Anytime anyone brings up Congress in conversation, it can be all but guaranteed that someone will curse it. To put it lightly, Congress has had a rough time getting their constituency to approve of their dealings over the past few years. The latest RealClearPolitics average puts their approval rating at just 15.2% and it is understandable as to why. With everything from raising the debt ceiling, the passage of Obamacare, the failed trillion dollar stimulus, and complete refusal to pass any sort of budget whatsoever, the American people are right to be angry at the entire Congressional body.
It is because of this that support for Congressional term limits has swept across the United States, from sea to shining sea. In a 2013 Gallup poll, 75% of respondents said they want term limits, but is this yet another example of unneeded government prohibition?
The Framers of the Constitution did not put term limits into the original document, nor was the idea proposed in the Bill of Rights. In fact, it was never a concern to our Founding Fathers. While President Washington did turn down a third term, the fact remains that he was asked to serve one. Being 65 years old at the time, Washington wished to retire from public life. In a letter dated 21 July 1799 to Jonathan Trumbull, Washington wrote:
“[N]ot only as it respects my ardent wishes to pass through the vale of life in retirement, undisturbed in the remnant of the days I have to sojourn here… but on Public ground also; for although I have abundant cause to be thankful for the good health with which I am blessed, yet I am not insensible to my declination in other respects. It would be criminal therefore in me, although it should be the wish of my Country men, and I could be elected, to accept an Office under this conviction, which another would discharge with more ability…”
While the tradition of not seeking a 3rd term continued until FDR ran again in 1940, the Founding Fathers never actually addressed the issue. While it is pure speculation, I believe that the Framers felt as though the people should have the ultimate say in how long an elected official should remain in office, provided he or she wishes to continue such service. Further, it would appear as though the American people have instituted term limits on their elected officials in Congress by utilizing their power at the ballot box.
In 2014, sitting House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, was defeated in the GOP Primary by nearly 11 points. This was the first time that a sitting Majority Leader had been defeated since the position was established in 1899. As impressive as that one loss was, in a Congressional body of 535 officials, it is far from the only one. In fact, since 2008, 61 Senators and 291 Representatives have been elected as freshmen in their respective bodies. Simple math will tell you that this translates to 61% of the Senate and 67% of the House of Representatives have been newly elected within the past 8 years. It will likely increase after the November 8th General Election as well.
So why should we institute term limits on our representatives in Congress? Would this not only strip power from We The People? It would do a great disservice to the United States of America if a great statesman who truly represented their constituency was forced to step down because the people did not have the power to place them back in the seat they honorably held. Yes, several members of Congress have lied, cheated, stolen, swindled, conned, and bought their way to the top of the political food chain. Those acts should be punished with vengeance at the ballot box. Our Founding Fathers gave us such awesome power to hold our government in check. We should not allow this power to be stripped away.
* Derek Wills is a US Navy veteran from Houston, Texas, with an obsession for history. Derek is the founder of a small group called the Society for the Advancement of Firearm Equality (SAFE). You can follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at @FirearmEquality.