I frequently suspect that my nearest and dearest sometimes heave a sigh when they see me coming. Although I can always be relied upon to provide some delectable baked goods, I can also be relied upon to hijack the conversation and natter on about some obscure date in history or some arcane legislative procedure. And today, I am at it again with an obscure date in history anniversary. Today is, wait for it, the 66th anniversary of the ratification of the 22nd Amendment to the United States Constitution. Wow!
But, what is the 22nd Amendment and when was it first proposed? To answer these questions, I referred to one of my favorite books, The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation, also frequently referred to as the Constitution Annotated. Amendment XXII addresses “Presidential Tenure.” The text of the amendment states that
No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, 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.
This amendment was introduced as House Joint Resolution 27 on the first day of the 80th Congress, January 3, 1947. The text of the joint resolution as introduced and passed by the U.S. House of Representatives limited any person from serving as president, if they had previously served for the whole or part of any two terms as president. The resolution initially passed the House on February 6, 1947 and was sent to the Senate. The Senate Committee on the Judiciary amended this resolution to read:
A person who has held the office of President or acted as President on three hundred and sixty-five calendar days or more in each of two terms shall not be eligible to hold the office of President, or to act as President, for any part of another term;
by reason of a well-defined custom which has arisen in the past that no President should have more than two terms in that office … Hence it is the purpose of this legislation if passed, to submit this question to the people so they, …, may express their views upon this question, and if they shall so elect, they may amend our Constitution and thereby set at reset this problem.
The final version of the joint resolution, which was passed on March 21, 1947, limited a person to serving no more than ten years as president – it allowed that a person could be elected for no more than two terms as well as possibly serving two years or less if the elected president died or was otherwise incapacitated. This proposed constitutional amendment completed ratification on February 27, 1951.
By the terms of this amendment, President Lyndon Johnson would have been eligible for a third term since he had served less than two years of the remainder of President Kennedy’s term of office. President Truman would also have been eligible to run for another term as the amendment specifically excluded the “person holding the office of President when this Article was proposed by the Congress … ” Otherwise, based on the fact that he had served almost all of Roosevelt’s last term and been elected once, he would have been ineligible to be president.
Although President Franklin Roosevelt was the only president to actually serve more than two terms, he was not the first to consider or attempt a third term. His uncle, President Theodore Roosevelt, had served out the majority of President McKinley’s term when McKinley was assassinated six months into his second term. Teddy Roosevelt had then run for a second term, but initially decided against running for a third term in 1908. However, Roosevelt put his hat back into the ring in the 1912 election, and after losing the Republican nomination, campaigned as the Progressive Party nominee, the Bull Moose party. President Wilson had also hoped to serve a third term, but he only received two votes on the final Democratic convention ballot for the nomination. Likewise, President Grant considered running for a third presidential term but declined to pursue his party’s nomination.