Our Founding Fathers were not in favor of term limits. The issue was discussed but the general conclusion was that they were establishing short terms for elected officials in the Constitution and that “good behavior” should be rewarded by re-election. (Note the assumption of continued “good behavior” back when men possessed such). No limits would also add some “permanency” to the government. Therein lies today’s problem. The Articles of Confederation (1781-1789) did have a term limits provision thanks to Thomas Jefferson (not at the convention) who said it was necessary “…to prevent every danger which might arise to American freedom by continuing too long in office the members of the Congress.” But the restriction did not carry over into the Constitution.
What the Founders did envision was that men of good behavior would continue to be elected to fulfill part-time positions in the Congress. These representatives would be called from their private pursuits periodically to handle affairs of state and return to those private pursuits when the task was accomplished. With a population of approximately 4 million at the time, and only 13 states, this was understandable. It would be a “citizen legislature.” The path of “career politician” never dawned on them. And, apparently they couldn’t envision the population growth to 310 million and 50 states, with a part-time concept totally out of the question. During the remaining lives of the Founders, their assumption held true. The Congress met for only a few months each year.
However, just as America recognized that The Presidency had changed and passed the 22nd Amendment, Congress has changed and the American people have changed. Gone are the days when “good behavior” can be assumed to apply to all elected officials, and gone are the days when the citizenry is “properly informed” as to the merits of candidates. With our growth from 4 million to 310 million, all the distractions that come with an advanced society, the deliberate effort to misinform the citizenry for political gain, and the nature of man in a self-serving career, we are not the America of 1787. During the first 150 years or so of our republic, term limits were not necessary. Turnover in the US House was routinely over 50%. Today the re-election rates of incumbents who seek re-election is 90%. (See Notes 1 and 2.)
With the high incumbent re-election rate, We The People have become less represented, elected officials have become more entrenched, we open ourselves up to increasing corruption and tyranny. A “politician” career path has clearly developed, big money flows to their coffers, name recognition develops, political parties have become a protective brotherhood, an “establishment,” and the people are handicapped in making the necessary changes even though they disapprove of the current system. Our approval rating of their performance is at an all time low, hovering at 11%. A couple of Founder’s quotes seem appropriate here:
“Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.” (Thomas Jefferson)
“When once a republic is corrupted, there is no possibility of remedying any of the growing evils but by removing the corruption and restoring its lost principles; every other correction is either useless or a new evil.” (Thomas Jefferson)
“It is the duty of the patriot to protect its country from its government.” (Thomas Paine)
Many polls have been taken over the past two decades regarding Term Limits on Congress. In the 1994-96 time frame, under the Gingrich era Contract With America, Term Limits was one of the planks. The citizenry supported it. Members of Congress did not. It gained no traction. More recent polls show the same results – Americans overwhelmingly favor Term Limits: (Fox News Poll in 2010 – 78%; A Rasmussen Poll in 2011 – 71%; and the Gallup Poll of 2013 – 75%.) And it’s universal – Democrats, Republicans, Independents, seniors, young folks, minorities, whites, rich, poor, you name it. America wants Term Limits on Congress. Any candidate running on a promise to push term limits would have a distinct advantage, all things equal.
The obvious stumbling block is Congress. To amend the Constitution, by the traditional method, they have to start the ball rolling. But in their endeavor to forever remain in their ego-driven, self-serving, power position, they will not limit their ambitions no matter what the people want. Their argument is always the same – “that’s what elections are for. That’s what our Founders wanted.” That’s the answer I got from Senator Hutchison when she was in office and from Representative Stockman a month after he took office. It is amusing to note the ploy of the ruling political class. Many of them favor the “living constitution” concept. They say that times have changed and we must change with it. “The Constitution was written by a bunch of old folks long since dead.” But they want to do it by simply making the change, circumvention; not following the procedure laid out in the Constitution. And they’re fond of changing the definition of common words so as to fit their agenda. “Militia” to them today has a different definition than militia during the days of our founders and as reflected in the Constitution. Thus the effort at gun control. But when discussing Term Limits, there’s no room for the “living constitution” concept. “The Founders clearly did not want term limits.” That in itself speaks volumes as to the intentions of the elected elitists. Serve self above all others.
There was an attempt in the Senate to pass a Term Limits Amendment, introduced by Jim DeMint in 2011. It bombed 75 Nay, 24 Yea; one not voting. Interestingly, Senator Hutchison was one of the 24 Yea after she had decided to not seek re-election. Nothing to lose. And there is currently another effort in the Senate introduced by Senators David Vitter and Pat Toomey with seven conservative co-sponsors. And Senator Lieberman, with 24 years in the Senate says he “now supports term limits.” Again, nothing to lose. At the state level, term limits is more common. Thirty six Governors are term limited. This is a good sign.
In my opinion, the political elitists clearly consider themselves above the rest of us. They are “the chosen.” They are the most intelligent. They know better than we do what’s best for us. Yet, every major problem we face today as a nation is the result of this thinking and their decisions. We The People did not create the debt problem; the deficit problem; the out of control, ever encroaching and growing government problem; illegal wars; the abusive tax system; the over regulating agencies; the out of control welfare programs; the massive fraud and abuse of the “not for profit” federal government; the stymieing of the capitalist system, etc. We didn’t do any of that. They, the elected official did it all. So much for “good behavior,” knowing what’s best for us, and for preventing tyranny and corruption from our government.
I am a constitutionalist. I believe in the strict adherence to that law of the land. It separates us from all other governments and our success, our liberty, our strength and all we have accomplished as a people is testimony to the greatness of that document. But times do change, and more importantly people change. The Constitution needs to change with it but we must do so under the provisions of the document itself, not an arbitrary decision or court ruling on a whim. We must strengthen it, not weaken it. Here is what the Constitution states regarding amendments:
Article V: “The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress…..”
Therefore Congress can propose it, with 2/3rds Yea votes in each house (290 / 67) or the States can propose it through a Convention provided 34 states participate. Since the original Constitutional Convention in 1787, this method has never been done. All 27 amendments ratified thus far originated in Congress. Once proposed, by either method, it takes three fourths of the states (38) for ratification. States can call for a Convention anytime they desire. Since 1789, 314 such conventions have been called for by 49 of the 50 states. The latest being New Hampshire, May 2012, calling for a Balanced Budget Amendment. None have been held. There have only been two such calls for Term Limits (Alabama, 1957; Nevada, 1996). The chances of getting Congress to pass a term limits amendment is slim and nil. And getting 34 states to call for a convention, on the same issue, at the same time, seems very daunting. Given the path our government is on, the disillusion the citizenry have with the Congress and the government, and the support the citizenry have for term limits, the convention appears to be the best course but a real long shot. Many political activists and legal experts have called for this approach. Power must be restored to the people, somehow.
The number one argument against the Constitutional Convention is the “runaway convention.” Unless limited in some way, once a convention is convened, there is the possibility of it getting out of control and all manner of “stuff” coming from it. It could be more detrimental than good. But don’t we already have a “runaway congress?” Are they likely to limit themselves of power, influence, money and ego gratification it this age? If we stay on the same current path, matters will only get worse until tyranny overtakes us, we have a revolution, or we implode.
To control this convention, to keep it focused and prevent a “runaway situation,” some have proposed yet another Constitutional Amendment called The Madison Amendment. The concept originated with James Madison (Federalist Papers #43). It is short and to the point limiting any Constitutional Convention to a specific proposal, agreed to in advance, before the Convention is agreed to by the states. Of course this would have to go through Congress first, passed and ratified by the states, before other conventions could safely be held and controlled. As proposed, it states:
“The Congress, on application of the legislatures to two thirds of the several states, which all contain an identical amendment, shall call a convention solely to decide whether to propose that specific amendment to the states, which if proposed shall be valid to all intents and purposes as part of this Constitution when ratified pursuant to Article V.” ( www.MadisonAmendment.org/ )
If the states have the power to force Congress to consider an amendment, the power shifts back to the states, which was the original intention of the Founders and the Constitution. This amendment was introduced in the US House in 2010 by two democrats and two republicans.
In my opinion, it’s time for grassroots groups, constitutionalists, liberty lovers and the like to push their state representatives, senators, governors to call for a convention for the purpose of drafting amendments to the US Constitution that treat the systemic problems, not merely the symptoms. The problems isn’t the debt. It’s the elected officials who keep spending the money. We must control them first. We must put the power back into the hands of the people and the states then we can solve the many problems we face. Not doing so solves nothing.
A similar argument can be made for repealing the 17th Amendment to the Constitution so that State Legislatures regain control of US Senators, and for passing an amendment to require all federal court judges, including the Supreme Court Justices, to be reconfirmed by the Senate periodically as a method of evaluating their “good behavior.” They are NOT appointed for life unless we allow it. Both are systemic problems than have contributed to the “ruling class” mentality that has developed.
Comments are welcomed.
(Mr. Reams is a Christian, a family man, a veteran and a retired small business owner. www.AllianceofConstitutionalPatriots.com and http://VeteransVent.Wordpress.com)
Note 1: “During the late 19th Century and through the 20th Century, the average years of service for Senators steadily increased from an average of just under five years in the early 1880s to an average of just over 13 years in recent congresses.” (Report, Congressional Research Service, Tenure and Patterns of Member Service, 1789-2013) Since the election of 1964, the re-election rate of incumbent Senators has been over 90% in eight of the 25 elections, including in 2012, and above 80% in 18 of the 25 elections. (http://www.opensecrets.org/bigpicture/reelect.php)
Note 2: “Similarly, the average years of service for Representatives increased from just over four years in the first two congresses of the 20th century to an average of approximately 10 years in the three most recent Congresses. (Congressional Research Report) The reelection rate of incumbents in the House has been 90% or above in 16 of the last 25 elections, including in 2012, and above 80% since 1964. (Same OpenSecrets.Org link as above)