Anniversary: Washington, 60 years & the 22nd Amendment

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 27: As America nears the end of Presidents Day week, the memory of George Washington should grow stronger: Today, 60 years ago, the 22nd Amendment to the United States was ratified—an amendment passed because of the example set by George Washington. (Read the full Amendment here.) After two terms in office, America’s first president declined a third term, saying that two terms were enough for any President. Some historians argue that Washington declined a third term due to increased age and exaustion, rather than a firm belief that presidential leaders shouldn’t serve for more than eight years. Nevertheless, Washington’s example was followed for more than a century, until Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected for four terms. When Roosevelt died a few months into his fourth term, the U.S. passed and ratified an amendment that would forbid any future President from serving more than two terms.

The 22nd Amendment is still highly debated: Several attempts have been made to repeal it since its inception, although none have been successful. While some argue that more than two terms in office causes a President to lose his “edge,” others insist that the second, terminal term discourages a leader from taking on new projects or acting in a way that wins the affections of voters. (An Opinion piece in the New York Times discussed this topic.) Generally, American history books hold that Roosevelt served so long because he feared abandoning the nation he had helped through the Great Depression and most of World War II. But Congress had little problem approving this amendment. After a mere two hours of debate in the House and only a sliver of public participation in the decision, the 22nd Amendment was ratified on Feb. 27, 1951. (Wikipedia has details on the Amendment’s history and effects.)

Perhaps this year, we will hear more debate around the 22nd Amendment, since succession of power is a major issue across northern Africa and the Middle East right now. ReadTheSpirit recently published a story listing the many ways that protesters in Egypt used new media to topple their long-standing dictator.

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