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The widespread view of the relationship between George Washington and the American custom of limited presidential service is misconceived. Conventional popular and scholarly accounts of the “two-term tradition” confuse both Washington's position on presidential term limits and the historical contours of this custom. The American convention limiting the number of terms a president could serve emerged less from Washington's views about political service than from deep-seated anxieties about centralized governing power (and specifically executive power). These concerns, along with an enduring American ambivalence about public service (reflected in Washington's retirement), continue to shape the character of both our political life and public discourse.