Brian’s Commentary on Term Limits

In answering the question of whether term limits should be allowed, we must consider that the societal landscape has changed enormously since the drafting of the constitution. People are living longer.

They are in better health and the issues most Americans face are much more complex than they were at the time the constitution was written. In fact, when the constitution was drafted in 1783, the average lifespan of the American colonists was thirty-five years. [1] As of 2011, the average lifespan of Americans was seventy-eight years. [2]

We must also consider the language in the qualifications clause which states that to be qualified to serve as a U.S. Representative, one must be at least 25 years of age and must be a citizen of this country for at least seven years. [3] He must also be a resident of the state for which he is seeking to represent. Similar qualifications apply to serving as a Senator, with the exception that one must be at least thirty years of age. [4]

It does seem logical to assert that during this era, the lowered life expectancy was common knowledge. It also seems logical to assert that the framers knew that the twenty-five and thirty year minimum age requirements in relation to the life expectancy provided a shallow window of opportunity (nine years for Representatives and 4.5 years for Senators) for one to serve in congress before one’s life expectancy was to end.

Because of this fact, one can argue that the framers, who didn’t place term limits in the qualifications clause did not do so not because they did not intend on having term limits, but in fact viewed the short life expectancy as a natural term limiting condition.

Next, we must look at the analysis in Powell where the court was meticulous in researching the intent of the framers when in Powell they cited how the court (quoting 16 Parl. Hist. Eng. 589, 590 (1769)), concluded "on the eve of the Constitutional Convention, English precedent stood for the proposition that `the law of the land had regulated the qualifications of members to serve in parliament' and those qualifications were `not occasional but fixed. [4]

One could argue that Powell, which relied on English legal precedent explicitly stated that the qualifications clause was an integrated writing, not subject to change without the due process of amending the constitution. Yet, conversely, one could argue that the average lifespan at the time was a self-limiting factor which served to place natural term limits on those serving in congress and because the framers could not envision people living as long as they do today, it is debatable whether they intended to have limits on terms or not.

Yet, in reading the carefully crafted language of article I, we can see that the framers took great care in manifesting their intent to create and maintain a fair and balanced government which serves the people’s interests.

Because of this, my assertion is that if the framers had known that the possibility existed for Congress people to possibly serve twenty or more years in congress, they would have been careful enough to foresee a situation where limits on congressional terms may have been beneficial.

Because of this, I agree that congressional term limits should be allowed.

[1] National Constitution Center, National Constitution Center –, (last visited Jul 9, 2017).

[2] Id.

[3] U.S. Const. art. 1, § 2.

[4] U.S. Const. art. 1, § 3.

[5] Powell v. McCormack, 395 U.S. 486, 89 S. Ct. 1944, 23 L. Ed. 2d 491 (1969), quoting 16 Parl. Hist. Eng. 589, 590 (1769).

Scroll to Top