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An Argument for the Limitation of Congressional Terms

Updated on December 1, 2010

Term Limits. The President has them, why not congress? I will begin with a collection of quotes from the founding fathers.

“I apprehend… that the total abandonment of the principle of rotation in the offices of President and Senator will end in abuse.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

“I am for making of terms annual, and for sending an entire new set every year.” ~John Adams

“The security intended to the general liberty consists in the frequent election and in the rotation of the members of Congress”.~ James Madison & Alexander Hamilton


The position of congressmen has today become a type of career. In this paper I will furnish an argument for limiting the number of terms congressmen may serve. I will not be proposing what exactly these limits should be, rather, I will simply argue for them.

Our government is one of limited power. When designing our Constitution the framers systematically split the powers and responsibilities of a leader and put them in to separate hands. This was so that no one man, or group of men, would gain too much power. It is a well known maxim that power corrupts, and the framers had had their fair share of experience with corrupt and powerful leaders. They did not want to allow the newly formed United States to become a place where tyrants rule. They used the separation of powers to ensure that the different governing bodies would keep each other in check and balance each other out. This system was most eloquently explained by James Madison:

“An elective despotism was not the government we fought for; but one in which the powers of government should be so divided and balanced among the several bodies of magistracy as that no one could transcend their legal limits without being effectually checked and restrained by the others.”

Continuing in this principal of limited power, does it not follow that those who are serving in the positions of power should regularly be changed in order to bring balance to the dissemination of power in the House and Senate? It is easy to see how the man who has been a Senator or Representative for forty years has accumulated far more power than any freshly elected senator.  Anyone who has ever been part of a club knows that there are clear benefits to having been a member of the club longer. One representative should not hold more sway than another, but rather we should endeavor to divide power between congressmen as equally as possible. 

The limitation and distribution of power is but one reason term limits should be imposed upon congressmen. Consider this. Limiting the number of times a person can serve as a congressmen or senator will increase the number of people that serve in those positions. This should, intern, increase the diversity of viewpoints and positions held by congress and thus provide a better representation or cross section of what the people of the United States of America desire from their legislative branch. Not only this, but a new Senator, having recently been a member of the governed body himself, should have a better idea of what it is that governed body wants. Whereas one who has been a senator or representative for a long time may become disillusioned with the benefits of being in charge and forget what it means to be a common citizen.

If term limits were imposed, congressmen and women would no longer have to concern themselves with running for re election. Thus they would spend more time in the capitol doing their job and less on the campaign trail. This would reduce congress’s tendency to be beholden to the special interest groups that fund their campaigns. One might argue that this would also reduce congress’s accountability to their constituents. However, one must only look to the President to realize that this is an unfounded concern. Also consider that these representatives will not be members of the governing body for long, and will soon have to return to the class of the governed. This alone should require them to adhere to the principles of the people they represent as they will shortly be returning to live among those very people. 

The fear of taking capable and intelligent leaders from power is another argument that is often raised in opposition to term limits. This is not something we should concern ourselves with and this fear arises from the very system of career politicians that is currently in place. There are not a select number of individuals “better suited” to making laws. Career congressmen are not smarter than us, they are not inherently better speakers, and they are not inherently better law makers. They are human beings just like the rest of us, and there is no short supply of intelligent and capable leaders in this country. We would do well to remember this quote:

Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question. ~Thomas Jefferson

Are our lifetime senators and representatives “angels in the forms of kings”. The answer is no. There are millions men and women in America who are just as capable of representing America as these career politicians. It’s time we ensured that these men and women got a real chance to represent and lead America.

One final question and opposition presents itself. If term limits are so important, why didn’t the founding fathers place them in the constitution? I would like to put forth the idea that they themselves were not courageous enough to limit the time that they might serve in government.

Politician and philosopher Edmund Burke straightforwardly put it in this way:

Those who have once been intoxicated with power … can never willingly abandon it. ~Edmund Burke

Congress will never of its own volition impose term limits on itself. Thus we the people of the United States must do something about it. A constitutional convention may be called by a two thirds vote of the state legislatures. In such a convention a constitutional amendment may be proposed and voted on. If three fourths of the states agree then the amendment is ratified. I would urge you to place pressure on your state legislators to call for such a convention. Many state legislators are already operating under the limited term system and there is no reason why we cannot impose such limits on the federal congress from the outside. Such a limit would be beneficial to the country both now and in the future. The country needs the active responsibility of its people to survive and thrive. I urge you to take action by calling or writing your local state legislature.

Should term limits for congress be instituted?

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    • ib radmasters profile image

      ib radmasters 5 years ago from Southern California

      Today we don't have a government of limited power, today the power of the government is unlimited and out of control.

      The two lines comprising the total of the Interstate Commerce Clause has been morphed to give the government power over anything they want to have power over.

    • Talismoon profile image

      Talismoon 5 years ago

      I agree in congressional term limits, however in the context of being fair, one should allow for more terms of the House since they have only serve two years per term in comparison to the Senate's six years. Perhaps if they were ever instituted the House should allow for three terms and the sent may serve two, similar to the President, then again 12 years is quite a long time. I believe you presented your argument quite well and have beaten me to writing my own argument for them. However, since term limits have to be issued from a congressional level and many politicians are career politicians, I fear that even if an Act was presented it would never be passed. Another one of those situations where I fear the congressional body is already too corrupt to put forth anything that would promote diversity, new ideas, and ethical integrity.

    • Rwritings profile image

      Rebecca 7 years ago from Duluth Minnesota

      Great article! I agree 100% Perhaps if we had term limits for those in the Congress there would be less waste and fraud. I believe many career politicians have made a mess of things because many of us having mindlessly voted the same politicians into office over and over again. Sadly, for decades we have not held our politicians accountable. We have forgotten that We the People are government not the politicians. That they are suppose to work for us not the other way around. In other words we have drunk their "kool-aid" for too long.

      Fortunately, people are starting to wake up!

    • catalyst20 profile image

      catalyst20 7 years ago from Los Angeles, California

      I agree that the term of limits should be considered for congressmen or senators. However, it carries also another risk of losing those who are really gifted and determined to pursue good management and stewardship of the positions entrusted to them. I don't know how to reconcile that with the need for limitations. I think what should be changed is the way people choose their candidates. If only the electors would carefully monitor the performance of their candidates, there would be no need for any kind of limitations. Those who need to go should go, and the people should never compromise by sending them back if they failed to deliver.

    • merobinson2 profile image

      merobinson2 7 years ago

      Thank you Ms Dee :)

    • Ms Dee profile image

      Deidre Shelden 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      There are so many temptations and greediness thrown at someone when in power that it takes a very principled individual with high integrity to not slip into an abuse of that power. Term limits would be one thing to help this, as well as candidates with high intergrity put into those positions. Great hub! I add my Congratulations for your Hubnugget nomination :)

    • profile image

      farmfencing 7 years ago

      I have no argument with a limitation of terms but surely there are procedures(impeachment) by which the terms of presidents can be limited.

      I agree with limiting terms..but on the basis of what the people decide.

      Not on the basis of ageism and some spurious,random and arbitrary number of years for which someone is deemed unacceptable.

    • nell79 profile image

      nell79 7 years ago from United States

      Congrats on your hubnugget nomination. You've brought up some very good points here. I wonder though if it would keep things in constant disarray if we were constantly changing everybody. Sometimes it's good to have some constants who know how to keep things moving smoothly.

      Still, I wouldn't say I'm expert in government by any means. I wouldn't limit the terms too short, if I would limit them at all, to keep some constancy and order. But it might not be a bad idea to have some limitation there, though I'm not sure what those limitations might be.

      On another note, those senators that have been in for such a long time can also be voted out if people don't feel they're doing their jobs right. It just happened in my state. That's the whole point of the voting system.

    • Rosie2010 profile image

      Rosie Rose 7 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Hiya Robinson, Congratulations on another Hubnugget nomination. A well-deserved nomination. You are a talented writer and should continue to write. All the best to you.

      Happy Holidays,


    • megmccormick profile image

      megmccormick 7 years ago from Utah

      I agree with the concept of term limits but to know what is really going on with our government and country please read Russ Baker's 2009 book Family of's extremely eye opening and meticulously researched. Congrats on your HubNugget nomination

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 7 years ago from United States

      I also agree with Pres Harry Truman. We have seen many problems with people who are simply to old to work anywhere, let alone as a congressman.

      Congrats on you Hubnugget nomination.

    • travel_man1971 profile image

      Ireno Alcala 7 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

      I agree with former US Pres. Harry Truman. Seniority and senility are synonymous to prolonging the service of legislators in Congress. It would also cure graft cases that tempted them to stay longer. Thanks, merobinson2 and congratulations on your HubNugget nomination.