Happy birthday, 22nd Amendment!

Franklin D. Roosevelt. Source: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

Today we celebrate the anniversary of the 22nd Amendment (ratified February 27, 1951). Here’s what you need to know:

What it does

It set a two-term limit for the office of president.

Why it was added

Following the precedent of George Washington, presidents until 1940 followed an unwritten rule that they would serve no more than two terms. The first–and only–president to serve more than two terms was Franklin D. Roosevelt, who led the country through the Great Depression and World War II. In 1945, a few months after the inauguration for his fourth term of office, Roosevelt died. Within a few years, a Republican Congress pursued a path for term limits on future presidents. This limit on presidential service is one of the defining features of the American presidency.

As constitutional scholar Akhil Amar noted in a Presidents Day post on Constitution Daily, the limits of the American presidency is part of what makes it extraordinary: four years really means four years, and two terms really means two terms.

Word-for-word

Section 1. 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 the President more than one time. But this article shall not apply to any person holding the office of President when this article was proposed by the 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.

Section 2. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years from the date of its submission to the States by the Congress.

Civic holidays are occasions to commemorate America’s history, celebrate our rights and responsibilities as citizens, and learn about our constitutional ideals. Download a PDF of the 2013 Civic Calendar here.

Holly Munson is assistant editor of Constitution Daily, the blog of the National Constitution Center.

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