An Argument for the Limitation of Congressional Terms
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.