Power, Money & Politics: The Case For Term Limits


In my previous article Why Elections Cannot Fix Washington D.C., I demonstrated that amendments are superior to elections in solving our nation’s problems because the incumbency rate of Congress prevents us from electing enough good people in a reasonable amount of time to restore sanity to Congress.

In regards to the service tenure of Congress, the Congressional Services Research reports: “During the late 19th and through the 20th century, the average years of service for Senators steadily increased, from an average of just under five years in the early 1880s to an average of just over 13 years in recent Congresses. Similarly, the average years of service of Representatives increased from just over four years in the first two Congresses of the 20th century to an average of approximately 10 years in the three most recent Congresses.”

This may not appear to be very extreme, but keep in mind these are the averages. The report continues: “John Dingell Jr. is the longest serving Representative, with 56 years of service at the beginning of the 112th Congress (2011-2013). The longest serving Senator was Robert Byrd, who had 50 years of service in the Senate at the beginning of the 111th Congress.” What was originally designed to be an act of service to one’s country for a short period of time has turned into a permanent and very lucrative career for many and has basically transformed our Representative Republic into an elite aristocracy.

The core of this problem can be reduced to two passions, the love of power and the love of money. As Benjamin Franklin so eloquently stated at the Constitutional Convention, as he recommended not to provide the Executive with a salary and only defray necessary expenses: “Sir, there are two passions which have a powerful influence on the affairs of men. These are ambition and avarice; the love of power, and the love of money. Separately each of these has great force in prompting men to action; but when united in view of the same object, they have in many minds the most violent effects. Place before the eyes of such men, a post of honour that shall be at the same time a place of profit, and they will move heaven and earth to obtain it.”

This love of power and money has poisoned all levels of our federal government.For this reason we must amend the Constitution to impose term limits on all federal officials, Supreme Court Justices and all members of Congress. Term limits are not some new and novel idea that has come on the scene in the last few decades to address the problems of our runaway Congress. They were included in Article V of our nation’s first Constitution, the Articles of Confederation: “[N]o person shall be capable of being a delegate for more than three years in any term of six years…”

In a letter written on December 20, 1787 to James Madison, Thomas Jefferson stated that he disliked that the new Constitution did not include a Bill of Rights and rotation of office (term limits); “The second feature I dislike, and greatly dislike, is the abandonment in every instance of the necessity of rotation in office, and most particularly in the case of the President. Experience concurs with reason in concluding that the first magistrate will always be re-elected if the Constitution permits it. He is then an officer for life…”

He continued: “…But experience shews that the only way to prevent disorder is to render them uninteresting by frequent changes. An incapacity to be elected a second time would have been the only effectual preventative. The power of removing him every fourth year by the vote of the people is a power which will not be exercised.”

Both Franklin and Jefferson were correct in their assessment of the corrupting influence of power and money in politics.

If we ever intend to restore our nation we must break this hold that has overtaken many in our nation’s capital. We must restore the ideal of service to one’s country as as sacrifice and not a financial gain.

Term limits would help tremendously in achieving this worthy goal. Personally, I would like to see a significant reduction in the salaries and benefits of those in office to further reduce the temptation of those seeking office. The only way we can accomplish this is if We The People demand an Article V convention to propose common sense amendments such as term limits. This is the goal of the Convention of States Project and if you find yourself in agreement with me then please encourage your state legislator to support our Article V application. Then and only then will we see our nation restored to it’s former glory.

About Ken Quinn

Ken Quinn is the State Director for the Convention of States Project in Maine. This column is part of a series that will explore the Convention of States. For more information or to volunteer, please visit

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