Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The 22nd Amendment Was Not Anti-Roosevelt, It Was Pro-George Washington

There is a view, which I accept, that says conventional wisdom is usually wrong, if not overly simplistic. And as conventional wisdom is repeated and spread people tend to accept it uncritically as fact. It becomes as the left would say “settled science.” For example in the 20th century socialism was considered settled science. No need for any more debate.

In the world of political science there is the assertion that the 22nd amendment was ratified by angry Republicans as a rebuke to the memory of Franklin Roosevelt. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez took conventional wisdom one step further by claiming that it was ratified to prevent Franklin Roosevelt from being reelected. He died in 1945. The amendment wasn’t ratified until 1951.

The 22nd amendment limits the President to no more than two terms, or 10 years. There is a grandfather clause, so the amendment didn’t apply to the incumbent. Harry Truman was President therefore it didn’t apply to him. Conceivably he could have served 4 or more terms.

Rep. Cortez defenders admit that she may have got her facts wrong, excuse me misspoke, but they say essentially, she is correct. She was pointing out that Republicans were willing to change the Constitution for political gain, and that it was ratified as a “negative reaction to Roosevelt.”

In effect the 22nd amendment was perpetrated by mean Republicans motivated by hatred of Franklin Roosevelt.

Essentially that is the conventional wisdom that is taught in US history and government classes. I have heard this all my life. Is it true?


Our first President George Washington set the standard. A standard that the American people wanted codified in the constitution.

After his second term Washington decided that was enough, and he retired to his farm in Alexandria. It was an historic move. He could have been king, or President for life, but he walked away from power. The American republic was established!

And for over 100 years no President ran for a 3rd term out of respect for the Washington standard. Well, a very ambitious man named Franklin Roosevelt tried to establish a new standard, perhaps just for himself, but in 1940 he ran for a third term.

There was nothing in the constitution that prevented a President from seeking a third term. Probably because no one thought such an amendment was needed. Washington set a standard that no one thought would be broken. Who would claim to need a single term more than Washington?

Now, maybe it was good that Roosevelt was President for 4 terms. My doubts aside the American people returned him to power for 4 terms.

On one hand the American people loved Roosevelt. They had great faith in him. But on the other hand, the evidence is clear. The American people like term limits, especially for their chief executives. For example, 38 states have some form of a term limit on their governor. So, the idea that they wanted a term limit on the President makes sense. A Governor and President both have executive power.

In Virginia our Governor can not serve consecutive terms. I assumed most Virginians opposed this limit. Well, to my surprise a few years ago I saw a poll that showed Virginians supported this limit and didn’t support repeal. By the way, Virginia ratified the amendment in 1948.

In 1947 the House and Senate approved the 22nd amendment, with some support from Democrat members of both Houses. They then sent it off to the states for ratification.

By 1951 41 states ratified the amendment. New York, Roosevelt’s home state, ratified the amendment in 1948.
Despite what Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez may think amending the constitution is not an easy thing to do. It can’t be done on a straight party line vote.

As a presidential candidate Roosevelt never failed to carry New Jersey. Yet in 1947 the Garden state ratified the 22nd amendment. Were they making an anti-Roosevelt statement?


The 22nd amendment was not anti-Roosevelt, as conventional wisdom suggests, and the left asserts, rather it was a return to the Washington standard of a two term maximum. Despite their affection and respect for the late President, they preferred a term limit on the nation’s chief executive.

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