To make them [Senators] independent, I had proposed that they should hold their places for nine years, & then go out (one third every three years) & be incapable for ever of being re-elected to that house. My idea was that if they might be re-elected, they would be casting their eye forward to the period of election (however distant) & be currying favor with the electors, & consequently dependant on them. My reason for fixing them in office for a term of years rather than for life, was that they might have in idea that they were at a certain period to return into the mass of the people & become the governed instead of the governor which might still keep alive that regard to the public good that otherwise they might perhaps be induced by their independance to forget.
To Edmund Pendleton, Philadelphia, Aug. 26, 1776
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Honest leaders recognize the corrupting influence of power.
Independence had been declared just seven weeks before, and Jefferson was thinking about a new government for the new United States of America. He proposed a House of Representatives elected by the states and a Senate chosen by House members.
Here is a clear thought on term limits for Senators: One long term only. Why?
1. To free them from doing whatever was necessary to get re-elected
2. To remember they would soon return once again to be citizens governed by others
3. To keep their focus strictly on the public good
The new Constitution was adopted11 years later, when Jefferson was out of the country, and included no term limits for Senators or the President. Still, he remained opposed to any office holder who could regard his tenure as a right, something to be maintained over a long period of time. He feared the unaccountability of people who could serve for life.
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