Issues: Term Limits

The Founding Fathers on Term Limits
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ALEXANDER HAMILTON: "Nothing appears more plausible at first sight, nor
more ill-founded upon close inspection [than term limits].... One ill
effect of the exclusion would be a diminution of the inducements to good
behavior. There are few men who would not feel much less zeal in the
discharge of a duty when they were conscious that the advantage of the
station with which it was connected must be relinquished at a determinate
period, than when they were permitted to entertain a hope of obtaining, by
meriting, a continuance of them." (The Federalist, #72)
 
JOHN ADAMS: "There is no right clearer, and few of more importance, than
that the people should be at liberty to choose the ablest and best men, and
that men of the greatest merit should exercise the most important
employments; yet, upon the present [term limits] supposition, the people
voluntarily resign this right, and shackle their own choice.... [T]hey must
all return to private life, and be succeeded by another set, who have less
wisdom, wealth, virtue, and less of the confidence and affection of the
people." (A Defence of the Constitutions of the United States of America)
 
JAMES MADISON: "No man can be a competent legislator who does not add to an
upright intention and a sound judgement a certain degree of knowledge of
the subjects on which he is to legislate. A part of this knowledge may be
acquired by means of information which lie within the compass of men in
private as well as public stations. Another part can only be attained, or
at least thoroughly attained, by actual experience in the station which
requires the use of it.... A few of the members [of Congress], as happens
in all such assemblies, will possess superior talents; will, by frequent
re-elections, become members of long standing; will be thoroughly masters
of the public business, and perhaps not unwilling to avail themselves of
those advantages. The greater the proportion of new members and the less
the information of the bulk of the members, the more apt will they be to
fall into the snares that may be laid for them." (The Federalist, #53)
 
SAMUEL ADAMS: "If ever time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall
possess the highest seats in Government, our country will stand in need of
its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin." (1780)
 
ROGER SHERMAN: "Frequent elections are necessary to preserve the good
behavior of rulers. They also tend to give permanency to the Government, by
preserving that good behavior, because it ensures their re-election.... In
Connecticut we have existed 132 years under an annual government; and as
long as a man behaves himself well, he is never turned out of office."
(From Madison's notes at the Constitutional Convention, 1787)
 
GOUVERNEUR MORRIS: "The ineligibility proposed by the [terms limitation]
clause as it stood tended to destroy the great motive to good behavior, the
hope of being rewarded by a re-appointment. It was saying to him, make hay
while the sun shines.'" (From Madison's notes at the Constitutional
Convention, 1787)
 
SAMUEL ADAMS: "Much safer is it, and much more does it tend to promote the
welfare and happiness of society to fill up the offices of Government after
the mode prescribed in the American Constitution, by frequent elections of
the people. They may indeed be deceived in their choice; they sometimes
are; but the evil is not incurable; the remedy is always near; they will
feel their mistakes, and correct them." (1790)
 

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