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In the last 5 US elections, three have featured a president's child or wife: 1 president has been the son of another president, 3 presidential candidates have been a wife / closely associated nephew. Previous president elects have an advantage that they can use their knowledge and leverage their popularity through the media to facilitate their own child's ascendancy to power. Thus, elections dominated by certain influential political families and governments run by them may become a norm. Families typically have more deep-state and industrial connections and are less "one of the people" than "one of the corporation and deep state representatives", than vox-populi representatives.

If the US constitution contained a clause barring family members from running for office, perhaps it can avoid this kind of "political corruption" of its democracy.

  1. What did the founding fathers think about that, was the political climate so different that they didn't consider it?

  2. Does the US benefit from elite governing families? What laws do other countries have for it that can be applied in the US too?

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    Do you mean that presidency should not go from father to son? (Directly or indirectly) HGW Bush -> GW Bush. Or from husband to wife? WJ Clinton -> HR Clinton? Or perhaps you mean that spouses should not parttake in Whitehouse policy making such as HR Clinton doing Health Care Policy under her husband's presidency? Dec 16, 2019 at 17:16
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    It seems Article II Section 2's "Advice and Consent" of the Senate with respect to appointments by the president would at least partially cover this, by preventing a President from filling their cabinet or other key positions with their family members without the Senate's consent. It's not clear to me if you are thinking of this versus a succession of presidents from the same family. Dec 16, 2019 at 17:51
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    In the last 5 US elections, 3 have featured a president's child or wife: 1 president has been the son of another president, 3 presidential candidates have been a wife / closely associated nephew. Previous presidents have TV and media levers at the ready to facilitate their own child's access to power, so with the power of TV and media, family run elections and governments may become a norm. Families typically have more deep-state and industrial connections and are less "one of the people" than "one of the corporation and deep state representatives", than vox-populi representatives. Dec 17, 2019 at 7:05
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    @sfxedit: No. There was a convention of two terms at most, established by Washington. The hard limit was enacted after FDR won four elections in a row. Feb 15, 2023 at 8:14
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    The second president of the United States (John Adams) was the father of the 5th (John Quincy Adams) so... it probably came up.
    – hszmv
    Feb 15, 2023 at 11:44

2 Answers 2

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The founding fathers did not have any qualms about descendants of past Presidents becoming President. Consider that John Adams and his son, John Quincy Adams, served as the second and sixth Presidents of the nation, respectively. John Adams was one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence, and was the primary writer of the constitution for the State of Massachusetts, which served as a major influence for the Federal Constitution.

A weaker example of familial Presidency can be found with William Henry Harrison and his grandson, Benjamin Harrison (made even weaker by the fact that William Henry Harrison famously died 30 days into his term of office), or the much-lauded presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who were distant relatives with the same name.

Recall that the original Constitution, for all its good ideas, held some ideas that we would consider regressive by today's standards. Only white, property-owning men could vote and, by extension, only they could hold office. That limited the pool of candidates substantially, and would have made it extremely difficult to select individuals who were not from a family previously holding office.

While there may be some issues to discuss in the present regarding overly powerful political families, for the scope of this question: The Founding Fathers did not strongly consider adding in any clauses barring family members from holding an office that they were elected to.

I apologize that I didn't look particularly hard for any laws regarding family members holding offices in countries besides the United States. I can rattle off a list of my own foreseen difficult questions about them, but that won't really answer the question you've written. Suffice to say that, per today's standards and ever-changing definition of family and how families interact, there could be an extraordinary number of extenuating circumstances under which any given law on the matter might be unfair without thousands of explicit qualifiers designed to measure qualities and relationships that are not easily measured.

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    +1, but also to clarify that the entire US government is founded around the sovereign right for people to self govern. If people feel the best candidate is the son or daughter of the previous candidate, best of luck to them.
    – AHamilton
    Dec 16, 2019 at 16:09
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    This answer would benefit from at least some source material and at least some examination of the titles of nobility clause -1
    – user9790
    Dec 17, 2019 at 0:01
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    The Roosevelts were more closely related by marriage. Eleanor was Theodore's niece.
    – phoog
    Dec 17, 2019 at 4:27
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I believe this was an actual blind spot for the Founders as I think there main focus was on preventing hereditary conferred governing birth rights from existing. Articles 1, sections 9 and section 10 respectively deal with Titles of Nobility at the Federal and State levels. What the Framers were really concerned with was not the unfair advantage of dynasty in running future campaigns, or if they were, thought that advantage weighed against an electorates' right to choose whom they wanted for office was more important, but in actual hereditary titles and monarchy. Nobility and hereditary right to power clashed with Founders' views on representative, republican government.

James Madison also found in The Federalist No. 39 that "the general form and aspect" of American governments could only be "strictly republican": "[i]t is evident that no other form would be reconcilable with the genius of the people of America; with the fundamental principles of the Revolution; or with that honorable determination...to rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government." Given the social and political circumstances of the United States at the time of the Founding, therefore, it is not surprising that the Constitution's prohibition on state titles of nobility was uncontroversial: as Madison wrote tersely in The Federalist No. 44, the prohibition "needs no comment." What is perhaps surprising, then, is that it was thought necessary at all.

Democracy was rare in history, and republican forms of it rarer still. As the article, quoted above states, Poland, Holland, Venice (he missed the Swiss cantons) and a few others were the models here. So the Founders didn't have much to go on. Madison himself admits the safeguards he presented might only be half measures and things he didn't contemplate might cause the American experiment to fail.

"[W]ho can say," Madison asked in The Federalist No. 43, "what experiments may be produced by the caprice of particular States, by the ambition of enterprising leaders, or by the intrigues and influence of foreign powers?"

I would include family ambition in the quote above.

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