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SIX-YEAR TERM FOR PRESIDENT
Senator Benjamin F. Wade, February 20, 1866, speaking in support of a resolution to limit to one term said:
The offering of this resolution is no new impulse of mine, for I have been an advocate of the principle contained in it for many years, and I have derived the strong impressions which I entertain on the subject from a very careful observation of the workings of our Government during the period that I have been an observer of them. I believe it has been very rare that we have been able to elect a President of the United States who has not been tempted to use the vast powers intrusted to him according to his own opinions to advance his reelection. And when I say this of the Presidents who have preceded us I say it with no desire to depreciate their merits, but because the Constitution places before them temptations which we can hardly expect human nature to resist, and in the long run it never will resist them. Early in the history of our Government Washington himself, who was exceedingly sagacious respecting its workings, informed the people that in his opinion here was a weakness that ought to be remedied. He saw it early. He saw that a man intrusted with these more than regal powers during the period that he was President might be tempted to use them for his own advancement afterwards. Almost all the Presidents who have come after him have in some way felt, and honestly felt, that some such check was needed upon the ambition of man. It is an injunction of more than human wisdom to pray to be relieved from temptation. If I had time I might trace it through all the preceding administrations and show that this consideration had weighed like gravitation upon the mind of almost every President we have had. (See p. 932, 39th vol., Congressional Globe.)
The case for the six-year-term amendment is well summed up by the New York Tribune (Republican) in these paragraphs:
The campaign of 1912 certainly gave all the point needed to the argument that a President can serve the country more satisfactorily if custom does not require him to be a candidate for renomination.
The lengthening of a President's term to six years would give him a better opportunity to develop his policies and would protect him from the importunities of those who now offer their aid toward renominating him. He could be President in all that the term implies from the day he entered the White House to the day he left it.
The second-term theory has been responsible for an undue narrowing of the field of choice in electing Presidents. It is not necessary to turn again and again to a few candidates and to ask men to run for President two, three, or four times.
There should be no “ trust” in presidential nominees. On the other hand, Senator Lodge pointed out from the floor of the Senate that a President's ineligibility would not prevent him from using his influence to bring about the election of his own choice as successor. This, several newspaper writers go on to say, might bring about a state of affairs in which the President would be simply a figurehead and some ex-President the power behind the throne.
But the most serious objection to barring a President from reelection declares the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle (Republican), lies in the fact that the amendment might deprive the country of his services at a critical time and when it needed them most. The framers of the Constitution wisely left the question of deciding how long a President should serve to
the discretion of the people, without any restrictions. The adoption of the proposed amendment, instead of being an indication of progress, would be a step backward.
There are plenty of good arguments in the abstract both for and against the planremarks the New York Evening Postbut it is obvious that concrete and even personal motives entered into the Senate's discussion and final action. “
thinking of individualseyes fixed upon political motives” and “ were
No one can doubt this who followed the speeches or noted the alignment on the final roll call. All the Democratic Senators, save one, voted for the amendment. All the Progressive Republican Senators were for the amendment; only 8 or 10 opposed it. Such a division on party or personal grounds is plainly of great significance. (Literary Digest, Feb. 15, 1913, p. 228.)
Aside from the political reasons thus involved, Senator Lodge saw other reasons for opposing the amendment. He, as well as Senator Bristow and others, referred to the fact that the party to which the President belongs frequently loses control of Congress in the middle of the presidential term. Grant, Hayes, Harrison, Cleveland, Taft, all had this experience. The result is, in such a case, a sort of deadlock for two years. To increase the presidential term to six years makes it probable that we shall frequently have a deadlock of that kind that will last for four years instead of two. Said Senator Lodge of such a situation:
It is a false position and an unnatural situation, one which is not consonant with our system of government. It arrests the work of carrying out the will of the people as expressed at the polls. Under the six-year term, I think that that defect of the system, if you choose to call it such-and it is a defect, as it seems to me would be enhanced and not diminished.
Senator Root, on the other hand, favored the amendment because it makes, in his judgment, for efficiency of government. He put the case thus:
I think the possibility of renomination and reelection of a President who is in office seriously interferes with the working of our governmental machinery during the last two years of his term ; and just about the time he gets to the point of highest efficiency, people in the Senate and in the House begin to figure to try to beat him. You can not separate the attempt to beat an individual from the attempt to make ineffective the operation of government which that individual is carrying on in accordance with his duty. Legislation in this Congress has been largely dominated for two years past by considerations of that sort; and I should like to see those considerations exiled from these Halls. (Pp. 179-180, Current Opinion, March, 1913.)
Both the great critics of our Government, DeTocqueville and Bryce, voiced the unfavorable opinion of our present presidential term that is held by a very large number of thoughtful Americans.
De Tocqueville, writing in 1834, with Jackson's reelection of 1832 before him, puts the situation very bluntly:
When a simple candidate seeks to rise by intrigue, his maneuvers must be limited to a very narrow sphere; but when the Chief Magistrate enters the lists, he borrows the strength of the Government for his own purposes. In the former case the feeble resources of an individual are in action; in the latter the State itself, with its immense influence, is busied in the work of corruption and cabal. The private citizen who employs culpable practices to acquire power can act in a manner only indirectly prejudicial to the public prosperity. But if the representative of the Executive descends into the combat, the cares of government dwindle for him into second-rate importance, and the success of his election is his first concern. All public negotiations, as well as all laws, are to him nothing more than electioneering schemes; places become the reward of services rendered not to the Nation, but to its chief; and the influence of the Government, if not injurious to the country, is at least no longer beneficial to the community for which it was created.
It is impossible to consider the ordinary course of affairs in the United States without perceiving that the desire of being reelected is the chief aim of the President; that the whole policy of his administration, and even his most indifferent measures, tend to this object, and that, especially as the crisis approaches, his personal interest takes the place of his interest in the public good.
Mr. James Bryce, writing 50 years later, puts the same idea in somewhat softer words:
The fact that he is reeligible once, but (practically) only once, operates unfavorably on the President. He is tempted to play for a renomination by $0 pandering to active sections of his own party, or so using his patronage to conciliate influential politicians, as to make them put him forward at the next election.
The founders of the southern Confederacy of 1861-1865 were so much impressed by the objections to the present system that they provided that their president should hold office for six years, but not to be reeligible,
To make him ineligible for reelection would remove the temptation from a President to work for his own ends, and would leave him free to attend to the Presidency during the campaign for nomination. The six-year term would give the country a longer period undisturbed by national campaigns and would give each administration a better opportunity to do the tasks which it has pledged itself to perform.
But on the other hand there are distinct disadvantages to the proposed amendment. Half way through Mr. Taft's administration he had ceased to represent the will of the electorate. To have continued his administration in office for four years after such a landslide as gave the House of Representatives to the Democratic Party would have been a travesty on popular government. Six years is too long for a President who is out of sympathy with the people who elected him. But for a man who is doing his great task well, six years is too short a term. Our history shows that we as a people believe this, for we have reelected nine Presidents and refused to reelect the same number. (Pp. 499–500, World's Work, March, 1913.)
Senator A. B. Cummins, of Iowa, declared for the one term for president principle, in Chicago, August 6, 1923, as follows:
I always have believed that one term is enough. The great responsibilities and the tremendous strain of the office are more than any man can stand. The President of the United States is required to exert himself almost beyond the bounds of human limitations. His cares and worries break him down. Human frailties are too great to stand the strain which the presidency places
We should limit the President to one term. It might be made a six-year term, but I am not so sure about that even.
Our theory of government that the President should be the Chief Executive of the Nation has been extended to make him the political leader of his party. President Harding gave his life to his country and party. His death only proves the magnitude of the position. He was so conscientious and yet so human that it hurt him to hear criticism of his efforts and false presumption of his motives and the things he had in mind. (P. 14, Journal of Commerce, Aug. 8, 1923.)
Senator S. D. Fess, of Ohio, on August 24, 1.923, declared for a single six-year term as follows:
on a man.