Greece, Rome Had Term Limits, We Browse in American History
A political issue which never seems to go away is term limits for executives and legislators. We will discuss the question in detail over the next month or so. We start by going to the earliest democracies.
The practice of limiting the length of time that a public official can serve dates back to ancient Greece. Wikipedia tells the story:
“Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, two early civilizations which had elected offices, both imposed limits on some positions. In ancient Athenian democracy, no citizen could serve on the council of 500, or boule, for two consecutive annual terms, nor for more than two terms in his lifetime, nor be head of the boule more than once.
“In the Roman Republic, a law was passed imposing a limit of a single term on the office of censor. The annual magistrates—tribune of the plebs, aedile, quaestor, praetor, and consul—were forbidden reelection until a number of years had passed.”
In the United States, presidents have been limited to two terms since the passage of the 22nd amendment to the Constitution in 1951.The change in the Constitution was a reaction to the four-term president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who died 82 days into his fourth term. There is no sentiment today for repealing that Amendment; it is viewed as a safeguard against dictatorship.
President Vladimir Putin of Russia, facing a two-term limit, avoided the restriction by switching to Prime Minister and took the power of the presidency along with him. The rules are different over there. BTW, there are no term limits for vice presidents of the United States. Nor is there any barrier to the election of spouses or children of presidents, provided they receive the necessary electoral votes. The 22nd Amendment applies for life, prohibiting, for example, a third nonconsecutive term for any president. Some state term limits are more lenient, allowing comebacks by pols whose service was interrupted by the voters or by themselves.
There have been a number of quibbles over the Constitutional requirement that the president be native born. Clearly Arnold Schwarzenegger, an immigrant from Austria, cannot serve as president without a highly unlikely constitutional amendment. Whether he should be allowed to run is a different question.
Time and Place
Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, (Republican who ran against LBJ in 1964) was born in Arizona in 1909, while it was still a territory. It became a state, along with New Mexico, in 1912. It is hard to believe that that was less than a century ago.
John McCain was born in 1936, but not in any of the fifty states that comprise the U.S. His place of birth was the Panama Canal Zone, which was under American control until 1999. McCain was in the zone because his father, John S. McCain Jr., was stationed there at the time. McCain Jr. retired as a four-star admiral in 1972, the same rank his father (McCain Sr.) attained as a Naval officer through a posthumous promotion in 1945. Senator McCain retired from the Navy in 1981 as a captain. No fair minded person can dispute his American nativity.
Bringing these Arizona families together is the fact that McCain was elected to Congress in 1982, and then to the Senate in 1986, where he succeeded Goldwater, the senator born three years before Arizona became the nation’s 48th state.
BTW, the first seven presidents were born while the United States were British colonies. The first to be born after independence was Martin Van Buren of New York (1782). The last of George III’s former subjects to become president was William Henry Harrison (1773), who is chiefly known for having served only a month before he died and being the Tippecanoe in the 1846 campaign slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler too.”
Harrison won his military reputation by ethnic cleansing, removing Native Americans from the Northwest Territory (Indiana, Illinois, et al.). Tippecanoe is a river in north Indiana, which flows into the Wabash, which in turn joins the Ohio on its way to the Mississippi. Harrison won a major battle there in 1811 with Indians led by Tecumseh. His grandson, Benjamin Harrison, was the 23rd President (interrupting Cleveland’s two terms). He is not the reason that $100 bills are called Benjamins, the man honored on C-notes is Benjamin Franklin.
Enjoy the dog days of summer. Try to stay cool.