederation. In September 1788, when it was informed that the requisite two-thirds of states had ratified the proposed Constitution of the United States, Congress passed a resolution setting a timeline for the new government: the first Wednesday in January would be the day on which electoral votes would be cast, they would be counted on the first Wednesday in February, and "the first Wednesday in March next [shall] be the time and the present seat of Congress the place for commencing proceedings under the said constitution." U.S. Journals of the Continental Congress (Washington: GPO, 1937), vol. xxxiv, 1788-1789, pp. 522-253. The first Wednesday in March fell on March 4 in 1789.

51.

1 Stat. 241.

52.

5 Stat. 721.

53.

In an exception to this rule, throughout this period, the Senate regularly convened when new Presidents were inaugurated to consider their Cabinets and other appointments.

54.

Alan P. Grimes, Democracy and the Amendments to the Constitution (Lexington, MA: Lexington Books (D.C. Heath), 1978), p. 107.

55.

U.S. Congress, Congressional Record, 71st Congress, 3rd session, vol. 74, February 24, 1931, p. 5902.

56.

For additional information on contingent election, please consult CRS Report R40504, Contingent Election of the President and Vice President by Congress: Perspectives and Contemporary Analysis, by [author name scrubbed].

57.

U.S. Congress, Senate, The Constitution of the United States of America, Analysis and Interpretation, 108th Congress, 2nd session, S. Doc. 108-17 (Washington: GPO), 2004, p. 36.

58.

By tradition, if January 20 falls on Sunday, the President and Vice President are sworn in at a private White House ceremony on the 20th, and the public ceremony is held the next day. This occurred most recently in 1985, and will occur again in 2013.

59.

Johnson, National Party Platforms, vol. 1, pp. 394, 406.

60.

Elmer Davis, quoted by William F. Buckley, "Repeal the 22nd Amendment," National Review, April 1, 1988. Available at http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1282/is_n6_v40/ai_6508043/?tag=content;col1.

61.

Thomas Cronin, "Twenty-Second Amendment," in Encyclopedia of the American Presidency, Leonard W. Levy and [author name scrubbed], eds., (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994), vol. 4, p. 1511.

62.

U.S. Congress, Congressional Record, 80th Congress, 1st session, vol. 93, February 6, 1947, pp. 871-872.

63.

Grimes, Democracy and the Amendments to the Constitution p. 119. As a notable sidelight for the record, according to Grimes, Representatives John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon, both future Presidents, voted in favor of the amendment.

64.

Congressional Record, 80th Congress, 1st session, vol. 93, March 12, 1947, p. 1978.

65.

Grimes, Democracy and the Amendments to the Constitution, p. 120.

66.

Congressional Record, 80th Congress, 1st session, vol. 93, March 21, 1947, p. 2389.

67.

Ibid., p. 2392.

68.

The Constitution of the United States of America, Analysis and Interpretation, p. 39.

69.

U. S. Constitution, 22nd Amendment, Section 1, clause 1.

70.

Elected President in his own right in 1964, Johnson declined to seek an additional term four years later. Ford was defeated in an election bid in 1976.

71.

61 Stat. 3880, 3 U.S.C. 19. For further information on the Presidential Succession Act, please consult CRS Report RL34692, Presidential Succession: Perspectives, Contemporary Analysis, and 110th Congress Proposed Legislation, by [author name scrubbed].

72.

Stephen W. Stathis, "The Twenty-Second Amendment: A Practical Remedy or Partisan Maneuver?" Constitutional Commentary, vol. 7, winter 1990, pp. 76-77.

73.

For example, see Scott E. Gant and Bruce G. Peabody, "How to Bring Back Bill," Christian Science Monitor, June 13, 2006, http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0613/p09s02-coop.html; Peter Baker, "VP Bill? Depends on the Meaning of Elected," Washington Post, October 20, 2006, P. A19; Tom Curry, "Could Bill Clinton Be Vice President?" MSNBC.com, February 20, 2008, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23254868/.

74.

Henry H. Fowler, quoted in Robert E. Clark, "The Constitutional Issues: A 'Back-door' Third Term?" The Sunday Star (Washington, DC), January 31, 1960. p. C4; Matthew J. Franck, "Constitutional Sleight of Hand," National Review Online, July 31, 2007, http://bench.nationalreview.com/post/?q=NDgwODVmMzcwMTQwNDM3YjU0OGE5ZjQyOTIxNmUyYzY=.

75.

The Constitution originally included no qualifications for the office of Vice President because due to the original presidential election procedures, there were no candidates for Vice President per se: all candidates were candidates for the presidency, and the runner-up became Vice President. When the 12th Amendment established separate electoral college ballots for the President and Vice President, it was considered advisable to insure that the same qualifications applied to both offices.

76.

Edwin S. Corwin, quoted in Clark, "The Constitutional Issues: A 'Back-door Third Term," p. C4; Bruce G. Peabody and Scott E. Gant, "The Twice and Future President: Constitutional Interstices and the Twenty-Second Amendment," Minnesota Law Review, vol. 83, February 1999, pp. 565-635.

77.

Peabody and Gant, "The Twice and Future President," pp. 567-569.

78.

The Constitution of the United States of America, Analysis and Interpretation, p. 2104.

79.

George Dixon, "Washington Scene ... Ike's Right to V.P. Spot," The Washington Post, January 21, 1960, p. A 23.

80.

The Succession Act of 1792 made no provision for vice presidential vacancies in this circumstance because it was unnecessary under the existing presidential election procedures: each elector cast two votes for President, with the winner elected President and the runner-up, Vice President.

81.

For additional information on presidential and vice presidential succession and disability, please consult CRS Report RL34692, Presidential Succession: Perspectives, Contemporary Analysis, and 110th Congress Proposed Legislation, by [author name scrubbed].

82.

John D. Feerick, From Failing Hands, The Story of Presidential Succession (New York: Fordham University Press, 1965), pp. 215-229.

83.

Following President Kennedy's death, the vice presidency remained vacant for 14 months, until Senator Hubert H. Humphrey was sworn in as Vice President on January 20, 1965.

84.

This provision settled an issue that had been debated since the first vice-presidential succession, by John Tyler on the death of William Henry Harrison in 1841. The question was, did a Vice President who replaced the President assume his powers and duties only, effectively becoming an "acting" President, or did he assume the presidency itself? Tyler and subsequent Vice Presidents who succeeded claimed to be President in full, not acting President, but their status continued to be debated until the amendment settled the argument.

85.

U.S. Constitution, 25th Amendment, Section 2.

86.

Grimes, Democracy and the Amendments to the Constitution, pp. 137-140.

87.

Congressional Record, 89th Congress, 1st session, vol. 111, February 12, 1965, p. 3272.

88.

Ibid., p. 3286.

89.

Congressional Record, 89th Congress, 1st session, vol. 111, April 13, 1965, pp. 7968-7969.

90.

The Constitution of the United States, Analysis and Interpretation, p. 42.

91.

Readers seeking a fuller account of the scandal and aspects particularly related to the role of Section 2 of the 25th Amendment may wish to consult the following works: Richard M. Cohen and Jules Witcover, A Heartbeat Away: The Investigation and Resignation of Vice president Spiro T. Agnew (New York: Viking Press, 1974); Theodore H. White, Breach of Faith, the Fall of Richard Nixon (New York: Atheneum, 1975), or Watergate, Chronology of a Crisis (Washington: Congressional Quarterly, 1975).

92.

This account relies substantially on Richard M. Cohen and Jules Witcover, A Heartbeat Away: The Investigation and Resignation of Vice President Spiro T. Agnew (New York: Viking Press, 1974), and "Agnew: Second Vice President to Resign," in Congressional Quarterly Almanac, 93rd Congress, 1st session, 1973, vol. 29 (Washington: Congressional Quarterly, 1974), pp. 1054-1058.

93.

U.S. President (Nixon), "Remarks Announcing Intention to Nominate Gerald R. Ford To Be Vice President," Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Richard M. Nixon, 1973 (Washington: GPO, 1975), pp. 867-869.

94.

U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, Nomination of Gerald R. Ford of Michigan To Be Vice President of the United States, report, 93rd Congress, 1st session, Senate Executive Report 93-26 (Washington: GPO, 1973).

95.

U.S. Congress, House, Committee on the Judiciary, Confirmation of Gerald R. Ford as Vice President of the United States, report to accompany H.Res. 735, 93rd Congress, 1st session, H.Rept. 93-695 (Washington: GPO, 1973).

96.

Congressional Record, 93rd Congress, vol. 119, November 27, 1973, p. 38225.

97.

Ibid., December 6, 1973, p. 39899.

98.

Ibid., pp. 39925-26.

99.

U.S. President (Ford), "Remarks on Intention To Nominate Nelson A. Rockefeller To Be Vice President of the United States," Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Gerald R. Ford, 1974 (Washington: GPO, 1975), pp. 28-29.

100.

U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, Nomination of Nelson A. Rockefeller of New York To Be Vice President of the United States, report, 93rd Congress, 2nd session, Senate Executive Report 93-34 (Washington: GPO, 1974).

101.

U.S. Congress, House Committee on the Judiciary, Confirmation of Nelson A. Rockefeller as Vice President of the United States, report to accompany H.Res. 1511, 93rd Congress, 2nd session, H.Rept. 93-1609 (Washington: GPO, 1974).

102.

Congressional Record, 93rd Congress, vol. 120, December 10, 1974, p. 38936.

103.

Ibid., December 19, 1974, p. 41517.

104.

Ibid., p. 41181, 41182. The apparent discrepancy in pagination is due to the fact that Senate proceedings for December 19, which include the inaugural ceremony, are printed before those of the House.

105.

CRS Report 81-129, Presidential Tenure: A History and Analysis of The President's Term of Office, by Stephen W. Stathis, p. 49. Updated by CRS from the Legislative Information System.

106.

Bruce Buchanan, "The Six-Year One Term Presidency, A New Look at an Old Proposal," Presidential Studies Quarterly, vol. 18, winter 1988, p. 130. 

107.

Donald L. Robinson, ed., "The Single Six-Year Term for Presidents (1984)," in Reforming American Government, The Bicentennial Papers of the Committee on the Constitutional System (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1985), p. 173.

108.

Buchanan, "The Six-Year One Term Presidency," p. 132.

109.

Ibid., p. 133.

110.

Robinson, "The Single Six-Year Term for Presidents," p. 174.

111.

Ibid.

112.

James L. Sundquist, Constitutional Reform and Effective Government (Washington: Brookings Institution, 1986), p. 130.

113.

David C. Nice, "In Retreat From Excellence: The Single Six-Year Term," Congress and the Presidency, vol. 13, autumn, 1986, p. 210.

114.

See U.S. Congress, Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Single Six-Year Term for President, Hearings on S.J.Res. 77, 92nd Congress, 1st session, October 28 and 29, 1971 (Washington: GPO, 1972). In retrospect, these hearings featured testimony by a remarkable range of historic figures, including Senator Mike Mansfield, political scientist James McGregor Burns, New Dealers Rexford Tugwell and Thomas Corcoran, Truman advisor and later Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford, Eisenhower press secretary James Haggerty, and Johnson advisers George Reedy and Joseph Califano.

115.

See U.S. Congress, House, Subcommittee on Crime of the House Judiciary Committee, One Six-Year Term, Hearings on One Six-Year Term, September 26, 1973, 93rd Congress, 1st session (Washington: GPO, 1974).

116.

It should be noted that this resolution did not propose absolute term limits on Senators and Representatives. In theory, a term-limited Senator or Representative (i.e., one who had served 18 consecutive years) could be reelected to Congress only after sitting out a single term. The proposed Amendment did not provide limits for Representatives who sought election to the Senate, or vice versa.

117.

Under this resolution, a person could serve 12 years as a Representative and 12 more as a Senator, or vice versa.

118.

CRS Report for Congress 81-129, Presidential Tenure: A History and Analysis of the President's Term of Office, pp. 44-46. Updated by CRS from the Legislative Information System.

119.

H.J.Res. 5, 111th Congress.

120.

The implications for presidential tenure of such a hybrid would have been substantial, perhaps transformative. Every President elected to a second term would have served 12 years, barring unforeseen circumstances, and would have been theoretically eligible for a third or even fourth term.

121.

See, for example, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Imperial Presidency (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004 (c. 1973)).

122.

See, for example, Stephen E. Calabresi and Christopher S. Yoo, The Unitary Executive, Presidential Power from Washington to Bush (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008).

123.

U.S. Congress, Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments of the Committee on the Judiciary, Hearings on S.J. Res. 11, Part I, May 4, 1959, 86th Congress, 1st session (Washington: GPO, 1959), pp. 5-13.

124.

Paul B. Davis, "The Future of Presidential Tenure," Presidential Studies Quarterly, volume 10, summer, 1980, pp. 472-473.

125.

Stephen Stathis, "The Twenty-Second Amendment: A Practical Remedy or Partisan Maneuver," Constitutional Commentary, volume 7, 1990, pp. 78-80.

126.

Ibid., p. 81.

127.

H.J.Res. 17, Representative Serrano, H.J.Res. 24, Representative Hoyer and H.J.Res. 38, Representative Frank.