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The Jeffersonian cyclopedia;

a comprehensive collection of the views of Thomas Jefferson classified and arranged in alphabetical order under nine thousand titles relating to government, politics, law, education, political economy, finance, science, art, literature, religious freedom, morals, etc.;

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8438. THIRD TERM, Precedent against.—
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8438. THIRD TERM, Precedent against.—

The reeligibility of the President
for life [in the new Constitution], I quite disapproved.
* * * My fears of that feature
were founded on the importance of the office,
on the fierce contentions it might excite
among ourselves, if continuable for life, and
the dangers of interference, either with
money or arms, by foreign nations, to whom
the choice of an American President might
become interesting. Examples of this
abounded in history; in the case of the Roman
Emperors, for instance; of the Popes,
while of any significance; of the German Emperors;
the Kings of Poland and the Deys
of Barbary. I had observed, too, in the
Feudal history, and in the recent instance,
particularly, of the Stadtholder of Holland,
how easily offices, or tenures for life, slide
into inheritances. My wish, therefore, was,
that the President should be elected for seven
years, and be ineligible afterwards. This
term I thought sufficient to enable him, with
the concurrence of the Legislature, to carry
through and establish any system of improvement
he should propose for the general good.
But the practice adopted, I think is better,
allowing his continuance for eight years, with
a liability to be dropped at half way of the
term, making that a period of probation.
That his continuance should be restrained to
seven years, was the opinion of the Convention
at an earlier stage of its session, when
it voted that term, by a majority of eight
against two, and by a simple majority that
he should be ineligible a second time. This
opinion was confirmed by the House so late
as July 26, referred to the Committee of Detail,
reported favorably by them, and changed
to the present form by final vote, on the last
day but one only of their session. [479] Of this


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change, three States expressed their disapprobation;
New York, by recommending on
amendment, that the President should not
be eligible a third time, and Virginia and
North Carolina that he should not be capable
of serving more than eight, in any term of
sixteen years; and although this amendment
has not been made in form, yet practice seems
to have established it. The example of four
Presidents voluntarily retiring at the end of
their eighth year, and the progress of public
opinion, that the principle is salutary, have
given it in practice the force of precedent
and usage; insomuch, that, should a President
consent to be a candidate for a third
election, I trust he would be rejected, on this
demonstration of ambitious views.—
Autobiography. Washington ed. i, 79. Ford ed., i, 109.


This is an evident error. On September 4th, the
committee of eleven reported a clause making the
term four years, which was adopted by the convention
on the 6th and not altered thereafter.—Note
in Ford edition.