The 22nd Amendment: Definition, Summary & History

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  • 0:01 Defining the 22nd Amendment
  • 1:00 Historical Background
  • 2:16 Passing the 22nd Amendment
  • 3:14 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stephen Benz

Stephen has a JD and a BA in sociology and political science.

The 22nd Amendment establishes a two-term limit for the presidency. We'll discuss its history, starting with Washington, and the motivations for passing the amendment.

Defining the 22nd Amendment

Russian President Vladimir Putin served as president for eight years, from 2000 to 2008. Then, as the Constitution of Russia requires, he stepped down. But he stepped down only for four years, while he served as Prime Minister. After four years as Prime Minister, he has reinserted himself as president, effectively making him the chief leader of his country for 16 years, and possibly 20. A situation like this demonstrates something that would never happen in the United States thanks to the 22nd Amendment. The 22nd Amendment states:

'No person shall be elected to the office of the president more than twice, and no person who has held the office of president, or acted as president, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected president shall be elected to the office of the president more than once.'

Essentially, this amendment means that no president can serve more than two terms.

Historical Background

The framers of the Constitution of the United States discussed the possibility of including a limitation on the numbers of terms a president could be elected to, but they declined to incorporate a limitation in the original Constitution. The first president of the United States, George Washington, was asked to continue on for a third term due to his popularity as a president. Washington, however, declined. In his farewell address, Washington noted that no president should serve more than two terms. This created an unwritten tradition in American political culture. Thomas Jefferson, who was likewise asked to serve a third term, declined out of respect for Washington.

For multiple years, this unwritten rule governed how presidents should behave. The tradition, however, was broken by Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR). Roosevelt served as president for eight years, guiding the United States through the Great Depression. With the likelihood of World War II looming, Franklin Delano Roosevelt decided he was going to run for president again despite the precedent set by Washington. Franklin Delano Roosevelt went on to be elected to a third and also a fourth term, but died shortly after beginning the fourth term because of poor health.

Passing the 22nd Amendment

After 13 years of having a Democratic president, Republicans again gained a majority in the House and Senate. Remembering that Franklin Delano Roosevelt had broken the tradition, both houses passed the 22nd Amendment in 1947 to ensure that a president no longer could serve more than two terms. It was ratified in 1951.

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