THE EMERGENCE OF TERM LIMITS
AS A NATIONAL REFORM MOVEMENT
Marla Sue Kiley
B.A., Metropolitan State College, 1991
A thesis submitted to the
Faculty of the Graduate School of the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master &f Arts
This thesis for the Master of Arts
Marla Sue Kiley
has been approved for the
Kiley, Marla Sue (M.A., Political Science)
The Emergence of Term Limits as a National Reform Movement
Thesis directed by Assistant Professot Anthony Robinson
This paper is about the origin and potential of the
Congressional term limits movement. Term limits are
examined to see if they follow the general path of most
national reform movements. The origin of term limits are
traced back to the founding period. The course that term
limits have taken, starting in i947 and running through the
current movement, is covered to determine how a reform
movement emerges. The origin of the term limits movement is
then compared to the origin of other national reform
movements to see if this reform is following the
established pattern. This paper then examines the potential
for term limits to change the political system. There are
two questions that are answered in this section. First,
what is the potential for passing a Congressional term
limits amendment? Secondly, what is the potential for
significantly reforming the institution of Congress. I
conclude that the passage of a term limits amendment is
likely; however, the possibility of changing the system to
meet the people's demands is unlikely. This inability to
meet the public's demand is due to the fragmented nature of
our political system. Broad sweeping reforms are hard to
enact because of the structural resistance to change.
Limiting terms is a specific reform that promises
significant changes to many aspects of the political system
such as curing corruption, inefficiency and gridlock.
However, because of the limited ability of this specific
reform to fundamentally change the political system, term
limits will in fact only lead to a mandatory rotation in
office every twelve years, which will primarily benefit
political leaders without addressing underlying voter
The changes that will take due to a mandatory rotation
every twelve years Will be the elimination of the seniority
system and an influx of a new breed of Representatives who
are more partisan and ideologically extreme.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the
candidate's thesis. I recommend its publication.
The Origin of the Term Limits Movement.........4
Potential for Success,.........................7
2. LITERATURE REVIEW..........*........,..........12
Modern Scholars of Reform.....................22
Term Limits and Reform...............,........39
3. THE HISTORICAL ASPECT OF TERM LIMITS...........45
Articles of Confederation.....................49
Term Limits for Governors,....................52
The Constitutional Convention.................56
Analysis of the History of Term Limits........64
4. ORIGIN OF THE MODERN MOVEMENT..................70
Presidential Term limits................* .70
Analysis of the Executive Term Limit....73
State Term Limits..........................77
Congressional Term Limits................ 91
Conclusions About the
Origin of Congressional Term Limits.......101
5. POTENTIAL OF THE MODERN MOVEMENT..............107
The Passage of Term Limits.............. 109
Potential for Changing Government.......120
Conclusion for the
Potential of Term Limits................136
6. CONCLUSION............................ . i-142
In 1992, the Wall Street Journal stated that the
turnover rate among members of Congress was currently
lower than that of the Soviet Communist Party's Central
Committee (Americans to Limit Congressional Terms, pg.
21). Similarly, in Britain's non-elected House of Lords,
where vacancies occur only through death, there is a 7%
annual turnover, which is just below the average turnover
in the U.S. House of Representatives (Coyne and Fund, pg.
10). These examples are just some of the reasons the
debate over limiting the terms of members of Congress has
reached an all time high in our nation's history.
The dissatisfaction voiced from the American people
concerning Congress has culminated in the attempt to
limit the terms of Congressional officeholders. This
single issue has gained momentum and support from many
Americans and interest groups who say they want to change
the system. Term limits are a way to "get back" at the
officials in Washington and a way for the people to feel
like they are taking control over government back into
their own hands.
The Congressional term limits reform movement is
important to the study of Political Science because it
represents an issue that is overwhelmingly popular with
the public but is unaccepted by the lawmakers of today.
In traditional democratic politics, when the public
supports an issue in large numbers, the politicians "jump
on the bandwagon" to look like a candidate of the people
and to get the votes. This type of reaction was not
immediately seen in the Congressional term limit
Only, in the 1994 election, did politicians campaign
on the term limits issue. For several years prior to
1994, many prominent ^nd long term politicians were (and
still are) actively fighting against term limit reform in
statehouses, courts, and with personal funding.
Typically, there is resistance to any type of reform
movement that threatens the existing nature of the
political system. In the term limits reform movement, the
opposition is led by politicians who have taken a very
visual and vocal stand against Congressional limits.
To understand what is happening with Congressional
term limits, this thesis will focus on the following
question: What is the origin and potential for a national
reform movement such as term limits?
To begin to answer this question, I will review the
scholarly literature on national reform movements. Once I
determine what academics think about the origin and
potential for national reform movements, I will analyze
What this says about democracy. Following this analysis,
I will outline the term limits reform movement to see if
its origin and potential follows the same trend that the
academic world has defined for other reform movements.
In examining the current movement for Congressional
term limits, I will uncover one way that national reform
movements start and will determine what advantages or
limitations a national movement, such as this, has in
regard to transforming the American political system.
This study will include conclusions about the role of
participatory democracy in the term limits debate and the
importance of this issue to national reform.
I will first look at the historical movements to
limit terms. By understanding the history of term limits
in our government, starting with the Articles of
Confederation and running through the Constitutional
Convention, I will establish a basic understanding of how
the idea of a rotation in office emerged and was
addressed by the Founding Fathers.
This history will establish that term limits are a
natural part of an enduring U.S. tradition. This
tradition is based in the American people's suspicion of
government and the use of political reform to "punish" or
"tame" the rulers.
I will then examine the origin of the modern term
limits movement. I will start with the first attempt to
limit the terms of a federal officeholder in 1947 and
show how this reform process led to the current movement
to limit Congressional terms.
The Origin of the Modern Term Limits Movement
The modern movement for Congressional term limits
initially emerged "from the people," as a reaction to a
government institution that appeared to be plagued with
inefficiency, corruption and gridlock. The primary
instigator for this national reform stemmed from the
dissatisfaction by the American people toward Congress,
whose tirades were shown nightly on the news.
Over a few short years, charges emerged that ranged
from personal and institutional corruption in Congress to
secret pay raises and a general indifference toward the
American public. Congressional approval rates had been
dropping for several years, hitting an all time low of 16
percent in 1992 (Black, pg. 35). However, this general
anger directed at the institution did not culminate with
a voting out of the old representatives during the
subsequent elections, but left the system that was
disliked, pretty much intact. Ninety-three percent of the
incumbents were returned to office that same year (pg.
Th6 inability of the public to vote out entrenched
members of Congress caused a louder dissent to develop,
along with more active protests by the American people.
To take control back from Congress, the people
dissatisfied with government wanted reform. They quickly
adopted the idea of term limits as a way of striking back
at Congress. The national reform to limit Congressional
terms through a Constitutional amendment was born.
This origin of the term limits movement fits the
thieories presented by several scholars who claim that the
origin of a national reform movement stems from the
publicdiscontent with the problems that manifest
themselves in the American political system. In this
case, the people felt a general need to change the system
and were given the idea of Congressional term limits by
individuals with a personal interest in removing
entrenched incumbents. The people latched on to fchis
solution as a way of expressing their frustrations with
Congressional corruption, inefficiency and gridlock.
As the research will show, many reform movements
that begin with popular support from the people start
with a broad basic belief that there exists a need for
change in the political system. This desire for change is
channeled into a specific issue in order to give the
people a concrete idea to work with. The people's energy,
after being channeled into an idea that seems plausible,
is then co-opted by the system already in place such as
interest groups, political parties, or the institutions
of government. The idea for fundamental reform becomes
transformed into a more limited reform that serves the
needs of an established particular group.
I will argue that Congressional term limits, as
viewed by the general public, were an attempt to return
to the basics of our system back to the way it was at the
founding in order to "fix" whatever had gone wrong. This
movement started with a few individuals, who had personal
interests in limiting terms, and soon attracted a large
number of average citizens. However, within two years of
the initial Congressional term limit campaign, the
movement became co-opted by wealthy individuals,
political parties and special interests.
At the same time, the opposition, which had never
been based in a grass roots environment, emerged from
major categories such as incumbents, corporations, and
government employees, with incumbents being the primary
opponents. In our representative system, there is always
such an entrenchment of the bureaucracy, corporations and
the organized interests who resist the people changing
the way the system works and the influence they have in
What had began as a grass roots reform campaign
became an elitist battle fought with money and high-
powered strategy. When these powerful groups entered the
term limits movement, it escalated in the early 1990s to
make its way onto the national agenda.
Potential for Success
The potential for real change in the political
system from the enacting of term limits is limited
because of several factors.
One of these factors is the issue of terra limits
themselves. Through polls and surveys it is evident that
the public believes that the passage of a term limits
amendment will bring about more citizen control, more
participation in government, a higher turnover in
Congress and government responsibility. In theory, more
control would thereby be restored to the people. The
government would be made closer to the people.
However, there is no guarantee that terra limits will
bring about a government that is closer to the people or
a more accountable Congress, even though these were the
issues that initially spurred support for term limits in
the general public. The only guarantee that comes from
term limits is a higher turnover rate of elected
officials. A higher turnover will not necessarily solve
the problems of an inefficient, grid-locked or a corrupt
There are arguments from columnist George Will that
claim term limits will bring about a more deliberative
Congress: a Congress that is more removed from the public
and interest groups so that members of Congress can make
decisions that would be best for the entire nation, not
just for their constituents. But, the average citizen
appears to have supported term limits in order to take
government back into their control, not to make it more
removed from the people.
I will argue that term limits gives the American
people a perception of a more direct and participatory
democracy, but does not guarantee it. The American people
want to feel like they are changing the system and taking
control back. But, in fact, there is no guarantee that
the outcome will solve what the public feels is wrong
with Congress. Meeting the need of the American people to
feel change has occurred does not equate with actually
securing fundamental change.
Another factor that will limit the potential for
changing Congress through a national term limit reform
movement is the public's fear of changing the American
political system. People may want change, but they do not
want a radical transformation that requires constant
attention and hard work. A true reform of Congress would
take more effort from the American people than just
taking a stand on term limits. However, the people would
have to participate actively to really "own" government.
It is easier to have a one-time vote on term limits
substitute for on-going participation.
The way the American political system was set up
with a government removed from the jpeople to diffuse
democracy, it makes it difficult to get radical change.
However, the system of democracy that was established
gives the citizens the right to vote and participate as
much or as little as they want. The system was set up to
absorb the public discontent but to keep the system
fundamentally unchanged. Because fast, radical reform is
almost impossible, the republican system in place give
the people the feeling of participation, change and
action. In reality, the system stays stable with minor
changes that do not affect the way the system operates.
In this paper, I will argue that the potential for
the term limits amendment is two-foldJ First, it is
likely that a term limits amendment will be passed.
Secondly, the potential for the amendment to solve the
issues that caused the American people to support term
limits such as gridlock, inefficiency and corruption is
unlikely. However, the Congressional institution would be
changed under term limits with the elimination of the
seniority system and the influx of new; members.
Politically active people (political elites) would have
greater access to the system which would result in a more
dynamic and partisan institution.
With these changes in Congress, the people would
feel as though they have effectively reformed Congress.
However, newer members of Congress have statistically
been shown to identify more with the far right or far
left. The American people are more moderate than the new
members of Congress will be. Term limits will create a
Congressional institution that is more removed from the
people. Although the people will feel as though they have
reformed government, they have in fact created a
legislative branch that is more distanced from the public
What is the origin and potential for a national
reform movement and what does this origin and potential
say about democracy? This is the question I will answer
by looking at what scholars have said about national
reform movements, why they arise and what their chances
for success are. The literature will shed light on how
national reform movements create either real
participatory democracy or merely foster the perception
To understand the role of reform in the American
political system, we must first understand how the system
of government was set up to deal with reform. The Framers
of the Constitution had recently emerged from a
Revolutionary War which, by all measures, was a radical
reform movement from the people. In drafting the
Constitution, the Framers ironically intended to diffuse
future rebellions and radical reform movements. In order
to create a stable government, they distanced the people
from the government to stop radical factions from
altering the political system they had set in place.
Factions that emerge from the people bypass the
discernment and judgment that the Federalists wanted in
government. According to Federalist views, people should
not stand up independently and call for change. Instead,
the concerns of citizens should be channeled through
their representatives. Reform from the citizenry
circumvents tihe system, which, according to Madison, is a
dangerous thing. He states in Federalist Paper #10:
[The role of a republic is to]...refine and enlarge
the public views, by passing them through the medium
of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best
discern the true interest of their country, and
whose patriotism and love of justice will be least
likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial
considerations. Under such a regulation, it may well
happen, that the public voice, pronounced by the
representatives of the people, will be more
consonant to the public good, than if pronounced by
the people themselves convened for the purpose
(Eksterowicz, pg. 141).
There was a concern by the Federalists that a direct
democracy would lead to a tyranny of the majority. The
republic, as a form of government, was set up in order to
temper the voices of the people by passing their
interests through a body of citizens that would discern
what was best for the entire nation, not just the
majority. The Framers set up a fragmented government with
checks and balances to stop any state, or one group of
leaders, from achieving quick change. Too much of a pure
democracy was dangerous for a stable government.
Therefore, democracy had to be tempered, which is what a
republic was supposed to do.
This is not to say that the framers of the
Constitution wanted to prevent all reform from emerging.
As Madison stated in Federalist Paper #10, concerning the
emergence of factions:
Liberty is to faction, what air is to fire, an
ailment, without which it instantly expires. But it
could not be a less folly to abolish liberty, which
is essential to political life, because it nourishes
faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation
of air, which is essential to animal life, because
it imparts to fire its destructive agency
(Eksterowicz, pg. 142).
In this statement, Madison recognized that liberty
inherently leads to the development of different
political groupsi These groups may want to reform the
system. Instead of taking away the liberty of these
groups to attempt reform, Madison wanted their desires to
be passed through a discerning body which could keep
radical reform from emerging. Reform had to go through
the checks and balances in government to slow it down.
There was room for reform under the republican system of
government, but only after it had been deliberated on by
a wise body of representatives.
As a good Federalist, Madison would have been
opposed to such things as the citizen initiative,
referendum and direct election of important public
officials such as Senators. According to him, giving the
people too much of an opportunity to change the system
was a dangerous liberty. Allowing the people too much
liberty in passing laws and changing the structure of
government would lead to an unstable state. The
Federalists felt that there should be a barrier between
the public will and the actions of government in order
for any democratic government to sustain itself.
The Federalists knew that the origin of citizen
reform would be from a general dissatisfaction felt among
the people, similar to what happened during the
Revolution. However, the potential for such a reform
movement from the people, under the Constitution, would
be limited in order to keep future revolutions from
occurring. In addition, when the voices of the people are
channeled through their representatives, it prevents
unwise policy and overbearing majorities from emerging.
Public dissatisfaction was meant to be refined and
channeled through representation to create a stable
On the other side of the argument, Anti-Federalist
Melacton Smith argued in his 1788 Essay that a greater
dose of democracy was just what the system needed to Wake
it up and make it responsive to the people's will. When
the conhection between the government and the people
breaks down, Smith argued that people are compelled to
rise up and protest, demanding change (Eksterowicz, pg.
This "greater dose of democracy," as described by
Smith, can be seen in the progressive reforms of
initiatives and referendums, and seen in other national
reform movements that have emerged from the people. The
origin of political refora has been consistent with the
Federalist view* It has emerged from the conflict between
the established government and the people's desire to be
involved and to practice direct democracy.
Understanding the Framer's intentions for reform
movements casts light on how reform movements have been
manifested in the modern political system. There seems to
be a constant tension between the desire of the people
for a "greater dose of democracy" and the resistance
built into the political system to keep it stable and
preserved. The systemic resistance to reform, as
explained by Madison in Federalist Paper #10, is
partially in having an extended sphere in the republic.
Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater
variety of parties and interests; you make it less
probable that a majority of the whole will have a
common motive to invade the rights of other
citizens; or if such a common motives exists, it
will be more difficult for all who feel it to
discover their own strength, and to act in unison
with each other (Eksterowicz, pg. 144).
Although Madison is referring to stopping a majority
from enacting an idea that would violate the rights of
others, this designed obstacle in government is also
meant to stop the people who feel a certain way from
realizing their strength and acting in one accord.
This type of government, which was built by Madison
and his colleagues, is viewed by Richard Hofstadter,
author of Acre of Reform, as Creating a tension between
the existing structure of government and the desire for
more democracy in America. There is a tension between the
idea of having a participatory government and the reality
of a resistant political system.
Hofstadter sees the idea of a participatory
government stemming from a belief held by the people that
somewhere in our past a pure democracy existed. The
American people believe it existed and have a desire to
return to it.
He feels the philosophy behind national reform
movements is derived from the "Democratic Myth" that
emerged about the same time that the nation was engaging
in greater commercialization and industrialization. As
the world changed, people reached out to hold onto what
they felt were noncommercial/ democratic values. There
was a nostalgia about what was being left behind in
America's past (pg. 24). The farmer was seen as simple,
pure, self-suffidient, honest and moral, while the city
was a symbol of corruptibility, evil and immorality (pg.
34). This perception held that the independent self-
sufficient spirit of the farmer had at one time produced
a pure democracy.
Hofstadter argues that reality did not support this
myth, but there was, nevertheless, a desire to turn back
the clock to a simpler time in history. The Populists
wanted the imaginary old ideals from the past to be
supported and introduced into America by means of the
government (pg. 48).
Populism was the first modern political movement of
practical importance in the US to insist that the
federal government has some responsibility for the
common weal (pg. 61)*
The Utopia of the populistd was in the past, not the
future. They looked back at the paradise that had been
lost to industrialism, commercialization, and, finally,
to the institutionalization of government (pg. 65).
The idea of a "paradise lost/' combined with a sense
of guilt in the middle class who felt "too comfortable,"
translated into political and social reform movements.
This notion sent thousands of reformers into the field to
participate and create useful philanthropies. The middle
class citizen felt it was their charge to take
responsibility for all kinds of social ills.
Hofstadter argues that:
What [they] needed, therefore, was a feeling that
action Was taking place, a sense that the moral tone
of things was being improved and that he had a part
in this improvement, (pg. 210)
The myth that history had held the answers to modern
day problems, combined with a need of the people to feel
like they were using their democratic rights and
responsibilities to make the world a better place for
everyone, was the source of refprm movements in the
As for the potential of reform, Hofstadter stated:
In truth we may well sympathize with the Populist
and with those who have shared their need to believe
that somewhere in the American past there was a
golden age whose life was far better than our own.
But actually to live in that world, actually to
enjoy its cherished promise and its imagined
innocence, is no longer within our power (pg. 326).
It is not possible to take a mythical ideal from the
past and try to make it fit in modern society, because
the American people do not want to dismantle their
society altogether and go back to the primitive
technology and inconveniences of days bygone. In fact,
the American people do not really want to participate in
an on-going basis in their government. Instead, they want
to bring the ideals of the past forward and super-impose
the old values on the existing society without disrupting
their own lives too dramatically. Basically, the
potential of any such reform movements are not good,
Hofstadter states, because fundamentally, people don't
want radical Reforms. They are too content with their
world to actually demand real change. However, people
want the catharsis that comes from working for change and
re-affirming the old democratic values.
The potential for refofm is also difficult because
of the organizational obstacles. It is difficult if not
impossible to take a mood of the people and translate
that into real change. Hofstadter argues that reform is
usually founded on a mood that comes and goes, making it
unstable and unreliable. This foundation of reform on the
mood of the people (a mood that is subject to change)
also makes the potential for real reform unlikely. A
movement cannot be built on a group of people whose
opinions can be easily changed. The fact that the public
mood changes, the people do not want to participate
regularly in government and the American public doesn't
want to radically reform a political system in which they
are comfortable, leads to limited potential for reform
Hofstadter views reform in America from a
psychological perspective. He stated it best when he
described the desire of people to feel as though they are
doing something in the world by practicing direct
democracy. There is a conflict, however, between the
feeling and the actually doing. He argues that the
"feeling" is more important than the "doing" to the
American people, because they do not really want the
radical change that would be involved with dismantling
the system and returning to the past. The public does not
really want to "own" government (i.e. participate). They
want to "feel" like owners by means of episodic reforms.
National reform movements without fundamental structural
change are a way for people to feel they are in control
of the government and are exercising democracy. It is a
way to straddle the psychological tensions that result
from a resistant political structure that performs
economically well but does not fulfill the people's
desire for a direct democracy.
Hofstadter's conclusions pertain to the
psychological and political implications of dealing with
the tensions of a Madisonian system. The way the American
political system was set up invites the public t6
participate in government, yet at the same time, it
minimizes the effect of people who do participate. The
potential for people to reform the system is limited, but
the desire for the people to engage in reform is strong.
The Madisonian system is seen by Hofstadter as allowing a
sense of participatory democracy without producing
meaningful structural change. The freedom to get involved
creates the sense of participation. When the public has
the feeling they can get involved and change the system,
it does not matter if they really can or not. As long as
people feel they can participate it is enough to Sustain
the public's support for the Madisonian political
Modern Scholars of Reform
The political system, created by the Federalists,
has been around for over two-hundred years. In the 1940s,
Hofstadter analyzed this system and it's effect on reform
movements in America. In order to see if the obstacles to
reform are still evident in the current political system,
I have reviewed the modern literature on reform in
Modern scholars that have addressed the subject of
national reform movements differ in the details of how
reform movements work; yet they all agree that the
outcome of national reform movements is intentionally
obstructed by the existing Madisonian political
structure. Change in the political structure is either
slow, watered-down or nearly impossible. Any change that
occurs does hot seriously alter the existing system.
One of the scholars that has written on national
reform movements is William Crotty. He sees the source of
national reform as emerging from a dissatisfied public
channeling their dissatisfaction into the political
arena. According to his research, political reforms that
emerge from the people traditionally are manifested in
The first is a reaction to a nagging and persistent
problem that has been around for many years. It can be a
chronic problem that the public is aware of in the back
of their minds. When this type of problem remains and is
regularly brought to their attention by means of the
media or personal experience, such as the Civil Rights
Movement or the Women's Movement, then reform begins
(Crotty, pg. 12). Crotty argues that when the public is
aware of something in society that is wrong and an issue
is brought before their consciousness over an extended
period of time, they begin to call for change. There is a
gap, however, between knowing something is wrortg and the
actuality of doing something about it.
The second type of reform that Crotty defines is
some shocking event that grabs the nation's attention.
This event or series of events set off discussions and
media coverage which raises awareness in the national
consciousness. This type of political reform is a
reaction to an acute type of abuse that captures the
public's attention like Watergate, Tailhook, or the
Savings and Loan scandal. When this type of abuse comes
to the public's attention, the response of the people is
an instantaneous but ambiguous demand for change. The
angry public demands some sort of resolution to the
problems from their elected officials. This demand for
change is not clearly defined. It can be summed up as a
demand to elected officials to just "do something about
it" (pg. 14).
Crotty sees two different potentials for reform
movements. A chronic problem coupled with public
awareness/pressure has more potential of seeing real
change. The type of reform that emerges from this problem
leads to political changes that come about slowly and in
small increments. As each new piece of legislation is
passed, the problem is chipped away and the issue finds
some resolution, although not the radical solution that
is usually first suggested (Crotty, pg. 12). This is the
most substantive type of reform because it addresses the
problem slowly and with deliberation which leads to a
more permanent change.
An example of this would be the Civil Rights
Movement or Women's Movement. In both cases, the groups
involved demanded changes that would give their group
social and economic equality. Because they were chronic
problems, legislation was eventually passed that required
fairness in hiring practices and a basis to sue for
discrimination. This legislation was a slow, methodical
change that was debated about for many years in Congress.
In this way, the problems have found some resolution.
In the second type of reform movement that emerges
from a national crisis, the solution that is enacted does
not necessarily solve the problem. However, the elected
representatives want to look like they are responding to
the public's will. For the most part solutions to crisis
reform movements are usually left to the elite to figure
out. The results, if any, are usually watered down to
lessen the impact of the change on the governing body and
the people. A sense of action must emerge that will
appease the public's anger, get the media off the
officials' backs, and involve enough representatives that
appear to be doing something for the people to make the
people feel their concerns are being heard. This type of
reform is the least effective for real change (pg. 14).
In the Anita Hill episode and Tailhook case for
example, no real change was made in the political system.
There were meetings, forums and debates held at the local
and national level. However, this did not translate into
reform. There was action, but little reform.
According to William Crotty's definition of
political reform, after the public awareness is raised in
either type of national reform movement, bargaining
between the elites enters the picture. Real change can be
made at that point, but not before. Many hearings,
committees, or other task forces are set up to show that
the government has responded, but these initial responses
will not affect the daily business of government.
When reform movements get to this point, they
usually die. It takes a very enthused public or a
persistent problem to make elected officials enact
significant change. If publib demand does not keep up,
then periods of inactivity follow. If the problem is not
solved, it is left to smolder in the general public until
it builds more steam and leads the people to another
demand for reform that may or may not take on the same
Crotty sees the potential for fundamental change as
not being very likely unless the problem is persistent
and nagging. In that case he sees real elite bargaining
taking place until some sort of solution is worked out
that calms the public but does not radically alter the
system enough to de-stabilize it.
What does Crotty's definition of national reform
movements say about democracy? If people feel government
is not reacting to a problem, (is moving too slowly or in
the wrong direction), they feel compelled to step up and
voice their discontent. Just as Hofstadter pointed out,
however, after the discontent of the public is heard, it
is difficult to get the public's mood translated into
real action. The mood must be prolonged or the offense so
intense that it brings about real change.
Another modern scholar, Sherman Lewis, has written a
book about the citizen and reform movements. He sees the
source of reform movements as sometimes stemming from the
public's discontent with the status quo, but he sees the
elites as the primary promoters of change.
Lewis divides the citizens and elites by definition.
Simply, he calls the political elites those who engage in
political action. The "people" he defines as politically
inactive (pg. 15). People may be interested in politics
and the world that surrounds them, but because of higher
priorities such as a career or family life, they do not
immerse themselves in political actions.
Most national and local reform movements are
generated by reformers using both elite and popular
attitudes. It's important to have public support, but
it's more important to have elites that will spearhead
the cause. American apathy in regard to politics allows
those people who do engage themselves in politics to have
more impact. Both public and elite support can be
initiated when any type of publicity reveals hypocrisy or
misbehavior by specific groups of elites (pg. 25). Lewis
sees the origin of reform as coming from the elites in
reaction to an identifiable problem.
The potential of reform movements, according to
Lewis, varies according to subject. He identifies a
problem in most reform movements as being the reformers
themselves. Reformers oversimplify complex problems and
become paternalistic and self-righteous in their
pursuits. Instead of presetting the problem and allowing
the people to think it through, the reformer presents the
problem and solution in one fell swoop. This lumps the
problem in with one defined solution instead of exploring
all of the solutions to the problem. In this way many
"solutions" do not necessarily solve the real problem.
Reformers also face a serious problem in enacting
their particular reform movement because of the level and
the quality of participation. Reform movements face the
"real life" limits of human nature. Extracting energy,
intelligence, compassion and, most importantly commitment
from the people is a very difficult and unrewarding task.
It is easier to focus and extract these qualities from a
select number of people: the elites.
Even active citizens can only follow a few issues
with medium intensity. Hence while most of us would
like to see change m^de, it may be too unimportant
in relation to our other priorities that motivate
action like work or family. Meanwhile those few who
feel intensely on an issue (usually those with a
nartow economic gain) take effective action (pg.
Reformers and the elites they solicit to join their
campaigns counter the intensity problem by expanding the
concept of their self-interest to appeal to a broader-
audience. Although, as Lewis argues, there is some
altruism behind citizen reform movements, there is also
just as much selfish interest. These selfish interests
are expanded and explained to the public as "common"
interests in order to make others identify with the
solution (pg. 26).
In summary, according to Lewis, it is the lack of a
sustained intensity from the public that gives reform
movements little chance for major and substantive change.
However, because of the bargaining between a few
political elites, there is room in the system for small
amounts of political reform.
What does the origin and potential for reform
movements say about democracy in America? Lewis argues
that American democracy falls short in the reform process
because of several reasons. People are not aware of the
choices they have or have a skewed understanding of the
choices because they do not want to get involved beyond
saying "yes" or "no" to an issue. The elites use the
media, law, politics and non-decisipn making to influence
[Reformers] take advantage of conditions of the
elite and the people to attain useful reforms that
improve their own and other's lives. Although it
might seem desirable to change the people, it is
more realistic to try and increase the number
committed to reform, thus producing significant
leverage for more reform (pg. 29).
Democracy, in regard to reform, has failed by this
line of argument, as demonstrated by the fact that very
few people need to be involved for change to take place.
The people who have the right to vote and be involved do
not use it, or use it only after being influenced by
elites, instead of thinking out the problem for
themselves. According to Lewis, this is failed democracy.
However, according to Madison, this failed democracy
is just what the Framers had in mind. Changes to the
political system should be left to elites. Democracy was
meant to be controlled through the system of
representation in order to deliver a stable government
and wise policy-making.
Another recent book on reform. Reform and
Responsiveness (R & R). is a compilation of analysis of
reform movements that have taken place within recent
years. From election reform to the restructuring of the
branches of government, this book of readings has
outlined what has brought reform about and what has been
achieved through the process. The attempt of this book is
to explore the problems of reform in America and to
define how to make government more responsive to the
This book was edited by Dennis Ippolito and Thomas
Walker. According to these editors, national reform
movements emerge from a political system that has failed
to address problems that the nation currently faces. In
addition to failing to address the problems, the nature
of the problems must agitate a large number of citizens
to the point of action.
A reform movement must have enough political support
for change, and the changes proposed must fall within the
parameters of accepted democratic political theory. The
proposed changes must be understandable by the public in
addition to being practical and rational (pg. 459).
The potential for reform in the American political
system, according to these authors, ranges from very
likely to no chance. Most reforms do fall within this
acceptable range defined above, and the system will allow
for some limited changes. If the reformers can sustain
their campaigns for a long period and keep the public's
interest, then there is a better chance for real reform.
The problem, however, is that maintaining a high level of
public activity and interest is a difficult task. There
must be a large dose of dissatisfaction in order to put
political activity high on tjie priority list of most
The conclusions in R & R state that the reforms that
have the biggest impact on society are the hardest to
achieve. The reason this is true is because the interests
of established groups at which the reforms are targeted
are solidly entrenched. In many cases, these entrenched
interests are able to defend the status quo.
According to the editors, reform in America is
difficult because of the American people's limited
notions of democracy. The editors of this book argue that
because Americans value their system above all others and
are told from their early childhood how wonderful the
system is, changes from reform must fall within certain
boundaries. Americans hold their notion of democratic
values dear. Therefore, the reforms proposed must fall
within the framework of the generally accepted democratic
values based on the Constitution.
Although the people may dislike an aspect of the
system, they are quick to defend it, thereby making it
difficult to expand the democratic ideals that reform may
offer. The editors call Americans a society of
Constitution worshippers that center all reform based on
principles found in that document. Reforms that can not
argue that they have a base in the Constitutional intent
have little chance of acceptance. The American people
immediately suspect anyone that would try and radically
alter the existing political system (pg. 461).
The far Right might well prefer a constitutional
monarchy and the far Left might support government
by a people's revolutionary council but neither
alternative stands any chance of being adopted
because of the bounds imposed by our political
culture (pg. 461).
An example of the American people's unwillingness to
accept alternatives outside of our political culture is
the resistance to healthcare reform. The polls show that
most people want healthcare reform yet they shy away of
any plan that seems "anti-capitalist," which is
interpreted as anti-American. The editors of R & R would
not be surprised by this reaction. According to them,
democracy, as defined by the American people, is the
At the founding oi: the country, a tension existed
between the people's desire for direct democracy and the
attempt to contain democracy by Constitutional structure.
The people had fought the constraints of the British
government and t^ien faced new constraints under the newly
established government. The planned distancing of the
people from the government and the checks and balances
within government Were meant to make the new system slow
moving and resistant to radical change. This government
was intended to make it difficult for any single issue to
capture the public's mood and, thereby, translate into
radical political reform. The intent was to slow down the
turbulent impulses of democracy and to stabilize the
American political system.
The potential for reform, as defined by the
scholars, seems in line with the Framers' intent to keep
barriers between the people and the government. Although
there have been some moderately effective reforms that
have changed aspects of the system, all the scholars
agree that change, when allowed, comes in limited
quantities and only after a long intense battle. The
resistance to change in the political system has
Authors Grotty, Lewis and the editors of Reform and
Responsiveness (R & R^ all agree that the origin of
reform springs from public dissatisfaction. Public anger
and the resistance of the political system to change
starts the process of political reform.
Hofstadter sees the origin of national reform
movements stemming from the people's desire to change
social ills by practicing democracy or feeling like they
are practicing democracy. People are compelled to start a
reform movement because they feel it is their
responsibility to solve problems in the system. Once the
problem is "owned," public dissatisfaction brings further
attention to the situation.
Hofstadter sees the American political system as
incompatible with real, radical reform. He argues that
the American people do not want to disassemble or fully
participate in the existing system, because it is an
economically and socially comfortable system. It was the
intent of the Framers to make the system difficult to
reform so as to avoid another revolution- A revolution
would change the entire system of government and most
reformers only want to change aspects of the system. They
do not want a complete upheaval.
Modern scholars recognize the built-in obstacles in
reforming the system. Lewis and Crotty both see changes
happening in limited, slow and watered-down fashions. The
editors of R & R believe the limited aspects of change
are found not only within the political structure of the
United States but also within the political philosophy.
Americans have a limited idea of democracy and won't
accept reform proposals that vary from their fundamental
beliefs of what a democracy should be. Democracy is
associated with status quo. This philosophy makes the
potential for real change difficult.
Due to all these obstacles, scholars on reform agree
that most real reform comes from bargaining that takes
place among elites, be they corporate elites or political
leaders. It was, in fact, the intent of Federalists like
Madison and Hamilton to remove the people from the
process and let the property owners and other educated
and enlightened people negotiate on the changes to be
made to the system. The argument may be made that current
elites are not the educated and enlightened leaders that
they were in 1789, but the system that supports this
process is still in place and functioning.
The intent of the Framers was to avoid a pure
democracy as defined as one-man (person), one-vote and
self-government. Hofstadter argues that in the place of
pure democracy the people are happy with just a "feeling"
of democracy. The "feeling" is enough to keep most people
satisfied. Crotty and Lewis agree that the democracy
practiced in America is not the type that sustains public
interest and involvement but instead discourages it.
People are too comfortable to involve themselves, in
large numbers, in a radical reform. Finally, the Editors
of Reform and Responsiveness have concluded that what
Crotty and Lewis say is true, because Americans are
taught to think of democracy as the status quo. Any
radical change that threatens the system is shot down out
of the fear of change and the impact it would have on the
daily lives of citizens. This fear limits the scope of
any national reform movement.
The American political system is meant to diffuse or
slow down citizen reform movements. Even though there are
obstacles in the system to reform, the American public
believes in the Democratic Myth which leads to episodic
attempts at reform. The people do not seek a radical
restructuring or an enhanced participation in these
reform efforts. Because most people dp not want to get
and stay involved in politics, reforms are left to those
who do, the political elite. The elite are able to guide
the drive for reform and channel the outcome. Therefore,
the reforms are more likely to satisfy the needs of the
elite instead of the desires of the people. If the goal
of the elite is to secure a new circulation of elites,
then this is a more likely outcome than a true
radicalizing of democracy.
Term Limits and Reform
The national term limits reform movement seems to
follow the general pattern of national reform movements
as seen by the different scholars. Public dissatisfaction
with Congress, evident in the opinion polls, has driven
people to complain and demand change. Scandals that have
implied corruption, gridlock, and the perception of
inefficiency has caused public scrutiny of the Congress
to reach an all time high.
Shetman Lewis argues that political elites
capitalize on such public discontent by channeling the
public's anger in a direction that serves their own
purposes. This can be seen in the term limits movement.
When the political system fails to address national
problems that agitate the citizens, reform movements
emerge, according to R & R. The idea of term limits gives
citizens a feeling of taking control of the government.
Hofstadter would argue that this is the sense of
democracy and participation that people want. It does nof
matter if term limits will solve the problems with
Congress, it only matters that the public feels they are
doing something or striking back.
Lewis also argues that the elite reformers
oversimplify complek problems in their effort to reform
the system. This oversimplification has also been seen in
the term limits movement. Term limits are no guarantee
that the problems associated with Congress will
disappear. The problems in the system are complex and
need careful study to evaluate what is best for the
nation. Instead, reformers have taken a simplistic
approach to solving the problem, claiming term limits
will solve everything that is wrong or corrupt in
All of the authors agree that change can only be
seen in slow increments. Even though twenty-three states
have passed term limits for state and federal
representatives since 1990, not one person has been
forced to leave office because of the law. The term
limits law itself is a slow gradual change whose effects
can only be seen after several years. No real change in
the political system has been evident. If an amendment to
the Constitution that requires terra limits is passed,
change will still be slow. There will not be an immediate
turnover for six to twelve years.
This fact ties in with the Framer's intent for the
political system. Change must be slow and deliberative to
keep the government stable. Hofstadter would argue that
this is what people really want, the perception of change
with little real change to the structure. People do not
want to disassemble the system and sacrifice their
comfort. They want change that does not "rock the boat."
Term limits give the people a perception of having
more democracy. Limiting the number of terms a
representative can serve should bring the elected
officials closer to the people, according to the Anti-
Federalists. By having a Congress that is more in touch
with the people, it is thought that the people will have
more of a say in government by being represented more
accurately. This is the thought, but there is no
guarantee that it is true. Real ownership of government
would involve on-going participation, attentiveness and
oversight by the public. There has not been an effort to
get the general public more involved in politics.
Instead, the term limits initiatives require a one-time
vote by the public. In this way the public can feel like
they are more involved without having to do more than
Hofstadter says that having this "feeling of
democracy is more important to the citizens than actually
having more democracy. This fits into the R S R
conclusions that argue that citizens value their system
and belief in what democracy means too much to actually
change the way the system is run. People don't really
want more control or at least they don't want the real
work and responsibility necessary in achieving control of
government, but they want to feel like they have it.
Lewis would argue that term limits are not even what
the people have determined more democracy to be, but what
the elites have told the people it is. Because of the low
level of public interest and participation, the few
motivated people are more influential. This does not
translate to more democracy or participation for the
people. However, it does give the political elites more
access to public office and the people the feeling of
Reform was meant to be restricted under the American
political system. The Framers, like Madison, wanted
public dissatisfaction to be channeled through
representatives, giving people less access to government.
It was this lack of access to government and the feeling
that the people had lost control of government which led
to the term limits movement.
Feeling that the system was flawed, the people
demanded change. After the emergence of the term limits
movement, the reform process took the exact path that the
Framers had designed.
The public's discontent was channeled through the
system, tempered, and given enough room to give the
people a feeling of change without altering the system
too much. The feeling of democracy-in-action was given to
the people and the stability of the government stayed in
tact. In addition, a new political elite stands poised to
enter and dominate politics through term limits. However,
the emergence of a new elite in no way ensures that a
non-participatory and non-attentive public will own their
THE HISTORICAL ASPECT OF TERM LIMITS
Mark Petracca, an Assistant Professor at the
University of California, traced the origins of terra
limits to Aristotle. This Greek philosopher advocated a
rotation in office in order to limit the use of public
office for private gain and to expose a greater number of
people to the opportunity to serve in public office. The
latter would give the average citizen a better
understanding of the responsibilities involved. Aristotle
also argued that with rotation in office, officials would
be subject to the rules they made, being both the rulers
and, eventually, the ruled (Erickson, pg. 76).
Rotation in office was also considered part of the
democratic theory that first developed in Greece and
Rome. It was the practice of Athenians to choose their
five-hundred person assembly by drawing lots. This was an
annual practice, intended to guarantee that the
assembly's opinions concurred with those of the people.
Although this rotation in office was extreme in this
form, the Athenians went further by declaring that no
person could serve more than two years on the council for
his entire life (Petracca, pg. 20).
This idea of democracy was practiced after the
Renaissance in the form of a representative democracy
that included a rotation of representatives. By the
twelfth century, the cities of Venice and Florence
practiced rotation in office for most of their government
officials. Diverging from the strict nature of the
Athenian rotation rules, the Venetians limited the
holding of successive terms. Their justification for a
rotation in office was based on Aristotle's belief that
in their society of equals, such a system gave more
people an opportunity to serve and, in addition, gave
their government a supply of skilled and trained
statesmen (pg. 22).
The idea of rotation in office may have travelled to
America with the Dutch colonists who had practiced a
rotation in office in their mother country. The rotation
of the ruling council every third year was practiced in
the Dutch provincial estates and continued to be
practiced in colonial New York. By 1682, William Penn,
who established the government in Pennsylvania,
incorporated rotation of office in his government for the
office of the governor, councilors, and members of the
general assembly (Petracca, pg. 26).
The idea for rulers to be limited in their tenure
was spread throughout the colonies in the 17th and 18th
centuries by the writings of the Commonwealth-men,
oppositionists and radical Whigs. Men like John Locke,
Thomas Bradbury and several other intellectuals of their
day found an advantage to a rotation in office being a
protection against tyranny and a protection against the
loss of personal liberty.
Along with the idea of rotation in office there were
well known critics of the idea, one being David Hume. In
his writings he had argued against term limits because he
felt they led to the instability of government, throwing
out competent and able governmental officials. He argued
that the state needed to retain experienced public
officials (Petracca, pg. 22).
For the most part, however, the idea of elected
governmental officials rotating out of office was thought
to add many benefits to the governed. It was generally
thought that term limits would prevent "the corruption of
elected officials, check government tyranny, guarantee
liberty, enhance the quality of political representation,
and promote widespread service in government" (pg. 22).
As seen throughout history, rotation in office was a
way for the people to ensure that the politicians were in
touch with the people, with the Athenians going to the
furthest extreme to make this possible. In the democratic
theory that had emerged, it was thought that corruption
in government emerged when the politicians were no longer
accountable to their constituents. This corruption could
lead to tyranny and a loss of personal liberty for the
people. The required rotation in office was to force a
connection between the representatives and the electorate
which would otherwise be easily lost. Men like Hume felt
that this disconnection from the people was a good thing
because it allowed an elected officials tp deliberate for
the greater good of the people not just respond to their
will although thefe were many democratic theorists who
As rebellion spread throughout the colonies, support
for a type of term limit became widespread among the
people. As a revolution loomed nearer, colonists became
increasingly interested in exploring different options
for government.On the eve of the American Revolution,
John Adams declared that government should be kept within
the reach of the people through a rotation of public
servants and frequent elections. He stated:
Elections, especially of representatives and
councilors, should be annual, there not being in the
whole circle of the sciences a maxim more infallible
than this, 'where annual elections end, there
slavery begins.' These great men...should be once a
year-Like bubbles on the sea of matter borne, They
rise, they break, and to the sea return. This will
teach them the great political virtues of humility,
patience, and moderation, without which every man in
power becomes a ravenous beast of prey (pg, 26)
In essence, Adams felt that the accountability of
elected representatives was crucial for a successful
government. It was important for officials to return to
the public to forge that connection between the citizenry
and their representatives. He argued that without this
accountability to the public, officials would become
tyrannical, which is how he felt about the monarchy in
England. The lack of a rotation in office in Great
Britain's political structure, a lack that was paralleled
in the colonies in the form of territorial Governors, was
what Adams was preaching against. He felt they had lost
touch with the colonists in America.
Articles of Confederation
After the success of the Revolution, between 1776
and 1789, the new government of the United States was
regulated by the Articles of Confederation. The notion of
term limits for members who sat on the Continental
Congress was introduced by John Dickinson of Delaware and
adopted swiftly in the Articles of Confederation on
October 14, 1777 (ALCT, pg. 30). Term limits were popular
because the fear of a repressive and long standing
government was still fresh in the minds of the people in
the newly formed country. The delegates to the
Continental Congress were limited to serving only three
years in any six year period. There was no limit to the
years a delegate could serve, providing that they served
only three years in every six (Black and Black, pg. 114).
A delegate from Massachusetts, Samuel Osgood, was
retired from office due to the newly imposed rotation
requirement under the Articles of Confederation. In 1784
the Committee of Qualifications of the Continental
Congress undertook to make an inventory of the present
members to determine whether any members were 'tarrying
beyond their appointed terms.' Because Osgood had been
there three years since the ratification of the Articles
of Confederation, he was 'restored to his private
station' (Will, pg.103). Osgood left office when
However, there were two other representatives from
Rhode Island who were also asked to leave because they
had served past their appointed times. The two Rhode
Island delegates fought to keep their seats and a battle
within the Continental Congress ensued. Most members of
the Congress feared that if the argument continued, they
would be unable to finish their work before adjourning
for the summer. In light of this, they dropped the issue
with the Rhode Island delegates, allowed them to stay,
and finished the session (Petracca, pg. 30).
At this point in United States political history,
the idea of a rotation in office was not considered an
idea that was worth risking the dissolution of the Union.
If the Continental Congress would have kicked out the
Rhode Island delegates, it may have sparked a rebellion
within the loose coalition of states. The idea was not
considered so fundamental to the fragile government that
it risked invoking too much conflict.
Following this failed attempt to enforce a mandatory
rotation, a debate rose in the public sphere by the mid-
1780's about the need and effectiveness of rotation in
office. The debate was sparked shortly after six popular
and effective state governors had been forced to retire
because of term limits in their state constitutions. In
addition, the Confederation had began to disintegrate.
Arguments began to surface that called term limits anti-
democratic because they limited the rights of the people
to choose their representatives and leaders (Petracca,
Within the new government it was now apparent that
there were two sides to the rotation issue. Losing an
effective state leader in the government due to the term
limits law caused many people to guestion the
appropriateness of limiting terms of experienced and
valued leaders. This debate carried over to the
Constitutional Convention, where the Federalists and
Anti-Federalist each took a position on opposite sides of
Term Limits for Governors
Prior to the Revolution, the colonies were ruled by
powerful colonial governors who served at the King's will
and executed a wide range of powers over the people in
each territory. Included among their powers were the
control of the armed forces, the appointment of all
officials (including judges), a veto of legislative acts,
the granting of pardons, the supervision of all law
enforcement, and most importantly, the convening and
dissolution of the legislative bodies at their whim
(Sabato, pg. 2).
These executive governors and the administration of
power became the focal points for many revolutionaries.
This focus led to the changing of the role of the
governor in each state after the Revolution. Most powers
were removed from the executive and given to the elected
legislature because the governorship of each state or
territory in the new country was an office that was
feared by many colonists and leaders.
The governorship became an obstructed office, which
was what men like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine
thought it should be. However, men like John Adams made
sure that the Governorship was not completely destroyed,
as he felt that there was a proper place for an executive
role in both the state and the nation (Sabato, pg. 3).
Therefore, the early state constitutions focused
power and authority in their state legislatures, away
from the governorship. Most states allowed governors
little or no real power but that of a figurehead. In many
states, the legislature itself elected the governor and
the term was frequently one or two years (Beyle, pg.
Limitations on gubernatorial terms based upon fear
of excessive executive power have always been
fundamental to the Constitutional design of states
governments (Beyle# pg. 159).
The limit on Governor's terms usually fell into one
of two categories: either long terms were allowed, with a
limit on the number of times a person can serve (or a
requirement for a break in service) or short terms were
allowed with frequent elections but with no limit on the
number of terms that could be served. The latter category
considered the return of the person to the judgement of
the electorate as the limit placed on their power in
office (Beyle, pg. 159).
Of the thirteen original states, all had term limits
for their executive officeholder. Ten states limited the
terms their governors to a one-year stint in office. New
York and Delaware were the exceptions that allowed their
Governors a three-year term in office (Coyne, pg. 111).
The checks on the position of Governor were great.
After the forming of the state constitution in North
Carolina, one delegate was asked how much power the
governor had received. He replied, "Just enough to sign
the receipt for his salary" (Sabato, pg. 4). This was a
typical role for an executive office within a state.
James Madison observed that the governors constructed
under most state constitutions made the office little
more than ciphers," as opposed to the broad powers that
were constitutionally given to the state legislatures
The Maryland Constitution of 1776 went to the
extreme of stating:
That a lone continuance, in the first executive
departments of power or trust, is dangerous to
liberty; a rotation, therefore, in those
departments, is one of the best securities of
The Pennsylvania Constitution of the same year,
considered the most radical of all, required not only a
mandatory rotation for their governor but for their
legislature as well. They made these limits out of fear
that a new political aristocracy would develop (Petracca,
Term limits, or a mandatory rotation in office was
just one of the many ways the states tried to keep their
governors from acquiring too much power and to protect
their states from the transformation to tyranny or
aristocracy. Term limits were a basic and fundamental
part of the newly formed governments that emerged after
the successful American Revolution. This basic part of
the government did not change until the Constitutional
The Constitutional Convention
In 1787, as delegates were meeting in Philadelphia
to draft a new constitution, a debate on the issue of
terra limits ensued. The Massachusetts delegation to the
Constitutional Convention was instructed by their state
"not to depart from the rotation established in the
Articles of Confederation" (Will, pg. 110).
Elbridge Gerry, a colleague of John Adams, stated,
"Rotation keeps the mind of man in equilibria and teaches
him the feeling of the governed," and counters "the
overbearing insolence of office0 (Will, pg. 110).
The real battle over term limits and whether or not
they would follow the example found in the Articles of
Confederation can be seen in the arguments between the
Federalists and the Anti-Federalist. At odds with each
other on most issues, limits for representation was a
sore spot for both groups.
The Anti-Federalists supported term limits of the
strictest nature. They felt that in order to have a true
representation, the people needed to closely watch their
elected officials. In addition, they felt the terms of
office should be no more thhn one year at most, with a
mandatory rotation. They feared that long term
politicians would end up serving their own interests and
not the interests of the people they represented. They
felt that a government by the people was the most
important ingredient for a democracy. To have a watchful
citizenry it was necessary to have small districts and
short, rotating terms in office.
Melancton Smith, a respected Anti-Federalist,
disputed some arguments against term limits by stating:
The true policy of constitutions will be to
increase the information of the country, and
disseminate the knowledge of government as
universally as possible. If this be done, we shall
haVe, in any dangerous emergency, a numerous body of
enlightened citizens, ready for the call of their
In the same letter he also declared:
The [rotation] amendment, it is true, may exclude
two of the best men; but it can rarely happen that
the state will sustain any material loss by this. I
hope and believe that we shall always have more than
two men who are capable of discharging the duty of a
senator. But, if it should so happen that the state
possessed only two capable men, it would be
necessary they should return home from time to time,
to inspect and regulate our domestic affairs
(Malbin, pg. 56).
On the other side of the argument, the Federalists
felt term limits would encourage corruption based on the
human drive of ambition. Although this argument has not
carried over to the current debate, Alexander Hamilton
felt if there were limits placed on representatives,
ambitious people would not be able to attain rewards by
working in the system. This in turn would encourage
representatives to either line their own pockets or try
and overturn the Constitution in order to stay in office.
There are few positions more demonstrable than that
there should be, in every republic, some permanent
body to correct the prejudices, check the
intemperent passions, and regulate the fluctuations,
of a popular assembly.
Now, sir, what is the tendency of the proposed
[rotation] amendment? To take away the stability of
government by depriving the Senate of its
permanency... (Malbin, pg. 59-55).
Despite the heated debates, most delegates to the
Convention agreed with term limitations as practiced
under the Articles of Confederation and fully expected
limits for Congressional Representatives to be applied in
the new document. The Virginia Plan, a principal draft of
the Constitution, stated Representatives would be
"incapable of re-election" for a set amount of time after
serving their term. On the final draft however, it was
decided that the limits gave too much detailed
information for the "general proposition" and it was left
out of the final draft of the Constitution (ALCT, pg.
One-by-one, as the states ratified the new
Constitution, a large and outspoken debate was heard
across the nation concerning rotation in office. There
were three distinct reasons that the people wanted to
incorporate rotation of office into the new Constitution.
The American revolutionaries wanted enhanced
participation, a check on tyranny, and enhanced
representation incorporated into their new government
(Petracce, pg. 27). They felt that term limits would
bring about these three elements.
In 1788, as the New York Convention debated
ratifying the new Constitution, Gilbert Livingston
proposed that the document be amended to include a limit
for senators that would allow six years of service in any
twelve year period. In addition, he proposed that the
state legislatures could recall their senators at any
time. Even though New York approved this measure and
recommended the adoption of this amendment, the first
Congress did not include it among the Bill of Rights that
were sent back to the states for ratification (Malbin,
Thomas Jefferson originally opposed the new
Constitution for several reasons, one of which was
because it did not address term limits. He stated, "The
second feature I dislike, and strongly dislike, is the
abandonment in every instance of the principle of
rotation in office" (Coyne, pg. 112).
However, the Constitutional did require frequent
elections, which was assumed to be the control needed to
assure that a new monarchy did not arise and that
participation would be encouraged. At the time, it was
thought that frequent elections would be synonymous with
frequent turnover. The ratification debates over term
limits for federal representatives ended with the
assumption that rotation in office would be voluntary, as
practiced in several state legislatures (Petacca, pg.
33). In addition, serving in government was not
considered to be a full-time position. Members of state
and local governments served several months and then went
back home to their occupation such as farmer, rancher,
lawyer, etc. Being a politician was not a full time job,
instead it interfered with an official's real job.
Service in government was considered to be a duty of
those who could afford to do so, not a financial benefit.
Based on this fact of the day, the term limits debate was
As the rest of the world watched the emergence of
the new government in this country, one French diplomat,
Louis Guillaume Otto, reported back to France as to what
he saw as a critical flaw of the new constitution: "It is
true that the President will be elected for only four
years, the Senators for only six, the Representatives for
only two, but they will always be eligible; will not
elections be for sale....especially when they will be
able to command the public treasury at will?" (Erickson,
pg. 76) Although this did not appear to be a problem for
the first one-hundred-and-forty-years of the government,
it is now the same argument that many proponents of term
limits argue. Louis Guillaune Otto appeared to see a flaw
that would only became manifest after the voluntary
rotation in office disappeared. The change in the ethics
of government officials are one of the fundamental
reasons that many argue for term limits today.
Shortly after the First congress convened, Thomas
Tucker, a representative from South Carolina proposed a
Constitutional Amendment to limit the terms of national
elected officials to six years. The Amendment proposed by
Tucker was the first time, after the ratification of the
Constitution and Bill of Rights, that term limits for
federal representatives was proposed (ALCT, pg. 31).The
issue was never voted on, but a voluntary rotation in
office for senators, members of Congress and the
President became the norm. For the next one-hundred and
forty years, senators, representatives, and the President
voluntarily rotated out of office after serving two
terms. There was no exception to this practice until the
1920s. Although it was not required, it was normal
behavior for the politicians of that day.
Although neither the Articles of Confederation not
the Constitution required term limits for the executive
branch, the first person to practice voluntary term
limits was George Washington, who retired from the
Presidency after two terms. He established the "ethic by
example." The "ethic by example" carried so much impact
that when President Jefferson was in his second term and
was facing hostilities externally from the British and
internally from Aaron Burr's plan to separate the Western
states from the Union, he still followed Washington's
example. Jefferson was petitioned by many Americans to
seek a third term, yet he chose to lay down the
Presidency out of duty. He felt that because the
Constitution had not limited terms, "custom must do so."
Otherwise, the Presidency could be held for life and he
stated, "I should unwillingly be the person who,
disregarding the sound precedent set by an illustrious
predecessor, should furnish the first example of
prolongation beyond the second term of office" (Will,
Another popular President* Andrew Jackson, who was
considered a Washington outsider and a strong executive,
favored term limits. Jackson reshaped and expanded the
Presidential powers but did not go so far as to extend
the term of the voluntary rotation in office. While in
office he stated, "Every man who has been in office a few
years believes he has a life estates in it, a vested
right. This is not the principle of our government. It is
a rotation in office that will perpetuate our liberty"
(ALCT, pg. 24).
Analysis of the History of Term Limits
As is evident from the history stated above, term
limits for federal representatives are not a new issue
but they are a return of an idea that is deeply rooted in
our pplitical history. For the colonist, term limits were
equated to a representative democracy.
The debate about the qualities of term limits has
been present in the political scene since the Articles of
Confederation. As we see today, even in the late 1700's
politicians disagreed on the need, requirement and use of
limiting terms for federal officeholders. Although the
idea was still popular, there was no pressure from the
masses to require term limits after the new Congress got
underway because voluntary rotation was the standard.
However, the people living at the time of the
Constitution did not know that their elected
representatives would voluntarily rotate out of office.
Their voices and demands for term limits went unheard. If
elected officials had not voluntarily rotated out of
office, and established a type of aristocracy, the issue
might have become more heated as it has in the present
day, but whether or not anything could have been done
about it in the forming years, seems unlikely.
The idea for term limit fizzled out in the mid-
1800's only to resurface in the 1980's-early 1990's. As
with most reform movements, the idea of change is usually
not a new idea, but a repackaged idea that for some
reason appeals to a large segment of society at a
particular time in history. Term limits appear to be that
kind of repackaged new idea.
Prior to the revolution, term limits were popular
because they were an alternative to the appointed and
aristocratic type of government that they all lived
under; However, after term limits were established, the
people complained that they were limited in their choice
and their right to elect whomever they pleased was taken
In the present day, the people are making the same
arguments for term limits that the colonists originally
called for. It may be because there is now a need for
them due to the recent nature of long tenures in
Congress. However, this reform did not immediately come
to life as soon as representatives in Congress increased
their time in office. So it cannot be argued that an
increase in time served in Congress is the only reason
that term limits have become such a popular reform
movement of today. If this were true then the national
movement for term limits would have erupted shortly after
the New Deal was passed when many Congressional
representatives began to linger in office longer than any
of their predecessors had. There are other factors that
have emerged, coupled with the long time that
representatives now serve, that have driven this issue to
the forefront of American politics.
It can be argued that the abuses and failings that
have manifested in public office, abuses that Louis
Guillaume Otto predicted back in 1787, which have finally
urged the public to insist on limiting terms. If
government were operating effectively, then perhaps long
terms in office would not be unacceptable. It can also be
argued that today the people have more education and have
the political skills to try and force term limits on
their representatives. The masses who lived in the late
1700's had little if any education, and because of this
they had little access to the political system.
Proponents of the modern term limits debate have
taken an Anti-Federalist approach. A common argument is
that Congressional Representatives are serving their own
interests and not the interests of people they represent.
This is exactly what the Anti-Federalists feared would
happen. It took almost one-hundred and forty years to
happen because prior to that time elected officials felt
morally and ethically bound to leave Office after a set
time of service.
The Federalists feared that term limits would lead
to corruption. If that is trUe, it is unknown because the
current Congress has never been subject to term limits.
However, it appears as though the public feels the
opposite is true. Corruption has been associated with
long terms in office. That is not to say, that term
limits alone defined whether or not Congress would become
corrupt but it can be argued that their abuse is one of
the factors that has led to a corrupt and inefficient
My conclusion about the usefulness of term limits to
the Founding Fathers is two-fold. First, a mandatory
rotation in office was not so important that it was worth
fighting for under the Articles of Confederation and not
so important that they included it in the Constitution.
However, the issue was important enough that it was a
"given" that public officials would voluntarily rotate
out of office after serving two terms. The issue was
important to the Founding Fathers because they did
include measures in the Constitution that would require
frequent elections. It was the thought, at the time, that
frequent elections and frequent turnover were synonymous.
From this it can be concluded that a high turnover was
the intent of the Framers and, therefore, the intent for
the government. The fact that the wording of "term limits
or rotation in office" was excluded does not mean that
the idea behind these similar terms was not the original
Based on this conclusion, I believe that the idea of
term limits or a mandatory rotation is a move back to the
basics and the original intent of the Founders, even if
the current movement is not doing it for that reason.
Having frequent elections has not led to the high
turnover that the Framers intended. They could not
foresee the expensive campaigns and special interest
money that would keep people from electing new faces.
Adding term limits for Congressional leaders, would not
be a radical change to our political system because
voluntary term limits were the norm for the first one-
hundred and forty years.
Term limitations, emerged from our history and they
are not a radical reform movement. They are also not an
idea that emerged from a grass roots reform. The idea for
term limits or rotation in office was first introduced by
scholars and intellectuals and then relayed to the
colonists. Initially, the colonist grabbed the idea
because it made government more accountable to them and
because it gave them an alternative to the British system
under which they had lived.
The Articles of Confederation addressed the problems
associated with a lack of governing accountability by
incorporating a mandatory rotation in office, as did all
the state constitutions. Although mandatory rotation was
not stated in the Constitution, it was understood that a
rotation in office would be the norm.
ORIGINS OF THE MODERN MOVEMENT
Presidential Term Limits
After the ratification of the Constitution, the
subject of term limits did not come up again, in a
significant manner, until the mid-twentieth century. Up
to this point in history, no President had run for more
than two terms in office. The "ethic by example" started
by George Washington had carried on in the executive
branch for over one hundred and forty years.
In the Congress, the practice of voluntary rotation
in office had not been followed so rigidly. By the early
1920s, some of the Representatives in Congress had broken
with the two term tradition. This break in tradition went
relatively unnoticed by the public. However, when the
President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt,
decided in 1939 to break with the voluntary two term
limit, immediate attention was brought to the matter.
Although Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) is pointed out
as the individual who inspired the Twenty-Second
Amendment, he was not the first President to want to
serve more than two consecutive terms in office. From the
Lincoln Presidency through 1947, most executive officers
that enjoyed a second term toyed with the possibility of
serving a third (Koenig, pg. 67).
In 1875, Ulysses S. Grant was leaning toward
breaking with the two-term tradition. So strong was his
opposition that the House of Representatives declared in
a vote of 234 to 18 that serving a third term would be
"unwise, unpatriotic and fraught with peril to our free
institutions" (pg. 67).
Several nineteenth and twentieth century Presidents,
such as Theodore Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge, felt that
the third term "ethical limitation" applied only to
consecutive terms. Theodore Roosevelt was remembered as
using an analogy to relate his feelings about a third
term in office. He stated that if he refused a third cup
of coffee, it was not to be interpreted that he would
never drink another cup again. He used this comparison to
explain his re-entering the race in 1912 (pg. 68).
However, only FDR served three consecutive terms in
office (he won a fourth term also). When FDR was in the
White House, he enjoyed a Congress dominated by his
fellow Democrats. Although there was some debate in the
country about term limits for a President, there was not
much. Most of the discussion was done by academics and
politicians. There was a faction in the Democratic party
as well that felt Roosevelt should not have broken with
the two term tradition. However, the Democrats also
wanted their man in the White House and did little except
debate the issue privately. Interestingly, Harry Truman
was vocal about his opposition to Roosevelt's third term
but was later named as the Vice-Presidential candidate
for Roosevelt's fourth term in office (pg. 68).
However, in the election of 1947, a Republican
majority was returned to Congress. It had been seventeen
years, since 1930, since the Republicans had controlled
Congress. In response to the breach of the two term
limit, the Eightieth Congress, which convened on January
3, 1947, proposed the Twenty-Second Amendment to the
United States Constitution which would limit the number
of terms the President could serve in office. It stated,
"No person shall be elected to the office of the
President more than twice" (pg. 68). This statement made
it very clear that third terms, whether consecutive or
not, would not be allowed.
The amendment was an attempt to legislate the "ethic
by example" that had been broken under the Presidency of
Franklin D. Roosevelt. In addition, it was an attempt to
stop the expansion of executive authority as well as make
the office of the Presidency available for other career
politicians (pg. 68).
The Republicans in Congress felt they had suffered
under a type of monarchial rule with the popular
Roosevelt in office. The primary purpose of the amendment
was to keep another President (especially a Democrat)
from becoming a President-for-life (Spangler, pg. 283).
The amendment was ratified in February of 1951. This
was the first successful campaign to limit terms of a
federal officeholder since the Constitution had been
ratified (pg. 283).
Analysis of the Executive Term Limit
What motivated the Congress and the states to vote
for a term limits amendment for the Presidential office
was that the one-hundred-and-forty year old practice of
voluntary rotation had been broken. If left unchecked, it
would now be easier for all popular Presidents to stay in
office until their deaths. The Republican Congress felt
that this fact defeated what the Founders had intended
for the executive office. It also defeated what the first
and subsequent Presidents had tried to start: a voluntary
rotation. Where ethics had failed, Congress felt
compelled to step in and correct with the law.
It was not only the Republicans who wanted the
Presidential terms limited. Many prominent and powerful
Democrats were torn between the possibility of losing the
Presidency to the Republicans and breaking with a
tradition of only two terms per President. The origin of
the amendment to limit the terms of the President came
from the political elites, not the people. The American
people loved FDR and had no ethical problem re-electing
This example in history is an important factor in
the term limits debate. Until 1947, Presidents had felt a
moral obligation to voluntarily retire after serving two
terms. Roosevelt staying in office was a visible sign of
the changes that had been taking place in the attitudes
of most elected officials. The obligation to serve and
then leave office was disappearing. The new trend was to
make holding public office a career.
One major difference in the term limits reform
movement for the Presidency, compared to the modern
Congressional campaign, is the time involved in the
change. Within a few years after FDR died in office,
Amendment Twenty-Two was in place. It was a movement
originating in the Congress, not from interest groups or
a grassroots movement. It was not an issue that erupted
because of a poor handling of office, ineptness, or
general dissatisfaction with the way the presidency had
been handled. It was a reaction to time served and a
breaking with tradition from a voluntary rotation. It was
also a strike back at the Democrats from the Republicans
who felt that they were barred from the Presidency for
sixteen years because of the popularity of one man.
This type of reform was dramatic and instantaneous
(as far as political reforms go). It was a reaction by
the elite politicians to what was considered an abuse in
office. Because the idea came from the political elites
and affected only the role of one figure in government,
it was easier to pass than an idea stemming from "the
people" and effecting the terms of all elected office-
The Twenty-Second Amendment was not a political
reform that radically changed the role of the U.S.
President or the United States government. The limit on a
President's term was considered a "fix" in the system to
bring it back to normal; "Normal" being defined as the
way the office had been run since the passage of the
United States Constitution in 1789. This Amendment was a
political reform but was not a major reform because only
one President had served more than two consecutive terms
in office and because it affected only one officeholder.
This reform was also easy to enact because unlike members
of Congress, whose terms were increasing gradually over
the years, the President's term was easier to see, focus
on, and change.
Although the Congress had broken with the voluntary
rotation concept, just like the President had, members of
Congress did not legislate themselves. There was no
pressure from the public and no incentive to limit their
The Presidential term limit emerged immediately
after the "break from tradition" had taken place. The
Republicans who controlled Congress in 1947 had waited
seventeen years to get in power. At that time they made a
political reform in reaction to their long sojourn in the
wilderness. Today, in 1995, the Republicans have again
wrestled control of Congress away from the Democrats for
the first time in forty years. They have again promised
political reform, one of those reforms being
Congressional term limits.
State Term Limits
The next campaign to limit the terms of elected
officials came in 1990 and was at the state level.
Oklahoma was the first state to pass term limits for
their state legislators. The anger of the Oklahoma
voters, directed at the Oklahoma state legislature, was a
parallel story to what was happening on the federal
In the late 1980's, a series of scandals hit the
local media about Oklahoma's state house. In one
instance, the legislators stopped the clock on the
capitol just before the constitutionally reguired
adjournment date in order to pass more legislation.
Technically, with the clock stopped, the day remained the
same "legislative day" if not the calendar day. This was
a blow to the electorate who had voted in March of 1989
to severely limit the days and length of legislative
Following this scandal, an independent board, hired
by the state legislators, decided to raise the
legislators pay to $32,000 a year for serving a maximum
of ninety days in session. This pay hike was considered
outrageous by the Oklahoma voters (Copeland, pg. 140).
In addition to these scandals, there was confusion
within the Oklahoma state house. A coalition of Demoprabs
and Republicans had overthrown the sitting Speaker of the
House, throwing the legislative body into a state of
chaos (pg. 140).
Lloyd Noble II, a conservative and wealthy
individual from a prominent Oklahoma family, made it his
personal responsibility to see that something was done
about the problems in the Oklahoma State House. Noble had
run for the Oklahoma state legislature in the past and
had lost. Unable to change the system from within, he
started to develop a strategy to change the system from
the outside (pg. 140).
Noble personally paid for a survey to be done that
would measure the Oklahoma voter's opinions about term
limitations and other issues dealing with reforming the
state legislature. The results of the Oklahoma poll
showed that seventy-percent of voters approved of term
limits, and only eighteen percent disapproved. His survey
showed that some of the variables that normally lead to
different political views, such as party affiliation or
demographics, did hot have an impact on the overall
support for term limitations (Copeland, pg. 140).
Noble took it upon himself to draft an initiative
that would limit the terms for state senators and
representatives. As required by Oklahoma law, the draft
was clear, sipiple, and covered only one subject.
Noble started the group called Oklahoma for
Legislative Reform, and went about enlisting visible bi-
partisan support for his bill. Former Oklahoma Governor,
Raymond Gary (D) agreed to take the position as the
honorary chairman of the group. Another prominent
Democrat, Cleta Deatherage Mitchell, joined the campaign
for state term limits along with several candidates who
were running in the November election (Copeland, pg.
Noble stated that his reason for seeking term limits
was because, "We want greater turnover so we can have a
greater citizen legislature. If we can achieve a citizen
legislature, then we will have citizens from all walks of
life who will go to serve their constituents" (pg. 144).
Within ninety days, Noble and his supporters had
acquired 205,000 signatures which exceeded the required
175,000. The initiative was placed on the September 18,
1990 run-off ballot. By a two to one margin, Oklahoma
became the first state to enact term limitations for
their state legislators.
Noble's group had raised $240,000 for this effort.
Over half of this amount was used to do the polling and
advertising that was necessary to get the initiative on
the ballot (pg. 142).
The opposition to term limitations for state
officeholders was late in appearing on the scene. The
group called itself PROVE: the Committee To Protect The
Rights Of Oklahoma Voters. It was chaired by the former
state Democratic party chair, Jim Frasier, with other
state Democratic party workers on it's Board of
Directors. PROVE raised and spent $56,000. All but $875
of the campaign contributions to PROVE came from seven
labor unions, only one of which had a local Oklahoma
address. A few state legislators grumbled about term
limitations, but did not take their opinions to the
public because of the popular support that term
limitations carried with the people (Copeland, pg. 142).
Analysis. In Oklahoma, the term limits initiative
was sponsored by one person, but was well-liked by the
public. One man developed an idea that capitalized on the
public's anger with the state legislature. This was not a
grass roots campaign, but an elitist idea that was lucky
enough to have the public support behind it. In fact, the
public support was careful measured before the attempt to
limit terms was started. It was an example of taking the
mood of the people and channeling it behind one person's
personal interests. Noble had lost in an attempt to
became a state legislator. He used the public discontent
to punish the incumbents in the Oklahoma State
One of the reasons that the Oklahoma public may have
bought into term limits was that they were a way to "get
back at" the legislators. After the pay raise, stopping
of the clock and disorganization in the state house,
voters were frustrated. They needed a simple idea that
was easy to understand and fairly simple to accomplish.
That is one of the reasons that term limits was so
appealing. It punished incumbents and was a quick fix.
The Oklahoma term limits campaign fits the model of
Crotty, Lewis, and the analysis in Reform &
Responsiveness. The public dissatisfaction was projected
into the political arena. When the system failed to
address the problems, the citizens became agitated.
According to the scholars, reform movements emerge when
people are frustrated with the system and want change.
Lewis argues that in reform movements, the political
elites lead the people in a direction that seems to serve
the public's demands but, more importantly, also serves
the elites' purposes. The desire to change the system had
been directed into a desire to have term limits.
The people wanted to feel like they were doing
something to solve the problems with their state
legislature. The desire of the people to step in and take
control back, propelled the movement forward. This desire
stems froita what Hofstadter calls the desire of the people
to practice democracy and feel like they are
The people did not rise independently in discord
with their government and demand change. The people were
angry with their representation and then one leader told
the people about a way to get back at their
representatives. This proposal sounded good to the
people. It was a movement supported by the voters, but
not initiated or created by them. However, it was from
this success and the Colorado success that a national
reform movement "from the people" did emerge.
In the same year that Oklahoma was passing term
limits for their state officials, two other states,
California and Colorado, were working on the same type of
initiatives. In California the move was to limit the
terms of state officeholders only. In Colorado, the
initiative included Congressional officeholders as well.
The first sign of life for term limits in Colorado
was sparked in 1989 by former State Senator Terry
Considine, who later ran for the Senate in 1992. In 1988,
he had written a chapter for a book, put out by a
Republican Think Tank in Texas, entitled, Making
Government Work. In his chapter, he explained why term
limits were necessary and how they would restore
democracy and integrity in government.
Considine argued that long term careers in
government give too many advantages to incumbents when it
comes to re-election. He argued that it is nearly
impossible to effectively challenge an incumbent because
of their fund-raising capabilities. Incumbents are also
more removed from the people and when this happens
corruption emerges, as was seen in the Savings and Loan
uproar (Considine, pg. 440).
"Term limits will make government more
representative, more responsive, more responsible.
Term limits will give us lawmakers with more vigor,
more vision, more openness to ideas. Term limits
will give elections more meaning, give the people
more control over the direction of their government"
It was also Considine's hope that term limits would
give leadership positions to the most able law-makers not
the people who endure the longest (pg. 444).
Following his convictions, Considine attempted to
get term limits passed for the state officeholders in
Colorado through the state legislature. He proposed an
amendment to the Colorado Constitution.
In 1989, the Colorado House and Senate were both
controlled by Republicans. However, there were several
career politicians from both parties in the legislature.
This fact, combined with the lack of public awareness on
the issue, destroyed the amendment's chance for success.
The proposal never made it past the committee level
(Carroll, pg. 40).
After losing the battle for an amendment through the
legislature, Considine started a group named Coloradans
Back in Charge (CBIC). This group, consisting of two
full-time employees and several volunteers, spent the
first part of 1990 gathering signatures to get the issue
on the ballot by November of 1990 (pg. 40).
The ballot proposed by CBIC included term limits for
federal officeholders as well as limits for state
officeholders. This was the first proposal in the country
that included federal terp limits.
During 1990, the local newspapers argued that
Republicans had the most to lose in Colorado by passing
limits. They greatly outnumbered Democrats in the state
legislature. Terry Considine argued that term limits were
not a Republican or Democratic issue!. Instead, he
claimed, it was a nonpartisan issue. He stated the
problem was not with the Democrats or Republicans, but
with the political system. The seniority system gave
politicians an incentive to stay in office for a career
(Carroll, pg. 65).
The initiative proposed in Colorado would limit
members of Congress to twelve consecutive years of
service and would take effect in 2002. A few primary
supporters of the bill were Senator Hank Brown (R),
Senator Bill Owens (R), State Representative Don Mares
(D), and Miller Hudson, a Democrat activist and former
director of Colorado AFL-CIO (Gavin, pg B8).
By September of 1990, no organized opposition had
formed against the term limits initiative in Colorado.
Several long term political officeholders, like Pat
Schroeder (D), openly opposed term limits but there was
no organized campaign which filed with the Secretary of
State's office or that was mentioned in the newspapers.
Other issues that may have taken the focus away from term
limits were the fight over having a major league baseball
team in Denver and the battle for small stakes gambling
in mountain towns (Brown, pg. Cl).
A Denver Post editorial in October of 1990 came out
in support of term limits and encouraged voters to vote
"yes." The editorial stated that the term limit proposal,
Amendment 5, might spark a national movement. It argued
that we needed new faces and fresh blood, but the article
did note that most legislative representatives in
Colorado leave office by choice or defeat well within the
The initiative that appeared on the 1990 ballot in
Amendment 5 Shall there be an amendment to the
Colorado Constitution limiting the number of
consecutive terms that may be served by the
Governor, Lt. Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney
General, Treasurer, Members of the General assembly,
and United States Senators and Representatives
elected from Colorado.
The final vote on the amendment was 708,975 in favor
and 289,664 opposed.
In Colorado, the debate over term limits never
really came to the surface. However, within a year a
heated and heavily financed battle was on in several
other states on the same issue. The success of the
movement in Colorado may have been a catalyst for the
rest of the nation.
The tptal amount raised in Colorado for the term
limits campaign was $260,604.29. The main contributor to
this group in bffice equipment and staff was Terry
Considine. He contributed over $31,000, not in cash, l?ut
in supplies. The remainder of the donations came from
citizens. There were over 1800 individuals that had
contributed anywhere from $10.00 to $1000.00 to this
cause. There were no large contributions by out-of-state
groups. For the most part, this campaign was primarily
financed in Colorado by the people. 1
This information was compiled at the Colorado Secretary of
State's Office from the documents filed by Americans Back
in Charge in 1990.
Analysis. The idea for term limits in Colorado came
from a political dlite who had first expressed his idea
for term limits through the means of a Republican think
tank. This fact confirms that the original idea for term
limits was given to the people by a leader with a
personal or political agenda* This reform movement fits
Sherman Lewis' model of reform. Lewis believes that the
political elites are behind every Rational reform
movement, even the ones that look like they are "from the
In the Colorado movement, the people did support the
movement with contributions and volunteer work. The
movement was carried by the public's anger with
government, similar to what had happened in Oklahoma. The
idea of term limitations for Congress captured the public
mood and focused it on limiting the terms for both state
and federal officials.
The fact that most state legislators in Colorado
leave the state house within the number of years allotted
on the ballot proposal indicates there was an intent to
do more than limit state officeholder's terms. In 1994,
only 12 of the 35 members of the Colorado Senate had
served more than the eight years proposed by Amendment 5.
In the house only 15 out of 65 members had served more
than the eight years 2. It appears as though the real
intent of the proposal was to get at the federal Congress
and open up more seats on that level to competitive
Getting the issue to the Supreme Court may have been
Terry Considine's intent. In his 1989 article, Considine
stated that there are two obstacles to the national
enactment of term limits. The first is that only 23
states allow voter initiatives, and the second is that
the Supreme Court may declare state limits on
Congressional seats unconstitutional. However, he argued
that 23 states are enough to elect a large group to
Congress, who in time will push through an amendment to
the federal Constitution. It was also his hope that the
public would help pressure reluctant members of Congress
into passing a Constitutional Amendment for term limits
for federal officeholders (Carroll, pg. 40).
From this statement, it appears as though
Considinte's original intentions were to pass term limits
2This information was taken out of the 1993 Colorado
Legislative Handbook that was compiled by Margaret Ackerman
and Kenator Kuhn. The information was deduced from the
for Congress. The fact that the Colorado initiative
included Congressional officeholders was not a last
The origin of the term limits movement was through a
well-planned strategy, instigated by the political
elites. These political leaders were using the public's
anger and desire for change to advance their goals.
However, once the public heard the idea for term
limitations, they adopted the idea as their own reform
Proponents of term limits are firm believers in the
people running government. This is part of the myth that
Hodstadter said has never existed and Madison wanted to
avoid. One issue that came up in both the Oklahoma and
Colorado elections was that government was too removed
from the people. Term limits were thought to be a way to
restore government to the people. But governing was never
given to the people under the Madisonian model.
Government was meant to be removed from the people and
given to a small body of elected leaders.
When scandals emerge that demonstrate how removed
government is from the people, the people seek reform
movements to "own" government. Increasing political
participation levels are not a goal of these reform
efforts. Instead, efforts at reforming government are a
type of "psychic spree" that balances the desire to
engage in democracy against the resistant political
system. Madison's system allows for these "psychic
sprees" by passing theih through elected officials and
balancing them against the governing branches.
Congressional Term Limits
The time spent in office by members of Congress has
increased gradually since the 1920s. What had previously
been a considered a four year "tour of duty" had grown
into an extended stay in office. To sotae scholars, the
extended time in office seemed a natural response to a
As recently as the 1920s, Congress would meet on the
average of two months a year. If the Congress continued
for three months, it was considered unusual. Members of
Congress were "citizen-legislators" who would go home to
their constituents and work in the community after
serving in Washington. When the size and responsibilities
of the government increased, it became apparent that
members of Congress would be required to spend more time
in their government career than in a private practice.
Serving in Congress had become a full time job (Fund, pg.
In addition to the government having more
responsibilities, the Congress was undergoing the same
modernization process that was taking place in other
institutions across the nation. The modernization led to
decentralized power in the legislative branch. There was
more power to be found at the subcommittee level.
Seniority was rewarded with positions of authority on the
committees. This increased the attractiveness of a career
in Congress. The professionalization and careerism of
legislators became normal as the need for expertise
increased (Petracca, pg. 41).
For the first one-hundred and thirty years after the
ratification of the Constitution, the average length of
service for a member of Congress was four years, or two
terms. By the 1920's the average length of service in
Congress had increased to five years. In the 1950's the
length of service had leaped to seven years and by 1990
the average returning member had been in Congress for
more than ten years (ALCT, pg. 34).
The issue of term limits did not jump miraculously
on the political plate of ideas. It was a growing concern
for many who were observing the changing roles of the
President and Congress. When the Twenty-Second Amendment
to the Constitution was proposed, Senator W. Lee 0' Daniel
(D-Tx) wanted to included a measure that would limit
terms for members of Congress as well. This measure was
defeated eighty-two to one. In later years both Truman
and Eisenhower endorsed a twelve year limit for Members
of Congress but their proposals were ignored by Congress
(Coyne, pg. 115).
The beginning of the current movement for
Congressional term limits was in 1988. The Republican
party had endorsed term limits in it's 1988 platform and
the first action toward implementing Congressional term
limits started shortly after the 1988 election. In this
election a new record had been set, ninety-eight percent
of the incumbents seeking re-election to Congress had
been returned to office (pg. 115).
This fact alone would not account for a move toward
term limits except for the fact that the high re-election
rate was coupled with a dissatisfied electorate. A poll
done in 1988 indicated that over sixty-seven percent of
the public felt like government was not trustworthy and
almost sixty percent felt it was run by big interests
(Black, pg. 103).
A few short weeks after the 1988 election, members
of Congress proposed that they give themselves a fifty
percent pay raise. The attempt to give themselves a raise
was also part of a deal between the Republicans and
Democrats in office. They agreed to push it through
without debate and not to use it against each other in
future campaigns (Coyne, pg. 143).
The nledia reported the pay raise and the public
reaction was not positive. The secretive nature of the
raise lowered the already low opinion that the American
public had for Congressional Representatives. The fifty
percent pay raise was not passed but a smaller raise was
approved a few months after the intense public pressure
had eased up (pg. 143).
The first national group to address Congressional
term limits was called Americans To Limit Congressional
Terms (ALCT). This group was started by a former
Congressman, James Coyne (R-PA). Coyne, who had served
only one term, was one of the people who decided that
term limits would be a good way to reform Congress.
Coyne sent hundreds of letters to his former