How FDR’s Presidency Inspired Term Limits

Franklin Roosevelt’s Gubernatorial portrait, by Jacob H. Perskie, 1941 / Wikimedia Commons

The Founding Fathers considered term limits, but ultimately rejected the idea. It wasn’t until FDR’s unprecedented four terms that lawmakers reconsidered.

By Dr. Peter Feuerherd / 04.12.2018
Professor of Journalism
St. John’s University

The Twenty-Second Amendment to the Constitution, proposed by Congress in 1947 and ratified by the states in 1951, confines any president to two elected terms. Proponents argued that the amendment was needed to ratify a sacred American tradition, begun by George Washington, that a president should step away from his duties after filling eight years. The only extension allowed is for a vice president who fills out a presidential term who then wins two election victories.

Opponents at the time argued that the amendment was a Republican reaction to Franklin D. Roosevelt, the only president ever elected more than twice. Roosevelt, who died April 12, 1945, had been elected to an unprecedented fourth term six months before. Republicans worried that another New Deal Democrat would monopolize presidential power for decades. Their concern was that incumbency granted presidents seeking unlimited terms a great advantage. For many Americans, particularly those who served in World War II and experienced the Great Depression, Roosevelt, who was first elected in 1932, was the only president they knew. Roosevelt’s critics argued that by running for a third term in 1940, he was violating a long and sacred American tradition limiting presidents to two terms. Historians argue, however, that was not the case.