The 22nd Amendment limits an elected president to two terms in office, a total of eight years.
President George Washington is asked to run for a third term but declines, saying that an orderly transition of power is necessary to prevent rule by a king-like authority.
After defeating John Adams in Adams’ run for reelection, Thomas Jefferson goes on to serve two terms as president. Jefferson then steps down, solidifying the tradition of presidents serving only two terms.
Populist Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt came to the presidency after the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901. He was reelected in 1905, served his second term and then, following tradition, announced he would not seek a third term in 1909. However, by 1912, he has become so disenchanted with the man who followed him, William Taft, that he decides to run. He does not get the nomination of the Republican Party, so he organizes the Progressive Party, which is also known as the Bull Moose Party, and runs under its banner. Although he receives more votes than Taft, the split among Republicans hands the election to Democrat Woodrow Wilson.
Having served two terms during which he guided the country through the Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt remains popular among the voting public and runs for a third term. His Republican opponent, Wendell Wilkie, is a former Democrat who switched parties. Wilkie attacks Roosevelt’s extensive anti-poverty program, the New Deal, and accuses Roosevelt of warmongering. More than three-fourths of the nation’s newspapers endorse Wilkie and oppose Roosevelt’s decision to run beyond two terms. Despite the opposition, Roosevelt becomes the first president to be elected to a third term.
In the midst of World War II, Franklin Delano Roosevelt runs for an unprecedented fourth term. New York Gov. Thomas Dewey runs against Roosevelt, choosing not to criticize the president’s handling of the war, but instead criticizing his ability to lead the nation given his age and health. He calls Roosevelt “a tired old man.” The strategy does not work, and Roosevelt is returned to office one last time. He will die in April 1945, only four months into his fourth term.
With the support of President Harry Truman, who took office upon the death of four-term President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Congress approves the 22nd Amendment and sends it to the states for ratification. Congress sets a seven-year deadline for three-fourths of the states to ratify.
Four years after Congress sents the 22nd Amendment to the states, Minnesota becomes the 39th state to vote for the constitutional change, enough to ratify it.