Federalist Papers Summary 72
The Federalist Essays Summary No 72: Alexander Hamilton March 19, 1788
This paper gives five reasons why there are no term limits for the President in the Constitution and gives a brief discussion to counter the arguments of those favoring limits. He begins by describing the importance of the functions of the chief magistrate which include foreign negotiations, plans of finance, application and disbursement of public money, the arrangement of the army and navy, and the direction of the operations of war. These functions require duration and stability in office and when another obtains the office by nature he will undo much of what has been done and will change the personnel filling the subordinate positions of the administration. If a chief magistrate can be re-elected without limit he will act his part well and give the community time to evaluate the merit of his measures and if they approve of his conduct they will continue him in his station to take advantage of his wise system of administration.
If however there are term limits five ills will result. The first ill would be the lessening of the inducements to good behavior. Men will feel less zeal in the discharge of their duty when they are aware of the time when the advantages of their station will end. Even the love of fame which drives men to arduous enterprises for the public benefit takes time to mature and would not drive men with limited time in office,
The second ill of exclusion from continuing in office would be “temptations to sordid (avaricious) views, to peculations (embezzlement), and in some instances to usurpation”. A man obsessed with wealth might indulge in corruption while able to take advantage of his station in office if he knew he would soon be excluded from these advantages.
The third ill would be “depriving the community of the advantage of the experience gained by the chief magistrate in the exercise of his office”. Since experience is the parent of wisdom it makes no sense to exclude those who have gained such wisdom while in office from continuing to serve the community in that station.
The forth ill would be banishing men from station in times of emergency when “their presence might be of the greatest moment to the public interest or safety”. All nations have at some time required the services of particular men to preserve their political existence. How unfortunate it would be at a time of break out of war or other emergency to require the change in leadership of one experienced for one of little experience.
The fifth ill is that it “would operate as a constitutional interdiction of stability in the administration”. Changing men will change measures and there is no need to force such changes since the people always have the ability to make a change in the leader if needed and if not needed should be allowed to continue with those in office.
The proposed advantages to term limits are greater independence in the chief magistrate and greater security to the people. The idea of being more independent means that a magistrate not having to please those necessary for re-election can exercise his own plan rather than a compromised plan. A loss of security it is argued would occur if a magistrate was in office for a long period and was able to convince the public, because of their attachment to him, in a plan not favorable to their interests. Hamilton counters these arguments by claiming that term limits would little decrease either of these concerns for men capable of becoming chief magistrate would not be independent of those who helped them obtain office and such men could convince the public to support unfavorable plans in short periods of time. He feels these arguments “show and excess of refinement”.
Federalist Papers Summary 72 Written by Donald Mellon