22nd Amendment

The 22nd Amendment to the United States Constitution limits the number of terms a president can serve. It also implements eligibility conditions for presidents that succeed their predecessors. Congress passed the amendment on March 21, 1947 and the requisite number of states ratified it on February 27, 1951. To explore this concept, consider the following 22nd Amendment definition.

Definition of 22nd Amendment


  1. The Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that sets presidential term limits.


Ratified on February 27, 1951

What is the 22nd Amendment?

The 22nd Amendment limits the number of terms a person can serve as president of the United States to two. It also prohibits someone who succeeds to the office for over two years from winning a presidential election more than once. The meaning of the 22nd Amendment ensures no president serves more than 10 years total.

In 1944, Franklin Delano Roosevelt won his fourth presidential election. While he had plenty of support, critics asserted that the lack of term limits gave one person in the government too much power. Roosevelt died just months after inauguration into that fourth term, and the House of Representatives quickly proposed 22nd Amendment examples imposing presidential term limits. In March 1947, the Senate and House passed the amendment, but it took nearly four years for ratification.

The 22nd Amendment reads as:

“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 President more than once. But this Article shall not apply to any person holding the office of President when this Article was proposed by Congress, and shall not prevent any person who may be holding the office of President, or acting as President, during the term within which this Article becomes operative from holding the office of President or acting as President during the remainder of such term.”

History of the 22nd Amendment

The history of the 22nd Amendment starts with the framers of the Constitution as they debated including presidential term limits. Some, including Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, suggested lifetime appointments for presidents selected by Congress. This proposal failed in a vote of four to six. Instead, the framers devised the electoral college and shortened the presidential appointment from life to four years. They did not however, set any limits on how many four-year appointments a president could serve.

After having served two terms, supporters urged the first president, George Washington, to continue for a third term. Exhausted from his years of public service, he declined in his farewell address to the nation. He created an unwritten tradition by declaring that a president should not serve more than two terms. Thomas Jefferson also declined after Congress asked him to serve a third term.

A few presidents since have attempted to secure a third term, and all but Franklin D. Roosevelt failed. Roosevelt became the first and only president to serve more than two terms.  He began his fourth term in 1945, but died 45 days after his inauguration. This was a turning point for the history of the 22nd Amendment.

When the 80th Congress convened in 1947, they considered two versions of an amendment limiting presidential terms. One limited the president to a single six-year term, and the other set a limit of two four-year terms. The House approved the two-term limit in March of that year and sent it to the states for ratification. Minnesota became the 36th state to ratify the amendment in February, 1951.

Presidential Term Limits

The citizens of the United States elect presidents indirectly through the Electoral College. The Twenty-Second Amendment imposes presidential term limits, specifying that a president cannot serve more than 2 terms in office, for a total of 8 years. The vice president gets elected with the president for a 4-year term. Unlike the president however, the vice president can serve unlimited terms in office. If a vice president becomes president through succession, he or she can serve an additional 2 years for a total of 10. The following is an example of the 22nd Amendment exception involving succession:

If the president dies while in office, the vice president becomes president for the rest of the term. If the remainder of the term is two years or less, the new president can serve two more terms.

Controversy Over Roosevelt’s Third Term

In 1940, Franklin Delano Roosevelt began campaigning for a third presidential term. Republicans argued strongly against a third-term president. Even some democratic supporters expressed their disapproval with Roosevelt for defying Washington’s two term tradition. Some critics claimed that FDR wanted to become a dictator and posed a threat to democracy.

Wendell Willkie, Roosevelt’s opponent in the election, crusaded strongly against a third presidential term. He claimed that Roosevelt wanted to secretly join World War II, which had started the year before. Despite the controversy over President Roosevelt’s third term, he went on to win the election. He became the first and only president to serve more than two terms. Many contributed this unprecedented win to a fear of a leadership change with war on the horizon.

Fourth Term

Even with the increasing controversy over President Roosevelt’s third term, he won the 1944 Democratic National Convention. New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey won the Republican nomination. Despite his failing health and long tenure, Roosevelt remained popular and won the 40th Presidential election. He died just months into his fourth term, and Harry S. Truman became President of the United States.

How the 12th and 22nd Amendments Work Together

There is some debate on how the 12th and 22nd Amendments work together. The 12th Amendment states that only individuals that meet presidential requirements can become vice president. This refers to the qualifications of age, citizenship, and residency for both the president and vice president. However, it is unclear on whether a person ineligible for presidency could become vice president. Some argue that, since a two-term president cannot serve as president, he is ineligible to serve as vice president.

Others contend that the 12th Amendment applies to qualification of service, while the 22nd covers qualifications of elections. They point out that a two-term president barred from election can still meet vice-presidential requirements specified in the 12th Amendment. Some believe that the ambiguity in this 12th and 22nd Amendment example can lead to a third term of presidency. This would occur if a former president was elected vice president, then succeeded to the presidency. Since no two-term president has ever attempted to become vice president, the court has never resolved this issue.

22nd Amendment Examples of Repeal Efforts

Since its enactment, several presidents have expressed desire to repeal the 22nd Amendment. Harry Truman declared it the worst thing added to the Constitution except the Prohibition amendment. Other examples of 22nd Amendment repeal attempts include those by Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

A few days before Ronald Reagan left office, he stated he would push for a repeal of the amendment. During an interview with Tom Brokaw, he referred to the amendment as “an infringement on the democratic rights of the people.”

In November 2000, President Bill Clinton discussed the amendment in an interview with Rolling Stone. He suggested that, since life expectancy had increased, the 22nd Amendment should limit presidents to two “consecutive” terms.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Amendment – The modification, correction, addition to, or deletion from, a legal document.
  • Congress – The legislative branch of the United States federal government, composed of the House of Representatives and the Senate.
  • Ratification – Signing or giving formal consent to valid a proposed law.