When the Founding Fathers deliberated over the blueprints for this great nation, they made no secret of the fact that, overwhelmingly, they believed anyone given power in government would eventually be corrupted by it.
“Whenever a man has cast a longing eye on offices, a rottenness begins in his conduct.” – Thomas Jefferson
“The truth is that all men having power ought to be mistrusted.” – James Madison
“There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with the power to endanger the public liberty.” – John Adams
“The people must remain ever vigilant against tyrants masquerading as public servants.” – George Washington
With these views in mind, they established a system of checks and balances to limit the power of each branch of government. While term limits were often discussed, they were not written into the Constitution. Still, the Founding Fathers made their viewpoints clear in debates, speeches and writings.
They could not have foreseen the modern political climate in which career politicians are standard. At the time of the Constitutional Convention, the notion of a person spending decades away from home to serve in government was unrealistic.
A representative would have earned only a “modest” salary for serving his country; unlike today, a position in Congress was not a means to wealth.
The Founding Fathers imagined a Congress of citizen legislators. James Madison described the ideal representative as one “called for the most part from pursuits of a private nature and continued in appointment for a short period of office.”
George Mason stated further, “Nothing so strongly impels a man to regard the interest of his constituents, as the certainty of returning to the general mass of the people, from whence he was taken, where he must participate in their burdens.”
Jefferson defended his position in favor of Congressional term limits with: “My reason for fixing them in office for a term of years, rather than for life, was that they might have an idea that they were at a certain period to return into the mass of the people and become the governed instead of the governors which might still keep alive that regard to the public good that otherwise they might perhaps be induced by their independence to forget.”
They believed that the very essence of fair and responsible legislation relied upon the premise that those making the laws would soon return to their normal lives to live under the laws they created. When one spends decades as a member of the ruling class, he or she will lose sight of what it means to be a regular citizen. The Founders recognized term limits as the best way to avoid this situation and the dangerous legislation that may result from it – and the same holds true today.
In one of the most concise statements supporting the need for term limits in order to preserve American ideals, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton agreed, “The security intended to the general liberty consists in the frequent election and in the rotation of the members of Congress.”
While it is clear that the Founding Fathers understood the need for term limits in the 18th century, we must tell our leaders that we need term limits now more than ever. Today, corruption in Congress is widespread, and the election system seems to encourage rather than deter it. Self-serving legislation has become the prevailing trend among Congressmen and Senators who make major decisions in order to preserve beneficial relationships with deep-pocketed lobbyists and maintain a long list of exclusive benefits.
For those rare representatives who have proven themselves responsible to their constituents and excel at their job, whose experience will be useful in government, a “rotation of office” is the solution. This phrase was referenced often by the Founding Fathers when referring to lawmakers. Today, that exceptional person can run for the Senate, governorship or even the presidency, but remaining too long in the same office overwhelmingly leads to a ongressman who has lost sight of his or her true purpose.
A legislature who benefits from the broken system sees no need to fix itself. We the people must demand a return to the common sense ideals of the Founding Fathers with the power we have been given – through our right to vote. If your Congressman or Senator does not support term limits and has spent too long reaping rewards in office, act now. Vote this year to Restart Congress and end corrupting career politics with fair and necessary term limits.
To sign the petition to demand term limits for Congress, go to www.restartcongress.org. To read the entire article, go to HTTP://RESTARTCONGRESS.ORG/REVOLUTION/FOUNDING-FATHERS.