Stumbled on an interesting fact the other day while reading a New Republic piece by historian Sean Wilentz.
In 1861, when the Confederate States of America created a Constitution for their short-lived Confederacy, they gave the president a six-year term but barred him from seeking a second term.
In general, the CSA Constitution was closely modeled on the U.S.A. Constitution. Most of the changes were very states’ rightish, designed to curb what were viewed as the excesses in the way federal power had grown over its first 75 years. Other changes were explicitly designed to protect slavery (although the original U.S. version had also protected the slaveocracy).
But the single six-year term for the prez seems different. Apparently, even by 1861, some Americans were tired of seeing presidents who spent too much of their first term positioning themselves politically reelection in their second.
For obvious reasons, we’re not accustomed to seeking much positive example from anything done by the Confederacy. But this one had virtually nothing to do with slavery, and thinking about it right now, it strikes me as a good idea. (Yes, I know it would require a constitutional amendment. And it won’t happen. Just seems like a good idea.)
The obvious downside is that a president would have the powers of that office for six years without the democratic check having to face the voters again. But that’s the obvious upside, too. The president would be freed from reelection considerations during his/her entire term and, we can hope, would be freed to do what seemed best for the country. Historically, most presidents who seek a second term, win a second term. And most second terms are relatively unproductive compared to first terms.
The rest of the long, smart Sean Wilentz piece, by the way, was about the oft-reoccurring dream in U.S. history that the country could somehow rise above partisanship in its politics.