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Origin of Term Limits

  • Many officials in ancient Greece and Rome were “One-and-Out”; only one year in office. By 1700, some American colonies used term limits, particularly in New England, where such ideas as town hall meetings, direct democracy and citizen assemblies took root.
  • Many Founding Fathers studied ancient history and despised dynasties. They never intended for lawmakers to be life-long incumbents. Ben Franklin wanted gubernatorial term limits in Pennsylvania’s state constitution. In arguing for a 3-year term limit on Continental Congress delegates, Thomas Jefferson said term limits were needed, “…to prevent every danger which might arise to American freedom by continuing too long in office.”
  • George Washington set the two-term presidential precedent, which was voluntary until 1951 when the American people formally ratified term limits in the U.S. Constitution as the 22nd Amendment.